In my last blog, I discussed some of my frustrations with the education I'm getting to become a teacher and what I felt should be implemented more often in my studies. How do those thoughts and views become reality? Will they forever sit in my head or on a blog? Here's how I hope to implement what I'm expressing, into my future classroom.
I spent 2 hours last week observing in an alternative high school classroom. I have observed a few different classrooms but this experience was much different then the others. The classroom dynamic, the students, the environment, and even the building as a whole. I was out of my element in the best way possible. Even though I only saw Rick (the teacher) teach for 2 hours, I knew he cared more for these students beyond a simple education. As I was leaving, Rick approached me and said this, "if you take anything from today, I hope you understand the importance of creating relationships."
Relationships; not trigonometry strategies, not reading tips, and not how to get every students to pass your class. Every student deserves someone who will allow nothing less then them being the best they can be every day. I want to be learning how to empower my students to take chances, to believe in themselves, and to never be afraid to make mistakes. I want to be learning how to effectively create relationships with all my students and how to show genuine care for the students I might not particularly like. In my own life, as a student, I know I would much rather learn from someone whom I know cares for me deeper than just my education. It's difficult to learn from someone whom you dislike. If someone isn't taking time to get to know me and I spend everyday with them, do they really care for me?
I don't have a choice in the classes I'm required to take in order to become a teacher but I do have a choice in how I run my future classroom and here's some of my thoughts in how I intend to do it.
1. Intentionality in attendance
The first intentional action I will take will be taking attendance differently everyday; I will try to incorporate 5 minute activities to take attendance and get to know my students. This could include, fun (intentional) questions they have to answer on the sign in sheet (which I learned in my MTH 229 class), doing "good news" in which students will share good things that are happening in their life (which I learned in my observation), or allowing students to socialize, walk around, or rest while I take attendance. This will allow students to understand that I care about getting to know them, what's going on in their life, and their physical/mental needs. It's nice to sit down in class and get five minutes to prepare mentally for the class or socialize with your friends before you have to sit down and learn. This doesn't have to be at the beginning of the class either, it can be in the middle to give students a break or at the end to give time for students to pack up and refresh before their next class. The intentional questions shows that I want to know who they are outside of the school building, good news shows I care what's going on in their life, and five minutes of free time shows I care and understand their mental and physical needs.
2. Peer to Peer Relationships
It's not only important to show students I care for them, but also to allow my classroom to be place they feel comfortable and free; this can come from student to student relationships. I think it's crucial to implement activities in which students get to know one another on deeper level then just sitting next to each other in class or passing one another in the hallway. One way this can be done is by encouraging group work and collaboration. It is so important for students to learn and understand how to work with their peers and how to have effective, positive conversation. This can be done by assigning group work, frequently moving seating around, implementing peer to peer collaboration during lecture, or even assigning "study buddy's" for every student. Many teachers will do group projects or group work but I don't think it's effective unless you have a discussion on how healthy group collaboration should look. This could be done with a 15 minutes class discussion on what standards the groups should be held too. This could include, constructive criticism (and how to give and receive constructive criticism), encouraging one another, going at a pace that is comfortable for everyone, or participation from every group member.
This Ted Talk hits exactly what I'm trying to say and will lead into my next point, take a look!
Thinking back throughout my educational career, I learned the most from the teachers/professors who knew more about me than just my first and last name. As a teacher, I will have many responsibilities and things on my plate, why do I want to put in more work to create relationships with students that will only last for a year? Here's why and how:
Grace, Genuineness, and Generosity.
Deadlines, lack of understanding, and one chance to show perfection is not how my classroom will be run. Grace will be something that each of my students will know first hand. When someone truly cares for you, they show you grace in my different aspects. They have understanding when you mess up, they give you multiple chances to be your best, and they allow you to fix your mistakes if you are willing to put in the work. That's how my class will be run. Student's won't be afraid to make mistakes, they won't be afraid to tell me that they are having family problems at home and didn't finish their homework, and they will learn to work hard to achieve their goals. How can you expect to receive grace (which we ALL need at times) from this world if you're not showing it the future?
Getting to know my students will not be something on a check list, it won't be a burden or added stress to everything the comes along with being a teacher. When I go into a new classroom of students, with full genuineness and intentionality, I want to get to know each of them. Why? Because I want them to understand I am not a math teacher because I feel like without math they won't be able to survive, I am a math teacher because I love the thought of getting the opportunity to make a difference in a child's life each and every day. When I reach out to my students, I will it do it with a genuine heart because I want them to know, before anything else, they are more important than math.
Lastly, generosity. Not giving because you have too, but giving because you truly care. What would you give? One of the most valuable things in our culture, time. The papers that need to be graded, the lesson that needs to be planned, it all can wait if it means having a meaningful conversation with a student. That's how you form meaningful relationships with your students; showing them that their time is just as valuable as your time. Giving time, energy, and even food are all such big ways to show people you're putting in effort to give beyond what is expected of you. Give cheerfully and with a giving heart.
