He values his daily costume. That's truly what it is that we wear each day - a costume. He was raised to believe that the impressions he presents about himself in his attire are of the utmost concern, especially when attempting to have a positive impact as a salesman. So, he packs meticulously. I, on the other hand, have been described as "edgy" in my choice of clothing. A true creative, I cringe at following fads. I seek layers, transparencies, fringes. I care not what the industry says I should don. I wear clothing for comfort, color, and interest, and truly don't care whether someone else approves of my choices. I do abide by the professional requirements of my job and school community. To do otherwise would be disrespectful and send the wrong message to my students. My "costume" is an extension of my canvas, my painting studio.
As I reflect on the first week of school, on the successes and near-misses, I began thinking about what I "brought with me" to the classroom. What was my educational "costume" and what was its impact?
FLEXIBILITY: Fortunately, my experience has taught me that one of the most effective tools a teacher can have is the ability to change the direction of the lesson on a whim without causing duress in the students. This happened multiple times this week. Technology snafus, security issues, high energy levels, student absences are all standard occurrences in anyone's classroom. But to encounter them all within the first four days was challenging. I tend to overbook my lesson plans, but have learned over many years that the most important parts of my lessons will always rise to the top and keep us floating in the direction I am heading. I have already moved one activity to next week when technology made completion impossible. Did I rant and rave or lament the loss to my plans? Nope. This was a terrific opportunity for my students to see resilience in action. By the second class, I didn't even attempt that part of my lesson. The impromptu discussion of the origin of the expression "out of the box" was much more valuable. If you are not aware of this term's origin, click here to learn about it.
A SERENE DEMEANOR: I teach sixth graders in a building that houses only grades 6, 7, and 8. While most of my students have seen the building's interiors, a big part of their anxiety in the first week comes from worrying whether they will get lost, go to the wrong class, or be penalized for getting to a class late. I cannot build rapport with my students if I am more worried about whether they found the classroom within the required two minutes. I assure my students that someone will go to the wrong room (someone did) and he/she will NOT be punished (he was not). I also assure them that their teachers will help them read a highly complicated schedule which changes daily. (We did.) Finally, placing their nervous energy at arm's length gives them an anchor to return to again and again.
CONFIDENCE: Like animals, pre-teens can smell fear a mile away. This particular age group is a tough one to teach as each child is beginning to push his/her parents away to develop critical skills in independence, responsibility, and decision-making. They need adults around them who can comfortably guide them along while creating an atmosphere of safe risk-taking. Only a teacher who is confident in him/herself as a human being, as an educator, as a friend can navigate this road studded with mines. As early as the second day of school, some of my students were testing me. I'm not easily snowed or rattled, and I've seen/heard it all many times before. I have no problem being consistent as I know my methods work - and in a kind and gentle way.
PASSION: I was really excited to begin another year, and my students could tell. We laughed. I sang...about Edmodo. (Someone should have videotaped it. It was pretty funny.) I even lost my voice at one point, but not from yelling. I scored points by working hard to learn every new student's name within four days. (I have 70+ students but do not see each one every day.) In my upper grade class, students had already completed two projects and created a website by the end of the first week. I made it clear that I wanted quality work and I wanted it now, simply because of how much I love teaching the curriculum and want to get the "basics" out of the way so we can get to the "Wow" factor. One student made my day when she said her mother was "yelling at her to get off the computer" even though the project was for school because she needed to go to bed. There was no deadline for this student. She just loved what she had learned and couldn't get enough.
So I think back to my luggage metaphor. I definitely overpacked my lesson plans, as creating a vibrant curriculum is one of my deepest values. But my true personality came out looking very much like my wardrobe. I used only what I needed. I didn't care what anyone else thought of my singing - I wore it proudly. My methods are not traditional - they are edgy. I moved the desk configuration daily. But I tied it all together with harmony, like color theory. My first five days, and those of my students turned out to be a delightful trip indeed, despite the turbulence in flight. I'm ready to rock week two. But I have no idea what I am wearing to school tomorrow.