The end of the school year has a funny way of turning your attention to those first days of September. Looking around the classroom, you realize that you know each of your students as unique individuals, and you’re overwhelmed by how much you’ve grown together over the year. Reflecting on the first few days, when you were a group of strangers or acquaintances, you try to remember your first impressions of each of your students. Were your assumptions correct? Way off-base? What did you fail to notice right away?
June always reminds me how precious time is, because there’s never enough; not for lesson plans, teaching, assessment, evaluation, and least of all for my students. There will never be enough hours in the school year for getting to know my students, learning about who they are and what their life experiences are. It’s overwhelming to think about the variety of students (and therefore experiences) that enter your classroom on the first day, and take residence there for the year. Every group is a mixed bag of trials and triumphs, struggles and strengths, hardship and happiness, and they are yours to care for.
Stevens and Price present an insightful article discussing children at risk, and the challenges of educating them. “At risk” is a general term used to describe a host of different situations including abuse and issues surrounding health and wellness. These children could be – and are likely to be – seated in our classrooms from the very first day, and the problem is that we may not realize right away. Perhaps it is not readily apparent, or you do not know the student well enough to recognize that their behaviour is atypical for them. The fact is that a staggering number of our students will come to school each day with a problem, and it is up to us to meet their needs.
How do you help a child if you do not know they are unwell or in need of help? The most important thing that we can do as teachers is create a safe space for all of our students; make our classroom a place where everyone can take refuge and comfort. It is also important to be focussed on our students intently, especially during those first days of school, so that we can pick up on anything that suggests there might be a problem. Everything a student does and says reveals something about who they are; it is our responsibility to take in all this information.
This sounds both intimidating and impossible, doesn’t it? But the good news is you’re not alone in these lofty tasks. Great teachers exist everywhere, and they are faced with the same dilemma of meeting the needs of every student that walks through their door. I think that it boils down to understanding the role we play in our students’ lives, and wanting to be a part of those lives.
Every September we stress about learning their names, what they care about, what upsets them, where they struggle, and where they shine. Our students exist beyond the classroom walls, and our role as their teacher must do the same.
Already thinking ahead to September? How do you create a safe space environment in your classroom? Share your thoughts in the comments below!