To close, I hope this gave you perspective on relationships within the classroom. I am so passionate about this topic because I believe it's crucial in an effective classroom. The statistics of students who come to school hungry is heart breaking. You have to know students background, where they're coming from, and why they act the way they do. Dozing off in class? Maybe it's because they are so hungry that they can't focus on anything except food. The only way you would know that is if you created a relationship with them and gave them the opportunity to share something like that with you. Grace, genuineness, and generosity will be very helpful with the most important thing in teaching, relationships.
My biggest fear with studying to become a teacher is that I will reach my fifth year, finally get experience with my career, and then realizing it wasn’t for me. After four years of schooling, it’s not likely that you’re going to switch your major so then you end up sticking it out and then you’re stuck with a degree that you don’t even enjoy. Unlike other careers, you can’t just get an internship with education to figure out if you like it and of course you can tutor but it’s not the same as actually being the teacher. Teaching is so much more than just teaching.
This semester, I was offered a job as an SLA facilitator in a college algebra class. Essentially, I teach the class twice a week for an hour and I have a lot of flexibility on how I run the class for the hour. Talk about first hand experience; am I right? I didn’t have a lot of time to prep for this job but I knew above all else, I wanted to be able to relate with the students in my class. At the time, I had no idea how I would do that but after a few weeks in the class I started to develop my teaching style. I encourage students to put their work on the white board and then allow the other students to help correct any mistakes. If I am working through a problem on the board, I usually don’t do the problem before hand, that way the students can correct any mistakes I may make. This creates an atmosphere of freedom in the class, freedom to mess up, say the wrong answer, or to not understand how to do a certain problem. I learned a strategy from my “math activities for secondary education” class for taking attendance by having students write their name on a piece of paper and then writing the answer to a fun question next to their name. I altered the questions to things that would help me get to know them better, which created a more personable relationship between them and myself because I knew more about them than just their first name. This has been crucial in the amount of interaction I get out of them during the class period. That didn’t come from knowing how to teach math well or even being an expert in math, but rather understanding how to connect with a college kid.
The first two or three weeks, I wasn’t really connecting with them like I wanted too. I decided to organize a study group outside of class and that completely changed the dynamic of the classroom. During this study group they asked me if I was taking classes on top of doing this job and I told them that I was indeed. That information wasn’t pushed to the side but rather they noticed I was taking time out of my schedule to help further their education. There was a level of respect that was gained because they saw I cared more about them then just standing in front of the class and word vomiting information at them. I invested time to make sure they understand, to answer any questions, and even just to get to know them better. Again, it was not how smart I was or my level of education that helped me in the classroom but rather gaining a level of respect so I could have the opportunity to inspire their minds.
So what am I getting at with this? Am I saying that my math degree is worthless? Am I saying that I don’t need a degree to be a good teacher? No, not at all. What I am trying to say is, I think there’s an underlining opportunity in education that gets shoved to the back because of the things the state requires us to cram into a child’s brain. That underlying opportunity is inspiring kids to be motivated to get an education that means more than memorizing an equation. School is not about sitting at a desk, scribbling down everything that a teachers spits out, cramming your brain with information to pass a test, or even getting an A. It’s about being in an atmosphere where we can learn from one another. An atmosphere where we can grow, make mistakes, respect one another, and be encouraged to be the best version of ourselves, which comes from allowing students to express themselves and learn in whatever way is best for them. As a teacher, it's up to us to facilitate this atmosphere, it's up to us to change the stereotypical mindset of walking into a classroom. The importance of expanding a student's mind beyond a classroom is not highlighted enough. This video inspired a lot of my thinking, I encourage you to watch it.
In our society and country, I can see the importance of school but in a perfect world, I think we can do a lot better than what we're doing. Why are we failing a student that makes mistakes? Why are we not empowering students to give their best, allowing them to make mistakes, and then giving them opportunities to grow from those mistakes? These are the essentials in being a great teacher. Teaching is caring more about a student than how they can perform on an exam. If a teacher doesn't take time to get to know me or even respect me for that matter, how will I perform in their class? Do they know that I'd rather learn through art? Do they know that I can't afford to eat breakfast or dinner so all I can think about in class is food? Do they understand that I can learn better if I'm recognized as a human instead of as just another student? As a future teacher, I need to be exposed to these things. As great as knowing how to write a proof on the ring theory is, I just see so many other things I should be learning.
If I've learned anything from my first-hand experience, it's that being a math teacher is more than writing equations on a board, it's more than understand logarithms, and it's definitely more than how to get all your students to ace an exam. Teaching is more than teaching.