One of my first mini-lessons in my fifth-grade language arts and social studies class is to have my students write a six-word memoir. For this assignment, students have only six words to share the most important thing about themselves.
I write my own on the board: I will not be held hostage. This is the cornerstone of my educational philosophy. I will not let standardized tests hold my teaching style prisoner. I am a teacher and I teach skills. I am a teacher and I teach kids. Every day there are 44 kids who look at me expectantly, and I teach with my whole heart.
Teaching Reading and Writing
My philosophy regarding reading and writing is quite simple: They must be taught together seamlessly. The things students read should be thought-provoking and inspiring.
When parents tell me that the whole family sits down and re-reads the short stories from my past lessons together, I know I have been successful. Would you want to do the reading or writing assignments that you have given your students? No? Then don't make them suffer. Set high standards for your kids, and also for your lessons.
Creativity in the Classroom
Some say that our obsession with standardized testing is stifling creativity in the classroom. I refuse to not be creative.
I have instituted a "Genius Hour" once every two weeks in which students get to read and research about an interest they have. "What is your passion?" I ask the kids. "What do you want to know more about?" I teach the kids how to formulate a research question and make a list of possible phrases to help them search. And then I leave them alone.
"Can I write a story to show you the true power of electricity? I want to combine narrative writing with the facts." Sure thing.
"I have a great idea. I'm going to make a comic strip that details the major battles of the Civil War. Is that okay?" Absolutely.
"Can I write Larry Hogan, the governor of Maryland? I want to let him know I would have chosen to come to Maryland if I would have been a settler in 1640." Go for it. (Larry Hogan wrote back, by the way!)
I have learned a lot during Genius Hour. For instance, I have learned that research is messy. What seemed like a clear trail to the discovery of the golden zebra led to both an image of a 1955 Daimler DK 400 "Golden Zebra" coupe and an image of a scantily clad model in a, you guessed it, golden zebra print bikini. I have learned so many things the hard way!
I missed the memo that told me I was supposed to be a disgruntled teacher. I leave at the end of the day tired but happy. I love my students for who they are when they enter my classroom. I love my 44 kids so much that I mentally take them home with me every night. I find a book for Maddie and a joke for Tristan and a poem for Gracey. There is always room at my dinner table for them.
If you're demoralized, ask yourself why, and then do something about it. I used to wonder why somebody did not do something about (insert problem here), and then I realized that I was somebody. You are somebody, too.
Stephanie Stoebe is a fifth grade language arts and social studies teacher in Round Rock, Texas. She was the 2012 Texas Secondary Teacher of the Year and the 2014 ATPE Secondary Educator of the Year. Stoebe is a member of our AMLE2016 Texas Partner in Education, the Association of Texas Professional Educators, which provides a full range of benefits, including liability protection, for members. To join, visit www.atpe.org/join.