Thea continues on her campaign to never have to do school again. I am continuing my campaign to remind her that school is not awful. So the conversation continues as I keep asking questions, why is school so awful? How would school be amazing. Now these are the ideas of a 5 year old who has limited experience with an actual school setting, and yet, when she gave me this advice, I couldn’t help but smile. Did she read my mind? Did she read my book? Or did she just trust that little voice?
So Thea says for school to be amazing, we must…
Listen when students speak. According to her, this did not happen a lot, because her teacher was too busy. Whether that is true or not is up for debate as Thea really likes to share, and yet, how often do we actually listen to our students when they tell us something? How often do we stop, look them in the eyes, and really listen? Thea had big life moments happen while in school, she wanted to share it with her teacher and felt dejected when she wasn’t listened to. We need to carve out time to listen because that’s where the relationship is formed.
Let them move. Thea lost her love of school completely because she was asked to sit still all day, mind you, in her eyes “all day” may mean 20 minutes. Yet, once again a simple truth lies in her words. Students want to move, students want to feel comfortable when they are listening. Often the seating arrangements we have don’t allow that. We forget that while we have moved around as we teach and support, our students may have been anchored in their desks. Allowing for movement through choice and also built-in breaks is guaranteed to boost learning engagement.
Make it fair. Thea obsessed over what we called “The Scissor Incident.” For weeks. She had spotted a pair of purple scissors, went to reach for them and as her hand was an inch away, another girl grabbed them from the table. Thea was told to grab another pair and that it was no big deal. While I tried to reason with her, she was so stuck on the concept of it being unfair. She had clearly spotted them first, she had clearly reached for them first, and yet the teacher hadn’t made it right. While I do not know how accurate her depiction is, it stayed with her and tainted her view of what the teacher would help her with. She didn’t think her teacher would be fair in anything. So be wary of the little injustices, the little slights students perceive. While we are bound to mess up, try for amicable solutions whenever possible. Make it fair when we can.
Allow for choice. While this is something I have advocated for for years, the fact that Thea, who is 5!, brought it up again and again shows just how vital it is. She wanted to learn about the ocean sure, but she had her own questions she wanted answered. They never were and she was mad. While she would prefer a full day of doing whatever she wants, which I gently explained to her would not be possible, there is still plenty of chance for us to ask students what they would like to explore and still cover what we need to cover. If Thea had gotten to learn more about sharks, who knows which direction she would have gone?
Don’t be a meanie. This is not to say that Thea’s teachers have ever been but this is something she mentions a lot. Students can put up with a lot of curriculum simply because they have to but if you are not nice they will not like you. Some do not care whether kids like them, but why not? Why not be nice and show students that you care? There were days where Thea was tired or cranky and yet still could not wait to go to school simply because she wanted to see her teacher. Teacher image and perception can take us all a long way.
Sometimes the simplest things can make the biggest difference. We shouldn’t forget that as we prepare for another incredible year or learning.
I am a passionate teacher in Wisconsin, USA, who has taught 4, 5th, and 7th grade. Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day. First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press. Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” can be pre-ordered from Corwin Press now. Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.