Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Simple Truth

I'm attempting to write everyday in March.Today is 8/31.
Counting my two years teaching Kindergarten at a KinderCare in Schaumburg while getting my masters degree at night, I've been in the classroom almost twenty-two years. I've taught in urban settings and rural; high poverty schools and in middle class communities; kindergarteners and seventh graders; self-contained elementary, pull-out resource, departmentalized reading/writing, and PE/Music. It has been an adventure. What I know after all of this time, with all of these kids, is that teaching is a lot of work. Kids do not typically come into our classrooms with joy, ready to do the work of the day, and then turn in their perfectly completed homework before leaving. Teaching is, at times, a battle and we are down on the field. The only way to win, the only way to get them to reach for their fullest potential, is by simply knowing kids. That's it.

Over the years I've always been praised for the fact that kids tend to "behave" in my classroom. I kind-of have a few issues with that. What does behave even mean? Does that mean that kids sit quietly, only speaking if they are supposed to?  God, I hope not. Classroom management is something I've thought a lot about. When I first began teaching Harry Wong's First Days of School was handed out to new teachers. I remember then thinking it was all about control and realizing I wanted no part of that. I don't think I have any special secret other than one simple truth, I want kids to be kids. I don't want to control them, I want them to know that I care about them. I don't want them to follow a prescribed set of rules, I want them to create a room that works for all students in it. I don't want them to only do the work assigned, I want them to reach, to grow.

That doesn't work out every day.

I wish that there was a magic secret, a simple way to get every child to feel fulfilled, to reach their highest potential. So far, I haven't found it.

What I've found is that if you respect kids, if you laugh with them, cry with them, get to know them, love them, it all works out. I think it's important to have realistic expectations of them. A great book I would recommend in this regard is Yardsticks by Chip Wood. It looks at what is typical behavior for every age level. Too often we are expecting kids to behave better than many adults. That doesn't mean we can't have higher expectations, it just might mean a lot of work to get kids to reach for that next level.

Over the years I've had a lot of teachers visit my classroom to watch me teach. I've gotten over the fact that so many say, "There's nothing that hard about what you're doing..." I don't take it as an insult, but it does make me smile. What they've all eventually shared is that my classroom, our classroom, is pretty peaceful. I'm not a loud teacher, but that's just not my way. I like to laugh, I like to talk. There is often a quiet hum of talking when we are in workshop time. I'm good with that. I'm relaxed, but firm. As a student came in my room the other day I whispered to him that he needed to sit next to the table I confer at for workshop. He had been messing around on the computer the day before and needed to earn my trust back. He looked at me, I could see the temptation to argue, to protest was there. I looked back and said, "Love ya, need to get back on the right path, let's go." And we moved on. 

Teaching isn't about lots of rules, and making it a dictatorship will not find the results most of us want. My goal is always that I would want to be a student in my own class, that I would be comfortable there. To be comfortable, I need to know I'm seen, that I'm wanted. When I share that with some teachers they scoff, saying that's not the kind-of classroom they want. To that I think to each their own, because this is what works for me. My students make me laugh, every single day. They've worried about me over the past thirty-seven days as I've battled the flu, a never-ending cough, and some crazy cold that I currently have. They've brought me cough drops, researched home remedies, and suggested I stay home and sleep. They care about me, I care about them, long after I'm done teaching them.

After school today I went to the local grocery store to grab a few ingredients for dinner. One of the baggers was a student in my class eleven years ago. He is almost twenty-two. We talked on and off as he bagged the groceries for the woman in front of me, then the people in the checkout behind me. As I was walking out I yelled goodbye to him as he was stationed at another lane. As I walked out I shouted, "Read a book, for Pete's sake." His laughter followed me out. 

Teaching is not a one year endeavor, these kids will hopefully remember me long after our time together is over. I hope I make an impression that lasts. I hope that I teach them to love reading, the beauty of writing well. And I hope I teach them to be good people. That's all I could ever ask for because the simple truth is that I respect them. They're kids. They're going to mess up. So will I. And we'll come back together, talk books, writing, and whatever crazy lesson I plan up next, and enjoy our year long journey. It's a good place to be.