January 26, 2023
The 6th Period I Thought I'd Never Miss. You know that one class you have every year? The one that makes you question whether or not you should be a teacher? Well, last year was my 6th-period class, and this is a story about how chaos and stress in September transformed into belly laughs and joyful tears in Early June of 2020.
Every day I had a sick feeling around 1:45, a pit in my stomach, and a knot in my chest, never knowing what the last class of the day would bring or how I would be leaving work feeling. They weren't bad kids, but a bad combination. To be more specific, Alexey, Jonah, Haruun, Melissa, and Jenna were a bad combination. Some days it was Jenna standing up and cursing somebody out. On other days, she kept her head down, crying silently into her sleeves. Some days, Alexey raised his hand to ask a question, using an obnoxiously inappropriate pronunciation of a Spanish word. He was so excited about the football game that he was eager to answer every question and in high spirits until he could leap out of his seat at 2:20. Often, it was Haruun's hushed laughter and whispers that made the other kids crack up and gave me the unsettling feeling that I had a piece of spinach stuck in my teeth. He was one of the smartest kids I've ever had in my class, and he Aced every test. No matter who it was on a given day, it was a class I dreaded – who I got through half of my planned lesson with and who sometimes made me want to cry with frustration.
As September rolled into October, we had spent countless precious minutes reflecting on the rules, having individual conversations after the bell, and waiting while I stood at the front of the room. Some kids "shhhed" while other kids talked and laughed. I wondered why every strategy I tried with them didn't seem to work, and I felt terrible for my good kids who just wanted to learn. I was at my wit's end, but I didn't want to give up. It was a typical day when Jonah said something that gave me an idea. I can't remember what he said, but it was so sarcastic, funny, and smart that I had to sit down for a second. "Here, Jonah, you teach for the next 10 minutes." The class erupted in laughter. Jonah, a class clown but a genius, stood up, took a maraca in one hand and my clicker in the other, and went through the next five slides, only speaking Spanish. Although there was laughter, the kids played along and took notes. At the end of the 10 minutes, I returned to the front, we broke into groups for the next activity, and students asked if Jonah could teach the class again one day next week.
For the rest of the year, once a week, one student would be allowed to "teach" my class for 10-15 minutes. We did it on Fridays (since those days, students weren't really paying attention much toward the end of class anyway). Although it seemed arbitrary, I noticed the students in my class building better relationships with one another and with me as time passed. My willingness to share the power every now and then put them at ease, and they looked forward to the entertainment. Engagement and respect in the room improved, and students kept asking when they could be the "TA for 10".
When school got canceled in March, I found that my 6th-period class had the highest engagement in online learning. Even students like Jenna joined in my optional zoom meetings. Since Jonah and others couldn't teach the class, we instead had 10 minutes of talk time where one student could either share their screen to show us what they've been doing or facilitate "quarantine questions" to get the class talking. I was amazed that while my other classes often didn't speak up or participate, that 6th period had a sense of community and friendship that allowed a successful virtual classroom experience. I found that after all, I had been through, I actually was missing my rowdy kids the most, and I wonder how I will use this learning experience to create a community in future virtual classes.
This guest article was written by Kristen Tylee while taking the Zoominar course Education in the Age of Pandemic.