Actually Teaching

I was assigned to a sixth grade reading class at Ford Elementary in Highland Park.

I liked the teacher I was working with very much.  She was no nonsense, and she commanded the respect of her students.  She reminded me a lot of the women my mother worked with downtown, tough women who’d seen a lot, so nothing threw them.

I was there for the morning session, which meant that I dropped little fifteen month Zachary off at daycare around 7:30 in the morning, driving an hour to be at the school by 8:30.  Sometimes it took less time, if the weather wasn’t bad, and I would beat the classroom teacher there.  Other times, when there was snow on the ground, I would have to drop him off even earlier to be sure I’d make it to the school before the students.

I would work in Mrs. Simmons’ room until 11: 30 or so in the morning, and then drive the rest of the way down Woodward Avenue for my afternoon classes.   At first I did a lot of watching, but slowly, as the weeks wore on and the students got used to me, she started to assign me to teach some of the lessons.

It shocked me how little some of the students knew, and how much some of the others did.  The divide between those who were doing well and those who weren’t was exceptional.  There were no aides in this class of 32 students.  There was no library to take the students who needed more help to.  There was just me, two and a half hours a day, pulling seven of the kids who could barely read off to the side of the sixth grade classroom, going over the lessons with them in a small group, and spoon feeding them the answers that were necessary to answer the questions at the end of each story in our well worn book.  I wasn’t sure I was making much of a difference, and I was sure that there had to be something more I could do that would make everyone’s experience more equal, despite their different levels of ability.

Immediately I thought of doing a letter writing unit, and having my students here in the city pen pal with some suburban students from where I had grown up.  This would teach reading, as well as writing and grammar.  In addition, I thought this would be a way to give all of those kids the familiarity that I completely lacked with their counterparts only twenty or so miles away.

I approached Mr. H with the idea of pen palling with some of his younger students, and he immediately thought it was a fantastic idea.  We met for dinner one night and planned out the way we would match up the students, how we would send the mail back and forth (obviously I would be a courier), and discussed a culminating activity where the students would meet at some sort of field trip event. Mrs. Simmons thought the idea was great, and signed off on it immediately.

This was exactly the type of thing I’d envisioned myself doing as a teacher.  Not just teaching the lesson, but bringing in an over reaching experience to make the lesson meaningful to the students.   I couldn’t wait to get started.


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