Every year at this time just as I’m about to focus on, and plan for, this upcoming school year; I remember a very powerful moment I keep with me – always. This moment, and more specifically this very innocent yet profound notion, continually resonates with me. I make sure to put myself back in my Day One shoes, standing in front of my class comprised solely of eager male high school freshmen looking to challenge me, test me, but ultimately, accept me (as their educator).
“Good Morning! I’m Ms. Bogdany. I am…”
(And we’re off! This introduction (being oh-so-carefully crafted and rehearsed) had a very distinct mission: do not lead on to the fact that this moment marks your very first day educating in Brooklyn, one of the five boroughs of New York City; the most comprehensive public school system within the United States. Breathe. Just keep breathing! You’ve got this!)
As my introduction was coming to a close, it was time. Questions.
“So, does anyone have any questions for me?”
At that, I see one particular student’s hand confidently emerge into the air. This unique student coolly, and wildly presuming, asks: “Why should I trust you?” (Wait, Wait, Wait. Wait! No one prepared me for this! Ok. Just keep breathing, Erika…I mean Ms. Bogdany. I mean… Breathe and answer the question. Quickly, all eyes are on you.)
I found myself simply replying, “You shouldn’t.” (Did I just say that?!)
At that, he put his hand down, smirked, and the weight in the room (for all of us) lifted. The truth surfaced. I realized what I just admitted. This unique student was satisfied.
Throughout the years, I’ve come to realize that Day One truly defines and shapes the journey we all embark on together as a class community, so I need to be ready. While each year presents unforeseen opportunities and obstacles, I ask myself endless questions before the school year even commences; before I know who my students are; and way before I know how our community is going to function as a whole. Annually, I will probably continue to do so; yet I always end up finding my way back to this guiding, eight-year-old question, “Why should I trust you?” Once this question rests its reassuring presence on my question-filled mind, I settle back into the comforts of the same revelation: It’s simple, in order for students to trust me, I need to trust myself.
Disclaimer: Starting the school year needs to feel authentic…for students and educators alike. In answering my student’s question for him and the students in that same class; and for all of my students to come…I am not certain of much, but I am certain that the following three intangibles prove to create trust among all of the communities in which I have been fortuitous to be a part of. For me the most authentic success resides largely within the art of teaching, not the science.
Create the classroom you’ve always dreamed of!
See beyond the institutional green walls and peeling paint. Do you see the mismatched desks, tables, chairs, bookshelves…? You shouldn’t. This is your canvas so paint it. There are limitations to all of our working environments, and we know it. Take charge…change it around…move things…turn things upside down…whatever it takes. Students know when we’ve invested our time and energy into our shared space; and they are appreciative of it.
Students are less resistant to become a part of a class community when they know educators are doing the best we can to make them feel welcomed in a space that lends itself to learning, teaching, challenging, questioning, struggling, and movement. Give them the paintbrush, they’re sure not to disappoint.
Where’s the library?!
The inquiries students have about the world never cease to amaze me. They internalize their own struggles, or struggles of their families and friends, and don’t often know how to process what they’re experiencing. Hill Harper guides our young men and women via Letters to a Young Brother and Letters to a Young Sister as Esmeralda Santiago does in When I was Puerto Rican. Other times students want to explore worlds beyond their own; they want someone to guide them through the land, culture, religion…differences. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho takes them on quite the journey. Sometimes students want to just escape; don’t we all? Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson is comical, relative to students’ lives, and wildly crafty.
Despite the content area in which we educate, it is powerful beyond measure to have literature lining our walls, stacked on tabletops, and accessible to students. Teaching math this year? Stock up on biographies of mathematicians such as Emmy Noether: The Mother of Modern Algebra. Science educators, have you thought about The Hot Zone by Richard Preston or The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch? Art and Music educators, books with visuals, lyrics, memoirs, and struggles of artists (of all kinds) are empowering for our young emerging artists; it makes it real. Howard Sounes takes on an enlightening journey with Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan. History. Non-fiction heaven! Night by Elie Wiesel, A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah, The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley. There are more…
Make a decision!
There are so many unknowns we face daily as educators: We take risks before we even realize we’re doing so. We find ourselves as the ‘go to’ when we know we don’t have answers. We internally battle if students should leave their ID card in return for a writing utensil. We wonder when to push a student verse when they have truly reached their limit (for the time being). We grapple with riding the waves of a ‘teachable moment’ or tossing aside our planned lesson. We all know, the list is endless.
Rest assured. When we allow ourselves to make decisions we are giving ourselves permission to trust ourselves. We are setting the tone for students that while decision making can be difficult, we must trust ourselves in the process, and make students privy to the journey through this process. Because here’s the reality, when we model our own decision making, students start to follow our lead. When we exhibit our ability to be independent thinkers and change agents, students are inspired to do the same. Before we know it, students are showing us the way.
And so, as we all gear up and find ourselves in the midst of the ‘get ready whirlwind’; let’s think about how we can answer (so our students don’t have to), “Why should I trust you?”