I walked into my classroom this week and started making my plans. I picked a theme for my classroom--sort of nautical, but not in the rich people in casual clothes enjoying their days on the sailboat way, but rather a hardworking navy kind of way. I picked two quotes to start us out: A smooth sea never made a skillful sailor, and We are not passengers, we are crew.
I started to think about the second one in depth. The first makes sense, especially for incoming 6th graders: it's going to be tough but you're going to make it and be better for it. But the second one I chose because I want my students to see that they are active participants in their learning. It can't happen without them.
But then I started to reflect further on it. On any kind of endeavor when you are out in a group away from safety, whether you are in a canoe or on a sailboat or on the Appalachian Trail or sitting in a pre-algebra class, each person is key to the group's success. You can't leave folks behind and remain an intact crew. You need them, even if it doesn't appear obvious at the beginning.
Yes, the slowest hiker might hold you back at each crossroads, but it is good to pause and wait, have a drink and a snack. The younger sister in the center of the canoe without a paddle might seem like just a passenger until she stands up and helps get the cottonmouth out of the boat without tipping everyone into the river.
In a classroom, your crew includes many members that might seem like dead weight to you at first. The student who keeps asking the questions so that the teacher has to come up with more examples and it feels like he's wasting everyone's time because all you want is to get to the homework problems and get it done so that you don't have to do it after soccer practice. The student who blurts out the answers before the teacher finishes posing the problem. The student who points out the bunny that just hopped by outside, thus getting everyone off track to see what's going on (the same student is the first one to notice it is snowing, as well). The student who asks you for help during quiet work time. The student who asks the teacher for help during quiet work time and prompts a break out tutoring session in the back of the room.
These students are key to your success. It may not appear obvious, and if you are the sort of student for whom math comes easy, it may never appear obvious. But these students are part of your crew. Asking questions, providing distraction, seeking help--there will come a day when you didn't even realize you had that question. Or you will be in a lesson and hope that someone else will ask what you don't understand or can't even articulate. Students who seek clarification hone a good teacher's skills to a fine point. She will be a better teacher tomorrow because she answered good questions today. And distraction?
Who goes on a hike to prove they got there and back? You go on a hike to see birds and sky and mountains and rocks and animals and to talk with your fellow hikers. Who goes on a canoe trip to get to the destination and pitch a tent and go to sleep? You go on a canoe trip to see the world from a different angle. Distraction keeps us from getting lost in the goal.
Because in the end, pre-algebra is a step in a journey. Hell, even its name indicates its transitory nature. We are a crew together, we are all part of making this year happen, getting us all across its water to the other shore.
So find your space here and get comfortable. All of you deserve to be here, all of you have earned a spot on this crew. And all of us will sail successfully to the the shores of Algebra I. As your teacher, as your figurative captain, I will not let you fall. We will get there.