In honor of Halloween and seeing so many students dressed up in costumes I wanted to take a trip down memory lane and reflect upon my time as an elementary school teacher. As a teacher I developed certain skills that I use daily in my current role as a university administrator within residential life. Ya know…”Transferable Skills”
I wanted to take today’s post and share some of what I have seen and done in the classroom and let you create the connections for yourself. Some may be obvious, some subtle, but all true. I will say that as a disclaimer, I have not taught in a traditional elementary school classroom since 2000-01. I am sure things have changed, even if just this “new math” that drives me to drink alone at night.
Being kind actually does lead to long lasting friendships. Seeing one student help another pick up belongings that could have dropped from a backpack or lunchbox has always created a sense of hope in me. It makes me think of the people who return lost wallets or help the elderly get something off a shelf. It just makes me smile.
The simple “I’m Sorry.” When disagreements occur oftentimes youth will get frustrated and have some sort of outburst. That is human. They are developing. They are learning how to manage emotions and work through stressful situations. And don’t get me wrong, we may think that because Timmy or Alice is using a crayon that belongs to someone else is not that big a deal, but to Johnny who had his crayon “stolen” this is the worst possible thing that could have happened to them today. They feel betrayed, frustrated, and lost as to why someone (their teacher) would assume that theft is OK. Sometimes the only thing that can be done is to say “I’m Sorry.” And you know what…it works. Instead of rationalizing and trying to weasel their way out of it, a simple apology can resolve the issue. It is not always a full solution, but it is most often a meaningful first step. Being able to stand up and admit a mistake is humbling. It takes a level of maturity to do that.
Encouraging children to play with others. Having students mingle. Ignore the socioeconomic statuses, the racial or cultural differences, and just let students play. Have them learn that the people they want to hang out with, the people that are like them, aren’t always like them (if you know what I mean).
Children have a variety of learning styles. From visual to tactile, olfactory to auditory, students need to experience their learning in different ways. I have had to do everything from read books out loud, draw pictures, create models, and relate facts to information already retained by the students in hopes of creating connections that make sense to the students. I have had students march in step back and forth to P.E., music, lunch, etc while singing songs about the lesson for the day. I still to this day remember a student who was having difficulty remembering the different classes of people that lived in the middle ages. I had to create a specific song to sing which included the fact that the Serfs, peasant class, were the pooper-scoopers of the community. He really got into that part. If everything was given to him in writing, he would not have been successful. He needed more.
Sometimes parents are overly involved, and others are not. I always felt like those whose parents were involved, either thru the PTA, being a classroom reader, being available to help with homework, etc, got a leg up on the rest. This is not to take anything away from those engaged parents. They were great…once they learned that the classroom was not focused on their student with another 20-25 students acting as “also-heres.” My favorites were always the one who did not have significant parent involvement. That could be because their parents had to work a lot, there were multiple siblings to oversee, or simply because they were deadbeats. I hate saying that but it is the truth. It is never appropriate to assume that all students have a significant level of parent involvement. Doing that puts those without at a disadvantage. Just because they don’t have others advocating on their behalf does not mean that their voices should not be heard.
Speaking of favorites, some say it is never right to pick favorites. Really? I definitely had my favorites. And that is OK. That’s real life. Just don’t let is be known to the class who that is. They should feel that everyone is equal, or at least on a level playing field.
Recess is important. REALLY IMPORTANT. It cannot be expected that students go from lesson to lesson to lesson without a break of some sort. We all know about the multiple studies that have been done stating that attention spans fade at the 50 minute mark, and I have recently read that that is getting shorter. Providing breaks and outlets for students to release pent up energy in important. It keeps them engaged, allowing them to take in more information. Just remember to have a rainy day plan.
And then there is the importance of individual conversations. I felt like I did the most meaningful teaching when I could kneel down next to a student and work thru their questions with them. Sure, I may have just explained this lesson to the entire class, but to that student they just didn’t get it. That doesn’t make them bad, or annoying. They just need more help. That is why I am there. To help. To educate. No matter if it is the 20th time I had gotten that question, I need to come at it with the same level of energy as I did with the first student. Just because I have heard this question before does not mean that it is any less important to the next student. And really, if there are a number of people who are not understanding my lesson, perhaps it is time for me to change how I deliver the message.
Lastly, if you are asking the question, “How did Scott get from seeing college students in costume to remembering his time working in an elementary school?” just take a took outside tonight. The number of students who look like they are wearing costumes that are sized for 5th graders is astounding. I mean really…..are you kidding…..I am getting too old. Anyway, I hope you, your family, and friends all have a happy, healthy, and SAFE Halloween tonight. Stay away from strangers, unless you see a bearded guy in a kilt walking around with a toddler dressed up like Sully from Monsters Inc. in upstate NY. Say hi to that guy, because it just might be me.