Think back to when you were in high school. I know you can’t believe you were ever so naive about the world, but there you were – trying to figure out who you were amongst hundreds of kids who seemed nothing like you. Are you there, in your mind? Can you remember the sounds of the hallways and the smells of the classrooms? For some of you, this may bring back old feelings of anxiety. Face it, high school is a tough time for many people. For many of us who entered into education as a career, we had a reason; we had someone who reassured us it was okay to be the confused, uncertain, unmolded kids we were at that time. Hopefully we can give this back to our students today.
The person who helped me was a teacher named Ms. Smith. She became a beacon for all sorts of kids trying to find their way. Her classroom was unlike any of the others, and believe me, our rooms were all the same size and layout. The difference in her room was that every student was treated equally. Every student was encouraged to explore their strengths. She treated each student as they had something to add to the class. She decorated her classroom with art and encouraged students to do the same. She kept the door open during lunch periods, and before and after school. She hosted clubs and encouraged students to come to the room to do their homework or work on projects with friends.
Your students today face the same challenges we did, but now with the added realities of growing up in a world with social media. It’s easier to connect with kids who share their values and point of views, but it’s also easy to become targets of hate and bullying. Your classroom can be the place where they disconnect, not just from the bullying in the halls of the school, but also all over the web. Encouraging your students to feel that they can be themselves in your classroom is a rare opportunity few adults have. Teachers have the ability to change children’s lives for the better.
Our lives as educators can be overwhelming, but the reality is all the tasks we must accomplish don’t matter as much as making sure our students have a place where they can feel safe. Think of ways you can change the culture in your own classroom. This can mean taking time out of the day, even just a few minutes, to let students open up about what challenges they are facing during the rest of their day. Art projects, journaling, and even a yoga break are all potential ways to help your students feel comfortable in your presence. Keeping your door open throughout the day, and before and after school is a small gesture that can go a long way for those kids searching for a safe place.
A few years after graduating college, as I was readying to be a teacher in my own classroom, I caught up with Ms. Smith and told her it was my hope to create a safe classroom, just like she had. She was overcome with appreciation for what I had said, as she then put it – that was her number one goal as a teacher. She wanted a place for everyone to feel safe to be themselves.
We would love to hear ways in which you have made your classroom a safe place for all kinds of kids. Share with us your experiences!