I have come to the conclusion that the content I teach has less value than the manner in which I teach it.
We hear how important relationships are yet we rarely hear how to create and improve relationships. Sure, we have all seen the video of the teacher doing the high fives handshakes and hugs at the door. If that was all it took every teacher would be a master in relationships.
The first thing I do is I specifically go out of my way, say hello, smile, and check-in with my Black and Brown students. I do this because I know I have bias (white guy) and I want to establish multiple positive interactions before there are any negative interactions. This also forces me to create positive associations with the students in my own head. I am basically making sure that I am not allowing my internalized racism to go unchecked.
Another tool I have in the old belt I use is to circle the class up and ask the students to share with me. This opening allows both them and me to talk about our lives and to see each other outside the student and teacher power dynamic.
Learn the students’ names and use them when I pass them in the hall. Smile at them as well.
Give the students room to be kids. Kids are going to talk. They are going to laugh and fool around. People want to talk and fool around. Check out your faculty meetings and see how many are sitting there talking when they should be listening. There is a fine line between high expectations for behavior and unrealistic ones.
Check-in with students when you feel there has been a negative interaction between you and them in class. This can be done after the class or before the next class. Either way, ask some questions. My newest one is, “I feel like there was some resistance when we spoke about…..” This gives them the opportunity to give you their point of view about what happened.
Talk about the tough topics. People, (kids are people too) will respect you more when you aren’t scared to talk real to them. When a subject comes up spontaneously go with it. If you don’t know anything about it tell them you are ignorant about it.
Here is the toughest one. Find something to like about the student who challenges you the most. Everyone will tell you to not take things personally. That’s impossible to do in my opinion. What is possible is to force yourself to find positives about the student. The next class keep repeating that positive to yourself. Another trick is to thank them for coming to your class.
Play music. All types of music. Sing badly.
Make bad dad jokes.
Final Advice: Liking the kids you teach is a good start. Being reactive to their wants and needs is necessary as well.
Minimize the harm you do. Maximize the joy you bring to the class. Celebrate the identities of those that are in the room with you.