What Students Remember Most About Teachers

Some helpful words of wisdom for student teachers that one of my peers shared with me. As the school year approaches I’ve been getting more nervous, but this definitely helped me to find a bit of peace and perspective.

Pursuit of a Joyful Life

Dear Young Teacher Down the Hall,

I saw you as you rushed past me in the lunch room. Urgent. In a hurry to catch a bite before the final bell would ring calling all the students back inside. I noticed that your eyes showed tension. There were faint creases in your forehead. And I asked you how your day was going and you sighed.

“Oh, fine,” you replied.

But I knew it was anything but fine. I noticed that the stress was getting to you. I could tell that the pressure was rising. And I looked at you and made an intentional decision to stop you right then and there. To ask you how things were really going. Was it that I saw in you a glimpse of myself that made me take the moment?

You told me how busy you were, how much there was to do

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Physical Environments

Dear Reader,

Please notice the picture above. It may be a bit extreme, and it’s not fitting for the standard elementary classroom, but nonetheless it is still the kind of classroom that I’m sure you’ve all seen once or twice. Do you think that this kind of class inspires inquiry or collaboration? I certainly don’t think so…as a student, my favorite classroom–the one that I first learned to really love school and learning in–was my second grade class. My teacher had her very own electric fireplace installed and rather than just relying on the harsh flourescent light bulbs she had multiple lamps throughout the room that shrouded our learning in a cozy ambiance. In the winter she put up a Christmas tree that we got to help decorate, which I question now since it was a public school and didn’t have a religious affiliation, but I loved having it there. At the beginning of each unit she would also spend a day or two letting us create all sorts of things to hang from the ceilings and walls that corresponded to what we were going to be learning.

Letting us create the decorations was one thing in particular that aligned well with what I learned in school. Giving students a say in what their room looks like is just part of having a student centered room where students are valued as learners and their input is desired. Such classrooms are much more meaningful to students than classrooms where the teacher dictates what and where everything must be. But I digress. Even though we did talk about that aspect of physical environments in my education classes, in consideration to the time spent on other material, it was barely discussed. I supposed it makes a bit of sense that classroom management and teaching material comes first, but does one have to be taught at the cost of the other? I think that we should put a higher value on the role that the physical environment of a class has in learning.

When I packed up my things at the beginning of summer for camp I didn’t consider room decor at all. Rather, I focused on bringing as little as possible (I figured that I’d only ever be in my room to sleep anyway). However, I soon realized that stark walls remind me a bit too much like prison cells and the lighting in the room was absolutely terrible. I was way too harsh, yet dim for my liking. Therefore, I found some of my old paintings to put on the wall and I got a lamp to put on my desk. With just a few changes it’s amazing how much homier the room now feels. Even other counselors have commented on it. But what does this have to do with classrooms? Well, it goes to show how the physical environment can affect mood of a room and be a factor in how someone determines if they want to spend time in the room. How awful would it be to spend your entire day in a room where you have no interest in being? And on top of that, how much more difficult would it be to learn or teach in said room?

Two of the alternative schools that I’ve studied, Reggio Emilia and Waldorf, have a big emphasis on physical environment because they recognize its importance. What they have going for them, however, is that they desire particular environments at the get go. Many of the public schools in the US were built awhile ago, back when schools were modeled after prisons, and may not be able to afford the renovations required to create the best learning spaces. Additionally, teachers aren’t given unlimited decorating budgets. Often they spend their own salary on buying materials and items for their classes. So what are we going to do, America?

This web page has a few examples of room arrangement that anyone can do in order to get a better teaching environment, but really, this is just the tip of the iceberg. What are some other ways that classrooms can be more welcoming environments for students and teachers? Feel free to let me know what you think in the comments below!

Toodles,

Madison

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United We Stand

Greetings Friends,

Happy Fourth of July to all of my American readers out there! Are you enjoying the classics today…fireworks, watermelon, and barbecue?  Last night I had my Fourth of July fun and got the opportunity to see a really fantastic air show (with various different jets and biplanes) with an epic firework display to finish it up. As I looked around at my fellow Iowans, I was moved by how alike we really were. Despite our ages, what we were wearing, what kinds of jobs we had, or anything else, we were all there at the same time, delighting in the same things, and celebrating what it means to be an American in the best ways we knew how. Sometimes I get caught up thinking that my family and I are the only ones who do X (whatever it may be) or celebrate in X way, but in reality, if I look past the subtle distinctions, I realize that we’re really not so different… I’m sure you’ve all heard this before, but just humor me for a minute.

