Let me give you some context. Two weeks ago the bell rang for our first day of class. I was running somewhat late to my classroom, where 11 sixth grade students waited for me. Thankfully, most of them were running late too as they tried to figure out how to open lockers and get to class. These 11 students and my two sixth grade students make up my Panther Success class. This is a group of students who will come to my classroom every Wednesday from now through the end of their career at Southside Middle School. The plan is for every student to have a teacher who cares about them and their success. Our school decided to start the first two and a half weeks with panther success every day. For the rest of the school, this provides some routine and a good location to share rules and expectations.
For me, it was a little more stressful, especially day one. I had one aide and we were trying to figure out how to welcome our 8 students to school, make sure they had breakfast, divide them up into their groups, provide the structure and routine they needed, and still make sure I was able to interact with the students in my panther success group. Thankfully, my aide figured out how to manage all my students during breakfast and drop them off in their classes on the way to my classroom. She then helps with a few needs in my class before joining another teacher with my students in another classroom.
The first few days were definitely stressful for everyone involved. Most of the sixth graders were stressed (both groups) as they adjusted to middle school. On day two I had a few minutes with my Panther Success group before my students joined us. I brought up my students for discussion, explained some things, and answered questions. They had some good questions those first few days. One of my students is nonverbal, but makes a decent amount of noise. Initially, this brought a lot of stares and some frustration from my other students. The first time I fed a student Pediasure using a syringe (without a needle), I thought eyes would pop out of heads. Every time I did something new, I would explain it to my class.
What a difference two weeks makes. Today, I planned an activity that everyone could participate in equally. Students were supposed to read, work on puzzles, or do homework. Most ended up choosing puzzles. Before we even got started, one of my Panther Success students suggested that my other student might be hungry and want his Pediasure before we got started with anything else. She then proceeded to check his backpack and help him get what he needed out for the day.
Later, as they were working on puzzles around the room, I saw the same student talking with my nonverbal student and engaging him about his puzzle. It didn't matter to her that he couldn't respond. He was happily working on his puzzle with a friend. Just a few minutes later I turned around to see three boys on the floor working a puzzle with another of my students. It didn't matter that he could have done the puzzle by himself. They had chosen to get down on his level and talk with him about his puzzle while they completed it together.
I am still amazed when I think back on the looks of fear and confusion on their faces during the first few days of school compared with the natural interaction I witnessed today. What a transformation! I am so thankful that I got to witness this today and can't wait to see how these friendships will grow over the next year.