Big news, all y’all: School started for me on Monday.
And as a new group of sixth graders rolled through my classroom door at 8:15 in the morning full of more than their fair share of anxiety and wonder, I stood ready to get things right. Inspired by Pernille Ripp’s Passionate Learners, I decided that most of our time this week — at least what was left after teaching 125 twelve year-olds to open combination locks — would be spent on building a bit of classroom community.
“If we were going to have the best year ever,” I asked at the start of a brainstorming session about classroom expectations, “what promises would we have to make to one another? What kind of things would students have to do to make our classroom safe, happy and fun? What kind of things would teachers have to do to make our classroom safe, happy and fun?”
The kids had NO trouble coming up with promises that students would need to make in order to ensure that our room ran smoothly. “One thing that drives me crazy is when kids are told to stop doing something by a teacher but when the teacher leaves, they don’t listen,” wrote one student. “It drives me INSANE when someone blurts out the answer to a question!” wrote another.
Getting them to define promises that teachers would have to make in order to ensure that our room ran smoothly took a bit more effort. “This is your chance to think about how I can make your year special,” I said more than once. “I really want to know what kinds of things that you expect of ME.”
When I finally convinced them that it was okay to share their thoughts about teachers — that I was genuinely interested, willing to listen and ready to change — they came up with a ton of ideas about what teachers could do in order to make classrooms safe, happy and fun.
My kids — who have only been playing the game for five years — have learned that once August rolls around, school pushes everything else aside. Care about exploring the neighborhood with your friends? Wait until June. Love spending time at the pool? That was July. Totally dig piano or baseball or karate or ballet? Sorry. Schoolwork comes first. Get that done with time to spare and we’ll talk.
As the dad of a beautiful, funny, active little girl who is about to start kindergarten and who still sees school as a wonderful place full of fun and opportunity, that scares the living crap out of me. Will she grow to see school as an all-consuming grind that strangles the rest of her interests and passions, too? Will our days and nights and weekends and holiday breaks be packed with tasks to be completed, worksheets to be filled out, and dioramas to be assembled?
Don’t get me wrong, Radical Nation: I’m not saying that homework is inherently evil. We have ridiculously huge curricular guides to get through in an impossibly short school year. What’s more, there are skills and concepts best developed through independent practice. Given those truths, there are going to be times when tasks HAVE to be finished at home.
But I am MORE than ready to make one simple promise to my students this year: I won’t forget that the learning you do outside of my classroom — whether you are skating or dancing or singing or playing or praying or just chasing fireflies with your best friends in the patch of woods at the edge of your neighborhood — is JUST as important as the learning that you do in my classroom.
Is that a promise YOU are ready to make to YOUR students?
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