If you had to think through the teachers in your school what are the adjectives you would use to describe each person’s style?
What would people use to describe you in the classroom?
There are many discussions about what teachers “should” be. There used to be a defined set of rules of the do’s and don’ts for teachers that was ridiculous for today’s standards.
Teachers still have a story attached to them from the outside world of what they should or should not be. I do not believe it is as strict as the list above but it is in the subtext of conversation.
Some characteristics are more accepted than others.
I have tattoos. They are in places I can cover them if necessary which I thought about because I am an educator. They are not offensive in nature, but there have been cases where it has been expressed as a surprise when people find out what I do for a living. I once had a man at a training become obsessed with my tattoos and kept making jokes. He finally said to me, “What you look like and what your resume reads doesn’t match to me.” In his mind, an award winning teacher couldn’t have tattoos.
I have covered my tattoos for every interview except the last one. I finally decided that if they weren’t going to hire me just for that reason I wouldn’t want to work there anyway. (They hired me.)
In college I was told it was not a good idea to wear red dresses or red nails to school. People may get the “wrong idea.”
There is a “good girl” persona attached to teachers. If you have ever spent time in a teacher’s lounge you will hear stories about dating, drinking, and corruption of various degrees told. People have been fired for pictures on social media and their behavior. In some cases I believe this may be warranted, but public perception can be a bitch.
It can be a hard line to walk. People can only pretend for so long.
Each person has their own passions and talents they bring to the classroom. Some are thriving in this new normal we have and some are not, depending on experience and gifts.
I have been thinking a lot over the past week about my “paycheck” work and my creative work. These two categories do overlap but I tend to think of them separately. After a conversation with a friend I am beginning to see they overlap more than I think.
I teach intuitively. I usually think of this as “student centered” or “child centered” but those terms do not describe the scope of what I achieve in my classroom. It was freeing to discover a word to describe my style.
There is no step by step because my process is organic. Certain things must be in place like culture and routine and a belief system. And I have found it incredibly difficult to explain to people.
There is an element of letting go in my teaching that many people cannot handle. They feel they must be “in control” in the room. Letting go does not mean I do not plan. I do. Quite extensively. I also know that those plans may go out the window depending on how my students react to the objective of the lesson.
Last week I read David Shannon’s Too Many Toys to my students. I do live teaching in the morning and in the afternoon. My students have the choice to attend the AM or the PM session so essentially I am teaching 1/2 day kindergarten.
The plan I had was for the students to write a group story together about what we had too much of in the classroom. One session did this wonderfully and they had a great time creating details all together. The other session; it didn’t work. I changed it to individual sentences and choices. I still taught phonics in both sessions. I taught about capitals and details and controlling the reader with punctuation. It was tailored to the needs of the make up of each of these sessions. I didn’t know I was going to do this ahead of time – I just shifted in the moment to what my students needed.
I had a teacher ask me one time how I knew what to ask kids while they were writing. I have always been able to get kids to produce writing more sophisticated than other people thought they “should” be able to write. I told her I didn’t know, I just asked what made sense at the time. She literally followed me around for a writing session and wrote down what I asked kids in the moment. Being a writer myself, I know what the process feels like which makes it easier.
Thinking about how you learn often helps when pivoting in the classroom. There is nothing wrong with think alouds or admitting when you don’t know something. I have to untrain some of my students at five years old that just because I ask a question doesn’t mean they are wrong. They find it hard to believe I am really just asking for more information because I want to know. I have to establish a culture of risk and experimentation. I want their imaginations to thrive.
I literally told my students the other day when we were writing a chart story that the crazier the details the better. We were writing a story about a bear. He went to have pizza. You should have seen all the things that bear ate by the end!
Storytelling is part of the culture I have established intentionally. We start every day with a priming exercise with breathing and talking about what makes us thankful or a story connected to something we are learning.
Over the last week they have shared stories of taking cats to daycare, trees that grow bubblegum, and Venus fly traps. What stories have you heard in your classroom?
You have to be open to hear these stories and listen to what the students are saying.
I don’t have all the answers and I , for sure, am not perfect.
I do believe my students are all readers, writers, problem solvers and artists and they believe they are too.
That defines success every day in my classroom. What defines it in yours?