At the beginning of the 2006-2007 school year, my schedule called for me to teach one section of Reading and Writing Workshop. This class has been designed to offer remedial help to underclassmen who are preparing to take the HSPA test. I worked hard over the summer to prepare to teach the class and to try to offer the best lessons possible. Imagine my surprise, then, when everything changed about three weeks into the school year. One of my English teaching colleagues left the district, and we hired a brand new teacher to replace her. Due to this series of circumstances, I gave up the Reading and Writing Workshop course. Instead, I was to teach SRA. The courses do share quite a few similarities, as the whole idea is to help students with their reading and writing skills. However, SRA is considerably more intense. All of the students in the class are seniors, and they need to pass the class to ensure that they will graduate. I found out I would be teaching this class at the end of September. I knew nothing about the class. I had never taught it before. I had no materials. I scrambled for a week doing research, learning everything I could, and trying to be as well-prepared as possible. Then, I actually stepped in front of that class, and I felt like a first year teacher on the first day of school again.
Despite the initial feelings of nervousness or chaos, teaching SRA became one of the most rewarding experiences of my year and I am greatly looking forward to teaching the class again this fall. The course helped me to be organized, as I had to maintain records and photocopies for fourteen students. It also taught me how to respond to students as individuals and to cater to their own strengths and weaknesses. During each class period, I worked with students one-on-one to ensure that their skills were improving. I laid out challenges that were unique to each of them. I wrote questions specifically for each student. I helped them reason out answers and explain them. And, perhaps most importantly, I tried my best to support them and encourage them in their quest to do something that was obviously quite difficult.
There is no more rewarding experience than working with students face-to-face. Whenever I did this, I could see, very clearly, how they had improved and changed. I could also make suggestions that would apply to each student as an individual, as opposed to blanket suggestions for a whole class. Talking to the students also helped me to learn about them and their experiences, as many of these students came from other countries and struggled to acclimate themselves to life in the United States. These conversations helped me to form bonds with the students in the class. We learned to trust each other and I feel that the process helped me when working with them. They took my suggestions more seriously, because they knew that I was looking out for them.
The SRA class worked out extremely well for me and for the students. All of the students passed the class, so they fulfilled that particular requirement for graduation. I got a lesson in how to teach writing, and how to really help the students improve their language skills. And, perhaps most importantly, bonds were formed in that classroom between teacher and student, as everyone knew we had to work together to succeed. Even after those students had passed the class and moved on with their senior years, they still said hello to me in the halls and I made sure to continue my investment in them, asking them about their future plans and listening intently when they responded.