I recently posted this photograph on my Facebook page, with a little story that went along with it. Basically, I was refilling my bean bag chairs, when a student sat on one, not knowing it wasn’t zipped and this happened. For a few minutes, it actually looked like it was snowing in my classroom. There was so much laughter and everyone jumped in to help clean up.
I received lots of comments and laughs about this picture, and just so you know, beans are still floating around in my school. In the library, in the hallway, even in kids’ backpacks. But, a few of the comments stuck with me. Things like:
“I’d want my kid in your class! I’m so glad you let them have fun!”
“This is what’s missing from school today: fun.”
And you know what? They are SO RIGHT. Fun is important, and it’s missing from our schools these days. So much is. But fun can’t happen unless you are a community first. In my opinion, neither can much work.
My goal as an educator is two-fold, to build a community and to inspire to learn.
That’s it. That’s what I’m trying to do. And let me tell you, it’s SO HARD. Teaching 22 9- year-olds how to be a family, when some of them don’t have a family of their own? That’s hard. Inspiring kids to learn who go home and play video games until they are actually sick to their stomach? That’s tough, too.
But, the thing is, it’s what gets me up in the morning. It is NOT test scores, or reading levels, or interventions, it’s the connection that I make with the kids in my class. I take my job seriously, and I look at the data and I do everything I can to help kids get what they need. My primary focus, though, is showing kids that when you work together, you can do anything.
Every other Friday afternoon, my class does acknowledgments. So, we sit in a circle, and someone starts, and we say things like, “I acknowledge Joey for helping me with my math project,” and “I acknowledge Sam for playing 4 square with me when no one else wanted to.” And then, at the end, I go around the circle and I acknowledge every single kid in my class. I tell them how they inspired me this week. I tell them how proud I am of them. I even tell them that though they messed up this week and got in trouble in music class, I’m proud of how they handled it, and I’m sure it won’t happen again.
And, you know what?
There is a clear dichotomy in my classroom. The kids who are told this at home, told this by their parents and family members, and truly believe that they are good, they grin from ear to ear while I talk about them. Their eyes dance and their cheeks turn pink with pleasure.
The other half, though. The other half, they are the ones that never hear this. They are the ones who have no idea what they are worth. And they don’t smile when I talk about them. They cry. Tears spring to their eyes and they lock eye contact with me, and they don’t let go.
Those every-other-Friday acknowledgments (which I’m technically skipping social studies to do, so don’t tell anyone) are why I stay in this job, even though I am EXHAUSTED and so tired of the politics and people who don’t understand at all what it’s like to be responsible for these little lives making all the decisions. I stay because I can make my class a family. We have inside jokes, and they know lots of stuff about me.
They know I’m writing a book about losing twins, and they think it’s awesome. They checked in with me every day to see if I got my audition for Listen to your Mother. They ask what silly things my kids have done lately. And in turn, I know that one boy’s mom just got a new boyfriend, and he’s kinda mean. And a girl who never sees her mom is getting to spend Easter with her and she’s excited. I know who wants a hover-board for her birthday, and who likes to draw dragons.
This is what life is made of, folks. Having fun, sure—but mostly, building relationships. It’s more important than anything else. Certainly more important than how they do on a math test, but we care about that, too, because we are in it together.
Our schools are missing this community building. We’re stuck to teaching a certain amount of minutes of each subject, barely leaving time for recess, let alone a morning meeting to welcome your class. We need to be responsive to our classrooms, because when we’re not…we’re not being responsive to kids. We aren’t teaching them the skills they need to get along in this crazy world.
Teachers out there, you keep doing what you are doing. We will get through this, somehow. And don’t forget to have fun, although I do not recommend refilling bean bags to achieve this. 🙂
You’ve got this, yo!