Now that I’m a bit older (all of the teenie boppers there last night made me feel particularly old) I’ve become a bit better at noticing these similarities between people. For example, since I’ve been a caregiver while working as a camp counselor I could relate to all of the happy and tired parents that I saw. I also saw plenty of older people who reminded me of my grandparents, and those teens made me think of my brothers. As I looked around and realized that I could relate to so many people, I was reminded of a book that I started reading awhile ago…

The author of the book discussed how he valued diversity and felt that we shouldn’t forget to celebrate what makes us unique and the parts of us that are important to our identity. However, he also commented on how we shouldn’t forget to celebrate what makes us the same. He lamented a time when patriotism was much stronger in the United States and how that patriotism formed a bond between people from even the most different of backgrounds. Now, I understand that not everyone agrees with our current president, policies, or military actions and that the “American Dream” may not be as accessible to everyone as it was once thought to be.  But that doesn’t mean that we still can’t be patriotic. What if, instead of focusing on our differences all of the time, we were patriotic in the sense that we all recognize each other, fellow Americans, as people who share common experiences, have the same needs–the desire for love and belonging–and who want the best from our country and for our children (despite our differences in opinion about how to go about that)? Don’t you think that having at least one solid thing to tie us all together would help us overcome at least some of our disagreements? Don’t you think that by recognizing each other as neighbors, rather than strangers, we could all learn to be a little more patient and kind to each other? Now, I certainly don’t intend to sound preachy. Rather, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on patriotism (it is the Fourth of July after all) and explain why I intend to one day have a classroom where we are all celebrate what it means to be American together.

Toodles for now,

Madison

…please comment below on what being patriotic means to you!

Learning should be fun!

Dear friends,

This morning I had the pleasure of finding this video during one of my Facebook scrolling sessions. It is a group of fifth grade boys who are performing a “synchronized swim” routine at their school talent show. As I was watching it I wondered if they came up with the idea to do the swim routine on their own or if they had some help. I wondered if the boys developed the choreography for it or if it was done by a parent. But as the video went on I realized that those questions had little value…the boys were full of joy and engagement, despite whoever may have come up with it!

This got me to thinking about teaching (of course) and how much stronger learning can be if the material is relevant and meaningful. These boys obviously put a good amount of time into working on this routine, but I’m going to assume that because it was something they were interested in and got to do with their good friends that it was fun to do. It wasn’t even something that was required of them but they put a lot of time and effort into it anyway. Now, imagine if you could get that kind of engagement out of class projects. How much more would students learn? And it wouldn’t be just the material that they’d be learning. They’d also be gaining the valuable insight that learning can actually be fun!

It may seem like a challenge to make each lessons super meaningful and relevant on top of all of the other things teachers are required to do. And actually, it’s probably impossible to do so for every lesson. But shouldn’t it be a priority to make teaching as meaningful and relevant as possible? I certainly think so. I hope that when I’m a teacher I’ll be able to maintain the strength and integrity to  make learning the most joyful endeavor that I can–despite the standardized tests and other challenges that teachers today must face. If I could get my students to be as engaged as those fantastic synchronized swimmers that came to attention this morning then I’ll know that I’m doing something right.

Toodles,

Madison

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For the love of poetry!

Hey Friend,

I have been on a bit of a poetry kick lately. Not old Virginia Wolf type poetry, but a lot of stuff from contemporary poets. During one of my poet searches I found Sarah Kay, who is a wonderful poet who wrote the poem that I’m going to share below. It’s significant to me because the principal that it’s about, Mrs. Ribiero, has a lot of the traits and qualities that I’d like to have as a teacher. She impacts her students in the same ways that I’d like to one day.

For example, no matter what kind of important grown up business she had to attend to, she put that aside if she had a student that needed her–no matter how small the need. This shows that students that they are valued and important, something that everyone should feel. She spoke to them in ways that validated them as the scholars, artists, scientists, athletes, and musicians that they were striving to be. This is important because having that identity and confidence is just as important as the knowledge that comes with it. It may even be more important, because it establishes that “can do” attitude that projects further into the future than any plain old fact may.

