Making the Desert Bloom

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Nov 12 2012

Is it My Classroom or Our Classroom?

One of the biggest internal struggles I have been having as a teacher is related to the sense of ownership in the classroom along with the sense of leadership and responsibility for my students. My school makes it very clear that each classroom is the teacher’s classroom and the students should feel as though they belong to the class, but not much more. On one level, I understand the importance of setting up the authority structure of the classroom. Honestly, I haven’t done a good enough job at establishing my presence and authority in the classroom. Too many students still misbehave, and I have not done enough to correct their misbehavior. Also, as a young white male teacher teaching in a mostly black school, I came off as too soft at first, and it has killed my reputation as a teacher. I try to improve that reputation each and everyday, but it’s almost impossible to undo a first impression.

However, I want my students to have some permanent responsibility for maintaining the classroom. While it may be my classroom, all of us learn there together each and everyday. It is really our collective classroom, and I want them to show pride in the classroom. Responsibility means more than just completing your class job. To me it is the idea that students are showing this pride in wanting to improve our class.

As a result on Tuesday, we held an election in class. Instead of holding a mock election to simulate the Presidential election or the Nevada Senate race, I decided that we were going to have class elections for a President, Vice President, Treasurer, and Secretary. My kids were incredibly invested in the elections. Initially 20 of my 21 students decided to run for an office, but we ended losing a few candidates due to absences and students scared of making speeches. However, we still had 7 students run for Class President and competitive races for all of the offices. In the end, four girls who are all friends with each other swept the elections. This sweep has led to some awkward tensions in the class as some students (mostly boys and one girl who lost) feel as though they are not represented. These students want to have a recall election in one month, but I am going to allow that.

My students need to learn two things from this election. First is that their choices have consequences. Just like the country voted to re-elect President Obama for 4 more years and not 4 more months, the Student Council will be elected for the rest of the year. They need time to develop their ideas, programs, and leadership skills. Second, the student council needs to learn how to best advocate for the entire class and not just for themselves. On Friday, they learned a tough lesson in this regard. The student council was not pleased with the current seating chart, so I allowed them a one-day chance to remake the chart. However, they angered the rest of the class when they all decided to sit on the same side of the room. They did not make the best decision for the class. Therefore, I told them they had to survey everyone in the class to figure out the best possible seating chart for the entire class. Our joint seating chart is now starting on Tuesday, and hopefully it works because both myself as the teacher and the students are invested in it.

If you give my students an inch, they will take a mile. (They now know what this idiom means as we have been going over idioms and customary units of measure in the past week.) I have learned what comes under my purview, and the students are slowly learning what comes under theirs. Overall, I know that with time we will find a plan that will work so that the classroom can truly function as our classroom where everyone feels ownership over what they should control. This goal will enable all of my students to succeed and reach their goals for this school year and hopefully beyond.

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