I teach first and second grade in a public elementary school. My days with my students are infinitely challenging, dynamic, nurturing and hysterically funny, in large part because of the community that we create together. I learned early on that certain understandings make learning and growing a lot easier for people in a room together for 180 days.
In my classroom, resources are shared equally. Every time. It would be ridiculous and unheard of to give only 20% of the students 80% of the birthday treats, markers, or books.
In my classroom, our space and learning tools are respected and cared for by everyone. It becomes clear very quickly that we all feel it if someone breaks a chair, a window, or a computer. The children would immediately be shocked and protest if someone were to harm our learning environment.
In my classroom, if one child hurts another, the aggressor is removed to a safe and secure place, the victim is cared for, and then both children are offered help and guidance in making a better decision next time. Sometimes the better choice happens immediately, sometimes it takes years. It almost always takes a thoughtful community of adults. No matter what happens, I don’t tell the victim to go and get a bigger stick and hit back harder.
In my classroom, everyone’s voice is welcomed and heard, whether they are Native American, black, white, Latino, Korean, Jewish, Christian, Atheist, or Muslim. This is true not only because it is required by law. Honoring each student’s beliefs and culture is one of the best ways to get them to contribute and take risks.
I am their official leader, which takes on many different forms. Sometimes I am their mentor and model, sometimes I am their protector, sometimes I am their audience, their friend, or their disciplinarian. No matter how many roles I assume, in every moment I am there to help them find their way of walking tall in the world and becoming a community of successful, educated, conscious human beings.
So my question is: How confusing is it for my students to look out into the world and see oppression, violence, pollution, corruption and inequities? Should I simply explain to them that somewhere along the way, many adults forget what they learned in school and begin making all of the choices that we, six, seven and eight year olds, know don’t work? Or should I tell myself that what I teach children really isn’t that important and can’t be applied in the adult world? But if this is true, then why teach them at all?
This I believe: People are born with a willingness to love, accept and help each other. My students prove this to me each day. It’s my job to help them learn how to sort through the fear that tries to show them otherwise, and help them create a world much like our classroom.
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