The first week back at school after a break often offers challenges. It was wonderful to see the students again. They were refreshed and so was I. While we all loved being away and having time to catch up on all of the activities that we can’t during the school year, it was still nice to be back together. The pressures hadn’t started building up yet, and being together felt fun, rather than stressful.
That is probably why I realized that this was not the week to impose rigid standards of behavior, though at the end of the second day back, that was exactly what I wanted to do.
It was the last period of the day, which meant that they would be ready to be done with school and work. I was tired and so were they, but we still had to have class. That is the way that school works!
I arranged the desks in groups of three, so that they could work together more easily. I wanted to avoid it being a “Stand and Deliver” kind of class. I needed for them to get back up to speed, but didn’t want the focus to be on me reminding them. I had found a new reading on the topic that we had been investigating before Break, the empire of Mali in West Africa. I told them that the goal was to read the article together and identify the significant information in the text, a skill we have practiced a lot.
What happened next was totally predictable, but it forced me to make a very conscious choice. They started reading in their groups, while I wandered around the room, pausing at each group to listen for awhile. And then the giggles and gales of laughter began. Every possible word that seemed foreign or could possibly be mispronounced brought on immediate responses of silliness.
Part of me wanted to become indignant. This was serious work, and they were not applying themselves. I wanted to demand respect for myself, for their work and for the facts that they were learning. Every part of me wanted to take control and discipline each and every one of them, shaking a finger at them. It was important information, and they were not treating it that way. Imagine the most grouchy teacher images! That’s what I wanted to be!
Luckily, I took a deep breathe and forced myself to pause. I imagined that teacher and then I thought about her students. Responding the way I wanted clearly wasn’t going to create any love of learning in my students. It was going to be about me, not about them. It might feel good in the moment, displaying my power, but the effect wouldn’t be pretty.
It was time to just relax, to not take it personally and go along with the flow of the day. I made a decision to smile, just a simple smile instead of a frown, and my entire attitude changed with it. I realized that I could engage with them, rather than separate myself from them. If I let go of my need to control, then I could begin to create a learning experience in the midst of the laughter. They did their readings, with me correctly pronunciation and answering questions. They laughed and were silly, but they practiced the new pronunciation and began to use it. Then once they learned it, they became the experts. When they heard another group mispronounce a word, they corrected them, together laughing at the mistakes. I just kept wandering around, constantly in wonder at their underlying desire to learn and be more competent.
The more I smiled and laughed with them, the more they took control of the lesson and their learning! At the end of class, they didn’t leave feeling beaten down by a cranky teacher. They left with smiles on their faces. For the first week back, that is exactly what I want. I’m glad I kept my mouth shut and let them have some fun!