good days bad days: magic in the classroom

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i’ve been saying this to a lot of people lately: there’s nothing as good as a good day in the classroom.

when the students seem excited about the activity, when they (for the most part) listen, when they tell you what’s holding them back, when you can fix it for them, when they flourish, come together, support each other, grow, when the thing they’re getting better at isn’t science or the subject, but being more themselves and more confident…it’s the kind of day i imagine teacher’s dream of. I know I do.

one of the things i had a hard time doing last semester was keeping my cool. when people didn’t participate, it didn’t try hard enough to figure out why. when students acted out or difficult or didn’t pay attention, i didn’t consider *why* they might be acting that way, i just called out the behavior.

a moment this semester made me realize that mistake. this kid i teach, who has anxiety and adhd, and who i had last semester as well — he’s a handful to put it lightly. he almost always needs to be moving (unless he’s playing a game on his computer), he has a hard time not speaking out of turn, and in activities, he was never on task. i spent so much of my energy just trying to contain him and redirect him toward the activity.

one day a week or two ago, after a particularly rough class period in which i’d had to sit him out of the activity, i had a talk with him, asking him what was going on and why he wasn’t really participating in the activity.

and he said something that surprised me. not that he was bored or didn’t like the activity or was having trouble paying attention or any of that. No — the problem was he felt like his teammates weren’t listening to him and his ideas and so instead of sitting feeling dejected on the sidelines, he was acting out.

it was a revelation! and it was something i could fix. i could help facilitate communication and idea-sharing. i could put him in a group with people who were more likely to listen. and when i did those things, he flourished! the last few classes, he’s participated with his team, found ways to share his ideas, and learned to listen to others. his team, previously annoyed and exasperated with him, loves his ideas, often more than their own. it’s amazing.

and it turns out that almost all the students in that class who were acting out were doing so because they felt they weren’t being listened to. when i worked to fix those problems, all the sudden groups were doing amazing work. things were happening. my tuesdays and thursdays with my 5th and 6th grade classes became almost magical.

it helps that the students are young. my 7th and 8th grade class doesn’t run as smoothly. the 5th and 6th graders don’t seem as afraid to say when they feel stupid or unheard or ignored. they trust that i can help them. the older they get, i’m finding, the less they want to ask for help, and the less likely they are to admit when they’re feeling insecure, left out or not listened to. it makes it harder to help. it makes it harder for me to remember to be patient, to be kind, to be inquisitive. i get frustrated more easily because i don’t know how to help them when they won’t talk to me. there’s few things more demoralizing than a bad day in the classroom. i leave the school these days feeling so low and so sad wishing id done everything differently, wishing i could have found a way to make the students come alive.

but, then there’s those amazing days, days that are happening more often nowadays, where i leave school and feel like I’m floating on a cloud of awesomeness. there’s not much more amazing than a magical day teaching. so here’s to hoping i can mastermind some more of those…

to all the teachers out there, if you have any wonderful ideas for making class more magical more often, share here!

the one thing i learned from some teachers in providence recently was to have a period of class (or one day a week do this) where you ask the students a question about themselves. the idea is that by sharing these things were each other, the students start to look at themselves as a community instead of a class. they come together. the last two classes, I asked each class “What is your favorite memory, and why?” I got some the most incredible answers, answers that gave me insight into who these kids are, and what they care about. Two boys said their favorite memory was their little sister learning to ride their tricycle or taking their first steps. some talked about how going to visit their relatives in another country was the best. one girl talked about her first time at comic-con and how amazing it was. not everyone participated, but some people did who i didn’t expect. and their answers were so much deeper than i expected. i loved it. i hope it building community. i’ll let you know. :)

 

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