Today I was a 5th grade teacher at Robeson Elementary in Champaign. For those who have been playing along, this marks my 13th assignment for my mother-in-law this academic year. But as I have mentioned more than once, I have known most of these students since I first started subbing back in 2008, so they have had plenty of time to get to know me and, more importantly, get to know what I expect of them.
I have also blogged more than once about my ideals for classroom management, my philosophy of education, and how my philosophy is actually applied in the classroom. I will be the first to admit that, as a substitute teacher, it is incredibly difficult to fully implement my beliefs about education, especially my egalitarian views on management, for the simple fact that I am not around often enough to guide the class toward such a community setting. But I try. I encourage the students to be responsible for their actions and to realise that they are a classroom community that must work together if they wish to succeed.
Some days are better than others.
I don’t know if it is the warm weather, the quickly approaching end of the year, the anticipation of the 5th grade field trip to the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, or if it is just the result of having a student teacher in full take-over (which almost always seems to result in students forgetting all about the expectations). Whatever the reason, the class has had a hard time meeting expectations. I know that they know them, but knowing and doing are two very different things! Despite this, I fully believe that the majority of these students are ready for 6th grade. Despite the poor choices being made (at least when I am there), by and large, I have seem them grow for unruly, uncontrolled boys and girls to mature, respectful young men and women. I credit their teachers and their parents for this. I would like to think that I have had an impact on them, but, let’s be honest: They are in school for 180 days out of the year. That means they have only had in me in the classroom, so far, for roughly 8% of the time they’ve been in school.
I have recently been asked two related questions, and I thought I’d take time to address them here, rather than in the comments of the relevant posts. The questions are these:
- What can we do in our communities to make classrooms more like the one you had on this day? (source)
- What expectations do you set? How do you include the students in the process? What kind of interactions do you see in expectations in classrooms versus expectations at home? (source)
Really, the questions are one: what can we, as parents, teachers, and community members, do to ensure that each day is a successful day for all involved in the educational process?
First, what are my expectations? Ideally, meaning, in terms of my philosophy of education, my expectations in the classroom are that students will self-manage. However, I am enough of a realist to understand that it takes time to reach that point. As a substitute, I have a few very specific expectations. They are these:
- Respect one’s self.
- Respect others.
- Respect property.
- Do not set anything on fire.
- No defenestration.
- No going all Lord of the Flies on me.
- Have fun!
You may think I am joking about at least three of those but, really, I am serious about all of them. Let’s look at them each individually.
What does it mean to have an expectation to respect one’s self? Quite simply, I want each student to see him- or herself as a contributing member of the community. No self-denigration. Today I had a student say that he was stupid. I respond that that was simply not true. Some may perform at a lower level than others, and some may make poor choices, but none are stupid. I expect that each student believe in his or her self-worth. I also believe that if students respect themselves, they will meet (and exceed) all other expectations. Self-respect is being absolutely honest. I remember reading a book where the main character said something about his father teaching him that the only rule one needed to remember was to be honest at all times, and that all other rules would fall under that. For example, an honest man will never lie, cheat, steal, kill, etc. I wish I could remember what book it was. I know I read it this year, but I’ve read a lot of books this year.
Respect others. When we respect others, we value their contributions. We do not put them down, we do not steal from them, we do not do anything to cause harm. Students who respect others will raise their hands before speaking as a signal that they have something to share, and their classmates will show respect by listening to what they have to contribute. Raising one’s hand is not always necessary, but when there are 25 students in the room, it is the easiest ways to make sure that all have a chance to contribute. When we respect others, we show that we respect ourselves.
Respect property. Honestly, if students are respecting themselves, they will be respect others, which means they will respect their own property and the property of others. But I include this anyway as a helpful reminder. Respecting property is not just the avoidance of taking that which is not ours or not defacing or damaging anything. It also includes being respectful in how we speak within the walls of the classroom and of the school building. Respecting property means we will not yell, run, or otherwise act in an unsafe manner where such actions are not permitted.
