Until I took a trip to Campeche, Mexico in my junior summer of high school, I was that kid who thought little of himself.
It would take six weeks in a foreign country, living with a family I didn’t know, understanding not a word of Spanish and surrounded by a very attractive group of girls to convince me that I might actually have something within me that others find interesting.
Why that group of girls chose to pick me up in that tiny VW Beetle and take me with them to the discotheque I have no earthly idea. I will of course admit to you, it left quite the impression.
Before that trip, and the events of which still confounds my mother to this day, I was the quiet one.
In school, I would hide behind the student in front of me.
I kept my hand down and cast my eyes downward when the teacher asked for a response.
If there was ever a chance to voice discontent or share an unpopular opinion, it definitely wouldn’t be coming from me.
I did not cause trouble and did not cause my teachers any grief. Because of this demeanor, it was rare that I held the attention of my teachers. I did not appear on their radar as unruly or as someone that needed to be confronted. In fact, thinking back, I can’t think of many teachers who made an effort to get to know me.
Except for Mr. David Saunders. My sixth grade teacher made it a point to ask me for help with German, a class he was taking. I felt special being called upon by my teacher for academic help. He made science an adventure as he included me in his plans to confound my fellow students with remote control contraptions for which only I had the remote. He left a great impression on how to bring out the best in this student.
And now that I’m that teacher calling on students, I know that the same kind of student sits in my classroom.
In what has become an annual tradition, New Year’s Eve survivors now either hold tightly to their resolutions or have in these last few days resolved to admit that they were shared in a moment of weakness.
I therefore refuse to do the same and attempt to continue what I sometimes do fairly well.
Sometimes, but not nearly enough.
I will do a better job of being that teacher who calls on the person sitting on their hands.
I will more often ask the shy one to step forward and share with the class how they successfully solved a problem.
I will attempt to have an honest conversation with the student who wants no part of sharing why he or she is so defiant.
I will keep trying to force a smile upon my quietest students with a joke or self-deprecating humor. I will summon from my list of nicknames till one fits so well they begin to use it on the top of their papers.
I will do a better job at focusing on those who would rather not be focused upon.
In doing so I will remember that sometimes we all need some time alone with a good book or a brain break by doing something creative.
We all need a break, teachers included, from what can become a monotonous classroom. It is then that I will introduce a game, a stretch break, a song or perhaps evoke the timeless thrill of story time – or even show and tell.
I will remember the students who aren’t always at the top of their class, nor in danger of failing their state assessments.
I resolve to reach the unreachable and ignored.
This of course does not happen anywhere near as much as it should. After thirteen years, you would think I’ve got a successful plan that hits on all cylinders.
Sadly, you’d be wrong.
Caught in the zeal to get to the end of my lesson plans I’m too often relieved that there weren’t too many questions. I assume that means the students learned enough to be able to continue to the next lesson.
Yes, I know.
Assumptions aren’t a good practice to rely upon.
As this new year begins, as I enter the dark classroom in the morning and turn on the computer that sit on my desk, as I write down the morning message that my students will read when they arrive, I will do a better job paying attention when I haven’t in the past.
I will reach out and do more than teach – I will connect with those who are hiding and hoping that they can quietly sit and remain anonymous.
I won’t allow them to be unreachable or ignored. I won’t let them be who I so faithfully tried to be.
This is not a resolution that will fall by the wayside as other priorities find their way to the top of my to do list.
This is simply a promise to my students.
What resolutions or promises have you made to your students this year? What is your hope for your classroom and why? I would love to hear them, and would appreciate your sharing them in the comments section.
You don’t know me. Yet.
I am your future teacher.
As soon as you were put on my classroom roll, I cared about you.
Does that sound weird to you?
Well that’s just us teachers. We’re an interesting bunch. Most of us became teachers because how we feel about kids and wanting to help. We remember. It wasn’t always easy being the son or daughter and having to pull ourselves together to sit in a classroom and endure.
I thought I would write this letter to you to let you know the type of teacher I am and my hopes for this year. Maybe you’ll think this is odd or maybe you’ll like it. Maybe when you come on the first day of school this letter will make you feel a little better – I hope it will.
I don’t know much about you beyond your picture. You were smiling for the camera. I’m sure the people at home loved it. I wonder if they have that picture pinned to the refrigerator like I’ve done with my kids’ pictures. Expect to hear stories about them throughout the year and when I get home I will probably share stories about you with them.
