EVERYTHING I WAS TAUGHT IS WRONG
When I was a baby teacher, in Teach for America, we were taught to keep a tight ship.
Have something for the students to do every minute of the class. Have “overflow assignments” for when time runs short. They said, come in too strict rather than too lenient, you can lighten up later. Have clear rules and stick to them, no matter what. No exceptions. Be a professional, don’t be yourself. School is a factory and you’re Mr. Manager.
When I was in school I HATED that teacher, with a burning passion. I’ve talked before in this blog about why we shouldn’t make ourselves easily replaceable with robots and this another reason why.
So, why is this path bad for your personal practice and not just personally annoying to me?
There are two main reasons.
First, studies have shown we learn much better when we are happy and relaxed. If babies had to learn to walk in US classrooms, I doubt the species would be bipedal at this point. US classrooms are stressful and that stress is not producing positive effects.
Second, like it or not, schools help create citizens. Teachers influence kids. We teach core content, but we’re often the ones on the front line of teaching social skills and emotional competence. These skill are important and teachable but, you can’t do that as a lifeless drill sergeant.
5 Ways to Make Your Classroom a Happy Place
Gamification is gaining steam these days. There are entire schools devoted to the concept but its really an old one. People have been trying to make dull tasks into games for centuries. Kick the can, anyone?
There are many ways to achieve this in the classroom. A Pinterest search (here’s my game learning board) will come up with tons of ideas for making the mundane a little more engaging. Start small. Have students roll dice to see which question they’re answering. Make a board game out of drawing review cards.
Games can be cooperative or competitive. They can have rewards like extra points or candy or simply be there to be light fun.
Try to include variations once a week at least so learners are trained that when they come to your class, a good amount of their time will be spent on (mild) fun. You can use these for content or just a classroom brain break and class community builder.
Mind Your Manners and Be Kind
This one should be a no-brainer but I have worked with many people who don’t treat their students with the same courtesy they would an adult.
When you ask them to do something, say “please”. When they do it, say “thank-you”. Say “hello” when they come in. Call them by their name. Appreciate them when they do something extra.
When they look upset, ask them if they’re ok and if you can help. If they seem happy, ask them what the good mood is about. Tell them when other people speak highly of them.
Tell them you’re proud of them.
These little things are easy to forget- especially under the stress of a packed classroom, but don’t! They’re crucial for setting up a positive, emotionally intelligent classroom. If you model it, they’ll learn it too.
Build in Success
Simple fact about humans, we don’t like being bad at things.
When you don’t feel like a success, or that success is not possible you don’t want to put in the effort. We’re asking our students to do new things every day. Some they’ll take to right away and some that they won’t.
The best way to help them continue to try on these not-easy tasks is to build in early success. Have them review something you know they all know. Ask a question there is no wrong answer to.
Praise the process.
Learners need to feel successful, and as the person in control it is within your power to give them that feeling. It will make surviving the rest seem do-able and put them in a good mood for the learning process. Bonus: fewer classroom management problems!
You are a spectacular person. I know, because you are choosing to teach someone else something. That’s big.
You are a person too. You make mistakes. You say the wrong thing. You forget things you need to do.
I encourage you to share that with your students. When they think you are infallible, they get the idea that struggling is a failing. It makes them feel like their struggle is a sign they won’t get it.
Be open with them! Empathize! They need to know what adults make mistakes too and learn from them. They need to see a responsible adult person who makes it to work every morning cope with issues too.
It builds a community were they know its ok to fail. Its ok to not get it or forget something, its how they get up and dust themselves off that matters. I’m afraid the only way I can think to teach that is to model it.
In addition to their lowered anxiety over having to be perfect, you will also experience a lowering of anxiety. No need to never be wrong, or always be perfect. With the weight of being a robot lifted from your shoulders, the environment in your classroom will be lighter too.
Go ahead, laugh at yourself. You will not lose control of your class, you will simply gain their trust.
Let Them Be Themselves Too
People are weird. Kids are people, so they’re weird too. They make questionable choices. They slip up and say the wrong thing.
Rather than treating every minor infraction as a dire emergency, accept your students and redirect them to better choices.
Rules should be there to make the room fair and productive. They should address behaviors that are undesirable to those ends and replace them with desirable ones. Give your students ways to get their needs met that doesn’t disrupt the flow of learning.
Classrooms should be orderly and have clearly stated expectations for all students, but it should not be a prison.
Kids talk a little between activities? Let it go. A kid accidentally uses unacademic language, let them say sorry and move on. Tapping a pencil? Ask them to move that to their leg or arm to muffle the sound. Do they seem angry? Let them take a short break.
I used to be told these are special education strategies but really its about respecting who your kids are, communicating the needs of the classroom and helping them meet their own needs without losing focus or disrupting.
While we’re at it, stop belittling students who don’t have a material. I’ve lost pens before too, but I sure am glad the people at the bank don’t make me give them a shoe to use one.