The kids are here as the school year has started. Teachers everywhere have a classroom of young strangers to get to know, instruct, and to love. In some cases, a child's reputation has preceeded him or her, but mostly there are a roomful of unknown individuals who will reveal themselves in many interesting ways.
With so many beginning-of-the-year tasks to complete, how can a teacher find the time to plan and implement activities that help learners to befriend each other and the teacher to learn a multitude of personalities?
In some small public and private schools, the children may have been in classes together since kindergarten and do not need any introductions. But in larger schools, most of the children are unfamiliar with their classmates, and the teacher knows little about his or her new brood of learners. Knowing each other well promotes class cohesiveness and cooperation. Educators are more effective when they know their students as individuals rather than as a collection of little minds to prime and challenge throughout the year.
Depending on the students' ages, they can learn interesting facts about their new friends with simple, fun activities. For those who can write and spell independently, pairs of them can fill out a general interest questionnaire on each other or create their own interview questions. Following this they can draw portraits of each other to post with the corresponding interview sheet.
Another creative method is to play a Who Am I? game. Learners write a riddle describing themselves. For example, "I love chasing balls and running on a diamond. Numbers are no mystery to me. People say my hair looks like Ronald McDonald's! Who am I?" Obviously this was written by someone who likes baseball or softball, is good in math, and has red hair. Below the riddle children illustrate themselves as described. The teacher makes a bulletin board entitled "WHO AM I!" of the class's riddles and numbers them in order. This is accompanied by a blank sheet numbered to match each riddle where pupils write their guesses.
A teacher getting to know each student is a bit more difficult because he or she needs to know each as a learner and as a distinct personality. Knowing them on a personal level makes teaching that much easier. Motivating them to learn is less of a mystery when a teacher knows their interests, hobbies, personal preferences, and personality make up. The previously mentioned Getting To Know You activities are a start, but more in-depth knowledge is possible in other ways.
What better way to learn about a child than to ask his or her parents, probably during a conference. What school subjects does the child talk about most at home? What homework assignments does he or she enjoy doing the most or least? How much independent reading does the child do at home and what kind? What organized activities does the learner participate in? How much TV daily does the child watch and what shows? How does he or she spend free time? What does he or she like to do with friends?
Of course, past teachers are excellent sources of information. How did the pupil get along with others? What do you remember most about this child? What kind of parental support was there? What was the student's best or worst subject? Did he or she exhibit leadership qualities? What seemed to motivate the pupil to learn? What kind of friends did he or she play with? Were there any behavioral or learning challenges?
Having small group or one-on-one time with the child is the best way to develop a student-teacher relationship. Assigning classroom responsibilities to a learner that directly assist the teacher allows the two to interact. Watching a student collect and turn in papers, work with a room clean-up team, run messages to the office, help monitor others in the restroom, or perform other class jobs stimulates dialogue and cooperation between the two. A child reveals his or her work habits, ability to take and give directions, and willingness to help and support others.
Lunch time affords the best opportunity to converse with individual children. If the teacher has lunch duty with the class, he or she can choose daily or weekly a different child or small group to eat nearby. Here the teacher can promote conversation by asking questions like what they did over the weekend, what are their hobbies, who do they like to play with, what is their favorite TV show or movie and why, what is their favorite thing about school. Students will reveal much about themselves and their lives by talking about what interests and excites them.
If the teacher has duty-free lunch, he or she may invite a small group to eat in the room. This selected group could be rotated over a period of time until all class members have been included. Or this could be a reward system for those who have accomplished a certain task that day or week, such as quietest going to the hall restroom, top spelling grades, best behavior scores, first to turn in take-home signed papers, etc. The teacher may have an informal conversation with them while they eat or watch a short movie followed by discussion. This group could also be the class officers (rotated periodically) who conduct a lunch meeting with the teacher to discuss and plan class events.
Sometimes a whole class meeting is appropriate where volunteers give their opinions, advice, or solutions to a class problem or upcoming trip or party. Individuals uncover much about themselves as they spontaneously share ideas and information and use their thinking skills. They should also be encouraged to draw or write their thoughts on paper to accomodate the shy ones or those who need more time to think through and express ideas.
Journal writing is another good way of becoming acquainted with the inner child. The children may write or draw about a given topic or prompt or write in diary-style about a particular day, emotion, or thought. Illustrating their journal writing reinforces the message and helps clarify details. Teachers can gain great insight into their students by reading their original writings.
Back when I began my teaching career, another teacher shared with me how she played the "Getting To Know You" song from "The King and I" movie to her class before initiating an activity. Hearing Deborah Kerr belt out that "you're just my cup of tea" may sound a little corny to today's hip-hop generation, but it gets the point across. Having a relationship personally with students is just as important as state standards, and certainly is a lot more rewarding.
C. S. Gordon is an educator and 360 Education Solutions contributor