Thursday, October 25, 2012

On Teaching a One-Room Schoolhouse

One student's writing assignment. Precious. 

I have been in the school for about a month now, so I have begun to discover what works and what doesn't work. I am still collaborating with James, their Haitian teacher, who is leaving soon to go to the US, so it has been nice to have the two of us. We can at least divide the kids up into two different groups to work more intensively with them at their level.

However, in a certain sense, I have still been operating in survival mode.

I have these grand and glorious visions for the kids, but I am not yet fulfilling those visions.

For instance:

  1. Every child will be doing meaningful work (not busywork).
  2. Every child's work will be tailored to his or her level.
  3. Every child will understand the work he or she is doing.
  4. Every minute of the school day will be productive and fruitful (not lost while the teacher searches for what to do next).
  5. Every child will be trained how to work independently while the teacher is working with someone else. 
  6. Every child will have work that he or she can do independently during these times.
  7. Every child will learn to read fluently.
  8. Every child will learn to spell. 
  9. Every child will learn addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division without needing to count on their fingers.
  10. My high schoolers will be challenged to move up quickly to work at their level (rather than a 3rd grade level)

(There's more, but ten seems like a nice round number to start with.)

There are so many obstacles at so many levels to the successful completion of this vision that I have been merely surviving, struggling to keep afloat, and settling for less than the best.

For instance:

  1. Meaningful work. Where is that going to come from? From me. Where am I going to get it? I need to find somewhere that lists standards and goals for different grade levels so that I can invent ways for them to meet those goals. Then I need to prepare materials. 
  2. Tailored to his or her level. How will I do this? First I need to know each child's current level so that I can build up from there. I need to know each child's learning style and learning pace so that I can effectively tailor their education to them. How will I discover this? I will screen each child individually.
  3. Children understand their work. This is a big one. When they work in their workbooks, they don't always understand English well enough to know what they are doing, so the workbooks aren't useful to me. However, they are convenient. One teacher working alone can keep all the children occupied for an hour and a half by telling them to get their workbooks out. The amount of learning that is taking place might be minimal, but there's a lovely big chunk of time that is passing where the teacher doesn't have to tax herself.
  4. No lost minutes of the day. How will we make each day count for the maximum productivity? By me having a lesson plan that involves every child, every level, and accounts for every minute. It will plan out the quiet activities that the class can do while I'm working with one group, and the recitations and meaningful work that I am doing hands-on with that group. But I can't make up that lesson plan until I can think of enough things to put in it. 
  5. Children working independently. This involves 1) training them to work independently, which I have high hopes they can do because they're well-behaved and respectful, and 2) coming up with the work they can do independently, which I have struggled to figure out.
  6. Independent Work Assignments. I have a few ideas for this: Centers, Workbooks, Reading quietly, and Writing Assignments. But I have no space for the centers and must prepare all the materials for the centers. They don't understand their workbooks, and they don't read well enough or understand English well enough to do any kind of reading or writing assignment except copying. So a lot of training and preparation has to go into getting to the point where I can implement the Centers, Workbooks, and Reading and Writing Assignments. How do I do that when I've already got so much on my hands? 
  7. Reading fluently. We have been making progress in all but the youngest kids in sounding out words and blending consonant and vowel sounds. It is hard, though, when they don't speak English and their pronunciation and lack of comprehension gets in the way of their ability to read. All of that must develop together, and it won't be an overnight process.
  8. Spelling. This is hard enough for American kids! But I do have a good spelling teacher's guide.
  9. Math facts. I love the "Math-It" game for this. I have been working hard making three "Math-It" sets out of construction paper since I don't have the kit, and as soon as I get it done, I will be able to begin to implement this in school. 
  10. My High-schoolers. I just hate it that they are sitting in class, very well-behaved and respectful, and spending most of the day doing work catered to the younger kids. I need them to be doing challenging work. I need them to have textbooks and detailed assignments. I need to explain difficult concepts with them and check their work. I need them to get beyond carrying and borrowing with addition and subtraction and get into algebra and working with exponents and fractions and linear equations. 

Just in these ten areas, I have more work cut out for me than I could possibly do.

So just this morning, I was feeling a little under the weather, it was raining, and that unambitious, blah feeling crept over me. "Just accept that you won't be able to do this," I was tempted to think. "Just lower your standards and stop trying to have this impossible vision. Don't wear yourself out struggling against these insurmountable odds. Just let the kids work in their workbooks, and stop caring so much if they understand it or not. They'll probably get something out of it."

The next thing I knew, God sent that idea packing with a dose of Oswald Chambers. How's this for a convicting quote?

"The viewpoint of a worker for God must not be as near the highest as he can get, it must be the highest."

Here is the full text of the devotional. My Utmost For His Highest, October 24.

"Now thanks be to God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ." 2 Cor. 2:14The viewpoint of a worker for God must not be as near the highest as he can get, it must be the highest. Be careful to maintain strenuously God's point of view, it has to be done every day, bit by bit; don't think on the finite. No outside power can touch the viewpoint. 
The viewpoint to maintain is that we are here for one purpose only, viz., to be captives in the train of Christ's triumphs. We are not in God's showroom, we are here to exhibit one thing--the absolute captivity of our lives to Jesus Christ. How small the other points of view are--I am standing alone battling for Jesus; I have to maintain the cause of Christ and hold this fort for Him. Paul says--I am in the train of a conqueror, and it does not matter what the difficulties are, I am always led in triumph. Is this idea being worked out practically in us? Paul's secret joy was that God took him, a red-handed rebel against Jesus Christ, and made him a captive, and now that is all he is here for. Paul's joy was to be a captive of the Lord, he had no other interest in heaven or in earth. It is a shameful thing for a Christian to talk about getting the victory. The Victor ought to have got us so completely that it is His victory all the time, and we are more than conquerors through Him.  
"For we are unto God a sweet savor of Christ." We are enwheeled with the odour of Jesus, and wherever we go we are a wonderful refreshment to God.

I'm thankful for this on two levels. First, it reminds me that I am not permitted to settle for less than my "grand and glorious visions" for the kids at school. But Second, the highest viewpoint is not one of successful academic achievement or battling alone for Jesus, it is of being a captive of the Victorious one.

How "captured" am I?

The web address this blog is "pursued and conquered."

Am I conquered?

Do I live each day as one joyfully surrendered and conquered by Jesus Christ? Do I exhibit "the absolute captivity of my life to Jesus Christ?"

If I pursue that as my one object, as my primary goal, as the highest viewpoint, I somehow think that all the wisdom for how to teach school will come along with it.

But if I say, "No, I need to figure out how to teach school first, and then I'll be captive and surrendered to Christ," then I think I will never achieve either one.

So first things first.
And keep my standards high.


  1. I'm praying for you and all your students, Rebekah!

    1. Thank you so much! It always helps tremendously!

  2. Rebekah, You are in my prayers. I, too, am amazed how God uses Oswald Chambers to get me in line so many days. I have used his My Utmost for His Highest for several years. Each year as the day rolls around something new hits. God will use you right where you are. Remember the dark does not want the Light to penetrate the domain. But we all know, God will be victorious, using humble clay pots such as us.

    1. I haven't actually used it myself, but two of my roommates have it, so they are always sharing with me the gems they read that day, and I'm getting hooked! Thank you so much for your prayers!


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