We've been posting each week about nine habits you need to start (or continue. And definitely enable.) Each week spotlights a different habit.
This week's habit that great teachers do ALL of the time: Take interest in their students' interests.
It was upstate New York. I was teaching 10th grade English in a city high school and we were preparing to read Shakespeare's Julius Caesar (which included A LOT of fun practicing to speak Elizabethan).
James was quiet student, sat in a corner, usually buried his head in his arms, feigning sleep. It had taken effort, but I had already convinced the other students that a) I was tough, but b) it was because I knew they could do the work, and c) that I could make English + literature + writing interesting and relevant to them but they had to help me. I also convinced them that being able to quote a line from Shakespeare put them in a small percentage of the American population--and that it was a percentage they wanted to be a part of. James wasn't disruptive, but he hadn't come along like the others.
Periodically throughout the year, I asked my students to complete the following sentences:
- Something that I know now that I did not know before is...
- What I need you to know about me is...
As a result of those letters, I was able to make connections between our learning and their interests. This didn't just make it more fun for them, it made it personal and they appreciated my attention to their lives.
Because of these letters, I knew that James was a boxer. Or at least wanted to be.
So we read Julius Caesar, acted it out, made comparisons between Mark Antony's and Brutus' monologues and those of modern day presidential hopefuls. It was going really well and it filled me up to watch these kids transform into students of Shakespeare. As part of the unit, they were required interpret a scene from the play using their skills and talents. One student, very artistic, did a prize-worthy clay bust of Caesar. Another student, interested in forensics, built evidence and analyzed the crime scene of Caesar's murder. One after another, the students shined. They didn't surprise me with their work, but I think they surprised themselves.
When it came James' turn to share his interpretation, I wasn't sure he'd participate. But he stood up (still in his hoodie), gave a very brief analysis of what would have happened if Caesar and Brutus had a boxing match (which was quite interesting, really). And then turned to us, removed the hood from his head and in his best Mike Tyson voice, said, "Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your EARS."
The room erupted in laughter, all of us recalling what Mike Tyson had done years earlier to Evander Holyfield. It was the most James had ever said in class. And in those words, he had taught all of his classmates a line from Shakespeare that they will never forget.
We have provided you with some resources that all teachers can use to get to know their students a little bit better. One includes a student profile that teachers can use to keep track of their student's interests and learning needs.