I love education so much I made it my career. I love to teach, more importantly I love learning. I always joke that I wish I could be paid to be a full-time student, I wish I could get paid to attend classes and receive degrees.
The biggest reason is because learning and school has been the only thing that has ever really made sense to me.
I had a chaotic childhood. I would escape my home by attending school, I would ride the bus to the public library instead of riding it straight home. I would have rather been immersed in other’s lives between the folds and the glue of pages.
I wanted to be Dorothy, I imagined I was Alice.
I also realized really early on that the only way I was going to get anything out of this world was by learning. I learned how not to live my life by the example I was given. I also realized, that no one got out of the black-hole that was my hometown without attending school elsewhere.
There was a saying that everyone came back. Because every one did come back. My classmates before me would attend school for a year or two and come back to the seclusion, come back to the chaos.
I knew I needed to escape and I knew that education was my way out.
I had a troubled childhood and because of this, I found myself exceptionally intolerant to anyone that didn’t see education the way I did.
I’m first-gen, low-income, at risk.
Well, I was. I broke the cycle.
I was a statistic, but now I’m a statistical anomaly.
I couldn’t stand educators that demanded respect from me just because they were in front of the room. I had things happen to me as a child they could only imagine in their night terrors. I had even worse things happen as I entered the adult world far too young, bolstering my vulnerable heart and my curious soul with my determination to be greater than those before me.
By breaking the cycle of poverty, I learned a few things about a few things.
In a previous article I touch on how growing up poor made me a better teacher. The biggest reason was because I was intolerant to bullshit from my teachers. I got enough of it at home, if I got any of it in the classroom a teacher would lose me. They would lose my focus, my interest, all of it.
I got in trouble a lot. I was bored, disinterested in learning at the limits and the pace that the curriculum set for me. I would get in trouble just to be sent to the library, because that’s truly where I could learn. I was reading college level books by fifth grade and the first time I picked Moby Dick up from the library I was thirteen. By then, my library card was already scratched, well-worn, and lucky for me — like a penny you find on the street.
In this rat’s nest of a childhood, this chaos taught me several things. It taught me how to connect, how to make meaningful relationships, and to impact others. That’s at the heart and soul of being an educator.
There are also five ways to engage populations like younger me, and I got them from taking in my experiences as a student and realizing how things should have been. I apply all five things to my current classrooms, at all endorsement levels.
And they work.
I engage my students, I have minimal classroom management issues, and most importantly my students learn.
I let them learn how they want to learn.
I teach to Gardner’s theory of Multiple Intelligences. I let my students choose how they want to learn something. The best way to instill a desire to learn is to let the students learn something that they want, and in a way that they best learn. Obviously in a classroom, this is the goal and cannot succeed 100% of the time. But striving for this all the time will let students that you are trying.
They will recognize that.
It’s not what you teach, it’s how you teach it.
You can get every student engaged in every topic possible if you one-frame it in a great way and two-you make it beneficial and engaging for them.
One of the ideal ways I do this is by giving students an option on projects. I ask them how they can best prove their learning then I let them take charge. Sometimes I get a paper, sometimes I get graphic art, sometimes I get a poster or a presentation.
One time I got an entire Monopoly version (game board and all) of Alice in Wonderland. The Community Chest and Chance cards were trivia questions based on happenings in the book we learned that unit. It was so cool.
None of the presentations were the same, which made is nicer to grade. But also, all of the students were able to successfully present and showcase their learning in their own unique way.
I show empathy.
I talk to students. I create meaningful relationships. I remember things about my students. I show them that I care. I treat us like a team, and I treat the classroom as if we’re all on even playing fields. For the most part, I never dictate the classroom unless something terrible is happening, the focus is shifting to something it shouldn’t, or the students need someone to step in at that moment.
In all reality, the classroom is their space. It’s not mine. It’s their place to figure out things in a way that they discover and learn best. I just facilitate. This also means that at times I am vulnerable. Vulnerability does something amazing, it shows others that you trust them. This in turns helps build trust with students.
I know far too many professionals that state that their students don’t know anything about them. WHY?! The students need a model, someone who has screwed up. They don’t need a robot that doesn’t make mistakes. This vulnerability builds relationships, it fosters empathy, and it also helps the students feel as if they are actually a part of a team.
I offer lessons at all different learning levels.
By this I mean, I constantly have assignments for individuals that work slower, and students that work faster than others. I have a collection of assignments for those seeking more work or are bored. I let those students work ahead, or even provide the assignments in an online format so that they can access them at any time. The online format also makes it easier for students falling behind to have constant access to their work as well.
I show them why learning is important, and what learning can do. I tell them the real stuff, the stuff that no one else will tell them.
I make what we do relate-able, I make it important to them.
You know that age old question… When will this help me later in life? Where will this be applicable?
I strive to make everything we cover relate-able somehow.
I also tell them the things that I wish people would have told me growing up. I wish someone would have explained to me how hard being an adult really is. I wish someone would have explained taxes, and bills, budgeting, or even student loans.
I wish someone would have taught me how to have a solid presentation, and to take notes properly — not just assume that since I am in 9th grade I already know those things.
I work to “fill in the gaps”, is what I call it. Students have gaps in their learning. Either a previous teacher moved too fast, they didn’t grasp a concept, they saw too small or big a picture, or they were just confused. At that moment, I survey the student to see where they are at, and I fill in the gap. I supplement their small picture with a bigger one. I slow down where things happened too fast.
I include various kinds of media in my lessons, and I switch up the material every 10–15 minutes.
There is a reason that TED Talks are typically a certain length. It’s because after 10–15 minutes our brains turn off, they go onto auto pilot. In the Teaching of Psychology, L.T Benjamin wrote, “When the lecture begins, most students are paying close attention [and] for most students that attention lasts for about 10 minutes.” It’s because our brains will only focus on a lecture typically for 10–15 minutes before that attention span is exhausted. Unless you switch it up, really most things you say after 15–20 minutes will be lost anyway. This is one quick way to ensure you’re engaging challenging students, and usually they are grateful for a change of pace.
Regardless, all of these things take effort. Being an educator takes effort.
But if you’re in this profession, and you’re willing to do everything to can to support your students or those learning under you, you already know you’ll do whatever it takes.
Thank you for your time, your support, and for being a part of my journey!
Want to read more by me? Click the links below, check out some of my other pieces.
Learning Should Be About the Journey
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