Last month, Town Square Delaware introduced readers to Laurisa Schutt, executive director of Teach For America – Delaware. Each month, we’ll feature reflections from Laurisa and two TFA teachers who are teaching in Delaware schools this year. Below is the first piece from Nyamagaga Gondwe, a math teacher at Seaford High School.
Every week I try to make at least one positive phone call home. “Good afternoon, I just want to let you know that your child has been an asset to my class.” I talk to excited parents about their students who are contributing positively to the overall learning of my class or about an exceptional act of responsibility that their child demonstrated that day. I share examples like insightful class discussion comments, exceptional demonstrations of leadership while doing group work, and remarkable instances of a student’s perseverance in the face of a challenge. I ask how their child learns best and what makes them proud.
I’ve learned the hard way that the lessons do not matter without the relationships. And the relationships are meant to be the foundation for, not an excuse for the lack of, deep student learning. More than anything my students need me to get my nose out of my teaching books and meet them where they are. Before I began my first year teaching this September at Seaford High School, I learned a lot about curriculum and lesson planning. I was instructed in proven strategies for classroom management. I felt I was preparing in a book-smart way.
What I did not anticipate however, was that all the authors of all the books written about teaching and learning in twenty-first century classrooms had created many great strategies but did not have my students in my school in mind. No book out there will prepare you for the personal, emotional moment when a student storms out of your classroom in tears. Not one page in any of the books I own says what to do as a math teacher for students who do not understand one word of the language of instruction.
So, in this very early stage of my teaching practice, I am rearranging my priorities as a teacher. I go to field hockey, soccer, and football games to cheer on my students. I spend hours every week trying to think about how my students learn best so I can plan lessons that are relevant beyond superficial or trite connections to their lives. And I make at least one positive phone call home each week. The phone calls, the relationships, being a presence in their lives outside of the classroom— these are the strategies that are working in my classroom a couple of months into the year. I’m eager to discover more strategies that work outside the context of my books so I can be what my students already are—beyond book smart.