I always imagined it would be hard to find a balance between being an authoritative teaching figure and being a friend to students in the classroom. Turns out, I was right! Especially with so many rules and guidelines teachers have to stay within to avoid legal trouble in the education system, finding that balance is tough. I have had teachers that have done this really well, and teachers that have avoided this "friend" dynamic completely. In this post, I would love to talk a little bit about one teacher who I think does this well, and highlight a couple things that I think he's doing right.
At 54th Street Academy, the teacher I have had the opportunity to observe (we'll call him Tom) has worked out this balance really well. He doesn't have it down pat, but he definitely does well with the balancing act. I would love to share a couple of stories with you, and with each story share why I think this is a good example of the balance. Good? Ok, great.
At the beginning of second hour every Thursday, or at least both Thursdays that I have been there so far, Tom starts off the class with "Good News". This is a time that has absolutely nothing to do with academics. He literally asks students for some good news in their life. Things ranging from "my friends and I are having a bonfire this weekend" to "I got coffee from Biggby this morning". I've been in a class where the teacher has actually done this (see his blog post here), but it was cool to be on the observing end of it this time. Tom intentionally made this time fully relational. He took interest in what the students were saying, and asked follow up questions. I could tell by the students' reactions that they felt loved. Then, when it was time to move on to the class lesson, he did so promptly, and the students were willing because of his authority.
The lesson during one class was about basic congruency proofs on triangles. As a review, he asked students to recall the various properties that they could use to prove triangle congruency. Students piped in answers: "SAS", "SSS", and of course, "ASS??" followed by some giggles from classmates and smirks around the room. At this point, Tom had a choice. Either he could ignore it or address it. Instead of ignoring it or even addressing it in a negative way, he made a joke something along the lines of "donkey's can't do congruency proofs!" and moved on. This was awesome. He didn't ignore it, invalidating the student. He didn't address it in a way that was demeaning, which wouldn't encourage the student. He chose to connect to the student in humor, while keeping it within classroom appropriate guidelines. The student felt heard, even in his joke, and Tom connected with the students in humor, while staying on track and staying appropriate with his high school students. Well done, Tom. Well done.
After teaching the lesson for the day, the students got to do work individually/in small groups. This was time for them to take some of the things they learned that day and apply them directly to problems at their own pace. During this time, Tom could have just graded papers at his desk or gotten other busy work done, but he chose to roam around the room, making sure students understood, and allowing them to connect with him in a more intentional setting than a teacher in front of the class. Students asked him questions about the homework, but also even just made small talk back and forth amidst this. He chose to go above and beyond with intentionality in connecting with students, and they were much more engaged by it.
Obviously, Tom has done a really good job building appropriate relationships with students, and much of it has happened before I even began to observe. He did a fantastic job of being a friend to students, joking with them, conversing with them, but focusing when it was time to focus, and getting them back on track when they got sidetracked during class. The students clearly loved him; they even initiated conversation with him about their weekend and were comfortable joking back and forth with him about his haircut or conversing about their daily lives. These are just a couple reasons how he has formed this atmosphere, and surely there are many more examples, but, all in all, I hope someday my classroom will look like Tom's does.
As always, thanks for reading, and I'll see you on my next post!