As usual, I had butterflies before the big "Student Walk-Through Day" which takes place a few days before the school year begins. Meeting my students is important to me, and it makes the first day of school much less intimidating (for all parties involved). When I recognized that voice in the hallway as one of my beloved students from the year before, I hurried towards the door to greet that familiar face in the sea of strangers. I could feel my butterflies disappearing already, but before I made it around the corner, the conversation continued down a much more awkward path.
"How do you say her name?" questioned the new student's parent.
I headed through the doorway to introduce myself just as my beloved former student's mom spoke. When she saw me, she said, "Oh, this is Mrs. Hinrichsen. Your child is going to LOVE her."
She was too kind... Well, that sentence was kind.
She went on to explain, "She is a FUN teacher. Your child will do all kinds of fun and cutesy things this year. He [pointing to her child] just loved her, but if you want your child to LEARN, you'll wish she had _________."
What? I was standing RIGHT THERE!
See, my goal is for my students to learn, first and foremost. Those words cut through me like a knife. One part of my brain was thinking of all kinds of sassy things I could say. My heart rate tripled, but then the professional side of my brain took over (thank goodness). I smiled and said, "Oh yes, __________ is a wonderful teacher. It is so nice to meet you! Welcome to 3rd grade."
As I showed the new student around the room, I avoided anything "fun" as much as I could. I kept my mini-tour basic, and within a few minutes she had heard all of the essentials. Her eyes appeared to have glossed over, and my butterflies were back in full strength. She didn't have one question about the classroom. It was as if she had already lost interest in school, but it hadn't even started yet.
I decided quickly that it would be okay to show her just one "fun" thing to get her excited about the year. She smiled from ear to ear when she learned that she would be using an ActivExpression/Clicker "device" for lessons. She asked if she could try it out, and then she told a quick story about how it reminded her of the remote control at her grandma's house. Then she went on to tell about the two weeks she spent with her grandmother that summer. As I listened to her talk, I noticed that she had a few issues with her grammar. "Her has a remote that looks like this," was one of the first things she said.
Oh, she was so excited that I had to show her just one more thing. The bus tent was a curiosity, so she led us in that direction. I explained that students earn money in order to buy a "bus ticket" for a day. That led to more conversation, and based on her spoken grammar alone, I could tell we would have a lot of work to do together. However, as our conversation shifted to the classroom bank, I realized that she was a bit of a math wizard. She asked how she could earn money in the classroom, and soon figured out how many nickels it would take to earn a bus ticket ($1.00). I let her in on a little secret, "On 2-hour delay days, the tickets go on sale for 50% off."
"That means they is only 50 cents!" she called out as her eyes lit up.
It was at that moment when her mom announced she was ready to go.
My new, bright-eyed student gave me a quick hug before she went on her way; my mind was left racing with ideas about how to make her have a successful year.
The school year began, and I assigned her to be the banker for the first week of classroom jobs. The first writing prompt was about grandparents, and she enjoyed revising and editing hers so her grandma would like it.
When I asked her how she liked school after the first few days, she said, "It was so fun!" Oh no...
Well, I guess it WAS fun. I even enjoyed it. Why did I think "fun" was such a bad word to hear? Was that parent right? Was I the "fun" teacher in a classroom of non-learners?
I realized that the comment I once regarded as harsh criticism was actually a compliment. At least, I would take it that way.
See, I want students to have fun. They are kids. But my underlying goal is for students to learn. When my students have fun learning, they ask questions, put forth more effort, and care about learning.
It is easy to give a written test, to copy a worksheet, and to follow a manual to the letter. Those things are only my tools. I use them, but I also use what I learn about the human beings with whom I interact. I make every effort to personalize learning experiences (even in a subtle way) to make learning meaningful. If meaningful is "fun" for a child, then I will admit to being a "fun" teacher. Just because I am "fun" doesn't exclude me from being effective.
Data drives instruction, but not all meaningful data comes from a standardized test. I talk to my students, too. Personalized learning opportunities are strategically placed in "fun" places for students IN ADDITION TO typical day-to-day lessons from the curriculum. It takes extra thinking and planning to make things personal and meaningful.
What Did You Do in School Today?
When parents ask their children what they did in school, a common answer is, "Nothing!"
They could say,
"I did a really awesome worksheet."
"I copied definitions."
"I did the same thing I did yesterday but with different math problems."
Most likely they won't. They will talk about something that stood out as interesting. Just remember, inside that "fun" story is a deliberately hidden, valuable lesson. Just don't tell the class.
Now that I think of it, that "fun teacher" criticism was actually one of the biggest compliments I could have gotten.