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Focusing on the Breakthroughs


A profession where you can ride the high’s one moment and be in the depths of the low’s the next.

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating:  Teaching is not for the faint of heart.

Tuesday did not start off well.



I really don’t want to say much about it except to say that by 10:45, I’d felt completely beaten down.

Don’t you hate when your day starts off that way?  It sets the tone for the rest of the day, unfortunately.

I felt down the rest of the day…until my last class came in.

I thought it was going to be another difficult class period as I watched students talk instead of completing their bellwork.

I set my timer for five minutes, determined to play the role of Mean Teacher and shut off my Smartboard responders, with which I was collecting bellwork answers, when the five minutes was up.

I watched one of my students talk…

And talk…

And talk…

To the student who sits across from him.

I didn’t say a word.

I didn’t remind him to work on the task laid before him.

He’s often complained about me aggravating him.

I figured I’d let natural consequences take over.

I watched the timer tick its way down to one minute fifteen seconds.

About that time, this young man slowly picked up his text passage and began reading it.

I had my mouse primed, ready to strike, but continued to spy on this student.

A very, very interesting thing happened.

I saw him cock his head ever so slightly to one side, and I could see the wheels turning as he considered his answer choices.

I saw him move his head in the other direction as he silently argued with himself (teachers are gifted with the ability to read minds, don’t you know).

He reached, ever so slowly, for the responder to enter his answer as the timer went off.

I let the timer go so he could finish.

I didn’t click the mouse button to end his time prematurely.

As we reviewed the answer, we discovered that a little over a quarter of my students had selected an incorrect answer, so we began discussing why students had chosen the first incorrect answer.

We moved to the second incorrect answer, but no one was willing to share his/her thoughts about that answer choice, and I didn’t want to call anyone out.

The young man I’d observed earlier volunteered by saying, “Well, I actually went between this answer and the correct one.”

I asked him to be metacognitive and explain why.

He said that he already had prior knowledge about the topic in the text, which made him almost choose one answer, but then he WENT BACK INTO THE TEXT  (patting myself on the back for harping on this all year) and found that the text DID NOT SUPPORT HIS PRIOR KNOWLEDGE.  He wound up choosing the correct answer.


I praised him mightily and gave him a high five.

That wasn’t the only breakthrough that would life my spirits, though.

Later, this young man asked me what he needed to make to pass FCAT.  I told him that tenth graders need a 245, and he asked what he’d made last year.  Then he remembered that he’d recorded his score on the Students in the Drivers Seat of Their Learning sheet I’d been using all year…the one where I had students reflect on their FCAT and fluency scores, as well as their progress monitoring scores throughout the year.

He pulled that paper out, and we discussed it.

The second breakthrough came when he had his AHA moment…when he realized why he hadn’t passed FCAT last year…when he acknowledged that my class was actually teaching him skills that he can use on the State reading exam he will take in April.

This was huge.

Students are so often resentful of being placed in remedial reading classes.  They don’t think they need the help.  When a student understands the why, they find purpose and take ownership of their learning.

He and I discussed this when school was dismissed, and I told him how proud I was of him.  He smiled shyly (he’s definitely not shy most of the time) and walked out.

He needed that verbal affirmation.

I needed the reminder that the work I’m doing isn’t for naught.

I’ll tell you one more quick but significant breakthrough from that class period.

A young lady had made up a Text Structure unit test (compare/contrast, sequence, description, cause/effect, problem/solution) the day before.  It is one of the most challenging units I cover all year, and the test is extremely difficult.  The test was fourteen pages long (twenty questions), and she was afraid she’d done poorly.

I told her that I’d posted the grade (I’ll give tests back after the last person has made it up), and during our break, she checked our online gradebook.

She’d only missed one question and she returned to class beaming with pride.  She’d been positive that she hadn’t done well.

I asked what made the difference with the test, and she told me that she had looked for SIGNAL WORDS in the questions and looked for those signal words in the text above!!!!

I had stressed signal words when I’d taught the unit and had students write a paragraph for each structure, requiring students to incorporate signal words into their paragraphs.

I am still so humbled when I see students use things I’ve taught them to achieve success.

I want to tell you a secret though.

Despite the breakthroughs my students had on Tuesday, I went home in a funk, really down about how my day had started…mulling over my options.

I’d talked to my mentor on my way out, and she provided helpful suggestions, but at the end of the day, it was on me to decide how to proceed.

I got home, cooked dinner, and cleaned up.

Then, I had an epiphany.

Why in the world was I focusing on the negative part of my day when, in reality, it really was only a small part of my day?

The Lord had provided me with much more encouraging experiences, yet I continued to roll around in the muck of unhappiness.

Honestly, I think it was Satan trying to keep me down.

He’s evil.  He knows I’m hard on myself.  He used the failings of the day to hold me down.

Shame on me for not throwing off those shackles sooner.

It’s a constant battle…especially when you teach…to stay positive when you’re pulled in a hundred different directions during the course of one class period.

Tuesday was a reminder that I need to keep my eyes focused on the good things…the steps forward…that my students make.

I’ll make forward progress as well when I reflect and then let go of the incidents from each day.

Points to ponder…

One Response

  1. A wonderful post! Sometimes teachers have AHA moments, too.

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