This is an easy one. L is for Lilly’s List.
Who is Lilly and why did she write me a list? Lilly is one of my 8th graders. She is funny and feisty and a treat to have in class. She gives me far more credit than I deserve for, as she says, changing everything she thinks about math. I mean, is there a better compliment than that, even if I’m not sure I’m worthy of it? She spends most of her time in my classroom. She is curious and never wants to stop learning. She is terribly concerned about her grades. I know her parents and I teach her little brother, too (don’t worry, to him, I’m his McBestie. 6th graders…). Her focus and desire comes entirely from her. Her parents are proud of her, but the pressure she puts on herself does not come from them. Worried about her, I joked that I was going to make her read Jessica Lahey’s The Gift of Failure because I was sure she was on the verge of an ulcer. She read it and loved it. She wrote me a 9 page paper just because she wanted to share her thoughts about it with me. When I do something that follows what Lahey’s book proposes, she tells me that “Jessica would be so proud.” And if I say something not quite growth mindset-y, she calls me on it. She comes into class every day, exclaiming, “so…. I have some thoughts,” or, “so…… I have a few questions.” Of course you do, Lilly, of course you do. I tease her endlessly, but I love it. We are trying to figure out how she can skip high school and college and just start teaching with me now. She’s kind of my mini-me.
Last week she said something that I can’t remember and I told her I was writing an alphabet series to be shared with my friends (I didn’t say the world blog, because kids…). I told her she should be my L. I really wish I could remember what it was we were talking about, because that conversation turned into the following list, which she presented to me the next day.
Things Every Teacher Should Know
Never limit a student
Have standards and don’t change them
If a student cares enough to ask how they can raise their grade, give them an opportunity if it’s not much
If you make a mistake, own up to it
Don’t shame outside the box thinking or abstract questions
Curiosity is the best way to learn
Don’t take lazy shortcuts
You don’t have to do everything in the textbook
Don’t ignore cheating – it has only negative side effects
You don’t need to give 30 of the same problem for homework
Give enough time for projects (if you aren’t sure how much to give, try the project)
Make directions clear and understandable
Be involved- do classwork, projects, or tests with the students
Passion and excitement are contagious – if you don’t have passion, find a new job
If you use subjective grading at least make it clear what you need to do to get a good grade
Your students won’t learn if you never give them a chance to speak
If students are ahead of the rest of the class allow them to explain it, give them something to do, or let them continue on so they don’t get bored or lose interest
Learning isn’t memorizing – do not only test memorization
Do not only make grades important – effort is more valuable
Stay true to your word
I laughed when she handed it to me because #3 is 100% directed at me. She always wants to know how to raise her grade (she got a 100% first term and currently has one of the top 3 grades in the class. #childplease). I was curious, so I told her I wanted my grade. (I made her add one to the list first because she had 19 items and that’s annoying). At lunch, she and her crew who hang out in my room discussed the list and my grade. I got a 99%. We have some work to do on percentages, apparently. I missed a half point for clear directions. I told them to go ahead and take the whole point because I do stuff like make things up as I go. (So, um, ya…. why don’t you just play around on Desmos over the weekend for like 20 minutes and then kinda just write up what you discovered or what questions you have. Ya, that sounds like a good idea…) It’s fine. Whatever. But no, they insisted I have a 99%. Not too shabby.
I’m sharing this list because I think the whole situation is funny, but also because wow – out of the mouths of babes, right? I mean, it’s clear to see a lot of my beliefs in the list (hello you don’t have to do everything in the textbook) and I think it’s sweet and funny that she’s internalized them. However, I’m reflecting on her list even more because I think it’s really important to think about not just how we teachers define good teaching, but what do our students want of us? I mean, if I asked most kids, their list would look entirely different – recess, extra credit, etc. But here’s one of the most motivated kids I’ve ever taught, maturely laying it on the line.
I’ve had a rough week because of what I wrote about in my last post. It’s really getting to me. Like the email I’d wish to share, I really want to share this list with the other teachers on my staff who are not quite so open to the ideas that Lilly has. She has given me permission to share with the principal and to share anonymously with the staff. I haven’t and have been giving it a lot of thought. I probably will share it with the principal, but sharing it with her other teachers, even anonymously, makes me nervous. I don’t want anything to be held against her, and in a few cases it’s quite clear who certain comments are meant to represent. So that’s not great (even though I’m basically in agreement with the statements).
I sent a group text to my 3 closest confidants this morning because I was almost in tears about how out of place I feel amongst my staff and I needed some good old-fashioned MTBoS-y encouragement. I’m not unhappy at my school. I love my kids. But I definitely am the answer to the “which one doesn’t belong” of the staff. Last night we had an information night and when the principal introduced me he said, “this is our advanced math teacher. When she’s not teaching math, she’s reading books about math, listening to podcasts about math, dreaming about math, etc.” He’s not wrong and I know that he meant it in the most complimentary of ways. Later when he was talking about curriculum he went on about how he loves coming in my room and how my kiddos are doing amazing things and all the sorts of things you want to hear said about yourself. But his intro still rubbed me the wrong way. It still made me feel like – hey – you’re super passionate about growing and learning and we’re really not sure what to do with someone like you, so we’re just going to tease you.
I am so curious to know what the other teachers would think about this list. Would they see themselves in it? Would I see them in it if I wasn’t currently caught up in my own angst? I mean, I hear the kinds of things they say about their classrooms. I watch them line up at the copier with the multiplication drill and kill handouts. I hear the way they talk about the fact that I allow students to make up work and re-take tests. I watch the way the primary teachers put giant letter grades on their kids’ work. So I don’t think I’m terribly off base, but I recognize I’m being very judgy and that’s horrible. If I took the opportunity to walk into their rooms, maybe it would give me a different view. However, the big thing is, I don’t feel welcome to do that. I know it’s something that I should make an effort to do anyway.
But what would they think? Would they think I’ve brainwashed Lilly (ok, probably)? Would they agree or disagree? Would they consider themselves earning a passing score? More importantly, would their students give them a passing score? Would mine? What do you think? Do you think Lilly’s list is on point? What did she miss?