“We Have a Life Besides School.”

In this piece, CTQ blogger and full-time classroom teacher Bill Ferriter makes a simple promise to his students:  “I won’t forget that the learning you do outside of my classroom is JUST as important as the learning you do inside my classroom.”

Big news, all y’all:  School started for me on Monday.

And as a new group of sixth graders rolled through my classroom door at 8:15 in the morning full of more than their fair share of anxiety and wonder, I stood ready to get things right.  Inspired by Pernille Ripp’s Passionate Learners, I decided that most of our time this week — at least what was left after teaching 125 twelve year-olds to open combination locks — would be spent on building a bit of classroom community.

“If we were going to have the best year ever,” I asked at the start of a brainstorming session about classroom expectations, “what promises would we have to make to one another?  What kind of things would students have to do to make our classroom safe, happy and fun?  What kind of things would teachers have to do to make our classroom safe, happy and fun?”

The kids had NO trouble coming up with promises that students would need to make in order to ensure that our room ran smoothly.  “One thing that drives me crazy is when kids are told to stop doing something by a teacher but when the teacher leaves, they don’t listen,” wrote one student.  “It drives me INSANE when someone blurts out the answer to a question!” wrote another.

Getting them to define promises that teachers would have to make in order to ensure that our room ran smoothly took a bit more effort.  “This is your chance to think about how I can make your year special,” I said more than once.  “I really want to know what kinds of things that you expect of ME.”

When I finally convinced them that it was okay to share their thoughts about teachers — that I was genuinely interested, willing to listen and ready to change — they came up with a ton of ideas about what teachers could do in order to make classrooms safe, happy and fun.

None struck me more than this one:

Crazy, right?  

My kids — who have only been playing the game for five years — have learned that once August rolls around, school pushes everything else aside.  Care about exploring the neighborhood with your friends?  Wait until June.  Love spending time at the pool?  That was July.  Totally dig piano or baseball or karate or ballet?  Sorry.  Schoolwork comes first. Get that done with time to spare and we’ll talk.

As the dad of a beautiful, funny, active little girl who is about to start kindergarten and who still sees school as a wonderful place full of fun and opportunity, that scares the living crap out of me.  Will she grow to see school as an all-consuming grind that strangles the rest of her interests and passions, too?  Will our days and nights and weekends and holiday breaks be packed with tasks to be completed, worksheets to be filled out, and dioramas to be assembled?

#ickchat

#hopenotchat

Don’t get me wrong, Radical Nation:  I’m not saying that homework is inherently evil.  We have ridiculously huge curricular guides to get through in an impossibly short school year.  What’s more, there are skills and concepts best developed through independent practice.  Given those truths, there are going to be times when tasks HAVE to be finished at home.

But I am MORE than ready to make one simple promise to my students this year:  I won’t forget that the learning you do outside of my classroom — whether you are skating or dancing or singing or playing or praying or just chasing fireflies with your best friends in the patch of woods at the edge of your neighborhood — is JUST as important as the learning that you do in my classroom.

Is that a promise YOU are ready to make to YOUR students?

#doubledogdare

____________________

Related Radical Reads:

This is Why I Teach: Inspiring Jake

Giving Zeros is Pointless

Have We Made Things TOO Easy for Today’s Kids?

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  • Anonymous

    “We Have a Life Besides School.”

    Bill…

    All I can say is thank you. This is probably the thing that has struck me in the last year, as a both a teacher & parent.  I want my kids to CHOOSE what they do outside of school.  Read a book, rainbow loom, create in Minecraft, take part in countless activities or sit & watch t.v.  At some point, we all need a little choice & downtime, and kids are no different.

    Enjoy a most wonderful new year of learning:)

  • Kristen Beck

    Great Reminder

    I love this post!  As a mother of an active 8 year old boy who has spent the summer creating his own leaning path, the thought of him being confined to a classroom in a week is daunting.  As an educator I have always been sensitive to my middle school students busy schedules outside of school.  My flexiblility with homework has increased more and more.  I really love the way you changed the perspective for teachers to consider this:

    I won’t forget that the learning you do outside of my classroom — whether you are skating or dancing or singing or playing or praying or just chasing fireflies with your best friends in the patch of woods at the edge of your neighborhood — is JUST as important as the learning that you do in my classroom.”

    All too often educators forget that kids are constantly learning in every situation and environment they are experiencing.

    I’ll be sharing this with my district teachers as they begin their return to school this week.

     

  • BillIvey

    I can do that!

    I try to give assignments more by deadline than in night-by-night pieces, to allow students the chance to use their time on a given evening as makes most sense for them given their own personal schedule, and I am always happy to learn what other things interest them outside of school. (Of course, with some students, that means one-on-one support in how to break down long-term assignments into manageable chunks.) I always begin “Morning Announcements,” when they fall during my class period, with the phrase “Any student announcements?” and this often provides a great window into their lives. I try to be pretty explicit that these may absolutely, but need not, be related to our school, and to support kids who say something like “Wish me luck in our AAU basketball tournament this weekend!”

    I think the way you solicited their expectations of you opened up the conversation in some really important ways. At the beginning of every year, my students respond to the prompt “What does a good teacher do?” and the resulting list, after some discussion and consolidation, becomes part of their ongoing evaluations of my work. I’ll be thinking about incorporating some of the techniques you used into what I do.

    Thanks!

    • billferriter

      Bill Ivey wrote:

      Bill Ivey wrote:

      I always begin “Morning Announcements,” when they fall during my class period, with the phrase “Any student announcements?” and this often provides a great window into their lives.

       

      ——————–

      I’m doing this starting tomorrow, Bill!  

      Such a great way to make announcements more meaningful and to show kids in a simple way that we care about what is happening in their lives.

      Thanks for the suggestion, 

      Bill

  • ReneeMoore

    Learning From Them

    Some of the best things I’ve learned from my students are things they have learned outside of school then come and shared with me and their peers. I remember one group of guys in my junior class helped me figure out what the rappers were saying in exchange for me helping them decipher Shakespeare! 

  • Jessica Harris

    Inspirational

    I created quote artwork from your post. I’m inspired!