Friday, May 31, 2013

Teaching Boys

Before I had children of my own, if I stopped and thought about what life would be like once I had kids, those mythical “kids” were always boys. Not sure why, but they were. And I’ve now been fortunate enough to have two kids, two boys – Luke, who is almost eleven; and Liam, who is eight. While I certainly believe you can be a good teacher before becoming a parent, I know I absolutely became a better one after having children.

It was my boys that opened my eyes to the fact that the typical way elementary classrooms are set up favor compliant children, often girls. It was after having my boys that I realized the high percentage of boys diagnosed with ADD/ADHD or referred for special education. It was also after having my boys that I started paying attention to what the gender was of the child waiting to see the principal in the office. Nine times out of ten, it was a boy.

Why is this? I read up a lot on the issue, but then I started paying attention to my own classes. I will be overgeneralizing here, but when looking at fourth graders and thinking who will be in my room the following year I pay attention to:

·      The child who has an anxiety disorder
·      The child who needs “nurturing”
·      The child who hates reading
·      Any boys who are “active”

Those kids are almost always on my list. Why? Well, I struggle with anxiety myself – so I get that. I love every kid I’ve ever taught, so the nurturing makes sense. Reading – yep. And the boys…

I said goodbye to my class on Wednesday. That morning we were sitting in the classroom before heading out to the playground for field day. I looked over the room and thought how much I would miss them – and then thought about them. Ten girls, thirteen boys. Of those ten girls – and they were all incredible – eight are quiet. Two are outspoken, but not in a bad way. All incredible readers. Very little drama, if at all. (An unusual quality in fifth grade girls – made me love them even more!)

Now let me describe the boys. Thirteen of them. Eleven are outspoken or active. Wonderful students. Move a lot. At one point in the year I compared a few of them to puppies – they were rolling around on the floor and laughing non-stop. Some of them stood at their table when they wrote, one turned his chair backwards each time and knelt on it. He commented just the other day that he was surprised I never said anything about him sitting/standing that way. 

I looked at him and said, “If it helps you learn, why would I care?”

He commented that he’d never been allowed to in the past.

Last night I went to watch Liam play baseball. Chris helps coach his team so Luke and I stood behind the bleachers by ourselves, using the top row of bleachers to lean on. We stood because Luke prefers it, he’d rather be able to move than be “trapped” in a seat for the game – another lesson he has taught me. Three boys from my reading class came over – they were playing a game on the other field in a few minutes. We talked about their summer so far. Two confessed they hadn’t read that day, but promised they would when they got home. Later, three more boys came up – two from reading class, one from my homeroom. Again, we talked books and summer plans. One is finishing a series and asked if he could email me to talk about it as soon as he was done. Of course I said yes.

They left and Luke commented that he thought it was crazy that my students always came to sit and talk when they saw me. My reply was that we’d talk next year after he was in my reading class – maybe he’d see why. J  As I watched the game, I thought about it. I love all of my students; I can confidently say that every year. There are some years I’ve loved them more individually then as a class, but I’ve always loved them. That being said, I have a special spot in my heart for boys. So many have come to fifth grade and believed they were “bad.” They had their card turned, been sent to the principal, notes home, etc. Some of that is absolutely deserved, but other times I wonder if it is our expectations, our classroom environments. Sitting still, raising their hands, being quiet for large chunks of time – those are hard traits for me. How is a young active child supposed to accomplish that?

So each year I look over my class list. Often there are names that I assume I will see on it. I smile as I see them. I know that happened this year with a few, and my heart sang. I knew I would love them. Active can equal excited, or energetic. Looking at this year’s list, I knew we would have plenty of energy within our four walls, and we sure did.

And so, on Wednesday morning I looked over that room once more. I took a breath and read to them a few picture books, a letter I had written. We watched the video of photos from field day. And I smiled. Their voices sang along to the video and I lost myself into memories of the year. The crazy stuff that had happened. The study halls that were never quiet but were always productive and usually ended with me laughing so hard I cried. I began to wonder about next year’s class – thinking of the coming increase in class size. Wondering who will be on that class list? I bet I could guess a few. I know I will love them – from the moment their names appear on that list. And I know I will hate to see them leave, just as this class tore my heart in two only a couple of days ago. Is it worth it, absolutely. I hope a they leave realizing how much I loved them - the girls AND the boys. I hope they realize their potential knows no bounds. And I hope they find teachers next year who will love them for the amazing kids they are.