Being With Our Students As If It Was Our Last Day Together
Earlier this week, I tweeted,
If we focus on preparing students for their futures in college and the workforce, we often miss the joy, passion, enjoyment and flow of what is occurring in the present.
This was posted prior to the Sandy Hook tragedy. This tragedy reinforced how important it is to be in and grab onto every moment with our students. As a young adult, I embraced the existential philosophy and the tenet that knowledge and acceptance of our death assists us to live in the present.
Knowledge of our own mortality is the greatest gift ever given to us because unless you know the clock is ticking, it is so easy to waste our days, our lives. Anna Quindlen
I have taken this awareness or knowledge into my teaching. My teaching experiences include elementary gifted and PE, and teacher education courses. Some classes last an hour, some a full day (gifted kids and weekend intensives for pre- and in-service teachers). I bring this philosophy into the classroom in all my teaching – regardless of the age or content. The learners are giving me their time, literally pieces of their lives. It becomes my responsibility to provide them with experiences worthy of their time. In most of my teaching situations, I would see them again for the next class – but one never knows. I have had a handful of students who suddenly went missing-in-action due to family conflicts, emergencies, etc.
In terms of what this means in my teaching practices, I strive to bring magic and joy into my classroom. I want students to shiver with positive anticipation and energy when they enter class that day – not knowing exactly what to expect, but knowing it will be something exciting.
I reflect upon and assess my performance after each class session using the following questions to guide me:
- Did I express and/or show students that I cared deeply for them? Sandy Hook teacher, Kaitlin Roig, locked her and her first graders into a bathroom to protect them by the Sandy Hook shooting. She told reporters:
I need you to know that I love you all very much. I thought that was the last thing that they would ever hear. I thought we were all going to die. I don’t know if that was okay because, you know, teachers, but I wanted them to know someone loved them. I wanted that to be one of the l http://youtu.be/X4RzAQuH81Q
I was so proud of Kaitlin but it broke my heart that she thought it was not okay to tell her students that she loved them. I don’t use the word “love” easily but do tell my students I love them. I do give them hugs (even with all the admonishments about touching students.) I “preach” to my pre-service teachers that if you don’t love them, then find a different professional field.
- Did I put student needs above the need or desire to cover content? If the student(s) experienced emotional distress, did I stop the lesson instruction and spend time to discuss it? When studies are stopped to help students with some emotional problem they are experiencing, they are given a powerful message that they are important and worthy of class time.
- Did the students learn, do, and/or experience something new during class . . . a new aha . . . a new question . . . a new insight . . . a new interest . . . a new sense of personal power?
- Did the students experience joy, laughter, excitement, flow, astonishment during class time? I seek to create moments where students’ minds, emotions, bodies, hearts, and “souls” are congruent and present in the moment. For each time we are together, I attempt to create powerful, experiential, awe-inspiring instructional activities.
- Did the students feel being an important part of and connected to each other and the world? As is discussed in so much of the literature on human needs (e.g., Maslow), a sense of belonging is such a powerful, universal, and important human need. All of my class sessions include some form of peer-to-peer interaction and groupwork.
- If I lost my temper with the student(s), did I say I am sorry? I am human, I loose my temper. When I do, I also believe in and act upon making apologies. The situation dictates whether I do this in a who group setting or on a one-to-one with the student.
- As the students exited my classroom, did I make some kind connection with every student? My ritual, at the end of each class day, is give each individual student a high five and a smile as as they leave the classroom.
I work towards and have a desire for every student to leave each class session qualitatively different than when he or she came to class that day. This is a lofty goal but really adds to the creativity, engagement, and joy I attempt to infuse into each class session. I want each student to leave my classroom each day saying, “I was happy to be in class today.”
I want to loudly reinforce to my students of all time, “I love you.”