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Shaundalyn Elliott's Diary
The First 180 Days

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Shaundalyn Elliott, a recent college graduate, always dreamed of being a corporate lawyer. Her deep feelings of responsibility to the minority students in her hometown led her instead to a teaching position at her alma mater, an urban middle school in Montgomery, Alabama. Each week during this school year -- Shaundalyn's first year in the classroom -- she will share with Education World readers her thoughts and feelings about her first 180 days!

Shaundalyn's Diary: Working Together to Achieve Success'

Week 3

Despite the vast amount of reading all new teachers do, no book can prepare us for what will actually occur in our own classrooms. I discovered that for myself last week. I also learned that good teachers are not those who reach several students; they are those who explore every option to get positive results from all students.

I gave my first vocabulary test last Wednesday. The students received the word list exactly one week prior to the test. Although part of me expected everyone to get a perfect score, the rest of me considered the fact that this might not happen. Nevertheless, I was full of positive anticipation as I anxiously graded the tests. Dreadfully, the vast majority of my students failed. I spent most of the night contemplating what I had done wrong as a teacher; what I didn't consider was what my students had done wrong.

The next day, before returning the test papers, I surveyed each class to see how many students had actually prepared for the test. Most admitted they had forgotten about it and hadn't looked at the words since the day I had given them out. Everything within me was furious! I had taken the time to prepare a test that I felt they could easily pass, but they didn't care enough to study for it.

I expressed my dismay to my mentor. Her response burned through me like a hot coal on a grill. She told me that I could not reach all the students, no matter how much I wanted to. She continued by saying that tests measure a student's understanding of a particular concept at a given time, not my ability as a teacher.

Although I knew this to be a fact, I could not help feeling partially responsible for the students' failures. I decided right away to become actively involved in teaching. The only way I know to do that is to examine myself -- my teaching abilities, my objectives, and my expectations -- and my students -- their individual academic needs and their learning styles.

Next week, the students will take another vocabulary test. This time, however, I will remind them of the test and even allow them to study during class, if time allows. With my students' cooperation, I will help them become stronger, smarter students with a will to succeed.

This week I learned a truth about teaching -- that it is a collective effort that requires cooperation and collaboration between the teacher and the students to produce academic success.

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Shaundalyn Elliot
Education World®
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09/07/2000