Today was our first day of classes, and the beginnings of this year's 2015-2016 Humanities 7 class coming together as a community. As always, we began with Jonathan London's wonderful jazz poem "Hip Cat" with its theme of "Do what you love to do and do it well." These kids, at least some of them, have definitely figured out already that learning is a process, something at which you might steadily improve but also something that involves challenges and roadblocks and stuckness. Equally important, they view that kind of attitude as fundamental to who our school is.
I heard lots of positive, happy comments about the notion that independent reading is truly free choice, and about the similar notion that they can write in any genre about anything they choose for independent writing. "What about unit work?" asked one student. "What are we going to learn?" It's a moment that happens almost every year, and one I love. "I don't know yet," I said, "because I don't get to decide. Your questions do. We'll build units around your questions." I explained the process, made sure I'd answered all the follow-up questions they wanted to ask, and prepared to move on to the next activity.
Also a ritual of the first day most every year, this is the moment I ask them, "What does a good teacher do?" We do a think-pair-share - they brainstorm ideas, share and discuss them in groups of two (or three), and then share them with the class. I use this list as a guide six times a year when they assess me. Here's what they came up with:
balances easy and hard (in between)
introduces new concepts in a way that is easy to understand
is respectful toward students
respects and accepts everyone's opinion
gives every student a chance to prove they're responsible
doesn't give so much homework that it's too much to do in one night
is strict about work (about getting it done) but is not mean and scary
offers extra help to students that need it
makes time for students to ask questions
doesn't discard any ideas that a student gives them
lets you have opinions on what you should learn throughout the year (personal interests and opinions and ideas)
gives everyone time to voice their opinion
respects individual ways of learning and tries new ways for the students to learn
splits their time evenly among everyone
lets kids give their ideas and help build the curriculum
loves their students
is not too specific about certain details - focuses on what really matters
has a balance between different types of activities
It's a strong list, with many ideas I've heard before, many ideas rephrased and reframed compared to the past, and a few ideas I hadn't really seen before. It gives me something to think about.
All in all, it was a first day full of promise and hope. What more could I ask for?!
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