A classroom environment can convey messages to students that words cannot.
All* teachers want students to learn more than content. For instance, I want my students to write well, but I also strive to show students that writing can change the world.
(High expectations, I know.)
My goal: to create a classroom environment that encourages students to learn, to value education, to grow.
Well. I have no perfect answers. I do have methods that I purposefully weave into my classroom to better the classroom environment. Here they are.
When I have a spare minute, papers beckon for me to grade them. Sometimes, I cave and grade. Sometimes, I grab a book and stand in front of the class, reading. I model reading.
Reading is part of life and it shouldn’t be relegated to an “assignment.” Students should see an English teacher read for no reason.
I read young adult literature, but other times, I read educational books. When students ask what I’m reading (the titles must look odd to high schoolers), I tell them. Sure, they wrinkle their noses, but I tell them that education is my passion. I’m curious about its history and trends.
I hope they find a passion they want to explore too.
Model your learning. Part of education is learning how you learn. It helps to model this for students.
For instance, I take notes as a I read and write on sticky notes. I fold paper into quarters and make charts of characters. I type long lists. It is easy for me to show students these note-taking methods.
I do not color-code with small flags. I do not highlight. Some students dig the colored flags and highlighting, and so I’m sure to model how that helps some people. I remind myself to demonstrate learning in a variety of ways.
Plus, I’ve seen students struggle with actions we teachers take for granted. The next time you ask students to consult their textbook/ information, model how you do that. Show students how you utilize the glossary, headings, and other pieces. Talk through a rubric with them.
Finally, create an environment open to learning by showing your struggles. When a student asks a question you don’t know, explain how you search on the Internet. What sites are not reputable? How did you determine that? What is running through your head? Will you verify information with more than one resource? Why?
All of these concepts probably make sense to adults, and we complete them without thought. When we show students our discovery process, we are creating a learning environment that encourages students to own their learning.
Have a large view of education. I know many successful people who do not possess a bachelor’s degree. Somewhere along the way, “education” became synonymous with “college.” It seems that an education/ training past high school is mandatory for most careers, but that doesn’t mean a bachelor’s degree. I try to be aware of my conversations with students concerning education past college.
Once, a female student said to me regarding graduation, “Oh, I’m just getting my cosmetology degree.” She literally lowered her head as she said this.
“Just” completing a training program? When she said that, I searched my memories, hoping that I never said or implied anything to make her think that. What is wrong with training as a cosmetologist? Nothing! Somewhere, she learned that she should apologize, but I’m thrilled if my students continue their educations past high school.
Some students may not be prepared to start a typical college experience, and some may never desire that. As teachers, we can create a classroom environment that values all future trainings and educations, not simply the standard ones.
I want my classroom environment to reflect that education is valuable and that students should take responsibility for their learning. Through modeling and honesty, I’ve found practices that create such an environment. I hope you can start with these practices and make them your own.
*I hope so!