Happiness in teaching

I’ve been doing this ‘first day of school’ experience for many, many years. It’s always the same, and yet it’s always so different. There’s the anticipation, the excitement, the nervous energy, the dreams that drive the passion, and the preparation before the students arrive. Then the happiness happens! The students stream in and sit down. Eyes turn to you, and it begins. I take a deep breath, release it slowly, and get things rolling.

What I do next has changed every year, with every new class, with the individuals in the room. Even though it’s been planned, I shift and adjust as the group responds. I make fluid decisions as we work together to learn about each other. The activities are the catalyst for the conversations and relationships that we need to co-construct. These will begin on the first day, and build into the first week, to extend into a year of learning together. The first day, and the first week, is where happiness in teaching should happen.

IMG_3945There are many educators who believe that the first month should be one of rules and routines. “Don’t smile until December” is something I’ve heard often enough! That’s one ‘rule’ I’m willing to break, in my effort to build relationship and get to know my students on a personal level. Learning their names, even when it’s a large group, is so important. Structuring the climate of the classroom is also important – will there be engagement and fun, or will it be work first, laugh later? I’m happy to say, my students already know my weakness for a chuckle, and my bias about the term ’21st Century’. IMG_3947There’s been some serious thinking happening in the first week of work, some shifting in the seats as we tackle some complex concepts – just how do you define media or digital literacy? just what is this critical digital literacy thing all about? But when you start your course or your class with shoe selfies stories and lego mini-fig fun, you can’t help but feel happiness in the media making moments!

As I begin to learn about these students, who will learn with me in the coming months or year, I look at the happiness each one will bring to their own classrooms in the future – since my students are preservice teachers, also called teacher candidates. They will bring happiness into their classrooms if they’ve experienced happiness in their own learning. I’m not saying there won’t be tough topics and challenging times ahead. We all know it’s going to be complex and complicated. That’s the nature of this work we call teaching. But the happiness and joy of ‘learning’ should be in the mix of events or activities that are planned. There should be opportunities for student agency and ownership, choice and voice, immersed into the classroom tasks. As students engage with topics, there are moments to move beyond the mundane, and connect to positive emotions in the work being done. Where do they find happiness in learning and when do you find happiness in your teaching?

This image of joy helps – the Dalai Lama talks to Bishop Desmond Tutu about this topic!

What’s your ‘happiness is’ moment in your classroom teaching context?

Where do you find those ‘eyes wide open’ moments in your teaching?

Leave a comment below to share a first days of school “happiness is…” moment.

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9 Responses to Happiness in teaching

  1. Lisa Corbett says:

    I don’t spend the week on rules either. And like you, I plan and adjust as we go. Every group is so different. I am already about 2 months ahead of where my grade 2 class was last year, just because this is a different group of students.

    My happiness moment comes when students say at the end of the day, “It’s already time to go home?” I love knowing that some days seem to fly by for them.

  2. cbarcla1 says:

    I loved your take on not spending the first month working on the rules of the classroom. I also believe that “structuring the climate” of the classroom is much more beneficial in comparison to focusing on rules and discipline.

    Although I have not professionally taught, I have experiences of teaching through my CO-OP and placement opportunities. These opportunities have shown me that my happiness moment comes from the look on a child’s face when they begin to understand the concept. Sometimes it can be something so small, however, once they begin to understand it, you can see how happy and proud they are of themselves; that is what has led me into the profession of teaching.

    • HJ.DeWaard says:

      Yes, that smile on a child’s face, when their eyes light up with understanding. That’s what keeps us teaching and coming back for more. One of the challenges with teaching online is that we miss these personal moments of discovery. There’s no equivalent when working in digital environments, is there? Helen

  3. Carly Colistro says:

    I really enjoyed reading this blog post as it made me excited for the future. I was smiling the whole time I was reading it! As a student, I can relate to what you said about the first day of school feels. In elementary school, I was always so excited to go back and see my friends and learn! Over the years, I can say that the feeling of excitement turned into a little bit of fear and disappointment. No more hanging out with friends, going to camp with family or traveling. As a teachers assistant, in my placement class, I saw how hard it could be to adjust to the learning abilities of the students. I can’t wait until I have my own class and find the joy in the students learning.

    • HJ.DeWaard says:

      I’m glad this post resonated with you. There are certainly the anxieties of starting something new, but that all settles once you get to know the group of students in the class. Building a relationship, starting from the first day, is one of the critical actions of teaching. Building in some critical digital literacies, right from day one, can set the tone for the year. Looking forward to reading more about your journey, if you chose to continue blogging about your experiences. Helen

  4. Taylor Hogarth says:

    I really enjoyed reading this blog post because it examines the exact reasons of why I am becoming a teacher. I think that it is important to understand that with every new class, comes new memories and experiences. What worked for your students one year may not work with your class the following year. When dealing with discipline, I agree that individuals should alter as they go instead of spending a month on rules. Developing a relationship with your students is important and will develop throughout the year.
    Although I do not have my own class, volunteering in my aunts classroom has allowed me to experience many happiness moments. One example of a moment that makes me happy is when a student completes and presents a project. Students are very proud of their accomplishments and create friendships with classmates throughout the process. Reading this blog has made me very excited to have my first day and classroom of students in the future!

    • HJ.DeWaard says:

      Thanks for sharing your experiences with new classes and first days of school. You are lucky you have an aunt who teaches. It’s a great way to experience the happiness that teaching can bring, as you volunteer and learn about the craft of teaching. Keep blogging to share your own perspectives on classroom experiences as you begin your teaching journey. Your words will resonate with those who follow your footsteps. Helen

  5. I love that you don’t only focus on the rules for the first few weeks. I think it’s important to create a community and have the students to get to know you and their peers. I love first days, they bring so much excitement. On my first day as a teacher candidate in Alberta, I felt lots of happiness when a little girl asked me if I could help her be a better reader. Love seeing children excited to learn.
    I am curious about what “lego mini-fig fun” is? Can you share how it is done?

    • HJ.DeWaard says:

      Hi – lego mini-figures are usually included in lego kits and they come with particular costume items and add on gear. They often have facial features or clothing painted onto the figure body or head. When you pull these figures apart, you have a collection of heads, bodies, legs, and a variety of ‘kit’ that can then be re-combined in creative and amusing ways. That’s what we did on that first day. Students could pick a head, body, legs, and kit (hats, helmets, spears, flames, oxygen tanks, etc.). Then, these newly created characters were included in a lego creation of some kind, as a story prompt. Students were asked how this mini-fig scene represented their journey to teaching. How would you answer that question if given the chance to play with lego on your first day at the Faculty? Helen

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