There are teachers out there who have been working hard the last few weeks to develop a theme for their classroom this year, whether it be overt in the decorations and bulletin boards, or more subtle, a “guiding principle” for their teaching and learning.
This is good. It’s helpful to have a well-thought-out guide for “how we do things around here”.
Sometimes the “theme” is public and visual; sometimes private, held close to the vest by the teacher for motivation, or for a mental reset during the lowest moments of the year.
One year early in my career, as I prepared to teach kids who were repeating Algebra I, I settled on Buzz Lightyear triumphantly pointing a finger at Woody and boasting “Can!” after he (sort of) flew around Andy’s room as my guiding principle. I wanted my students to know I believed in them whether or not anybody outside of our district did.
It seemed a perfect motivation for kids who struggled in math, maybe had their doubts about whether they even wanted to be “good at school”. I related my plan to my next-door teaching neighbor, a gamer/sci-fi/animation geek who went about 6-6. He looked at me and said, “You know Buzz was delusional, right? He really couldn’t fly?”
Yeah, the whole thing does fall apart right there, huh?
As I write I sit on the cusp of a new school year. In less than 24 hours I’ll meet a senior homeroom (graduation is May 31st you guys!), then 155 brand-new math students. Well, not all brand-new. I have a handful of holdovers from my freshman classes a year ago. Plus my son (and some of his knucklehead football buds) will be in my 7th hour Math 10 class. Ora pro me.
Friday was our freshman orientation. I had forgotten that included new-to-the-district kids too. So as I was prepping for the freshman activities fair, four kids wandered into my classroom, looking as lost as most of the 15-year-olds who wander the halls on this last day of summer freedom.
We do all our welcoming on the first day in my classes, and given just five minutes with each class of freshmen on orientation day all you can really do is ask a few questions:
- “Do you know where you’re going next class?
- “Do you know what lunch you have?”
- “Do you know your locker number yet?”
So that took like 30 seconds, now what? Despite being a teacher I’m kind of an introvert by nature and small talk is not my strong suit. But I have a trump card: ask questions about the other person. Let them carry the conversation. Then listen. It’s a philosophy that’s helped me avoid a lot of awkward silences thru the years.
“Where did you go to school last year?”
Now we’re getting somewhere.
One girl came from Indy, one was a move-in from the south suburbs, two kids from schools out in the county.
So one kid coming from an enormous racially mixed high school (literally twice as big as my school, which is itself one of the 30 largest in the state), one kid crossing a state line from the Chicago area to the cows and the corn, and two kids whose whole schools are barely bigger than my class rosters.
They’re already gonna feel like they don’t belong when they get here on Monday. Best thing I could do Friday was take my five minutes and just listen to their stories. Make sure that on Monday they’ve got somebody they’ve already met, who remembers them. It’s the least I can do.
I’m clearly not the first guy to go into a year with a clear plan to build relationships, or to plan to build relationships with the kids who feel like they don’t belong.
But if the things I heard and read and thought about and wrote about this summer mean anything at all, this is where it has to start. On Day One, with every kid, but especially with the kids who come to me feeling like “other”.
I’m gonna miss summer. I’m gonna miss reading in the sun with a cold drink and a bowl of fruit at my side. I’m gonna miss sleeping in, and afternoon naps. I’m gonna miss sitting around the fire with friends. I’m gonna miss sunsets on the beach, and concerts in the park, and a million other things.
But it’s time. It’s time to go back. It’s time to meet kids and learn about them and serve them. It’s time to teach. And I’m ready, thanks to some kids I met unexpectedly on a Friday afternoon.
Four years ago I followed through on a commitment to begin blogging as a way to reflect on my practice. I’m not really even sure that blogs are a thing anymore, but I’ve got a handful that I read on the regular (Blogroll is over there to the right).
My online PLN is blogging their way thru August in the #MTBoS Blaugust2019 challenge. Check out the complete list here. While you are there, sign up to join in the fun. Not sure what to write about? Here’s some prompts. I’m waiting to read, learn, and grow with my Teacher Twitter people.