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The Teaching Puzzle

The most aggravating and enjoyable part of teaching is the puzzle it represents. The classroom is a giant web of questions, some minor and some profound. The challenge of answering these questions is what makes teaching so frustrating and fun at the same time.

Where should I seat my students who don’t speak English? When’s the best time of day and what’s the best procedure to check homework? How should I handle kids who keep chewing gum in class? When and how should kids sharpen their pencils?

Questions like these can pester a teacher. They seem insignificant, but they can affect the whole rhythm and flow of a classroom. When you figure out how to control the simple minute details of a classroom, you can help everything else run smoothly.

Then there are the questions that really weigh on me. I have a student, whom I’ll name The Scowler, who refuses to answer even yes or no questions in class. He knows the language, so that’s not what’s holding him back. I know he’s shy, and I’ve tried assuring him he has friends in the classroom and that no matter what he says, his responses are valid. I’ve tried warning him that I will be expecting him to share, then giving him time to think while others share.

In spite of all these efforts, when I come to him, he completely shuts down. His shoulders fall down and he refuses to even make eye contact or even nod. So much of our classroom learning revolves around whole class discussions. How can I teach a student who refuses to engage in them?

How do I reach The Scowler, differentiate for five non-speakers and about 20 other students who are below grade level, effectively and consistently engage all my students at all times? These are the questions that make teaching difficult and sometimes discouraging. But looking for the answers, and thankfully finding them, is exactly what makes teaching so uniquely exciting.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

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