Core scripture: “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” (Proverbs 18:2)
Message: I felt like I had just finished a grueling marathon last Friday. That first day of school had gotten the best of me, and I was smoked. Pulling in my driveway, I knew I needed time to decompress. My family was hungry and asked to go out for an early dinner. Me? I pleaded with them for just a half hour to face plant and become one with my bed. And I did. Pretty sure there was a puddle of drool on my pillow.
Hey, wasn’t Jesus sleeping on the boat during the storm? Maybe I am in the clear!
I just had one of those days. My students were little balls of energy, so excited to see one another and chatty as ever. A little TOO comfortable for my taste on the first day. I am not sure if I have ever seen anything like it. I allowed them free seating, but I was already making a seating chart in my plan hour. Then again after school. And I finally wrapped it up Monday morning.
Thank the Lord my battle plan worked! It was night and day different. My students were more structured. Secure. Still happy but not distracted. The only mishap occurred when one of my classes got sent back to my classroom for stampeding into the library like a herd of wild buffalo. Go figure. But as I took a sigh of relief at the end of the day, I sat down and wondered …
What caused that craziness on the first day? Was it something deeper I didn’t know about? Was there a story waiting to be discovered? I was curious. Every kid has a story. This is prime time to discover something new about your kids. But here is the thing—not every kid will feel comfortable opening up just yet. Sometimes it takes time to peel back the layers, and the smell of that “onion” might sting a bit.
Case in point. This was about six years ago. When Anthony entered my class, he could not utter a word. The first time I called on him, he froze up. I could feel his heart beating out of his chest, and the panicked look in his eyes led me to have mercy on him and move on. A week later his personal narrative came in. I wept as I read a long paragraph about his alcoholic father who smashed a beer bottle over his mom’s head in a fit of rage. He had been incarcerated ever since.
Now, that story didn’t just appear. Anthony didn’t think to himself, “Gee, this is the perfect time to expose one of my deepest secrets.” It was a process. I had to set a classroom climate of comfort and security. I had to expose a bit of myself, and I did so in a few sample narrative stories I shared with my class. I exposed myself, paving the way for the vulnerability of my students. It led Anthony to feel comfortable enough to open his heart.
The first day of school I always set the kids straight on my Ohana classroom philosophy. Ohana means family, and family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten. Yep, that came from Lilo and Stitch. I explain how I will go to bat for the kids, protecting them and listening to them. Counseling them if need be. It is a relationship that goes deeper than just teacher to student. I tell stories of past students who have taken advantage of this. The kids know I am there for them. From day one.
Once I lay that out, I get curious about the faces in my classroom. What are their likes and dislikes? What are their passions in life? What type of family do they come from? What activities are they involved in? I ask tons of questions. Lots of answers will lead to even more questions, and by the end of the first week, I know quite a bit about what makes them tick. And all the while, I am exposing myself, showing them what makes ME tick.
That second full week of school is when we get down and dirty. That is when the kids write their personal narratives. I let them know the narrative can reek of any emotion they feel comfortable sharing. Some are funny. Others are more serious. Then there are the ones like Anthony’s that are just plain heart wrenching. I model stories from my life that fill each category.
The hilarious story of me getting stuck in the basketball rebound machine in gym class. The story of the day I stole the Cadberry Easter Egg from the grocery store. The story of the day I spoke at my Memaw’s funeral or the day my brother was critically wounded in Iraq. These stories all make me the man I am today. I realize my students have only lived 12 years, but each one still has plenty of stories that define them.
As you march into this first full week of school, I encourage you to be curious. Ask questions. Share a bit of yourself. Be vulnerable and they will follow. Sometimes it will take a while for these stories to come out. You may not learn something until October, but give it time.
(So, I need to give credit to where credit is due. The title to this blog was inspired by my ELA Coordinator, Kim Dahl, whom last week led our ELA department through narrative writing activities similar to the ones I described above. Her theme for the 2022-23 school year? BE CURIOUS!)
Challenge: Learn as much as you can about your students this week. Start with light stuff like favorite restaurants or Netfix shows. Continue asking questions, and you might get to the root of a deeper layer waiting to be exposed.
Prayer points: Lift up the following areas to the Lord …
- Pray for the transition back to school for students and teachers.
- Praise God for the opportunity we must learn and be curious about our students.
- Pray for students to feel safe and vulnerable enough to open up to you.
Just for fun: I did a Beginning of the Year Survey for my first assignment, but that is too many words, so I just called it the BOY survey. This confused a few kids, but my favorite was a mom who emailed me after school yesterday, asking me to send the girl survey to her daughter. 😊
Prayer: Father, help us be curious about our students this year, allowing us to deepen relationships. Amen.