Recess Blog: Tell us a little about yourself.
Jessica Mellor: My name is Jessica and I teach at Praire Star Middle School in Leawood, Kansas. I teach grades 6-8, and I have been teaching for 7 years now.
RB: What was your main motivation for becoming a teacher?
JM: Growing up, I just really liked school! It was my favorite thing; I was a total book nerd. I knew that I always wanted to become a teacher since when I was young.
JM: First and foremost, I just try to be real with my kids. I want them to see what the world is really like. I want them to be good students of course, but more than that, I just want them to grow up to be well rounded people who can see what the world is really like, and thrive. Everything goes back to building strong relationships with my kids. We talk about how things really are. I let my kids use their phones in class, because they are going to have phones in the real world. If they are struggling, I want to problem solve with them and make the best of a difficult situation. And more than anything, motivation comes from itself. The kids know that it is school, and they have to be there regardless. So, since they are there, let’s figure out how they can be successful, and how I can help them become successful.
JM: It is real hard to say this in a “politically correct” way, but honestly, we are raising a generation of kids who do not know how to take care of themselves. We have parents who solve all of their kids problems and write them excuse notes for anything their kids don’t want to do. For me, I don’t believe these things are what it takes to raise someone who will become an adult and function in the real world. Navigating through that issue is extremely difficult. Kids need to realize that they have a choice, but there are consequences for their actions. Kids always have a choice, and they need to realize that those choices always have consequences. Teaching kids to be responsible and advocate for themselves in spite of what the world around them says is very, very difficult.
JM: We need to structure our classes in a way that our kids can receive what we are trying to teach them. The days are over where a student can just sit down and passively receive the information we tell them. The way I grew up, we walked in the classroom, sat down, and took notes. This generation has had technology in front of their faces literally since they were born. They can’t focus for very long periods of time. I organize my class into chunks, no bigger than 20 minutes at a time. We need to work to our kids strengths. Get them up and moving and participating without realizing they are even doing it. Whatever it takes to get them to engage is what we, as educators, have to do.
JM: In our building, we follow the PLC model, which stands for Professional Learning Community. It is a very powerful tool. Every day during 4th hour, we meet for 45 minutes and all we do is try to problem solve for kids. One day we may try to work with specific kids; some days are curriculum and assessment writing. It’s really all about getting on the same page. If one of us has an issue with another, we work it out. We are professionals and our schools are a professional environment, and that is how we look at it. Everything is about collaboration. We all want the best for our kids, so working together really helps us achieve that goal.
JM: You can’t be afraid of change. In education, there is typically a desire to get your class set up, create your curriculum, then just try to coast for the year. That’s not the way teaching should work. Teaching isn’t a 9-5 job that you just punch in and out of. It goes home with you; it goes to the summer with you. It lives in your head all the time, but when you embrace that, it really does become fun. When you embrace the challenge, that’s when you stay fresh and engaged. If you let yourself get lost in the details, it can become extremely overwhelming. When you focus on the joy and the fact that you get to be in kids lives, its a blast. It’s the most fun you’ll ever have, and the hardest thing you’ll ever do.