This morning, three principals (mine and two from other schools), along with three District-based people, visited my classroom. They were there to quietly observe my students and take notes about what they saw around my room.
Although I’d been warned ahead of time, I was still extremely nervous.
The fact that my students were taking a test to end a unit we’d just finished made things interesting. The observers were extremely kind, though, and I was able to speak to each of them, at various points during the visit.
As I stood in the corner of my room, keeping an eye on my students, I tried to see my room through the eyes of my visitors.
Did they look at the back counter and see a hodgepodge and somewhat messy assortment of books, or did they see a few dozen pieces of well-read, teenage-relevant literature?
As they neared the front of my room, did they see a very un-elementary-ish bulletin board and a mess of papers and notebooks below, or did they see the affirmations that nearly 80 students wrote about themselves the first week of school…their promises to ignore the negative words around them and believe in the potential inside themselves?
As they turned and glimpsed shelves of books, hastily stuck here and there, did they see more evidence of a teacher’s lack of organization, or did they exercise their Superman powers to see through the book covers and into the stories themselves…stories that are resonating with my students and the different life experiences they bring into the classroom every day?
I wondered, as they spied the table in front of my room…the one with extra copies of the day’s assessment (this was, after all, the beginning of the day with many more students to test)…if they saw only a teacher’s basic supplies…sticky notes, staplers, paperclips. Did they possibly notice my “Hot Reads” books…the ones I spend time reading aloud to my kids each day…the ones we talk about…make connections with…learn more about life through? And those sticky notes…they did think they were just for marking random things, or did they know that they’re used as bookmarks in the classroom, faithfully moved forward through so many books until they either wear out or students finish their books…the same students who started the year by claiming they weren’t readers.
I wondered, as they asked my students, “What have you been studying,” and my students answered, to my heartfelt delight, “text structures,” if they heard more than rote language. Was it possible that they were able to glimpse that students were learning history while in an “English” class…that they were discovering how certain stereotypes were created and fostered over the years?
Then, as these observers left the room, I wondered if they might have taken one more look back and noticed the cap and gown near the door. Did they see these items as just that, or did they see students gazing upon the cap ang gown, envisioning themselves wearing these items in the next couple of years? Did they see the potential the cap and gown represent…the whispered promise that anyone can become anything?
As they closed the door after their fifteen minute visit, did they see this poster?
Fifteen minutes isn’t nearly enough time to observe my students being all of these things, because in my class, we don’t just learn about reading or English, and we don’t just take tests (hardly ever, truth be told).
We learn about life.
We learn how to have manners, how to treat each other with respect, how to work as a team, and how to stretch our brains beyond what we think we know.
We learn that no matter what our home lives are like, the moment we step into the classroom, we are part of a family where we aren’t judged by our skin colors, religious preferences, test scores, or reading levels.
We learn that everyone’s opinions matter and there’s something to be learned from everything. We learn that nobody is better than the person sitting beside or in front him or her.
We learn to dream big, aim high, and try harder when we fall short. We learn that we will be held accountable for our actions, our hard work, and even our laziness.
I wonder…did my observers see the real classroom…the real people…the real hearts beneath the surface?