Having my daughter in fifth-grade last year changed the way I look at my classroom. Her school day started in my partner teacher’s homeroom for math and science and her afternoons were spent in my room for Reading, Writing, and Social Studies.
At the end of my daughter’s fourth-grade year, we explained her options for fifth-grade. The choices were to go to a different team of fifth-grade teachers, both of whom she has known since her birth and adores, or she could come to my partner (one of her favorite people on the planet) and me. She chose us, and truthfully, I was thrilled with the opportunity to have her as a student. These experience with my daughter last year were truly wonderful. I believe the success of having your own child as a student depends very much on the student/child, the teacher/parent, and the context. I enjoyed spending time with her in a different environment, learning about who she is as a student, and how she interacts with her peers. The year was special for both of us.
I knew I would miss having my daughter in class as I prepared for school this year. I realized I did some things differently last year while she was my student. I used an especially critical eye on every action I took and every resource I found or created. Most importantly, I worked hard to build a learning community in which my daughter and her peers could thrive. Cornelius Minor says teachers are “…architects that carefully consider how the experiences we design work optimally for the people we serve” (2019, p. 137). As I reflect on the lessons last year taught me, I realize I’ve become an incredibly careful architect of the classroom community.
Having a direct line of communication with my daughter every day gave me a student’s perspective that I had not seen before. It didn’t hurt that she is extremely candid and empathetic in nature. When I would ask her what she thought of a particular lesson, she’d tell me about how someone in class who had questions because they were distracted by something that happened at lunch recess. When I would try to gauge how the class was getting along, she’d tell me about fights that she had heard were happening over social media. When I would ask how students were enjoying a unit, she would tell me that one of her friends was worried about missing a lesson when she was sick and needed help catching up. Through her eyes, I realized over and over again that if the community of learners isn’t functioning, learning is derailed.
I’m living the motto “the community is the curriculum” (Corimer, as quoted in Shareski, 2017, p. 38) these first days of the school year with my new crop of fifth-graders. I have all new science content to master and plan for, along with science and social studies standards that are new to me this year. It could be tempting to put my time and efforts into content lessons right away. But I know the importance of intentionally creating community in the first days of school and then maintaining that community throughout the year.
As Jeff Charbonneau, 2014 National Teacher of the Year, says, “Relationships then content. Both matter. So does the order” (as quoted in Shareski, 2017, p. 6). I am focusing on the relationships in my classroom. The content will follow.
May we all teach this year like we’re teaching our own children.