Voices in Education

Meet Your Students Where They Are, And For Who They Are

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September 11, 2017

Dear Teachers,

As an elementary school teacher, the back-to-school season is like a holiday to me. You make and receive important lists; you buy special clothes; you spend hours thinking about and planning for the days ahead; you stay awake all night in anticipation of what’s to come. No one sleeps the night before school starts – especially not teachers! The atmosphere is charged with excitement. And whenever I think about getting ready for this special holiday, I think about rocks. May I strongly suggest that you get some of your own rocks to help you sleep the night before school? That may sound strange, but hear me out...

Last year, in my kindergarten class, I had a student named Maggie. Maggie often came into class wearing tutus and pink sneakers; she would bring me squashed bugs and drawings of rainbows; and she had a tendency to stand up and dance while we were writing and twirl on one foot while we were reading. Maggie would ask me not only how to play a game, but why we were playing it. Her mother sweetly called her “Magma,” and she truly was a force of nature. Maggie was both challenging and delightful to teach.

On the last day of school, Maggie proudly walked to my desk and dropped a heavy, gallon-sized bag onto my chair. Her smile let me know she had something wonderful to show me. As I lifted the bag she yelled out:

“They’re rocks! I found them and decorated them for you, because you like all the colors and you rock!”

She hugged me and skipped away. I found out later that she had spent her weekend “hunting” for the best rocks and then she carefully used chalk to make them beautiful.                

Looking at them now, as I get ready for my first day back in the classroom, Maggie’s gift reminds me of the lessons I learned that year. The biggest takeaway for me was that students don’t need to be sitting at a table to learn. I could meet Maggie where she was, allow her personality to shine, help her navigate new discoveries, and create a place where she felt safe to make a mistake (or read while doing a pirouette). I encourage you to do the same: Meet your students where they are, and put yourself in their shoes. For example, thinking back to the jitters, nerves, and uncertainties that you felt as a brand new student starting the school year will help you make your own classroom a more nurturing space where your students feel encouraged and empowered.

One of my heroes, Mister Rogers, said “I like you just the way you are.” He didn't just mean children, he meant everyone – teachers, too. So grab a rock and write “YOU” on it today. Keep it on your desk. Trust me, it’ll make you smile. Oh, and remember to take the time to dance in your classroom...

 

Best wishes for an exciting school year!

Michelle Garmon

Michelle Garmon is a first grade teacher, Mister Rogers fan, and PBS Digital Innovator dedicated to sharing her knowledge with colleagues across the country.

Michelle Garmon

Michelle Garmon First Grade Teacher

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