Today was our first day of school, and although I’m pretty exhausted in a wonderful way, I still want to try to blog about what’s happening in my classroom as much as I’m able. So with coffee in hand, I’ll try to write something that’s semi-coherent.
The students requested more opportunities to get to know their teachers. Their request reminded me that we all value relationships. Yes, we want to learn, but we need to know the individuals we’re learning with in order to trust, collaborate, and stretch.
I began today in each class by telling a story about myself using five objects. Each object served as a symbol representing an experience that helped me grow or a piece of my identity. Before I told my story, I gave each student a post-it note. Those with yellow notes were asked to write down adjectives they would use to describe me based on my story. Those with blue notes were asked to write down nouns to describe the values I appear to hold.
Then, I began my story using the following objects:
1. a McDonald’s cheeseburger wrapper, which I used to tell a story that still haunts me today about the need to share and think of others as a member of a family of seven siblings.
2. a piece of blue cloth, which I used to represent my identity as a Yankee, an identity marker which makes less and less sense in our geographically diffuse world.
3. my wedding ring from my first marriage, which I used to tell the story of the loss of my first husband in a car accident when our daughter was two. It’s an intimate story but I shared it because his death marked a defining moment in my life when I learned about my capacity for resilience. As I explained to the students, Robert Frost summed up life in three words, “It goes on.” Where it goes, we don’t know. We cannot chart paths that lead to certain destinations; we can, however, develop strengths that ensure we keep going.
4. a plastic horse, which I used to share the story of how and why I came to break a wild horse, eventually taking her on a ten day camping trip into the Absaroka Mountains in Wyoming. It was the focus of my year-long sabbatical from teaching five years ago. Ironically, though, I learned a great deal about teaching from that mare. She helped me understand that the student and the teacher both participate equally in the learning process, trusting, assessing, and stretching each other.
5. a copy of Macbeth, which I used to represent my experience learning the Harkness Model at Philips Exeter four summers ago. Those three weeks marked the beginning of an ongoing intensive questioning process of myself as a teacher, sparking in me a desire to ask “how might I” truly engage the learner.
From the students’ notes, I learned that I am “adventurous,” “funny,” “strong,” “humble,” “reflective,” “dedicated, “passionate,” “optimistic, “relatable,” and “resilient.” I learned that I value family, scholarship, faith, solitude, relationships, humor, patience, and persistence. Thank you, students. May I live up to your descriptors!
I then told the story of a fictional student Roger who plays soccer as the goalie for his high school team, rides his mountain bike while listening to music despite his mother’s admonitions, shares an affinity to music with his father who listens to his music in exchange for his son’s tolerance of Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, who works at his uncle’s restaurant cleaning tables, trying to earn money to buy his first car. The students suggested different symbols he could use to tell his story: an angel to represent his role as guardian of the soccer goal, a matchbox car to represent the need for freedom as a teenager, ear buds to represent how he shares a love of music with his father. All great stuff!
Tomorrow the students will engage in the same process and exercise, each sharing their five objects and their own stories with the class. In two short days, we will all know so much about each other.
“Teachers and students go hand in hand as learners, or they don’t go at all.” – Roland Barth