This year marks the start of my 20th year of teaching. In my previous 19 years I've seen the pendulum swing in so many different ways. This year is no different. One thing I've learned that helps keep me enthusiastic about what I do as a teacher is that things are constantly changing. However despite all the changes there is a small list of things I strongly believe in inspite of what the educational pendulum is doing.
Constants I believe in until I am proven wrong:
1. Children respond best to high expectations. I have, and will continue to always push my students to be and do the very best that they can do in everything that they do. Yes, we all have our good days and our bad ones, but as a general rule you will only get better at something if you give it your all. Now, I do not, and will not expect that everyone meet the same expectations. Each child in my classroom comes with special talents and skills, and it's my job as their teacher to push them to their individual best. I am constantly letting them know that their best will more than likely look differently than their neighbours and that's okay.
2. Children need a safe environment where mistakes are not laughed at but learned from. I have zero tolerance for children laughing at other children when they make a mistake. ZERO TOLERANCE! We all make mistakes, and it's from the mistakes where we learn the most. I set up my room so that it's safe to give something new a try, to possibly fail, but to learn from the experience - all without fear of being ridicule.
3. Children have the ability to communicate their personal needs and I strongly encourage them to use that ability. In my room I highly stress and model "I Messages". I teach my students to be advocates for themselves. When they are not happy with what's going on around them at recess (or in class) I teach them to use their voice and say something. It's amazing how at the beginning of the year the children in my class expect me to solve their problems, but over time they learn how to solve them on their own. The amount of tattling in my room is very little, yet they know that I am always available if they can't solve their problems on their own. Most issues between people - children or adults - results from mis-comunication. I will do everything in my class to help teach my students to communicate with one another, and the people in their lives.
4. Children can succeed without external motivation. External motivation such as stickers or rewards has never sat well with me. I've always wondered why I need to reward my students in order to get them to do better at this or that. The past several years I stopped providing external motivation. Don't get me wrong, I still constantly praise my students for their effort and achievement but I no longer give any type of prizes for this success. What I do instead is catch the children doing things well (or working hard on something that is challenging for them etc..) and I ask them how it makes them feel. I work so hard to get them to see that when they work hard at something that is difficult the feeling of success is the best reward out there. I keep this individualized too because obviously different things are easier or harder for others to achieve. I also tell them that they should be doing their best for themselves, and themselves only. I let them know that the only person they live with their entire life is themselves, and so they might as well be the very best they can be - for themselves. My one constant is that I am ALWAYS looking for things I can praise my students for, and in turn make them aware of their achievements and successes.
5. All children can learn. Nothing makes me more angry than walking into a staffroom and hearing teachers talk poorly about their students. If we can't stand up for our students who will? Yes, I have had my share of challenging students over the past 19 years of teaching, but what type of teacher would I be if I gave up on them? Often poor behaviour comes from either an undiagnosed mental illness, or from a less than functional home life - neither of which are the student's fault. It will always be my belief that my students can learn, I just may have to find a unique way to reach them. Sometimes that's not an easy task, but it is my job as their teacher.
As I start my 20th year of teaching I will keep these five points front and centre in my teaching. I'd love to hear what you strongly believe in.