The Climate of the Classroom: Creating an atmosphere conducive to learning requires hard work, but pays big dividends.
My favorite time of year is late spring after everything has budded and burst into bloom, as the winter winds march into April breezes. This is the season when I feel revitalized and productive.
Early in my teaching career, I realized that young people like springtime too. They must deal with the winter of their lives through conflicts at home and in the desperate struggle for equilibrium amidst their peers.
I knew then, as I know now, that I could help my students most by creating a climate in my classroom, which would enable them to blossom and bloom to their full potential. Of course, I have occasionally had little control over the physical climate—sometimes having to teach in rooms with no air-conditioning or heat—and often no windows to let in the sunshine; but then, that is not the climate of which I speak.
No, I mean the emotional climate—the feeling of peace, of order, of discipline, of caring and love that I freely offer to every child I teach. It is the climate that says, “Welcome, come on in; I’m so happy you're here.”
For I truly believe that learning can best occur in an atmosphere in which there are
boundaries of behavior. One in which there are no teacher’s pets or class clowns: a place where no one yells or uses unkind words. The most important traits a teacher can cultivate are those of kindness, patience, and the ability to discipline fairly. I spend as much time as necessary preparing for each day in the classroom, so that my focus can be on the students. I am firm, yet fair. I am consistent in my expectations, and I will not accept anything less than polite, respectful behavior.
Students in my classes speak up freely, offering their opinions, questions, and comments,
confident in the fact that they will never be ridiculed by me or by a classmate. They quickly learn that I will give them all the positive attention they need, which eliminates their need for misbehaving.
Creating such an environment in the classroom requires careful planning and hard work.
From the first day of school, students must be aware of the expectations I have for their conduct. Once they know that I require them to behave in a mature, polite, respectful manner, we can begin to work together in harmony. I do not find it necessary to send students to the office to be disciplined. If a student’s behavior needs correction, I talk to them in private, and I am in close contact with the parents of the students I teach.
I believe that the process by which students learn is much more important than the actual content data they acquire. If an information base were all that was required to be successful in life, the library and the Internet could satisfy that requirement, and students wouldn’t need teachers at all.
My goal is to teach students to work together in harmony in cooperative groups. I organize the lessons into projects where students function as part of a team and have an interest in each other’s progress.
This process mirrors the world of work in which they will spend the better part of their adult lives. It is obvious to me that students who work together become more accepting of others and feel better about themselves in the process. It helps to break down prejudices, and students often form friendships with peers who otherwise would have remained strangers. The key is learning to cooperate and share ideas and materials.
I require students to read literature that will enrich their lives. We read novels, plays, and poetry with themes that depict man’s inhumanity to man, racial prejudice, and bias against women, the elderly, and the infirm. I require them to challenge the stereotypes of our society and to discuss these important issues and write critical essays about them.
Such lessons require careful planning on my part, as I must design projects that involve critical thinking skills. I must delineate specific roles, carefully organize the make-up of the groups, and constantly monitor to see that each individual is pulling his or her own weight.
More often than not, after the groups have completed their assigned projects, I give the students individual assignments to assess their progress. I love to see students lost in thought as they process the ideas generated in the work group. They look up from their papers, pens poised in hand and gaze out into space. I see their ideas dancing in their eyes, and then they begin to write again, hurriedly trying to get their ideas on paper before they escape.
At such times, and later, as I listen to a group presentation while students proudly present what they have learned and listen to the applause of their classmates, I bask in the warm, inviting climate in my classroom and sit back and let my students shine.
Thanks for reading,