Before beginning my teaching career, I had an idea what my classroom and teaching style would be like. This idea was more than likely created by movies and television shows produced for wholesome family consumption. I had this naive thought that my students would always listen, be on time, come to class prepared, participate, and, on the rare occasion that there ever would be a discrepancy, quickly sail off to detention without one defiant utterance or movement. I couldn’t have been more wrong, and this is where my privilege really led me astray. I had the privilege of growing up in a middle-class, two-parent, household. I never had to worry about where my next meal would come from, when (if ever) I would see a parent again, or my safety.
Teaching in a high-poverty school completely changed the way in which I world, and it has made me a better, and more away teacher. After several years of working with the “rough” kids, I’ve developed a soft part in my heart for that student, and I’ve learned that creating a warm and positive classroom culture goes a long way. The two ways that I create a classroom culture in my own classroom are by saying hello to my students with a smile and by forming genuine connections with as many students as I can.
1. Say hello to your students with a smile
It is so important to begin each and every single class period by smiling and saying hello to your students as they walk into class. For some students, this might be their first positive interaction all day. This also provides time to chit chat with a student, and as a teacher, you become more approachable. This is something you can easily do before the bell even rings.
2. Form Connections with your Students
It is so critical to get to know and connect with students on a level other than classwork. This will make connections more real and genuine. Perhaps you and several of your students enjoy a shared hobby, sports team, author, musical artist, or television show. These conversations emerge in the hallways during passing period and help form trust. During baseball season, I can’t even tell you how many times I talk about the Dodgers or the Angels with my students. And usually my juniors know that on Monday mornings, if they want to break down and analyze every event, symbol, and possibly foreshadowing event from the last night’s episode of The Walking Dead, they are more than welcome in my classroom in the morning. Even something as simple as saying, “Hey, Sara and Lucy! Good luck at your match today,” goes a long way if you can’t make some of the athletic events and performances.
Teaching high schoolers is difficult. But if you think about it, being a teenager in today’s society is also much more difficult than it was 20+ years ago. Our students are human, too, and they are trying to navigate a world that sends out many messages, provides many distractions, and causes many hardships. Their assigned seat in our classrooms should be the last place they feel unwanted, unsafe, and insecure. Creating a positive classroom culture that is inclusive of everyone might just be the one thing that it takes to make difference in one student’s life.