Now that I’ve had my class roll about a week I’ve copied your name more than a few times for all kinds of reports or labels you don’t know about yet. I can spell your name pretty well by now, I just might mispronounce it on the first day. You can count on me doing my best to get it right pretty quickly. No one likes their name mispronounced. I didn’t – imagine all the ways Kaminski can be said out loud the wrong way. It’s a whole bunch.
I don’t know if you’re awesome at reading or if math frustrates you like it did me when I was in elementary school. I wasn’t always awesome at school. Maybe you are. Maybe you aren’t. Either way is ok with me. I just want you to be better at the important stuff by the time you finish our year together.
I don’t know much about your teacher last year even if you were at my school. I didn’t spend all those days with you last year, so I don’t know how it went. I haven’t hunted down your teacher to learn all about you because I want to us to get to know each other first.
Maybe you love school and all the things you might learn or maybe you hate every bit of it – I hope you don’t hate school. When I became a teacher I told myself I wanted to be the kind of teacher that students would want to see in the morning.
School can be a tough place, but shouldn’t be. Our classroom can be the kind of place where we all help each other. If we’re having a tough day and need a friend, we should be that person. If we’re having a great day, we should celebrate.
So I’m asking you to care.
Care about doing your best. Care about your friends and even those people you don’t know yet. Care about our classroom and making it the best place it can be. We’re going to spend a lot of time together and I want you to feel safe. Safe to ask questions and not always get the answers right. I want you to feel good about our class and how you’re treated.
About the humor thing. If I tell a joke that you think is corny or say something in a funny voice, it’s because I’m after a smile. I’ll try to wait a while before I start all that, although that’s hard for me. I like to hear students laugh. Sometimes students misunderstand and think that when I’m trying to funny, I’m not serious about your learning – totally untrue. That’s why I’ll go easy on the jokes at first. You need some time to get used to how we do things and who I am.
If I tell you a story it’s because I want you to learn something important. Sometimes stories are a lot more fun than just being told if something is right or wrong.
If I get serious with you it’s because I care.
You’ll probably hear me tell the class about this guy Randy Pausch who wrote the book The Last Lecture. He came up with a list of life rules and one of them is about when he was playing football as a kid. His coach was really tough on him one day. One of the assistant coaches came up to him after practice and said he noticed how tough practice was – how the coach had been riding him. Then that coach told him something that sounded crazy. He told that tired football player how lucky he was because if his coach didn’t care, he wouldn’t have ever been tough on him. He just would’ve walked away and not spent the time trying to make him a better player.
Maybe you’ll understand I care about you when I get disappointed. I have high hopes for you. Maybe you won’t understand. I don’t think I would have gotten it when I was your age. I would have just thought the teacher was mean. I’m not mean.
By the way, when I was your age, I was really shy and quiet. I never wanted the teacher to call on me because I didn’t want to get the answers wrong in front of everyone. You should know it’s ok to guess and not get everything right. It’s really important that you try your best.
You aren’t my first class. You are my 14th.
For the last 13 years I have taught a lot of students who each year have come into my class about 180 times – that’s a lot of hellos.
Now let’s do just a little math, just a little I promise. That’s about 325 students since I started teaching. Well, there’s more than that because I taught some kids who came to my class just for math or social studies. So it’s probably closer to about 400 now.
That’s a lot of talking and teaching. That’s a lot of time together every year.
So you can trust the fact that I’m ready for you to arrive.
I’ve had some practice.
Remember when I told you about being better at the important stuff by the time you leave my class? When I say that I don’t mean math or reading or science or social studies or writing. I’d be a bad teacher if I told you I didn’t care about those things. I do want you to get better at those subjects so you’ll be ready for the next grade.
What I mean though is that I hope you’ll be a better person after we’ve spent a year together. I hope you’ll look around more, notice more, care more and share more. I hope you’ll learn more about yourself and really understand that you have gifts. They make you both awesome and different than anybody else.
Last thing, because this is getting kinda long and this isn’t reading class so we should finish up. You should know that I think about you when I go home and probably the next day when I go back to school again.
Teachers do that, you know. They don’t leave school and forget about what happened that day. If you had a bad day I will wonder why and what I can do to help. I’ll even wonder if I did something that made your day less than awesome. If you had a great day, I’ll be cheering even if you can’t hear me. Can you tell I want you to have a great year?
So, see you on the first day of school.
