Samanta Amarillas, 8th Grade Math/Science Teacher at Alpha: Blanca Alvarado
February 13, 2019
The days where I speak the least are the days that are the most successful. You must be wondering, but you’re a teacher, isn’t it your job to be speaking in front of kids?
Yes, but our class is student run and student led. Everyone has a responsibility to make our class a great experience.
This is the first time I’m teaching the same group of students for a second time, which has made a monumental difference on their academic success. I feel extremely supported by their families because I’ve had the opportunity to work with their children for two years. They know my style. They trust the process. They believe in me as a teacher. They’re willing to do what it takes to work together to ensure their children are realizing their full potential.
Our class is all about responsibility and accountability.
I put a lot of responsibility on my students. Everyone needs to have a class job. They can opt out of a job if they feel like they’re not the right fit, but everyone must be responsible for a certain aspect of maintaining the classroom.
Students can opt to become the tech manager, homework checkers, grading team, accountability point trackers, mailman/mailwoman, after school clean up crew, health advisor, class note takers for students who are absent, clerk/messengers, blackboard manager, pencil monitor, and many more.
If students opt out of a job, they must first train the new person who will take over. Just like in the real world, when you transition out of one role, you need to think about the implications so that the organization can still run smoothly. Students can get fired from their jobs if they do poorly. They can also be put on probation. I aim to be transparent with how they have to contribute to the class and I give them the option of saying “I can’t do this right now or I can’t do this today.”
There is a culture of trust, understanding, and acknowledgment that the work is hard.
I had to work really hard over the summer in order to come prepared to teach this material to my students. I frequently reassure and acknowledge how challenging these concepts are.
When students have a bad day, I say to them – “Today is a hard day. There are 364 days where you can try again and be successful.”
To me, any success at any point, no matter how big or small, is worth acknowledgement and celebration. If they made gains on their MAP score, they are rewarded. If they worked hard and almost met their goals, it’s still a shout out. If they make mistakes and can explain their error, that’s a shout out. If they can explain a concept to their classmates, that’s another shout out. I focus student rewards on working with each other and helping each other.
The trust piece is also built on humility and letting my students know that I’m not always correct. I am a horrific speller and encourage my students to point out mistakes.
I hope my students leave my class feeling like they’ve made a friend in me.
I’d like to think that besides being their teacher, I’m also their friend both in and outside of the classroom. Someone they can depend on, someone they can talk to.
I hold myself to the same level of accountability that I expect of my students. When I say I’m going to have something graded by a certain time, it’s going to get done.
There’s also a genuine atmosphere of fun. I joke with my students. I humor them when they try to explain the latest, hip thing.
I leave my personal belongings out in the open because I know they’re not going to go through my things. The trust goes both ways. My students know I would be severely disappointed if this trust were to be broken.
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