“SHHHHHHHH!” “Give me 5.” “When my mouth is talking, your ears are listening.” “Check your bodies.” “Show me good body basics.” “Crisscross applesauce and put your hands in your lap.” These are all phrases that could be heard from my classroom all too frequently three to four years into my teaching career.
When I first began teaching, my students moved around on the carpet. They could fidget and sit on their knees if they wanted. They often called out answers to questions and added insight to read-alouds without raising their hands. I gave them choices in what we would learn about in science and social studies. Inquiry-based learning was my jam. Center time was long and meaningful- I actually played with my students during center time. I remembered and implemented the value of play in teaching. I made anecdotal notes about what my students were doing and learning. My creativity as an educator was flowing as a newbie. I remember those years as being very challenging, but more so, I remember them being extremely rewarding and fun.
I began to notice that not all educators thought my hippie-dippy, developmentally appropriate style of teaching was so great. Many comments were made by specialists, art teachers, librarians, music teachers, substitutes, and others about how my class did not know how to sit quietly on the carpet. Many made comments that all we did in kindergarten was play. “Oh, how easy to teach kindergarten. I wish we could just play all day.” Unfortunately, I began to take to heart what others were saying about my teaching style. I started to gradually change as a classroom teacher and became more rigid with my expectations. I definitely did not want to be viewed as a bad teacher, and because of that, I began to go along with the herd. I began setting expectations for five-year-olds that seemed unnatural.
If you’ve ever spent any significant amount of time with a five-year-old, you know that sitting still and quiet for long periods of time is not one of their strengths. They like to wiggle, move, talk, laugh, ask questions, and share personal stories. My classroom started to become “The Teacher Show.” At “The Teacher Show,” the teacher does the talking. The teacher decides what we will learn about and where we are allowed to play. The teacher decides how you should sit on the carpet and when you are allowed to share your thoughts and feelings. The teacher worries about following the district guidelines of how many minutes should be spent with reading, writing, math, centers, and everything else. Needless to say, no one is having fun at “The Teacher Show.” The school system really needs to cancel that show. It’s bad television that produces terrible ratings.
In the words of Cher…”If I could turn back time. If I could find a way” the following is written as a lesson plan for my silly fourth year and beyond self!
Dear YOUNGER Self,
Please review the following procedures...
Older, wiser Me
1. Allow students to be autonomous in your classroom- give them opportunities for choice and leadership roles. Follow the students’ lead in what they would like to learn about. Encourage inquiry-based learning by allowing students to choose some of their curriculum. After you know their interests, integrate ALL subject matters into this curriculum. If students find a spider outside, and want to learn more about spiders, follow their lead. Implement spider-themed math activities, research spiders online, develop questions as a class about spiders and find the answers. Live and breathe spiders! I strongly encourage you to not lose your freedom as a creative educator. This requires strength to push back, but the positive student outcomes you will see from allowing them some ownership of their learning is worth it.
2. Allow flexibility in your classroom. Does it really matter if all students are not sitting perfectly on the carpet with their hands in their lap at all times? Is it disrupting learning for students to sit on their knees? The trend of “crisscross applesauce and hands in your lap” is one of the worst things that has happened to Early Childhood classrooms. What an unnatural expectation for educators to have of their young students! I am not suggesting that you don’t have any classroom expectations. Expectations are the backbone of the classroom. They keep everything aligned, but please make sure that you consider how appropriate your expectations are for the age of children you are working with.
3. For the love of Pete, let the kids talk and share. Allow plenty of time for meaningful academic and social conversations. It’s scary how little students are allowed to talk during the school day. Even lunch time can sometimes be a time of silence. This trend needs to end. Maybe someday you will have a little six year old at home who is having trouble at school. You may ask your precious son or daughter “Why are you having so much trouble in school every day?” “Mom, she won’t let me talk,” they will cry. “It’s so hard, Mom. I don’t get to talk all day!” It’s a sad truth that many educators feel so much pressure to complete all of the demands of assessments and curriculum that they don’t allow time for student expression. This is a big mistake that’s having a major effect on our children’s emotional, social, and academic well-being. Let those kiddos share and talk as much as possible.
Giving students a voice in the classroom is one of the best things you can do as a teacher. This means allowing them choices in their learning, following their lead, building a community of learners, and allowing time to truly listen to their thoughts, ideas, and needs.
I take full responsibility for the changes in student flexibility I made as a teacher. Looking back, it shouldn’t have mattered what other educators thought. I wish I would have stuck to my instincts and knowledge of developmentally appropriate practices. There was one constant throughout my career as an educator- I loved my students and they loved me. That never changed. Below are some questions to ask yourself in regards to student flexibility, promoting student language, and appropriate classroom expectations. I wish I would have asked myself these questions while I was in the midst of teaching instead of while I am sitting here in my sweatpants on the couch. Duh!
1. How can you allow student autonomy in your classroom to promote student ownership of learning?
2. How are you encouraging and promoting students being vocal in your classroom and preventing your class from airing “The Teacher Show”?
3. Reflect upon your classroom expectations. Are they appropriate for the age level of your students?