3.26.2009

Are You For Real?

This my huge, expensive, awe-inspiring, smack your grandmama, heart beat of my life piece of advice:

                         

You have got to, must always, never forget, always remember to be real with your students

I cannot explain the success I have had with students by just being real. Break out of the education malarky and teacher speak and all that formal nonsense. We are people just like the students are- why do we ever pretend to be anything else

It really breaks up the routine to joke with the students, even mimic how they talk, or to talk about yourself. The littlest comments can make a difference. Commenting that you're hungry, on the TV show you watched last night, the article you read online, the song that's stuck in your head- it all sheds a little bit of light into who you are, what you're really like outside the classroom.  Students forget teachers are real because we forget to show them

For example, today I subbed for fourth grade. Ironically, I've worked with every grade level in the school except them. None of these students were familiar to me. As I took attendance, I noticed the last name of one student was the same as one of my middle school tutoring students. I asked if they were related, and they were. This started all the other kids off on asking me if I knew someone they were related too. Students just want to be noticed. When one girl asked me if I knew her brother, I said yes. "He's mean," she said. I told her I thought he was a very nice young man. For the rest of the day, she wanted to be near me. She sat next to me, laid her head on my shoulder, looked to me for my reaction about everything, even did not want to leave for her speech class, because she wanted to be with me. 

A lot of my colleagues think the kids like me because I'm young. I beg to differ. I think in 10-20 years, the students will still like me because I choose to share my life with them. I show interest in their lives. Students want to feel valued. When I choose to share the details of my life, I show that I value them and their opinion. They are worth sharing my life with. Relating to students is a choice- it doesn't go away with time or age. 

Giving students a piece of my life not only helps me relate to them but it helps them relate to me. A strong connection is connected at both ends. Just as I want their undivided attention, they expect that in return from me.

Let me present to you two life-changing pieces of advice:

1. Inside Jokes

These two will go such a long way in building relationship and gaining the respect of your students. No matter how lame the joke is, the student will bring it up continuously until you make a new one. These are easy to create. To find, be observant. Catch them in the hallway, at lunch, outside of school, at a game, anywhere, even in your class, and make a comment about it. Then bring it up occasionally. Or vice versa. If they catch you doing something silly, even if you feel embarrassed, bring it up, laugh at yourself. Everyone loves to laugh. i.e. I have a student who is in a gospel rap group and I am constantly encouraging him to sing for the class. He won't. Anytime we have to read something out loud, I'll call on him to read and then add in the punch line..."Or would you rather rap for us?" or "Could you sing that a little louder?" The class laughs and he knows I remember.

2. Nicknames

This one is the same principle. Be observant. Comment. Repeat. Success. i.e. One of my students told me about a boy that another student liked and told me to call her by his name. So when no one else could hear me, I would call her by the boy's name and she would act upset but it always ended in a smile. Maybe that's not a great example. But this girl is known for having a lot of attitude and talking back and she's the type I can give crap to and it works. That's sort of another piece of advice: know your students. You have got to be careful about people's feelings, students and otherwise. You need to know the teachers you can joke with, the students you can tease, who you can be sarcastic with, and so on. 

So to sum it all up, be observant. Care. Laugh. Be yourself. Share life. 

For real.


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