A few weeks go I was standing awkwardly in the commons area of my church. Teenagers surrounded me all of which were avoiding eye contact, absorbed into their phones. “No worries,” I thought, “It’s all good.” Then, I heard a scream, “Mrs. Farmer!” One sweet young lady grabbed a hold of me so tight I could hardly breathe, but I was so grateful. Then, I realized it was one of my students from the first full year of teaching. This young lady came from the most difficult home life, and I could hardly imagine what she went through, but no matter what–every day she came to school with a bright smile on her face. She inspired me every day as a teacher that year, and seeing her again just brightened my day. What struck me the most about our conversation was that she remembered dancing in my class and how much she loved it, and it meant so much to her. It’s truly moments like that, moments we’ve all had, that remind us why we became teachers–why it’s such a gift.
With that thought in mind I’d like to reflect and propose seven essential attitudes all classroom teachers need (starting with me) to maintain a positive and impactful year for 2016-17.
- Be Intentional: Summer is an awesome time to rest and reflect. It serves as a time to research and work to stay ahead of the curve in our practice. My goal is to be intentional with home life and work life. Keep each in their place and give each a sacred space of time. With a full first half of the school year ahead of me, like most busy moms who love both their jobs, being intentional with each lesson plan, each student interaction, each family outing, and each good night story will be essential for success at work and at home. How do you plan on being intentional this year?
- Be Present: Dave Burgess discusses this as immersion, which is vital to the classroom and needed more now than ever. This past week, I visited the Gulf with my family. The waves crashing on the sand, the bright sun overhead, making sandcastles and dinosaurs out of sand, and yet…most families sat on the side staring at their phones. Stare….stare….stare. Ignore…ignore…ignore. Silence. If the ocean doesn’t engage a person, I’m not sure that anything I do in the classroom stands a chance. So, here’s the deal. I’m leaving my phone in my car. I’ve pulled out my digital camera, and I’m going to assign a student to take a few shots when the opportunity arises. I do love pictures of the kids and looking back over the year. It truly tells a wonderful story. The vibe of a phone in the classroom kills it, though. Students just change. I don’t want that in my classroom this year. No phones. Just be present. How is being present vital to your classroom?
- Be Patient: Patience is a virtue, and I believe this happens more easily with less technology, and more of a balance between handwriting, keyboarding, readers theatre, and presenting. Creativity and use of the imagination does so much for our students’ development of life long learning. There is a large emphasis on constructed responses and non-fiction texts, which hinders their love of literature. As a side note-if the state needs help rewriting the ELA standards, I would be happy to help. In the meantime, I will be patient and teach the best for students to promote a love for literature and writing as well work to be successful on the Milestones exam. Also, we must be patient with our students, knowing someone was once patient with us. Grace is an amazing gift, and we often take it for granted until someone offers it to us. All great things happen with a patient heart. What does patience look like in your classroom?
- Be Content: Many times, as humans, we are always pushing toward the next, great thing or we are always pushing to press past the present moment. In the summer, we can’t wait until the cold, wintry months. In the winter months, we’re begging for the blistery heat of summer. Are we ever just content? As they say, don’t count the days…make the days count. My plan is to take John Wooden’s advice– make each day your masterpiece. Be thankful enough in that. How will you be more content this school year?
- Be Respectful: Many times, as teachers, we demand respect from our students. We become frustrated when they don’t seem to respect us. There are times when students are disrespectful for whatever reason, but often there is a reason, and we can’t just sit back and blame the parents for a poor upbringing. Classroom design is one key–the teacher must plan out how the students will react to the lessons that are planned. One college writing professor I met this summer from Emory University stated that she does not have her students write heavily on a daily basis. The students rebel. She integrates technology, where students dissect their heavier writing papers into infographics as part of the assignment. The design of the lessons reduces disrespect in the classroom, because the students are engaged in the work. In addition, I believe being present is the other component. If the teacher is circulating and working hands on with students in a lesson that matters, then less problems will occur. Therefore, multitasking shouldn’t exist in the classroom, although there is great pressure to answer e-mails, grade papers, and just juggle everything at the same time. However, this will only provide a disservice to students. Thankfully, with all the new Google technologies and digital rubrics, grading and feedback can be offered faster than ever, we must just remember kids know when we’re not present. They will resent not having all of us present with them. How do you believe respect is essential to the classroom environment?
- Be Engaging: As Dave Burgess exclaims, “Don’t throw that cold piece of raw steak at students and expect them just to grab it up, eat it, and be thankful afterwards.” It’s not going to happen. The older I get, with pre-teens and soon to be teen (in one month) of my own, I start feeling that I’m losing touch with the pre-teen mentality. Sometimes, I want to exclaim–like with my own kids–“So sorry, you don’t like this lesson?–Well–get over it, kid.” But, then, I remember these aren’t my kids. So….it’s a great idea to volunteer in areas with students outside of the school. For me, it’s working with the youth of my church, but it may also be working for the Boys and Girls Club, local drama club, the library, coaching a team..whatever it may be. Sometimes, we need to work outside of the realms of the classroom to view students from a different perspective so that we know how to be more effective in the classroom. Engagement in reality is heavily based on relationships. When teachers know their students, they know how to adapt their lessons for maximum engagement and ultimate success as learners. How does engagement play a role in your lesson design?
- Be Consistent: One of the greatest habits that I strive for in the classroom is consistency. Students should not have to worry about what teacher they will have that day, teachers aren’t allowed to have moods. That may seem like a lot to ask, but it comes back to putting ourselves in their shoes. How can students trust a teacher who is not consistent in their moods, appearance, or classroom expectations? Consistency creates security, which is essential to a positive learning environment. How has consistency played a role in your teaching?
I’ve mentioned seven attitudes which I believe are essential to the classroom. These are attitudes that I am always working on and striving to maintain. What would you add to this list? I know there are many more, and I’d love to learn from you. Thank you for reading and I wish you all the best as an educator as we all strive to be our best in the classroom and in our daily lives.