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!
Love your blogs!
I think you did the right thing by making their mispronounciation a learning experience. I also really like that you take into account how you want the students to feel when they leave your class. I have always wanted students to think of me favorably as a teacher. Do you have any tips for an aspiring history teacher?
The way you handled this situation inspires me to become a better educator. I think that by allowing the students to have fun with what they are learning but keeping the educational tone with it you accomplished what some educators rarely accomplish. I believe that students should have fun with their learning and the instructor should have fun teaching. It seems to me that you were able to accomplish this. I hope that you keep this type of attitude, as I believe the students will take more from you class than even they thought they would.
I highly respect you for the way you handled your students so calm and collected! I’m sure being frustrated with your students makes it hard to keep your composure. I hope that I will be able to keep such a good attitude about myself and a smile on my face when handling students in this way.
This is the way every educator should think. Losing your temper will never yield good results. It may get them quiet for the time being, but soon after they will continue doing whatever it was that made you lose your temper in the first place. This is exactly the kind of educator I hope to be. Much respect for the way you handled things.
I love how you handled the situation! I know that after a break it is hard to get back into the routine of school. Educators should handle situations like this the way you did. It helps students still keep interest in what they are doing.