I look back on the first few years of my teaching career as one gigantic, humongous, epic learning experience. I really owe an apology to the students who survived that experience with me. These teenagers were trying to find their style and voice as I was trying to find my style and my voice as a teacher. I was staying one day ahead of the kids and the lessons, and it was very difficult to plan ahead when I barely knew what I was going to do tomorrow. Every night I was designing lessons that I hoped would be engaging and inspiring. I am sure I failed a few times.
One idea, though, came from a student. Chris had dropped out of school the previous year, but came back. He needed English 11 and Government class to graduate. When other students, who looked at school as a prison, asked Chris why he would come back when he was free, he responded simply yet powerfully, “It sucks without a diploma.”
Chris went on to explain to us that he had to move out and live on his own. Of course, a few student’s visages lit up as if they were a five-years old and they discovered that Santa did indeed deliver toys. Their imaginations went into overdrive as they thought of the late nights with friends, sleeping in every day, and being able to do whatever they wanted.
Chris tried to explain the reality of the situation: “I had to get a job to pay for everything.”
“That’s cool,” chimed Tony. He then added, “What did you do? I bet you made some money!”
“I wish,” Chris hit them like a hockey player body-checking an adversary into the boards. He told us how he tried to get a job in a factories; however,they would not hire him without a diploma. He was only able to get menial jobs that paid minimum wage. Plus, he had to pay rent, a car payment, and then he had a little money left for food. He had been eating a lot of Mac-n-cheese and Spam.
“So you didn’t have parties?” asked Brad.
“Once. And my so-called friends ate all of my food I needed to last for a week,” Chris muttered.
“At least you got to sleep in,” Missy consoled.
Chris laughed, “No, my job cleaning bathrooms at the gas station and stocking shelves at Dairy Mart had me at work by 5 a.m. five days a week. In the evenings, I was washing dishes at a restaurant. Coming to school allows me to sleep in.”
The other students started to add up expenses and think about what Chris had told us. I am sure Chris was able to reach a few kids who would not listen to me. Of course, there is a happy ending; Chris passed easily the second time around. After all, this time he took ownership of his learning and cared.
Chris learned a valuable lesson in his failure. And, he gave me an idea to help students improve their writing. Thus began my REDO philosophy. I began to allow students the opportunity to rewrite their essays, thereby improving their grades and learning from the writing experience. I knew I evaluated my lessons and methods, so why not give the students the chance to do the same with their writing. I began to see improvements right away. I was having conferences with the students about their writing mistakes and watching them revise. I also noticed that they started to care more about choosing the right words, improving the style, and having outstanding supporting examples. Redoing was working!
Unfortunately, I moved to a bigger school district and almost doubled my student load. I was having trouble keeping up with the grading, so I eliminated the opportunity for revising essays. Sadly, I noticed kid’s writings were not improving. They would write an essay; I would write comments on it and give it back; they would look at the score and throw the essay away. My failure to communicate how to improve writing taught me a lesson. I needed to return to the land of the REDO. Now, we may write one less essay, but we are rewriting almost everything.
Today’s lesson: persistence prevails! Didn’t Thomas Edison fail a hundred times before he found a filament that would work to make the light bulb?