Thursday, December 31, 2015

Boys in the Classroom

Last night I stood in the kitchen at my house and smiled. Four boys were in front of me, grabbing for boxes of pizza, lamenting that they were "starving." I looked at them, two were my sons, two were friends of theirs. Two are currently in my reading class, two were three years ago. All four are completely different personality wise. I reflected on that, you hear the phrase "boys will be boys" bantered about all the time, but what does that mean? Often I think it is lobbed as an excuse for poor behavior and that just irritates me. Looking at these beautiful kids in front of me, I asked if I could take a photo with them. None of them groaned, they are all used to this. We turned to my husband as he took the photo and I began to think of all of the boys I have taught.

I love teaching boys. I have frequently told principals I'd take an entire class of them. It isn't that it's easy. And it isn't that I think girls are hard. I have had amazing girl students too. I love them too and think they tend to get a bad rap as well. As a current student's parent was quick to point out last night, girls get accused of being mean and being filled with drama. That can be true for some girls, just as it can for some boys. No, the reason I have long loved teaching boys is that way back when I began in education, I heard so many teachers complain about them. They moved too much, talked too much, didn't pay attention, had crude humor, you name it. And while there was absolute truth underlying what these teachers were saying, all I could see was these kids being expected to act like mini adults and wondered how they felt about school. I wondered what they thought their teachers felt about them. I wondered how that impacted them. It was then that I began to push myself to meet my boys - and girls - where they were and go from there. 

I'm halfway through my twentieth year of teaching - two years in a kindergarten in the Chicago suburbs, two in a town even smaller than I live in now, and 16 in my hometown. Each year teaches me something new, but each year I become more and more an advocate for boys. I've learned what works - short lessons, allowing for movement, allowing for choice, not freaking out when they want to write about something violent, celebrating graphic novels, and laughing - lots of laughing. 

What I could never have guessed all of those years ago is the capacity these boys have to love their teachers. I have held more boys as they have cried, talked to more far after the years I have taught them. There is a connection that comes when any kid - boy or girl - knows that beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are there for them. I try hard to establish that those first weeks of school. Those weeks where some kids are already dreading coming back because they know they will be labeled "the bad kid" again. Those kids I want to get to know as fast as I can, to let them know that I'm thrilled they are in my class. 

The other night I sat with my family at our high school boys'  basketball game right behind the players. Luke, who is 13 and knows more than I do, informed me I was cheering too loud. I looked at him and grinned. I do feel it is my duty to embarrass him at every turn. I replied, "Too bad, bud. I taught these kids. I love them and I want to make sure they know I'm proud." One of the boys overheard me and turned around, grinned, and nodded. Luke looked at him, at me, and then smiled.

Teaching is such an amazing job. We get to be with these people for an entire year, but they will likely remember us far after we are gone. Will they remember my lessons? The books I recommended? The stories we wrote? Maybe, but I have a feeling they will remember how I made them feel. Whether they thought I was happy or frustrated to see them each day. All kids are important - boys and girls. School is often set up for success for our girls, but what about the boys? Let's make a goal this new year to see all of our kids for who they are and make sure each and every one of them knows we are glad to see them in the morning. 

If you'd like to read an older post I wrote about teaching boys - with a fabulous, fabulous class - click HERE