After eight years of teaching fourth and fifth graders I made the move to teach our local level IV fifth grade class (my district has four levels of advanced academic program services, otherwise known as gifted services and level IV sends students to special centers to be in special classes all day – some schools have opted to offer local level IV classes rather than have those students leave their neighborhood school and go to a center – I have many thoughts on this). It seemed like a new challenge and I was in need of that.
In my 7th year of teaching I had the phenomenal opportunity to coteach language arts with our literacy coach. We managed to finagle things and coteach together again the following year, my first year with the level IV class. On the second day of school, our literacy coach came in and did an interactive read aloud with the class. At her first stopping point they all immediately turned to a neighbor and began discussing the text. She waited. And waited. And waited. I finally leaned in and whispered, “They’ll just keep talking.” Our experience had been that we could wait for a natural pause in the conversations and move on. That wasn’t so true with that group of kiddos.
Another difference I found was that I had to repeat directions more frequently than in the past. I don’t know if my kiddos didn’t feel they needed to listen to the full set of directions, if they got distracted after the beginning with their brains going off on tangents, or what it was. But I had to repeat directions frequently. I eventually got smart and made notes on the board to help remember directions.
Right now, in a fully virtual environment, I am repeating directions a lot. I’m not giving complex sets of directions, by any means. But kids are asking me again and again what they are supposed to be doing. I will admit to finding it frustrating.
At the same time, I recognize that there may be many distractions for my students that I can’t see or hear. A parent or sibling may have asked a question or needed help with something. They may have needed to run to the bathroom or grab a drink of water. Maybe they were just distracted because they’re human and we get distracted. I have no idea why they missed my directions. But I get to decide if my response is one of patience, assuming they had a reason I’d see as valid, or annoyed because I’m assuming they don’t. No matter how annoyed I may be feeling, I am working to keep that emotion out of my voice and of my face as I repeat directions. As many times as necessary.
It has also occurred to me that in our physical classroom space, kids have another option when they’ve spaced out and missed directions. They watch their classmates. They look around to see what they should be doing. Or even quietly ask a friend what to do. They have strategies for problem solving in those moments that don’t exist for them right now.
There truly are some things about this moment that are wonderful but there are many things that are challenging. I am trying to remember that it is not only challenging for me, it is also challenging for my kiddos. (And I say all of this thinking of my third graders and of my undergrads. We’re all facing so many of the same challenges.) I would rather show too much patience to a student who is goofing off and not being responsible than to not show enough patience to a student who is working hard in the face of many obstacles. I want to err on the side of care.