Do not set anything on fire. I love saying this one. Students always look at me like I am crazy and ask if I have ever had that happen, or they ask how they could do that. (Usually both questions are asked simultaneously.) My response has always been, “I haven’t had anyone set a fire yet, but I don’t doubt that you could figure out a way to do it if you really wanted to. But I ask that you not set any fires, because I really enjoy my job, and I want to be invited back.” I have never once had anyone challenge this expectation. What is really means, though, is that I expect the class to behave as they would if their regular teachers were there.
No defenestration. This expectation actually establishes two things at once: first, it tells the students that I won’t tolerate crazy behaviour, and second, it tells the students that I am going to use unfamiliar vocabulary, and I want them to expand their “word power”–every time I tell them of this expectation, someone grabs a dictionary, looks it up, and shares with the class what it means.
No going all Lord of the Flies on me. I admit, I usually only use this in high school. Most of the students have either read the book or heard of it. They know what I mean: I expect the class to not devolve into a pure anarchy. As with the anti-defenestration rule, this also lets them know that I am well-read and will make regular references to literature, music, movies, etc.
Have fun! This, really, is my number one expectation, but I tend to share it last. I remember when I had by Board of Review for the reception of my Eagle Scout award with the Boy Scouts of America. One of the questions I was asked was, “If you could sum up your entire Boy Scouts experience with just one word, what would it be?” My response was, “Fun!” When asked to elaborate, I explained that scouting was fun; if it hadn’t been, I wouldn’t have stayed with it. I think that is true to school, as well. We have a lot of work to do, but we can have a lot of fun while we are at it, just like in the business community.
So, how do I involve students in the expectation-setting process? As a substitute, I ask the class to tell me what the expectations are, then I add any additional ones. (This typically results in them telling me 1-3, and me mentioning 4-7). When I have a full-time teaching position, I will have the class set their own expectations, with my guidance. I believe that students all know what is necessary for a safe, positive classroom experience, and they are more willing to abide their own expectations than if I come in and insist that my rules are the only rules. There are, of course, expectations that must be there, and I will guide the class toward them if they don’t name them on their own. We do the same thing in the drug prevention community when setting guidelines for small group discussions, and it works incredibly well.
So now we get to the hardest part: how do we connect the classroom community with the community at large? I believe that parents must know what is expected in the classroom and asked to support these expectations at home. I have a hard time believing that any parent would not support expectations of mutual respect, but there are some times when parents and teachers find themselves at odds. Some professionals, such as Harry Wong, will say that teachers need to give parents a copy of the expectations in letters home and at back-to-school nights. Others, such as Todd Whitaker, will say that back-to-school nights need to be parent-centered: here’s my phone number, here’s how to reach me, what can I do for you? I find myself in the middle. The most important thing for me is to make sure that we are all on the same team. Open and honest communication is key. Parents need to know what is happening in the classroom. Weekly newsletters, phone calls or emails, and open-door policies will all help to establish this. Parents are part of the classroom community, and they need to feel welcome.
My friend’s biggest question, though, was what can he, as a member of the community, do to help. I’ve thought about this a lot. I want the class to realise that they are part of a classroom community, a school community, and a community at large. But, far too often, they are considered third-class citizens of the community at large. How can we change this? I would like to see students asked to participate in the community, and for community members to participate in the classroom. I would love to have someone from the community come into the classroom once a week to talk about what they do. Are they professionals? Executives? Managers? Workers? Homemakers? Clerks, secretaries, or administrative assistants? What connections can they make? I think this would help. It would also be awesome for students to be recognised outside of school. I can see a grocery store manager being invited to the school, and then the students seeing him or her at the store and saying hello.
But there is one other thing that will help. Members of the community need to model the expectations that are found in classrooms. Students are told to be respectful; do they see that among the adults they see at home, at church, at the store, in the news? Are the classroom expectations part of our expectations outside the classroom, or are these expectations just a double standard, like when parents tell students that profane words are “adult words”? (Want to know why so many kids in school curse? It is because they hear their parents do it, and then they hear it is something that only “adults” should do. Young men and women want to be adults, so they start modeling them.)
All of this will help create the community that I envision. A community where everyone works together toward a greater good. A community where respect is the guiding principle of all we do. It is a lofty goal, and it may never be seen in my lifetime, but I am definitely going to work hard toward achieving it!