Containing my Excitement in the Classroom

As a teenager, I tried very hard not to show any emotion when I was around my parents.  I didn’t want them to think I was having fun.  I wanted to be all broody and emotionless like all teenagers, except of course when I was mad.  It was totally acceptable to show anger and frustration to our parents.  In fact, you weren’t a real teenager unless you argued and yelled at your parents at least once a day.  But showing happiness or excitement was a big no-no.  When my parents took my sister and I to Disney World when I was 16, the last thing I wanted to do was be in Disney World with my family.  In every photo from that trip, I look sour and sullen.  Did I have fun?  Heck yeah, I mean it’s Disney World, who wouldn’t have fun.  But I made sure not to ever show that I was having fun.  My parents would ask me, “How was the ride?”  My response was always the same, “It was okay.”  No emotion.

Now, as a father, husband, and teacher, emotion and excitement are the names of the game.  Embracing happiness and fun is what life’s all about now.  I cry whenever I watch a Hallmark Channel movie, I laugh at everything even if it’s not funny, and I get excited for even the little things like having a weekend off or having to work the weekend.  Showing emotion is how I can be a role model for my son and students.  I’m a happy guy and I like to show it.  I wear a teaching cape and jump around the classroom like my toes are on fire, which when you have athlete’s foot like I did once, it’s just what you do to get by.

Sometimes, however, it’s important that I temper my excitement.  For example, today, in Humanities class, my co-teacher was leading the class discussion on a current event she had chosen to discuss with the boys.  I was merely the silent observer and notetaker.  I wasn’t really supposed to contribute to the discussion, emphasis on the “wasn’t really supposed to.”  But hey, when she picks an article about students suing the federal government for having helped cause and fail to prevent climate change from happening at such a rapid pace, what did she really expect from me?  That I would be able to contain my excitement about such an important issue?  Well, if I acted more like my age and less like my shoe size, I would have easily been able to keep silent and let her lead the discussion with the boys.  Unfortunately, I find it challenging to keep my ideas and knowledge to myself.  I want to spread knowledge like wildfire so that everyone can be equipped with the tools to change the world for the better.  I want my students to know how important the issue of climate change is to our world.  I want them to see that this is an issue in dire need of being addressed in a major way.  So, after one of the students asked a clarifying question about greenhouse gasses that my co-teacher quickly and accurately addressed, I could no longer keep my knowledge bottled up inside.  I felt as if I needed to explain the ideas of global warming and climate change to the students.  While the discussion was moving along just fine without my two cents being thrown in, I felt as though I needed to impart some knowledge onto the boys.  So, I politely asked my co-teacher if I could explain something to the students.  Being a kind and wonderful person, she obliged and I took over, briefly.  I explained how the greenhouse effect works and leads to global warming that causes all sorts of other problems and issues for our world.  This lead to several questions from the students.  While I knew that I had said too much already, I let my co-teacher take over and field the questions.  However, since she doesn’t have a strong background in this area, she looked to me to address the questions the boys asked.  So, I answered them and this lead to more hands being shot up into the air.  The students were curious, inquisitive, and had a lot to say about this topic.  I fielded several other questions and thoughts on the topic of climate change before my co-teacher then redirected the discussion back to the current event at hand.  I felt bad that I had temporarily derailed the conversation, but I do feel as though imparting accurate knowledge onto the students about such a big global crisis is important and necessary.  The students grew very excited when I started sharing knowledge with them.  Although they were engaged prior to my interruption, they seemed much more invested after I jumped into the discussion.  Should I have added my thoughts and knowledge to today’s discussion?  Probably not, but it felt good to get the boys excited about such a hot topic like climate change.  I wanted the students to understand how relevant this topic is to their future lives.  So yes, I should have kept my mouth shut and let my co-teacher drive the car today in Humanities class, but I couldn’t contain my excitement about such an interesting topic.

The bigger thought still lingering in my mind though is, what do I do next time a situation like this arises?  How do I keep quiet and contain my excitement?  I’m sure my co-teacher was going to take the discussion down an engaging path without my insight and I should have let her do so.  Perhaps next time, I will leave the room while she runs the show so that I’m not tempted to jump into the conversation and prevent her from driving the show forward.  Or maybe I’ll just put duct tape over my mouth to keep quiet.  In all seriousness though, it’s hard to keep knowledge to myself sometimes and I know that about myself as a person and teacher.  I need to work on this.  I don’t always need to be the guide for the class.  I need to let my co-teacher work her magic as well.  I will try harder to remember this the next time she is in charge.  It’s our class, not my class.