Remember to relax and be ready to start a great year together. I look forward to getting to know you.
The other day I was rushing to the copier in hopes of beating the bell before students arrived.
“Don’t ever smile,” is what I overheard a colleague share with a student teacher as I raced by. “You’ve got to be serious all of the time.”
I nearly snapped my neck wondering who would give that kind of advice.
I’ve heard other bits of sage advice about being personable in the classroom as I’m sure you have as well.
Don’t smile before Thanksgiving or your class will become unruly. You’ll never get control of your class after you share a joke. It will be chaos, you’ll see.
If you’ve ever taught or are about to, how to act in front of your classroom has definitely been part of the conversation. Whether in the classroom as a student yourself or in the teacher lounge, antics from the front of the room are often debated. Too nice, too mean, too strict, too casual. What’s the best approach?
To be frank, this last week has been draining. Perhaps it’s me or my students or both of us. We’re tired of prepping for the state assessments coming up in about two months and we obviously have a while to go yet. So I’ve had to force the funny and they’ve had to reel in their zany demeanor at times.
I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Sure it’s more work to rein them in at times – I just love the genuine third grade smiles and laughter. Their enthusiasm is impressive as well. Their jokes brighten my day as much as I hope mine do in their lives.
Can they control themselves? You bet they can.
Can they transition back to seriousness as we return to the lesson? Definitely.
I admit that sometimes the funny doesn’t work. However I don’t think you stop trying. The power of the funny is too important.
Funny breaks the ice that first day of school. It allows us to laugh at ourselves when we mess up. It reiterates that we’re not robots.
Funny puts people at ease.
One can also convey seriousness when the funny isn’t used. When a serious subject or topic is needed, the absence of laughter is definitely noticed.
Funny is an approach useful in motivating when students just don’t want to do the work anymore.
Going after the funny helps your students realize that you’re human, after all. Being human is good.
I suppose every teacher has his or her standards. Not laughing, smiling, or enjoying myself at the front of the classroom just isn’t on my to-do list.
Remember the class you had when your teacher just seemed to be there without any emotion whatsoever?
You and I are not alone with those memories. That teacher no doubt served as inspiration in a film you’ve undoubtedly seen.
Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?
That guy has made a name for himself with his monotone delivery. Not only do I not want to have to sit in his class and hear him drone on and on. I don’t want to be that kind of teacher either.
I’ll take my lead from Dr. Pappas as I briefly mentioned in Classroom Truths & Hints. He held us spellbound with antics that startled and amused us into never missing a class regardless of his no attendance policy. He had us when he walked into class mimicking bird calls.
Here are a few of my attempts at funny.
- Birthday hats made upon request. All you need is some construction paper, a pair of scissors and a stapler. A simple endeavor in which the crazier the hat is made the better. No two are alike because it’s just impossible to do that kind of zaniness twice. Students love it and more than one has told me how they’ve kept theirs for years afterward.
- Nicknaming students. Obviously take some time to get to know your students to better anticipate whether they will take offense if you suddenly call them Bubba or Bubbette. Sometimes nicknames even find their way home or heard on the playground. That’s when you know that Frozone was the perfect name for the student that calculated his math problems with icy precision.
- I try to include stories in the middle of my lesson. It not only offers a mental break, but it encourages another opportunity for students to get to know me better – building relationships = better learning.
- I throw in accents occasionally to be a head turner. They not only awaken the student at the back of the room who has ventured to the beach by the look in his eyes, but they result in all students listening a bit closer to what you’re saying. You can actually see them lean forward listening intently.
- Cheese and Crackers. I’ve long since forgotten how this title emerged. The premise is a student volunteers to come to the front of the room and sit on the stool. We get to ask him or her questions about favorite dessert or vacation. I start it off with a few and then students raise their hands to be called on by the student. It’s a combination of laughter and sincerity as we learn more about each student. After a few questions, it is quickly apparent what little we know of our students even though they sit in our classroom day in and day out.
School doesn’t need to feel like school.
Yes, students’ jobs are to learn, but they didn’t sign up for this job did they? It’s not as if they stood in line for an application hoping to get the position of student.
School is hard enough without making it an experience that they will enjoy. Sometimes it’s the engaging lesson, and sometimes it’s starting the day with a smile.
Add in a quick story about something funny that happened on the way to school that morning and your students are already engaged.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about being funny at the front of the classroom.
Do you agree that adding humor is acceptable, if not crucial?