It’s Monday morning, and I’m wondering if the teachers with whom I work are standing outside their doors, and greeting each student as they meander into the classroom. Are they shaking their hands? Are they asking about the music in their headphones? Are they asking about what they read, or saw, or discovered, or questioned over the weekend?
It can be difficult to stand up from behind our desks, and venture the 15 feet to the doorway. We are tired. We are grumpy. We don’t always want to be there on a Monday morning. Hell, we don’t always want to be there on any day that ends with “day”. But, that doesn’t mean our students should suffer because of our pseudo-struggles, or our very real struggles. That doesn’t mean we can’t greet them like it’s the best part of our day, because it could possibly be the best part of theirs.
The other day I watched a brand new teacher step into the threshold, and give a high-five, or fist bump, to every student who walked through the door. He said their name, he made positive comments. He made sure they felt noticed, and that they knew he wanted them there. I realize that newer teachers are just coming from a program where they were taught that this is one of the most important facets of education, so why is it that so many veteran teachers forget this simple task?
Students are the lifeblood of a classroom. If they don’t feel like we notice them, then they might not focus, or care, or work, or more importantly, inquire. Too many teachers focus too much on the lesson plan in front of them, or which students they don’t want to see that day, or the annoyance of the kids talking in the back of the room. It’s not easy for a teacher to recognize that they, themselves, might be the issue.
That being said, teachers have issues as well. Health, or family struggles, or lack of sleep, or whatever the case may be, these are no different than the students. Sometimes we just want to put our heads on the table, and hope the day moves quickly, but that’s rarely the case. Students respond well to their teachers who are not feeling well. They empathize with not wanting to be in the classroom. There were days when I came into my classroom with a migraine, or sick-as-a-dog, and simply put a note on the board that read, “Margolin is not feeling well, so today is a work day”. I may not have been teaching, but my students – hopefully – understood what they needed to do, and for the most part, I could be left alone to quietly conference with students, or work on grades, or help where needed. We can’t run away from our class to hide in an office, but we can prepare our students to be able to work independently. We are always in front of our students, and for the most part, we have to be productive; however, that doesn’t mean you can’t work with your students. It doesn’t mean that you stop pushing the kids toward bettering themselves.
My wife reminds me, on a regular basis, that what we say must be productive, kind, and move the conversation – or action – forward in a positive manner. That’s not to say that we can’t question one another, or disagree, but it means that we need to do it in a way that maintains engagement, and genuine interaction. So, when looking at your students, what is it about that assignment that isn’t interesting? Why don’t some students want to listen? What is it about the way you’re approaching the information that is leaving that student uninspired? Is it outdated? Is it worthwhile? And, conversely, for those who are listening, why is it relevant? How can you use those students, to engage those who aren’t as interested?
If you’re a teacher who offers a bit of sustained silent reading, don’t require your students to bring in a library book. Instead, have them bring in anything that interests them – as long as it’s appropriate, of course – and dive into that material. Remind them that their interests matter. If they are wont for information on building a car, than allow them to read a auto-manufacturing guide. Interested in sports, maybe they bring in a Sports Illustrated. Really invested in their Twitter feed? Have them find three articles to read. For whatever material they bring to the classroom, have them write a summary, a claim, interesting quotes, or anything that keeps their brain working beyond the page in front of them. Have students who want to share about their reading for the day, allow them the opportunity to do so – they may inspire other students to pick up like materials. It might lead to conversations. Maybe it can even lead into what you’re working on that day. Maybe your entire day is spent on having students discuss their passions. Maybe that’s the lesson. If we’re stressed about Common Core, then you now have room for Speaking and Listening Standards, as well as several opportunities for both Reading Informational, and Reading Literacy Standards. Either way, you’ve increased the interest level in your classroom.
It’s okay to build relationships with students. It is absolutely okay to share your interests with them, and talk with them about what you are reading, or thinking, or excited about. It is okay to spend a class period just talking with your students – as it pertains to your content area – about what is going on in the world. If there’s no interest, or engagement, then why is it even in the classroom? There is no purpose to teaching something that is not productive, or that does not push the conversation forward. There is no point to being in a classroom if your intention is something beyond creating the best students, people, and self, than maybe you’ve overstayed your investment in that curriculum. Maybe it’s time to listen a bit more to those directly in front of you. Maybe it’s time to step outside the door, and greet every opportunity to enhance the student experience. Maybe it’s just time to remember why you started teaching in the first place.
Follow Chris Margolin on Twitter @theEDUquestion
Originally published with NCTE