Listening and Bears

I've got a small goal that I've been pursuing for about a year now. That is to listen to my students more. As I've been more intentional about listening, I've noticed that it happens in places and times that I've found unexpected. A few observations:
  • I noticed that in the mornings, I had a bunch of students in my class, but I didn't really have meaningful interactions with them. I had the same 3 to 5 kids who would check in, I'd make my traditional morning joke, they'd laugh out of pity, then I'd get back to working on grading, or planning, or reading an article, or whatever. I had thought that I was particularly good at interactions with students. But this realization made me think I had a lot more work to do.
  • I noticed that I had stopped greeting students as they came into my classroom. I've started to make more of an effort at this. There was an awesome video that went around social media of a teacher who had handshakes with all of his kids. The guy is a freaking legend. I've got like 9 handshakes. I'm getting there.

  • I noticed that I had a lot of great surface-level relationships with kids. But I didn't have as many deep, personal, meaningful relationships as I thought I should have. I am, deep down, a people's person. It's a huge reason why I teach. So to realize that I didn't have kids coming to me and talking about real issues meant I wasn't interacting in a way that fostered those conversations.
  • Lastly, I realized I was having too many days where I was trying to be more serious than I felt natural. I wasn't being me. I was acting. And while 'fake it 'till you make it' works in some scenarios, if you do that in the classroom, you won't make it very long.
So what to do? Those realizations were a bit of a gut-check, a reminder to be humble and realistic about the impact I have with students. The kids are why we all teach, and that had been lost on me a little bit. It's easy with all of the grading, the phone calls, the committee meeting and the extra curriculars - but if we step back and think about why we spend so much time in these damn buildings*, it's because of the students.

*On a side note, this is how I know we'll be OK despite Betsy DeVos being in charge of public education in America. She has without any shadow of a doubt underestimated the fight she will receive from teachers if she tries to screw over public education.

Like I said, this has been a journey a year or so in the making. A few changes I've tried to make:
  1. I don't work in the mornings. GAAAAAHHH! I so struggle with this! I have so much to do and so little time. But it works. From 7:45 AM to 8:05 AM, I'm a coffee-sipping, conversation-having, handshake-creating beast.
  2. I walk with students. I'm a high school teacher, so this doesn't apply to all grade levels. After a class is over, if I'm in the middle of a good conversation, I'll walk the student towards their next class. It skirts hall-duty a bit, but it has led to a bunch of great conversations, some having to do with class, some having to do with life.
  3. I'm goofy in class. Why? Because that's exactly who I am the rest of my life. So in class, we laugh a lot. We watch goofy videos to break up the lesson. We play music and dance (and sing...sort of). I speak loudly and in a Greek accent, probably more than my neighbors appreciate. And IT IS A BLAST!
It's always a work in progress. So many mentor teachers along the way have given the same advice - that if you feel you are good enough, then you've stopped learning. That's why this blog is so good for me, and why I think so many leaders in education advocate for blogging. As I write, and as I think about what I'm going to write, I examine myself and my classroom. Often times I like what I analyze, but there are times that I don't! Rather than those things I don't like continuing on for years, I'm better prepared to catch them and adjust.

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Have a great week!

Thanks for reading this blog! I hope you'll consider taking a moment to comment below and turn this into a conversation. Whether you are an educator or not, we have all had common experiences with education both good and bad. I want to hear what you think! 

About Me:

My name is Alec Chambers. I am a high school history and government teacher at a small, urban public school in Kansas City called Center High School. We regularly kick tail. Among many awards, we were named a National Blue Ribbon School in 2014. I don't just teach at Center- I also graduated from Center in 2006 after attending Center Schools K-12. I have a degree in Political Science, a second degree in International Relations, a third degree in Education and a Master's of Arts in Teaching. I have an unofficial degree is soccer. All of those degrees have led me to the high-paying teaching profession! I have two beautiful daughters, Katena and Emily and am married to the most awesome woman on the planet and fellow educator, Angela. All struggles aside, my life is flippin' awesome.  

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