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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: A Week of Enlightenment!

Week 19

This past week was a time of enlightenment for both my students and me. The enlightenment began on the Friday before Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. In anticipation of the holiday, I presented my students with a journal entry prompt that tested their knowledge of King. I asked the students to explain what they knew about the civil rights leader. I also asked them to record comments they would make to him if he were alive today. I was amazed at the intelligence of the responses.

Although most of the students were aware of King's accomplishments as a civil rights activist, their individual comments to him were revealing. One student thanked him for all he had done for the African American race; another asked if he could have been of any assistance to him during the movement. Those comments might have been expected from African American children; however, the two who made them are white students. Had he been alive today, King would have been just as impressed as I was.

On the Tuesday after the holiday, I attended a fascinating workshop at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. All the teachers who attended were greeted by an actor and director from Blues for an Alabama Sky, the play scheduled to debut there in February. The two theater veterans shared their knowledge to help us in our teaching of literature and drama.

Following the discussion, we attended a preview performance of the comical play Scapin. Afterward, the teachers reassembled to speak with the lead performer and other members of that cast. Later, we met the director and costume designer, who shared some creative ways of developing characters in literature and drama class.

When I returned to school on Wednesday, I was greeted with the news that my fifth- and sixth-period classes had misbehaved in my absence. Angered and saddened by the news, I decided to bring their behavior to the attention of the students by designating a few moments of class time to express my disappointment. In fact, I was so furious that I gave a pop quiz on the assignment they were supposed to complete in my absence! The students were devastated by my action. Although I was happy to find that most of them were openly apologetic about their actions, I stuck to my guns and maintained a firm discipline approach.

My students, in fact most students, fail to realize that it can be just as difficult for us to be firm with them as it is for them to endure the firmness. Many of us would love to be lenient and fun loving with our students, but we are wise enough to know that this could cause total chaos. It still amazes me to realize that now I am on the opposite side of the spectrum at my old stomping ground.

Sometimes I know I am a little too stern in my discipline, and I have to remind myself what it was like to be a student. I think every teacher has to do that at various points in his or her career. In my opinion, that kind of self-examination is important to remind us that we are who we are, not by accident, but by God's will. And that it is up to us to help our students reach the same level of understanding.

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Shaundalyn Elliot
Education World®
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01/25/2001