If you are catching me for the first time. ( I think I had 8 people looking at this blog before I abandoned it last year due to life) you will see from other posts I usually share a free idea or resource then say “This is how I would teach it.” So this post is just dipping my toe back into the blogosphere after being too overwhelmed to keep up. Please share if you can. More users always helps keep me going!
Its summer 2019. I don’t even know when I touched this blog last. I created it because I hate pay to play teacher sites. Making money off your teaching ideas, resources and approaches is for college professors and textbook companies. Teachers Pay Teachers is the saddest commentary on the state of our profession. We take the meager salaries we have, invest them in to produce propitiatory materials and then charge our friends their hard won money to do their jobs. Because its only five dollars here, two dollars there, it seems harmless but its sick. It also takes all of the thought, design, and intention needed to teach well then reduce it to a printable.
So I’m going to try and take up the mantle and run a post every month. That’s 12 months of posts. That should be doable. I will count this as August and then proceed on from there. I hope to share free resources and ideas to teachers everywhere instead of making them pay. We pay enough. We pay in our time, our hearts, and our souls, not to mention the thousands we spend out of pocket every year on kids. This month is a reflection on classroom climate
I am recovering from my first year back in middle school. I taught six class out of a six class day. I taught two honors classes in social studies and four core classes in the same subject. I am at a school that I would say is an amazing place. Its not all the way there yet. Its not yet, it may never be or it may blossom into the kind of place I want it to be tomorrow. The components are there.
I teach in the 5th largest district in the state of Washington. There are over 130 languages spoken in my district. My kids are from everywhere, with most new to America in the last four years.
My kids are by in large poor. They are mostly loved by their families but some have it bad. Like both parents in jail bad or living in the fourth place in six months bad, or not having your learning disability diagnosed because we assume its just because you speak English a a second language bad.
There is a refugee center and other dynamics that make this district one of the most diverse places in a seriously white state. For the school and surrounding community the last twenty years has seen a sea change in community culture. Where 15 years ago our school was the place to send your white suburban child, now it has been gerrymandered into a place where mostly poor kids of color whose family rent apartments go.
In public schools, like our world there are SO many problems to fix. Our school is saddled with all of them: language barriers, poverty, racial tension, crime, apathy, lack of resources, lack of commitment, low expectations, toxic masculinity, violence, and sometimes forgetting we are teaching children.
So there were many challenges that were larger than just teaching but all year I had victories. My favorite classes and students were often the most challenging. I think I helped many to open their eyes to the larger world around them. I helped them talk to each other, find ways to express their opinions, and challenged them to think and draw conclusions. I pushed many to accept that they had the answers and that they did not need to get them from me. I developed relationships based on the investment I had in the strengths and individual talents and traits of my students. And once in a while my kids learned to work hard because it felt good to know they could do well.
I also failed with too many. I took things personal. Or I didn’t get involved early enough. I let their words and attitudes confirm bias. I got angry they were misbehaving or acting socially outside my world view. I rewarded mediocrity, and spent too much time lecturing about behavior. I spent too many days feeling I was failing and wondering if it was worth it.
I think if I could have taught differently, consistently, I would have greater success and not let kids slip through the cracks. I think if I was always thinking about how the kids were going to experience what I had to offer, and found ways to make it about them, I would have not felt so much frustration.
So in true blog fashion I have come up with some pithy thoughts on how to make my classroom a better place for kids first, and thereby for me too. So next year, this is how I hope to Teach it:
They need to see you are not the enemy they are used to.
- You are the color, the gender, the age, the something they have dealt with all their lives and built up feelings about, chances are not good ones. You have to show them you are more than their assumptions. They will behave in ways that will try to convince themselves and you of established bias. Don’t fall into making assumptions or reacting like a stereotype.
They need to have a purpose for being with you.
- Students have to be academically successful. The minute they hit the wall without help the class and you become irrelevant and boring. This will require differentiation, interesting assignments, one on one instruction, alternate assignments and you bothering whomever you need to bother to get help for all of your students.
They want a safe place.
- Safe places are free from yelling and shaming. They are free from judgement or singling out students or student groups. They are also places they don’t have to acquiesce to other students whose behaviors go beyond acceptable school norms
They can live with boundaries if we respect them as people first.
- If conditions and consequences are similar for all, if you react to student behaviors based on behavior and not the student, you will see respect for established norms. If you worry more about respect for the class than respect for you, then the boundaries in place are not there for you, they are there for everyone.
They want you to talk less.
- Teach students the skills to talk to each other. Teach them how to discuss and not argue. Show them how to compromise and work together and require they do so. Then, give them the work where they are the main voices in the class. Let them present their work, their friends work. Discuss something everyday with someone new. Push their boundaries of who they will talk to to make class a place where talking happens. Focusing on giving them the communication tools they need will keep you more quiet and them louder!
So this is how I am going to teach it. Talking less, putting my nose in their business sooner, setting boundaries, and not making assumptions. Fingers crossed!