We talk so often about increasing engagement and enjoyment for students, but what about teachers? Isn’t life in the classroom just as significant to the adult in the room as it is to the students? Speaking as one of those adults, I say it absolutely is.
According to a 2017 American job satisfaction survey from the Conference Board, only 50.8% of Americans are satisfied with their jobs. That’s half. That means half of America’s workforce is unhappy with whatever it is they spend their time doing during a large chunk of their days. Am I the only one who feels bad about that? I have always considered myself lucky to have found a career I love, and even despite recent challenges we are facing with the development of the ARCTIC Zone, the switch to personalization and project-based learning has brought a level of joy to my job I wasn’t aware existed.
Throughout our current zombie apocalypse unit, I have become increasingly aware of just how much fun I have with my students. They make me laugh every day. They challenge my thinking. Their creativity amazes me. And their hearts inspire me. At the end of humanities every day, we spend a full 15 minutes sharing their journal entries which have turned into beautifully creative and detailed accounts of their “near-death” experiences. I look around that room and there is nowhere else I would rather be than surrounded by this group of smart and sassy students sharing their writing and laughing together. In those moments, it doesn’t matter who is friends with whom or who doesn’t get along with whom. It’s just fun.
During class yesterday, we were struck with a “global power outage,” and groups were forced to work by the light of their devices or a single flashlight. When sharing the details of the day with a friend, he asked, “Did they all freak out when you hit the lights? Most kids would scream when the lights go out and screw around in the dark.” There was no screaming. There were some giggles, of course, along with a few, “Oh, come on!” remarks, but they all found ways to navigate their coursework in the dark.
My friend’s comment got me thinking about the work it takes to be able to have this kind of fun in the classroom. Had I hit the lights during the first week of school, I likely would have had a very different reaction. There is a lot that goes into building classroom expectations, culture, and rapport with students. There are times, early in the year, where I find myself repeating the same expectations over and over and I’m about ready to lose it. This is the time of year when I see that repetition paying off.
Given the heightened expectations existing in the ARCTIC Zone, our students are held accountable in ways that students in the traditional setting are not. There is a higher level of independence and responsibility placed on their shoulders, which is difficult to navigate in the fall. Providing the flexibility to practice skills for success along with building a culture of respect and trust, though time-consuming and often challenging, delivers powerful results.
When looking to make positive change in the classroom, our obvious focus needs to be on our students. Let’s not forget about ourselves. If what we are doing to bring joy to our students is not also bringing joy to ourselves, we are missing the point.