Packing for Back to School

Posted: September 12, 2010 in Uncategorized
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So, I’ve been thinking about getting ready for school. We had our first half day on Wednesday, but with the holiday on Thursday, we didn’t have a real, full day until Friday. (I am happy to report no one bailed after that first 1/2 day.)

I’ve done the standard getting ready stuff: arranged the room, labeled the workbooks, put up bulletin boards, built the new moveable tables, put meetings into the calendar, hired a new babysitter for my personal kids, repainted my toenails, touched up the purple in the hair, etc. But, sometimes in all the rush to work my way down the “to do” list, it’s easy to forget the internal getting ready I need to do.

For example, I need to spend some time thinking about developing a class climate with my students that is conducive to all learners. I need to switch back to “beginning of the year me,” the teacher who doesn’t talk quite as fast, remembers 5th graders aren’t ready for deadpan jokes right away, and puts herself back in that place where she is new and uncertain. I need to remember to get not just the paper and pencils out of the closet, but also my extra patience, my ability to give another example, and another, my enthusiasm for all the books we read, my ridiculous comparisons that actually help make a point, and crazy excuses to move around the room. It’s all part of the unpacking.

I’m not the only one who needs to pack more than pencils. My students do too, and it’s my job to help them think about that.

One of the ways I have talked about this other getting ready process, beyond the stuff, is to tell my students a story about a trip I took with a friend and colleague. We won an award from our school to help us fund a trip to Spain one summer. Now, neither of us knows Spanish nor teaches anything on the topic of Spain. Our award was for very broadly defined professional development–anything that would make us better versions of ourselves would surely make us better teachers. So, our proposal was for a walking trip in Spain along the Camino de Santiago. We proposed this idea as an opportunity for us to try out the ideal of “Courage for the deed, Grace for the doing.” Our idea was that for us truly to challenge our ability to have courage and grace, we should put ourselves in a challenging position, which for teachers means not school. Little did we know.

To make a long story short, we arrived in Spain, but our luggage did not. In fact it never arrived. We went on our walk (which began in cold rain) with very little stuff. What did of course arrive were all of our personal traits–our potential for courage and grace, as well as our insecurities. So, I tell my students about this trip, show pictures, admit to being nervous, grumpy, and more. I tell them that what mattered was not getting to the end, but how we got there. And, I tell them what a fantastic trip it was.

(This is what I looked like in every picture since I wore that same thing every day.)

We then talk about packing our “backpacks” for the year of 5th grade with our positive qualities. Since it’s 5th grade we actually make paper cutouts and put words in them. To be fair, we also add one trait that’s not so good–a danger card.

I have used this story and discussion starter for a few years. It works for me, and it works for my class. One of the best things about it is that my students see me admitting to being all too human. It makes it a lot easier to have a frank conversation about strengths and weaknesses when I just put a whole bunch out there for everyone to see. I’m totally fine making mistakes and being honest about my faults in class, and if it helps my students I’ll keep right on being imperfect.

I guess I’ll head to school on Monday and make some more mistakes, for the kids, of course.

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