This year, my students became my students quicker than past years. I read this post from Kate, follow up by reading the comments, and notice trends from colleagues and other teacher friends. It's not an uncommon thing - to start, the kids on our roll sheets are not yet really our kids.
By the end of week one, though, I already felt connections with virtually all of 'em. Three things did it for me. Here's number one:
Make them write you a letter.
As a math teacher, I rarely see my students' personalities on paper. All I see are numbers and more numbers. This year, my first homework assignment was as follows:
"I want you to write me a letter. In this letter, you can say whatever you want. You can tell me a story, you can tell me about yourself, you can say 'whattup dawg' like I'm an old friend. You can tell me: Mr. G, I'll be honest with you I hate math and I hate homework - so don't expect much from me... At the very least, I want you to answer the five questions listed on the prompt. I want at least a page. Other that, tell me whatever. It's your chance to tell me whatever you feel you need to tell me as we begin this school year."
Reading the letters over dinner one night, I was thrown aback at what my students were willing to share once given the space. I learned their interests, their hobbies, their likes, their dislikes. I learned of empowering and disempowering experiences they've had in school and in life. I learned about families and friends. Mentors and role models. In one case, a student shared something deeply personal - to the point where I shed a tear. (Serious.) In another case, a quiet student had me literally on the floor laughing. Homegirl was comedy. All this after the third day of school!
I believe students should be provided the opportunity to critique / to give feedback / to express their feelings. In past years, this would manifest as:
But I've noticed, the numerical averages of those a through j questions are meaningless. Who cares if every student circled "5" for question "j." In past years, when looking through surveys, my eyes automatically floated to the words completing the questions below...
This year, I'mma get rid of all that. Why not allow their feedback to be all words? This year, when I want feedback, I'll just have them write me a letter.
Lastly, I'd like to acknowledge that my methods are likely methods already used in classrooms around the world. But I believe my hesitance to share my methods and what goes on in my classroom has been fueled by that awareness. In order to blog and to share, I must let go of that self-consciousness and simply write. So here I am; onward I hope to go. Thanks for staying w/ me.