Recently, a former student contacted me through the SCM Facebook page.
He was in my sixth-grade class almost 20 years ago.
I remembered him well.
In fact, although I didn’t use his real name, I mentioned him in Dream Class.
He was the tough but highly respected boy who escorted a blind student to the playground.
It was a special moment, one I’ll never forget.
While alluding to his sometimes difficult past, he talked about how happy he is and how his wife and young family mean everything to him.
I’m thrilled, of course, and proud of how well he’s doing.
After catching up with our current lives, it wasn’t long before he began telling stories of his year in my class.
He talked about how when each sixth-grade class was tasked with creating a presentation on ancient Greece, we did a musical spoof of the movie Grease (with leather-jacketed Danny Zuko as Socrates).
He talked about vanquishing other classrooms in capture-the-flag and math-game battles, and then celebrating back in the classroom like we’d won the World Cup.
He talked about the silly things I did in class—spilling water down my shirt, tripping over chairs, using this or that funny accent for a day.
He recalled that when the class was working independently on their math, I’d whistle the opening bars from the movie, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, and they would answer back in unison with a sing-songy “Dooooo youuuuur maaaaath.”
My recollections were that we worked extremely hard.
It was a large class in a difficult school, and I pushed them and pushed them. I challenged them on their behavior, their work habits, and their responsibilities—to their family, their classmates, and their future selves.
At the time, I remember thinking that I was asking too much of them. I remember thinking that if I wasn’t careful, I would lose them and their deep connection to the class.
I’ve since learned that as long as you create a classroom your students look forward to, you can’t ask for too much. You can’t have expectations that are too high.
Your students will rise to meet your high bar as long as they know you care enough to make it worth their while.
As long as you make your classroom an experience they enjoy being part of—better yet, love being part of—they will follow you to the ends of the earth.
And teaching will be the way you always imagined it could be.
My former student told story after story. He reminisced about friends and laughter and the closeness of that particular group in that moment in time. As if it were yesterday.
He never mentioned the lengthy independent work periods, the demand for flawless routines, or my neverending calls for excellence.
Because when a spirit of fun and humor are part of the fabric of your classroom, you can ask for more and for better every day of the week.
You can ask for the moon.
And they’ll give it to you.
PS – How to create the classroom described above is a central theme of all of our books, but will be broken down in simple detail in the new book, The Happy Teacher Habits.
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