Mrs. Ribiero brought a llama into the classroom so that the students could learn about it in a way that was more meaningful than any picture or slideshow could ever be! Sarah Kay also said how “She made us wonder. She made us question. She made us proud of what we had learned.” I want to be the kind of teacher that shows how inquiring minds and questions are more powerful than answers. As the playwright, Eugene Ionesco, once wrote, “It is not the answer that enlightens, but the questions.”

Mrs. Ribiero helped shaped her students into becoming the best selves they could be. She helped to show them the world and the potential that it held for them. I don’t know if Sarah Kay made up Mrs. Ribiero or if she is a true person. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that she represents a kind of teaching–a way of being–that the world needs more of. She represents the kind of teacher that I hope to one day become. So, without further adieu, I present Mrs. Ribiero. 

Mrs. Ribiero

I was in Northern India, at a school run entirely by women volunteers, when I
heard it for the first time in ages. It was barely audible above the shouting of
children – the squeals and laughter bubbling from the schoolyard into the
classroom windows. But it was there: the swish of silk saris and the jingle
jangle of bangles on thin wrists like wind chimes.

This is what learning sounds like. I remember.

I remember when I was five years old, the principal of my Junior School was
Mrs. Ribeiro. She was an Indian woman the size of a nightlight, and she glided
like a sailboat through the hallways of our school.

Once, when I got close enough to grab a fistful of her draping
silk sari, I lifted it to try and see whether she had any feet at all.
I thought she floated.

We begged to be sent to her office: the hanging plants like a jungle
above our heads, her quiet laughter. Adults needed appointments,
but we did not. And even when she was in grown-up meeting,
all it took was a gentle knock on the door, a peek around the corner,
and she was off calling, “Sorry dear. We’ll have to reschedule.
I have to see someone else about a very important matter.
It’s about a gold star. It’s about a new diorama. It’s about a finished read book
one level higher than last time.”

She visited every classroom, knew every student by name. She spoke to us
like we were scholars. Artists. Scientists. Athletes.
Musicians. And we were My world was the size of a crayon box,
and it took every color to draw her.

Once, on a New York City sidewalk, a group of women in a brightly colored
saris walked by and someone shouted, “Look, Mom. Look at all those
principals!” My world was the size of a classroom. It was a tall as I could
stretch my fingers, calling, Please! Let me be the one to read to Mrs. Ribeiro.
Let me be the one to show her what I know.

Clothes.
Shirt. Pants. Socks. Shoes.
Animals.
Cat. Dog. Bird. Fish.
Look how much I know.

She brought us guests and artists and a petting zoo. They set up the cages in
the parking lot while we were still tucked up in our classroom, unawares.
Rabbits and guinea pigs poked out their noses, but Mrs. Ribeiro came to rest in
front of the llama cage.

She and the llama considered each other for a long time. She asked if he was
tame enough to go inside. The trainers laughed and told her he was plenty
tame, but he didn’t know how to go up stairs. So she led him to the elevator.
And when the doors slid open on the second floor, these stood Mrs. Ribeiro in
her bright pink sari, with gold bangles and a llama on a leash.

She floated from class to class, and we stared, cheered, laughed, and shouted.
We tugged at her sari calling, “Miss, what is that? Where did it come from?”
She made us wonder. She made us question. She made us proud of what
we had learned.

Clothes.
Shirt. Pants. Shoes. Socks. Saris.
Animals.
Cat. Dog. Bird. Fish. Llama.
Look how much I’ve learned.

She taught us to share. She taught us to listen when someone else is
speaking. And then she let us go. We were dandelion seeds released to the
wind, she asked for no return. We are saplings now with gentle hands.

The girl with bright cheeks and messy hairpins now works at an orphanage in
Cameroon. The boy with the color-ordered markers is now a graphic designer in
Chicago. The one with the best diorama is now an animal activist in Argentina.
The girl who loved to read out loud is now a poet in India. She let us fly.

So I find myself at the front of a classroom. My students tug at my sleeves
and ask me, “Miss, do all poets wear big black boots?” I pray for patience. For
wisdom. To find a way to tame all the peculiar animals of this world, to coax
them enough to brave the
elevator, to see the doors slide open to my student’s gaping mouths.

