Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Just Like Clockwork, The Student Shuffle Begins

August 22, 2012

We are three days in to the school year now, and the annual shuffle has begun.  After twenty-one years, I expect it.  I know that within a week or so everything will shake out evenly, but these first days are always a dance of ever changing partners.  Classes shifting, schedules changing, classrooms bursting at the seams, then dropping to a manageable size, then filling up again, almost as if by magic beyond anyone's control.

One of my classes is sitting at 43 right now.  Ten years ago, I would have been tearing my hair out and firing off emails left and right.  DO YOU ALL KNOW WHAT'S HAPPENING IN MY CLASSROOM? HELP!! QUICK!  But you know, it's not tragic.  The counselors are scrambling as fast as they can, and our administration is aware of the situation. There are always glitches in the system and kids who show up unexpectedly at the beginning of the year.  Figuring out where everyone will end up each period of the day is a delicate balancing act--you can't move one piece of the puzzle without shifting another one.  It will get handled though; it always does.  Will I end up with a class of 25?  No way.  Not happening.  But by the end of next week, I can reasonably assume that won't have a class of kids so full that it's standing-room only.  I can wait a few days 'til the dust settles.

The thing that was a little unnerving for me this year, though, was not that I had so many kids in each class; it was that in one class in particular, I have a full class with several kids with unique needs--various learning disabilities, English language learners, medically fragile kids, and a whole host of other issues.  Often we try to group specific types of needs together, the idea being it will be easier to provide what the students most need if there's a concentration.  I've had lots of these 'concentrations' in my classes over the years, and I like to think I work well kids who need a bit of extra support in the classroom. But several 'groupings' of kids in the make up of a single class seems a bit overwhelming.

And yet.  The more I thought about it, the more I realized that every single one of my classes is a collective of kids with individual, unique needs.  Always has been.  It seems pretty obvious, but sometimes we get so caught up in the labels we place on kids in order to get them the additional help they might need that we lose sight of the fact that, labels or no, every kid comes to us from his or her own perspective--with his or her own individual needs.  Sometimes those are academic needs:  dyslexia, for example, or auditory processing difficulties that may hinder a student's access to information in the classroom.  Sometimes those are social or personal needs:  kids who don't fit in and are looking for their place in the world, or kids with absent parents (and sometimes, too ever-present parents, afraid to let their kids make and learn from their own mistakes), or kids who struggle with extreme anxiety, or lack self-confidence, or are perfectionists.  Sometimes they're teen mothers, or are homeless, or are searching for the right time or the right words to come out to their parents and their peers.  And it's my job--label or no, 'grouped' or not, to take them as they come to me, figure out how I can meet them where they are are bring them into my environment--our environment--where they can get everything they can out of the relatively short time we share together.

It's a privilege I take very seriously, and one that reminds me how lucky I am to have the job I have.

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