By, Daniel Summers
You know that thing you do in the class that isn’t in any handbook, teaching strategy guide, or rigor and relevance framework? That thing that Bloom didn’t put on his pyramid… That thing that makes students talk about you in the hallways, gets them to look at you with interest, connect with you, think you are maybe a little crazy, geeky, or good old fashioned weird? Yeah, that thing. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Find it. If you do know, don’t you dare turn it off–ever–turn it up.
Give fist bumps. Jump around a lot. Yell out of happiness sometimes. Be a goofball. Joke. Ask a kid about the weather. Say hello to students, not from your doorway, but from the middle of the hallway. If your coworkers say: “that’s too much energy for a Monday morning.” You are winning.
Let me backtrack, if the above paragraph isn’t your style, then don’t. I’m not here to advocate for not embracing you own identity. But whatever your style is, broadcast it loud. Why? Because anti-intellectualism abounds. Because the world’s real monsters want information to be a task rather than an experience. Because too many people, students included, want a computer module to replace your voice. We know better. We know that a well placed word and an accessible equation can take a room filled with apathy and turn it into a capital C Classroom where reluctance becomes “say what now?”
Elementary teachers–where you at? You all know what I’m talking about. Pre-K through 5th grade teachers have no choice but to be as much a dancer as an educator. When I was a substitute I primarily subbed first and fourth graders. I used to wonder what an overhead view would be like. I imagined I looked like a bee trying to warn the hive about bears, flitting in a complex and panicked pattern at full body vibration for seven straight hours. Elementary teachers know that energy and kindness, even over-the-top kindness can shape a young mind as much as any book or history lesson.
I once believed that as students matured they suddenly didn’t want, or need, those levels of energy and abundant joy. What I had forgotten was that teachers are architects, we build things. It is hard to see what we build because they don’t belong to adults. What we build belongs to minds that are finding the world for the first time. Raise your hand if you are the same person you were when you were in middle school…High school? Wisdom is just having a lot of experience at perceiving things. No one under the age of twenty has that. Somewhere around the age of twenty-five we all get an honorary degree in adulthood and a wake up call that life wants us to pick a personality. We use our perceptions to build ourselves. Our students rarely have this skill. For many of them, society or their own families are actively knocking their legs out from under them. So we build ways for students to reach information, even if they don’t believe they can, or to even try.
You know how to teach a tired, hungry, abused child? Give them a positive memory. I’m serious. They need sleep, food, and love. But when those things aren’t available all humans still cling to relationships and stories. We can build those too. Teachers can build any metaphorical ladder, bridge, or shelter that a young mind could need. It’s what we do. The easiest part of my job is collecting resources and distributing them to students. The real work is in getting them invested in opening something. I do that by being the one at the door screaming good morning. I do it by listening more than speaking in class. I crawl on the floor. I act out hip-hop songs as if they were plays and play a game where we read Shakespeare in creepy whispers. I come into class every October dressed as Edgar Allen Poe. For thirty straight minutes I convince my students that I have lost my mind and murdered a man. His body is buried under the floorboards. I give fist bumps more than grades.
My biggest phobia is public speaking. Being extraverted is draining. Yet, I turn up my performance every day because I know that if they leave my class talking about my class, I have created a memory. I’ll say it again. If they leave my class talking about my class, I have created a memory.
Listen, I don’t think it is good for all teachers to be so hyper and odd. Solidity and structure are equally or more important for students than geeking out over reading and writing everyday. However, I know that every teacher has that one thing hidden inside them, that spark that wants to come out. It is a piece of us that can’t help but squeal about words, old looking pens, and dusty books. It is the part of us that wants to jump and shout every time a student makes a logical connection. I’m here to say, that part of you might be the piece that creates connection and engagement for a student. So get out there you rock stars.