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Molly makes a mess

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Molly was nearing the end of her first year teaching fifth grade. She felt she was beginning to get things under control and was now trying to make her teaching more interesting. She was particularly concerned about science, which up to now had consisted of reading the textbook and answering questions. She decided to introduce her unit on the circulatory system with an experiment where kids would test their lung capacity by blowing into empty containers submersed in water. She carefully structured the introduction to the lesson, demonstrated what the kids needed to do and formed groups she thought would be successful. However, by the end of the lesson, the floor of the entire class was wet and so were many of the children. During the experiment, the teacher next door had come over and yelled at her kids to quiet down, and Molly had spent 40 minutes after school picking paper towels up off the floor so the janitor wouldn’t yell at her. Molly chooses to take a big risk in sharing this story with her mentor. Often new teachers share only problems they deem “safe.” Typically concerns about differentiating instruction, assessment and school policies are considered safer than concerns related to management. However, by opening up the real problems in her practice to her mentor, Molly creates the opportunity to get some help.

When Molly tells this story to her mentor Ryan, she says, “I’m never doing that again. It took twice as long as normal and made a huge mess. I just don’t think these kids can handle lessons like that.”

Ryan says, “I remember the first time I did an experiment like that. I ended up letting a box full of crickets lose in the room and had half the kids in the class up on their seats screaming and the other half running up and down the hallways looking for the darn things.”

Ryan could start by giving advice about how Molly could have structured her experiment differently. Or, he could agree with her assessment of the kids at their school. Instead, he shares a similar story from his own practice. This shows Molly she’s not alone in this and also gives her some hope that growth is possible.

Next, Ryan says that he’s learned some things since then and suggests that they plan a lesson together, which he could come in and team-teach with Molly during his planning period. Molly reluctantly agrees and says that she doesn’t think it will work in her room.

Ryan says, “It might not, but let’s give a try.”

Ryan decides that Molly needs to experience some immediate success in doing a hands-on science lesson and decides that the best way to create that success is to plan and teach the lesson with her.  Instead of arguing with her assessment of the situation, he carries on with his plan. As a mentor, Ryan decides that this time his mentee needs to be led through a difficult situation instead of exploring it on her own.