2.11 New beginnings
It was the last day before winter break in my first year of teaching. Students were bouncing off the walls, and I was ready to go home. I truly thought that nothing would focus everyone’s attention, so I was amazed when my students took the handout I gave them and approached it quite seriously. I quietly congratulated myself on scheduling a final activity that seemed to hold everyone’s interest.
I stopped congratulating myself once I read everything they handed in.
You see, I had given them a student feedback form that asked them to evaluate my teaching. (It was amazing how focused they became when given an opportunity to grade me!) I had administered the form because I thought that over winter break, I would attempt to balance relaxing with family, reflect on the semester, and make decisions about what my classroom would look like in January. I knew that soliciting feedback and suggestions from students would help me with the process of reflecting on, and improving, my teaching. And it did! Their comments were an invaluable part of the time I devoted to the “classroom restructuring” process. Still, some of that feedback was a little hard to read.
Only one section of their survey responses surprised me. I knew that there had been problems, so their pointing out some issues didn’t shock me. I knew that they would suggest that certain elements of my teaching be changed. What I did not know was that almost every student would answer question six in an identical fashion. It was not a question about management or instruction or classroom environment. It simply asked them what they would remember about my class in ten years.
I thought they would describe an activity. I thought they might remember a speaker or a unit or a project that they had enjoyed. Instead, almost every student responded with some version of the following statement:
I will remember you, and I will remember how you treated me.
In the midst of all the lessons, projects, tests and school activities, they had seen me. It made sense once I actually thought about it. What did I remember from my elementary and secondary school classrooms? I recalled some academic content and a few classroom experiences, but even more clearly, I remembered all of my teachers. And to this day, I can tell you how each of them chose to treat me.
It was a powerful reminder as I approached my classroom again after winter break. My students had pointed out so many things that I needed to do differently. My own reflections revealed even more classroom elements that needed to change. I couldn’t do them all. Some were out of my control, and others would require a summer’s investment. I became overwhelmed with the idea that this semester would also be imperfect.
At the same time, I clung to what my students had almost unanimously revealed. In the midst of all those external imperfections, they would remember me, and they would remember how they were treated. At the very least, I could make sure that my time in the classroom conveyed the message that they were important, and that what they learned and did and became was important to me.
You get to start over in January. Some of you will have an opportunity to start over with the same students. Others will begin anew with a different group of kids. Reflect on the past semester. Make changes that will enhance the learning in your classroom. Consult your students, experienced colleagues, and your own memories to discover what those changes might need to be.
Some of you may want to create a new physical environment to reveal in a tangible way that this semester will be different. That may involve redecorating walls or rearranging desks. Others may want to implement new classroom procedures. Or you may want to attempt a new instructional technique. Seize next semester as an opportunity to explore any or all of these avenues, but all the while please remember what my surveys revealed.
Your students will notice outward alterations, but they will also notice your inner person. During this break, make a renewed commitment to believing in your students. Give each child a chance to embrace a new beginning in January, regardless of his or her past experiences in school. Determine to be firm in your management style, your commitment to instruction and in your acknowledgement of each student’s potential.
We cannot lose faith, especially when confronted with a new semester’s opportunity for brand new beginnings! We must continue to see each student (and each semester) as ripe with possibility. This approach is critical for so many reasons, one of which is best expressed by our students: “I will remember you, and I will remember how you treated me.”
- Next: The second semester