A parent recently texted me about their child. To be clear, parents don’t usually communicate with me via this method. I just happen to know this parent outside of school, and honestly, it was quite nice to hear positive feedback. She wanted to let me know that her son had been raving about me all weekend. One of his comments to his mother was the most striking to me: “She never gets mad at me. I don’t get in trouble in her class.” When his mom asked how that was possible (he is notoriously ALWAYS in trouble), he replied, “She used to teach special ed.” That last comment made me chuckle, but his first comment made me think. Why is it that a student can be “difficult” for one teacher, but completely NOT difficult for another. In truth, I don’t have a coherent answer for that one just yet, but I do have a few ideas.
First, I believe in building relationships with my students. I am fortunate enough to teach in a small school (small in comparison to a public school). I have fewer students than a public school teacher. I have times in which I can engage with students outside of the classroom whether that is at my door before class, in the halls between class times, during sporting events, or in the lunchroom. I make it my business to know my students. I observe them. I listen to them.
I also share bits and pieces of my life with them–anecdotes about my weekends or evenings, stories about my personal trials and tribulations in middle school. I feel the more we know each other, the easier it is to build trust and respect. Second, I don’t have unrealistic expectations of my students. I don’t expect seventh graders to be able to sit for an hour. I don’t expect them to be quiet for an hour. I try to gear my lessons around movement and conversation. I let my students know the goal of each lesson, so they have some personal accountability in what we learn for the day. But, at the end of the day, I simply don’t expect them to be perfect all of the time.
Third, I believe in having a sense of humor. I believe that humor is a great equalizer. I never really subscribed to the old school “don’t smile until Christmas” mentality. My grandmother used that methodology in her classes. Children and even adults feared her. While I loved my grandmother, and she ran a very tight ship, I am not sure that a lot of learning took place in her elementary classes. I want to keep kids interested and wanting to think more deeply about content. Humor lets them relax and focus on learning without feeling like they are learning. I am sure there are more things to add, but ultimately letting kids be kids tends to help the process run much smoother.