All the wild wonder.
They worry about everything.
They worry about what to write.
They worry about their grades.
They talk over one another until I cannot hear them.

I tell them, “Listen. Listen to one another like you know
you are scholars. Artists. Scientists. Athletes. Musicians. Like you know you
will be the ones to shape this world. Show me how
many colors you know how to draw with.
Show me how proud you are of what you have learned.
And I promise I will do the same.

Choice Words

Dear Readers,

How deliberate are you? Awhile back I tried starting a blog about how I was going to start living a more “deliberate life.”  I wanted each of my actions and all of my words to be a true reflection of my values. What inspired this was when I learned about how even though quinoa was a very healthy grain, the sudden popularity of this “superfood” was harming the native people who had lived off of it for years because they couldn’t afford the rising prices of it (or something along those lines…). I was upset to learn that I had unknowingly been a part of something that was harming others. I was also upset because I knew that my eating habits weren’t the only thing in my life where this kind of situation was happening (unknowingly supporting things that I otherwise would’ve been against, that is). So anyway, I started that new blog I mentioned in order to record my efforts to rectify this problem. Now, however, I’ve realized how difficult being an informed consumer and world citizen is since the media isn’t entirely reliable and businesses aren’t always transparent in their practices. That being said, we can make sure that the things that we do have close connections to–like our interactions with others–are true reflections of our beliefs and intentions. This is particularly important for educators since their jobs rely heavily on interpersonal relations with others–students, parents, faculty, and community members.

A great book that begins to address the verbal part of this idea is called Choice Words and was written by Peter Johnston. In this book, Johnston focuses on how teachers can develop the kind of classroom culture they want by paying close attention to their word choice. For example, Johnston states that when teachers take the time to ask students, “what else do you notice,” they are requiring the students to look for multiple possibilities in answers (which makes them more flexible thinkers), it allows students to attend to their own observations (which are often more meaningful to them), and it builds the students’ identities of being the kinds of people who notice new and interesting things. These are all very powerful effects that can be attained by just the use of carefully chosen words and phrases (which, of course, also require the consistent use of such “choice words”).

This kind of thing isn’t exclusive to educators, however. Have you ever hear of “people first language”? This is a practice that’s associated most frequently with people who have special needs. How it works is that rather than saying, “the autistic student…” you’d say, “the student with autism…” (note that you’d also say “with” rather than “is” since autism only describes a part of their identity and doesn’t define them). This is because by putting the person first you are recognizing them as just that–a person. Putting the disability first would send the message that when you see or think of that person, the disability is the first thing you notice–that their disability is their defining trait and that the other things that make them cool and unique are easily forgotten.

For one of my final assignments in my methods courses I had to record a lesson that I taught in my practicum class, transcribe it, and then analyze my “teacher talk” for the reasons that I discussed above: How does my word choice and the way I talk convey what I do or do not intend and shape my interactions with others? This was a powerful assignment because it allowed me to pause and reflect on my words, which is often difficult to do because we talk so much throughout the day. Many of the students who did this assignment (myself included) discovered that we were saying or repeating words and phrases without even realizing it! It also allowed me to reflect on the things that were working well in regards to how I was talking to students, so that I could continue to do so in future lessons.

Now, I don’t expect everyone to go out and start recording themselves (that’d be so tedious and kind of awkward). But I guess my purpose of this post is to point out how powerful words really are and to encourage you to think about whether or not your own speech aligns with your true intentions. In this world it’s difficult to make sure that all of your practices align 100% with your intended way of living and being, but speech is a very personal thing that you do have power over. As a great wizard once said, “Words are our most inexhaustible source of magic, capable of both inflicting injury and remedying it” (10 points to Ravenclaw if you know who I’m talking about!).

Toodles,

Madison

Live Now List #52: Learn Sign Language

This is a great little post about sign language. I just had a camper who used some sign language to communicate with us and wish that I would’ve learned a bit more sign language before he came! Also, this weekend I learned that Alexander Graham Bell (the inventor of the telephone) despised the “deaf race” and, among other things, tried to prohibit the use of sign language for deaf students in schools. It’s always interesting how one sided history is often taught…