Here I am with the classroom movie posters I made for the hallway outside my room.
Okay, so if you have read anything else I have written thus far, you know that I am a huge fan of Teach Like a Pirate. I took the challenge to be a Pirate this year, and my year has begun with the first week activities that Dave Burgess outlines. I got on Amazon, asked my wife for permission to use the card and purchased the biggest pack of play-doh I have ever seen. 36 cans of funky stuff that can be molded into some of the most creative objects I have ever witnessed in my life.
The difference to some may seem subtle, but it was really a significant change for me. In other years, students had shared things about themselves, and I have even learned some very personal things about my students through questions they had answered. Day 1 this year was no exception. Where the difference came in was in many cases how I learned these ideas. While students were making their projects out of play-doh to represent something about themselves, I focused on asking them questions, talking to them, and sharing with them. I heard their stories directly from them in a conversation that I could react to and they could see and hear my thoughts, ideas, or in some cases compassion for their lives. This was missing in the past where students answered questions just for me and I was reading those in isolation of them. I still react, still feel for them, still want to connect, but they never saw those reactions, and thus the moment of me being a real person and not just another teacher was lost.
So the best and worst of the sharing and lessons learned. I realized after trying this with my first class, that the need for explaining that the object had to be something important or significant to their lives resonated with most students, but I did have one that tried to push back against this. His object was a chicken drumstick because he said he loved chicken. Not exactly what I was going for. He and I talked before he was to present, and he modified his sculpture, but I think he was still trying to be the class clown. I learned from this and the rest of the classes I emphasized that I was looking for something significant to their lives. It yielded better results, although I did have the hour where half the class talked about sports, where I again had to adjust my questioning to why were sports so important to them. Why would you spend hours doing something, what are the rewards to this activity in your life?
Those were the ones that didn't quite meet the mark, although with the exception of the chicken example, they did a good job explaining their ideas. I included images above of just some of the objects. There were 3D objects, activities as mentioned earlier, even including music and dance. Then there were the ones that really showcased what this was all about. The handful of students who talked about the connection to others in their lives, or how something was almost vitally important to them. I had a couple of students use symbols like a rainbow to discuss their being homosexual, or their connection to the Gay Straight Alliance. I also had a student share a very personal story about how she has been affected by suicide. She made the semi-colon sculpture above. I didn't know it was the symbol for suicide, but I did know about this student's story before she shared. I was overwhelmed that she shared it with the class. I was very emotional at the end of the day hearing so many wonderful and powerful stories about things that impact my students' lives. It caused me to really reflect on my responsibility as a teacher to honor their courage to share, and to do everything I can do to make my classroom and this year a safe and nurturing one. I struggle with the fact that I do not know that I am up to the challenge of helping students who have the realities outside of school that some of my students do. I pray I have the strength to be the teacher they need and deserve.