There are so many unspoken rules that a teacher needs to follow in order to make his or her students feel welcome, valuable, and safe. Most of my close interaction with students occurs in my two student assist periods. These small study halls have around between 7 and 12 students and are not your typical “study halls” where students work alone quietly.
We study. We practice. We play games. We work together. We have a good relationship where everyone is comfortable and we get a lot accomplished.
Here are the rules I try to follow (even with those who drive me crazy…especially them….)
- I tell students they look nice/their shirt is cute/their hair looks pretty (not every day, but when it really does)
- I give an extra quarter when someone doesn’t have enough money for breakfast.
- I notice when kids are hungry and I open up the snack cupboard.
- When we are having a good day, I tell them how nice it is to have a good day.
- When I’m disappointed or shocked at something they’ve done, I tell them.
- Every Friday, I ask students what they plan to do over the weekend and really listen.
- On the flip side, on Monday I ask them how their weekend was and really listen.
- If I see students outside of school, I just wave, say hi, or smile – but not all three so I don’t embarrass them – and then when we get back to school remind them, ask what they were doing and who they were with and really listen.
- I check students’ grades often and then say either, “Hey….Your grades are looking awesome. Wanna see?” or “Ummm…what’s going on in History? Let’s check it out.”
- I give students sticky notes to remind them to turn in missing work in their classes.
- If a student needs paper, pencils, tape, or any school supplies….they are available all the time – help yourself. Why should they be punished for not having a pencil? or why refuse to supply one…that just stops the whole flow of the class and nothing gets done. It’s funny because even at the end of the year, students still ask if they can use the supplies on the shelf every time and I have to say, “Really, you can use anything in here. You don’t have to ask. It’s ok. That’s why this stuff is here.” (I guess this is a sign of respect?)
- Every single day in study hall, I go around the room and say, “Alex, what are you going to work on this period? Brandon, what are you going to work on this period? Chad, what are you going to work on this period?” and if they say “Nothing” I say “Wrong” and I remind them of what they need to be working on.
- When students miss a day (or two, or three) I seek them out in homeroom their first day back to check on them. I give them a brief rundown of what they missed and I let them know that during study hall we will set goals to get their missing work done.
- I am consistent and I don’t change the game midway through. They know the routine.
- I make sure students know my schedule and where to find me. They know if they need help they can come to me anytime.
- I don’t do anything for them, I do it with them or show them how, but I won’t do it and it doesn’t take them long to figure that out.
It probably sounds like I’m too easy on them, or too nice, or more like their friend and maybe take too good of care of them by providing so much. Maybe it’s the mother in me, but I think I was like this before I became a mom too. In fact, in college, my roommates called me “Mother Mel.” For some students, this 50-minute study hall might be the most attention and meaningful interaction with adults they get all day.
Usually, at the end of the day, I am exhausted. I give constantly and it takes a lot of energy. I do it all day long – nonstop – but it doesn’t feel like I’m not getting anything back in return. Know what I mean?