I have been on a little hiatus from classroom teaching for a couple of months. My student teacher will be leaving at the end of this month. I am going to miss him. He reminds me of my early days of teaching – the enthusiasm and almost reckless hope – and I am refreshed. Granted, I do not want to be back at that place of starting out and trying to “figure out” ways to trick my students to learn. In all honesty, I look back and see it wasn’t about them, in the infancy of my teaching practice, that I had to figure out…it was myself. What was my role as a teacher? That was the big question that took at least two to three years to materialize.
Before I grew into that role, I tried to dazzle them with my knowledge and skills, and they were not impressed. If anything, it turned them away sometimes, because it was about me and not them. I slowly began to discover that the lessons and objectives were most effective when it was about my students. I built relationships and learned equally about my students and myself. What were my boundries? Where were they too rigid or too flexible? What could I tolerate and what could I not? The list was quite long in the beginning, and through the years, many, many of my rules fell by the wayside until about five core rules surfaced. Just about all four-five of them have to demonstrate respect – not just to me or authoritive figures, but to one another, and most importantly, to one’s self.
A basic rule in my classroom is to not throw objects. We hand things to each other. Last fall, a transfer student came in after the initial two-week bootcamp of Ms. B’s language arts class on classroom rules and procedures. The student threw an eraser to another and I stopped class. Everyone’s eyes looked up and I asked, “Why do we not throw things in class?” In unison, “Because we are human beings!” I then asked a student to explain the rule: “We are human beings. We have arms and hands; that’s what makes us different from other beings/animals. So – we have hand things to one another to show that we are human beings.”
Now, it may not make sense, but a little background info: the Navajo word for human beings is “the five fingered people.” It is our hands that make us distinct from other animals; that identifies us as human. There are several teachings that go with it, but that is the gist of it. Another is to not make fun of people because you actually make fun of yourself and your family. Does it make my students a little self-conscious at first? Yes, but it also makes them aware of how they use language and they begin to see the safety that creates in the classroom. In my classroom, we are family and they get comfortable with it. Family means we see each other for who we are and we accept and forgive. I know in my classroom, my students feel safe to learn.
Did I know that my first year teaching? No – I was so far from it, and now, I am amazed how long it took to figure that out. It was worth it though, because I can (hopefully), reassure my student teacher that it takes time; don’t take it personally – it hurts because you’re finding out how people can be and they are not all like you. They can be mean, tired, hurt, scared, loving, giving, and forgiving, and luckily, more often than not, they will forgive you and you will learn that too.
Those people are our students.
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