In less than 24 hours I will greet my new class of seventh-graders. I spent the last two days decorating my classroom, paying careful attention to those minor details like plants on the window sill and fresh-linen smelling plug-ins strategically plugged into electrical outlets throughout the room. These seemingly innocuous touches turn our classroom space into a quaint and cozy learning haven. I’m excited to begin our journey together as teachers and students this year.
Last school year, I started to get to know a group of my would-be students when I proctored their English Language Arts state exam. Little by little, I would make a point of saying “hi” to my future students when I saw them after that in the hallway or outside after school. Pretty soon a few of them were seeking me out and smiling when they saw me. All of these pleasantries will prove to be useful tomorrow when we officially begin creating our caring classroom environment.
I’ve always made a point of building a foundation with my students from way before they were officially the students on my roster. As an educator, building genuinely meaningful student-teacher relationships is one of the aspects that I most relish. It is a prerequisite for any learning that will take place or any knowledge I intend to impart or receive. I remember how invigorating it felt when my teachers took an interest in me, not only academically but personally.
It’s important that we acknowledge our students’ personhood. Because I teach middle schoolers I witness this often and am more in tune with this truth, so please trust and believe me when I tell you that many of the emotions we experience as adults, our students experience as children. You’d be surprised, friends. More and more, students are entering our classroom with the residue of serious emotional traumas like absentee parents for a plethora of reasons ranging from incarceration and death to drug addiction and abandonment, to sexual molestation turned promiscuity, to fear and anxiety of familial separation due to the daily threat of deportation.
Given my student demographics, I am already expecting that I will have students who themselves are “DREAMers” who will carry with them the stress of Mr. Trump’s dissolution of DACA into class tomorrow.
All of what we know about our students must be factored into ensuring that when they are in school, they feel safe. They feel wanted. They feel welcomed. They feel accepted. They feel cared for in the truest sense of the word.
One way that I collect information about where my students are socially and emotionally is to ask them to complete a Funds of Knowledge survey and an interest survey, both of which we begin in class and they complete at home either by themselves or (preferably) with a family member, if that is a viable option.
According to Lois Bridges,
A “Funds of Knowledge perspective” recognizes the abundant social and intellectual resources of each family and the school community beyond and embraces the resources as content worthy of deeper exploration at school…it helps teachers approach each student from a position of strength. In other words, rather than focusing on perceived deficits in the child’s home experiences because they don’t align with school-sanctioned knowledge, we discover and build on the impressive strengths and resources each child brings to school.
Additionally, an interest survey seamlessly weaves questions about a student’s interests on a variety of planes to gain a deeper understanding of who they are as a human being, not merely as a student. The information collected becomes the solid foundation of our caring classroom community. It heavily informs everything we do in our class, giving the reciprocal teaching and learning that takes place a beautiful harmony all its own.
With the barrage of noise too often going on in and around them, our students need some harmony in their lives. May our caring classrooms be their orchestra.