Posted in Coexist, Humanities, Sixth Grade, Teaching

Building a Class Community Takes Time

Growing up, my family took many vacations.  We traveled throughout the New England area and up and down the east coast in our car.  There were moments of fun and moments of horror.  On our trip to Florida, my sister was ten and I was 16.  We shared the backseat.  I drew a dividing line down the middle of the empty seat to mark our territories.  Every five seconds, she reached over the line of demarcation and poked me.  Of course, I then poked her back.  The result: “Mom, Mark reached over the line and poked me.”  I got in trouble for her actions.  In what kind of crazy, messed up world do we live?  Many of our road trips were like awful repeats of our trip to Florida.  As each minute of every trip seemed to last an eternity, I was regularly confused by the passing of time and would often ask my dad, “Are we there yet?”  His response was always the same, “Be patient.  Rome wasn’t built in a day.”  What?  Who cares about Rome; I’m in a hot car with my baby sister.  It took many family trips and multiple decades for me to finally understand what my father meant.  Life takes time; be patient.

This fatherly adage applies to more than just road trips.  Patience is a virtue that allows one to be happy and seek inner peace.  In theory, patience is fabulous.  Who wouldn’t want to be happy, daily?  It makes a ton of sense.  However, like Communism, patience is great in theory but not always as excellent in practice.  It’s hard to be patient all the time.  Sure, my philosophy of “fake it ’til you make it” helps, but let’s be honest, does anyone like waiting in a long line at the grocery store after a difficult day at work?  Patience has it’s benefits, but they can sometimes take much time to reap, especially in the classroom.

Since September, we’ve been working on helping our sixth grade class build a community within the classroom.  We’ve discussed and practiced social skills development as well as teamwork strategies.  We incorporated teamwork and problem solving skills into our curriculum in every way possible.  We explained the purpose and great value in working together as a family.  We took two field trips to allow them all types of different experiences to help the students figure out how to work together as a community.  The result: Nothing.  The boys still struggled to effectively communicate and coexist with one another.  Despite hours, days, weeks, and months of effort and planning, the boys never seemed to gel as a community.  It was frustrating to my co-teachers and I because there are only 10 students in the sixth grade.  How hard can it be to get along with nine other students?  When you use a fixed mindset and refuse to be compassionate, everything is impossible.  As a teacher, I felt defeated, like I didn’t really help my students.  Then, came today.

It began as an ordinary Thursday.  The students, dressed in their formal wear as it was Chapel Thursday, came to class somewhat prepared and energetic.  They greeted us warmly and Humanities class began.  They worked diligently, for the most part throughout the period on the final project of the year.  They were in the midst of crafting visual presentations regarding the Middle Eastern countries they had researched.  Some of the boys painted dioramas while others typed text or blueprinted their poster design.  It was a productive period for the students.  With about six minutes to go in the period prior to the end of class, we instructed the students to clean up, like always.  Nothing new or out of the ordinary happened, yet.

As the two-minute time limit lapsed, the students began to work more diligently to clean the classroom.  They ran around, some raised their voices, like always.  Others worked harder to accomplish the task.  Then, something magical happened.  All of the students began to work together to finish cleaning the room.  They communicated effectively and compassionately.  They took leadership and helped one another.  When I mentioned that one of the posters had been knocked off of the wall, a student quickly put it back up.  Almost every student was in the back library nook area cleaning, organizing, and working together.  It was amazing.  My co-teacher and I almost cried.  “Although it took until May for them to come together, at least they finally did,” my co-teacher noted.  Wow!  It was amazing.  Perhaps they were listening all year to our advice, strategies, and reminders.  It just took them some time to process everything and make sense of it.  Like my dad always said, “Be patient.”  And sure enough, today I reaped the rewards of all of our hard work.  Our sixth grade class came together as a family today.  Who cares that we only have a few class days left until the end of the year; at least they were able to put aside their differences and work together.  I couldn’t be more proud of my students.  They did it!

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Author:

I teach sixth grade at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, NH. I'm currently ensconced in my fourteenth year at this small, independent boys' school. I love engaging students in relevant and hands-on learning. I was nominated for the NH Teacher of the Year Award in 2016 by a parent. While I love education and guiding students, my first passion is my family. I have a wonderful son, Jeffrey, and a beautiful and intelligent wife, Kim. I couldn't be happier. Every day is the best day of my life.

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