Inciting Engagement through Excitement

While I don’t remember much from my ninth grade biology class, I will forever remember all about tapeworms and international travel.  It was a warm autumn day in early October when I learned everything I would never want to know about parasites.  I had Biology class right before lunch, which was usually never an issue.  Yes, we dissected worms and such, but that was fun and not disgusting.  This particular day was different.  About ten minutes prior to the end of class, my teacher decided to tell us a story about the time she got tapeworms.  She went into elaborate detail about her trip to South America and how she tried to avoid all of the water and foods that might make her ill.  She didn’t think lettuce or salad would be a problem.  Unfortunately, she was wrong.  When she arrived back home in the US, she started to notice problems with her digestive system.  She was constantly hungry.  It all became very clear to her what the issue was early one morning.  As she slowly began to awaken from her slumber, she remained lying down for a while.  That’s when she felt the tickle in her throat.  Soon after the tickle, a tapeworm crawled out of her mouth.  YUCK!  Then, the bell rang and we were on our way to lunch.  While I was a bit grossed out, the fear and excitement I felt within were enough to make me overly cautious about where I travel and what I eat.  To date, I have felt no tickle in my throat or worms wiggle out of my body.  Yah for me!  Clearly, my teacher used the fear and excitement of her story to inspire us to want to learn more about parasites and how they affect living organisms.  Because of her story, I was engaged throughout that short unit.  I wanted to learn all about those creepy crawlies.

To help inspire my students to want to learn or become engaged with an activity or unit covered in class, I attempt similar subterfuge.  When students are excited or a bit scared, they become curious and motivated.  I decided to put that to good use today in STEM class as we began the Climate Change portion of our Weather Unit.

I began class by sharing my excitement for what we were about to begin learning and working on today in class.  “We are beginning a brand spanking new project never completed by any group of sixth graders in the history of Cardigan.  You are the first class to ever be completing this project.  I’m so excited to see what great ideas you brainstorm to help save our planet.”  At this point, a few sets of eyes that were not directed my way began to move in that direction.  Yes, I was beginning to hook them, I thought.  Then, came the slam dunk.

We watched and discussed a short video explaining climate change and its causes and outcomes.  I had the students take copious notes on the big ideas mentioned in the video.  After every main idea, I paused the video to allow students a chance to take notes on the important vocabulary terms and facts.  This break also allowed them the opportunity to ask questions regarding the content and their comprehension of it.  I reviewed the facts shared in the video before we continued watching it each time.  At the close of the video, we reviewed the big ideas regarding global warming and climate change.  I closed our discussion with some powerful thoughts: “If we don’t find a way to stop increasing global warming at such a rapid pace, the world will suffer dramatic changes, causing much death and destruction.”  Like dogs, their ears perked up at this point.  Some of them had shocked looks on their faces.  Yes, they are listening and engaged now.  That’s when I introduced the Climate Change Project.  The crux of the project is, working with a partner, to create a unique solution to an aspect of the recent Paris Agreement.  They were fired up about it.  They seemed motivated and excited to be problem solvers.  I even suggested that perhaps one group in our class could generate such an innovative and realistic solution that we will find a way to fund the creation of it through grants.  This excited them.

The students were so focused and productive in class today.  Perhaps it was because of my motivating words.  Or maybe they are just very interested in climate change.  Maybe they were empowered when I reminded them all that they are the future of our world.  They are the ones who will be responsible for bringing about major changes regarding climate change.  Perhaps my excitement was contagious and got them excited.  Or perhaps it was a little bit of everything, much like the seasoning my wife uses when she grills chicken, that produced the results I witnessed today in class.  The students were excited to learn about how the world is changing due to human activity.  They were focused on generating ways to solve the problem of climate change.  I couldn’t have been more proud.  My biology teacher had it all figured out way back then.  Inciting a little bit of fear and much excitement within students motivates them to want to learn more and accomplish the task at hand.