Life is short.
Childhood is even shorter.
Children deserve to come to school and be excited, challenged and motivated. We have our students, in our space, for one year. During this time, we are creating narratives – stories – with them. What are those stories? What stories do our students tell about their days at school?
On Sunday night, my daughter said “I can’t wait to get back to school to work on my project, Daddy. I love what I am doing.”
Wouldn’t it be great if each student said those words to their parents on the night before school? Wouldn’t it be great if every student was totally engrossed in their inquiries. “It feels like playing” she said later.
The first half of the year, in many schools, can be very business-like. Some things that have always been on the agenda may now be expected to be done with consistency and quality. Some familiar things may be done in unfamiliar and better ways. Some new things may be added to the equation in order to take teaching and learning to the next level. This all takes time and effort. It is hard work.
In the second half of the year, however, there may be no surprises. So, focus on those narratives I mentioned above. Focus on working with students so that each day, each week and each month of their lives at school unfold as interesting, exciting, surprising stories of personal growth and learning. If some old habits need to be discarded to make that happen… discard them. If a few risks need to be taken to make that happen… lets take them. If a few people need to be challenged to make that happen… challenge them.
Teachers put a lot of work into figuring out what our students should or could be doing. But, we also need to take a good long look at why. How do we get our students to want to read, question, write, draw, build, listen, design, argue, solve, play, win, collaborate, research, experiment, notice, think…?
Each day, ask yourself these crucial questions:
Would I want to be a student in my class?
Would I be interested in what we are doing?
Would I be inspired by me?
Would this unit excite and motivate me?
Would this experience stimulate my curiosity?
Would I be at my best here?
You want the answers to those questions to be “ÿes”. You are teachers. It is your purpose in life for each of your students to feel that way. It is your source of pride and satisfaction when they do feel that way. It is what gives you a thrill and makes you feel as though all of your effort has real meaning.
Life may be short. But it is shorter when waiting for each day to end, when waiting for the weekend, when waiting for a meeting to be over, when waiting for the next holiday to come. This time is your time, and it is the most important time for your students.
It is their childhood. Help make it an amazing one.
Image by Patrick Breitenbrach
Nearly five years ago, in Beijing, I held the hand of my son for four days. A twin, he was born lifeless after a series of mistakes by doctors at the most reputable and expensive hospital in the city.
As I sat with him and listened to the beeps of the life support machine, I felt that he gave me three messages about life. Tragically, he will never be able to put them into practice himself, but I will certainly try. I will also try and apply them to the way I teach and the way I work in school.
Freddy’s three messages were:
Listen to your gut instincts
Both my wife and I had a gut feeling something would go wrong with the delivery in Beijing. We both knew she should fly to Bangkok, but we ignored those thoughts and feelings for practical reasons.
Every day we are presented with situations in which our gut instincts can be felt very strongly. It is vital that we don’t lose our ability to sense them, listen to them and act upon them. As teachers, these instincts can make the difference between someone who simply does the job and someone who has a significant impact on young minds and lives.
Teaching is an art form, it is a talent, and gut instincts are a crucial factor in knowing what kids need at any given moment. You just don’t get that in your training, in the curriculum or at any PD.
Keep friends and family close
There is an increasing trend these days to move away and seek a better life somewhere else. For international school teachers like myself, this can be an unending quest. Our families are far away and our friendships often temporary. Facebook and Skype are not the right way to interact with the people who are important to you. A screen does not, and will never, replace being physically close.
As teachers, we must ensure that our students learn how to develop friendships and value their family. We must also help them to grow up as people who communicate face-to-face, who interact physically and who understand that social media is not actual life. They need to learn how to use social media the same way we used to use an address book, as a tool that brings you together in reality.
Don’t talk badly about other people
Such a difficult one. It is amazing how easy it can be to spend time talking about other people. It is also amazing how many bonds are formed by this negative habit.
Gossip and back-stabbing are an integral part of life in schools, something about them breeds it. In some schools it can become a real culture of trying to make yourself look good by making other people look bad. Of course, I am talking about the teachers not the students! However, it is an awful thing for children to be surrounded by, don’t you think?
It is much better to decide not to talk badly about other people, or at least to try not to. When you’re next sitting in the staffroom listening to people slag someone off… get up and walk away. Or, even better, tell them you’re not prepared to be part of it.
This is a massively important lesson for kids too. Helping them identify, deal with and avoid gossip could be an extremely empowering element to your teaching.
Naturally, my success at living up to these ideals varies as each year progresses. However, I do believe that I can improve my life and my ability to do my job if I can make them happen. I also believe I am not alone, which is why I’m sharing them.