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.
There 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’. There’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.