I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher I possess tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable of joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. – Hiam Ginott –
I was walking around in our computer lab at school while my third grade students were taking a standardized test on the computers. It was a really hard test. Math. If the kids did well on a few problems, it took them to a higher level - sets of problems that were way over their heads. I think there was around 50 problems altogether. It is the kind of situation that is frustrating at best and could easily make you crazy.
The concentration among the children was amazing. Breathtaking really, considering what we were asking them to do. What I was asking them to do. While there were a few audible sighs, a lot of stretching and looking around to relieve eye stress, no one whined. No one complained. No one fussed or questioned why they had to go through this.
I wrote about this before, and I continue to be humbled by the trust kids have in teachers.
Day after day we give them exercises and projects. We teach them algorithms and facts. We ask them to read the stories that we choose and to write how we want them to write. They go by our schedule, use the restroom and go to lunch and recess when we say. We ask them to be quiet at certain times, and then insist they share what they are thinking with the group.
When I reflect on it my plans, no matter how open-ended and full of choice – are still THE plans for the day. “Boys and girls, it’s time to clean up… Let’s get our Charlotte’s Web books out and meet up front… Don’t forget to write down your homework… You guys, I need your attention…”
That must be the rhythm. Someone must be in charge. But there is a level of trust from kids that is so complete. It’s true for parents too. No one gets to choose me as his or her child’s teacher. They take who they get. I was lucky in that our sons were in the classrooms of our best friends, teachers we knew to be professional, caring individuals. But my kids’ parents don’t know me from Adam when their child ends up in room 104.
So here we were in this somewhat ridiculous testing situation, with the kids working so hard, pushing a boulder up a hill as Sisyphus did, only to have it roll to the bottom again when they got challenging questions correct. When we reached the room afterwards it was just a normal day to them. “Can we read The Wizard of Oz? How much time before lunch? Can we publish some of our memoirs?” They were all just fine. I didn’t make a big deal of it, we just forged ahead and taught and learned and talked and shared as we always do.
It was another reminder of how much power teachers have in the day-to-day lives of kids. I try very hard to keep that trust in mind and never take it for granted.