“School is my favorite thing in my whole life!”
These are words that we all want to hear as educators. We want to know that the hard work and effort that we are putting into our career is paying off. We want to know that our children are learning the material and enjoying school while they are learning.
I knew that I wanted to be a teacher from the time I was in 2nd grade. I had some truly remarkable educators throughout the time that I was a student. While I cannot say that every teacher I had made the career choice for the right reasons, I did experience what it was like to be a student in the classroom of several teachers that truly cared about my education and leaving a lasting impression.
The educators that I remember making the biggest difference in my life were people that were not afraid of having fun. They did not hesitate to make learning exciting. They were passionate about what they taught. I could tell that when they taught, they had considered how they could make the material relevant and purposeful. From elementary school all the way through college, I met teachers that still challenge me to this day as I teach a group of children everything they need to know before leaving 1st grade.
I still remember the way my fourth grade teacher would teach us a new song after we had mastered the objectives of the week. I’m sure that my family remembers too. I used to come home every day singing “Froggy went a courtin‘ and he did ride. Uh huh. Uh huh.” I can imagine the repetition would get old really fast if you had to hear your child singing this all night long. Just ask my parents. The cool thing is that what my teacher did through that process was teach me how to enjoy education. She was not about drilling facts and shoving information. She taught us at a rate that we could process effectively and rewarded us through song as we mastered the material.
Another instance of making school exciting would be my high school history, government and economics teacher. Let’s face it. It’s hard to make history exciting. Unless you truly love history, it’s not the easiest subject to “learn.” However, my history teacher was definitely more passionate about what he was teaching than most teachers I have ever come into contact with in my life. He truly LOVED teaching his students.
He would give us projects that made learning meaningful. For example, I remember making a video for his economics class. We were asked to make a commercial for a product. My group chose to make a commercial for a “Reality Mote.” It was a remote that could pause time, fast forward, rewind and change the volume of life. We worked collaboratively. We shared with the class. We all wanted to do the project. Strange, huh? Twenty plus students WANTED to do a project outside of school to share with our peers. Those are the kinds of projects that you remember.
This video project from when I was in high school can be seen HERE.
I think back to elementary school when we were studying Medieval Times. I will never forget the teacher giving us the opportunity to “build” a castle. We spent a lot of time on this project and it’s one of my fondest memories of elementary school. We crafted furniture, built walls, and carefully painted cardboard to construct a miniature-scale castle, complete with moat and drawbridge. What do I remember from that project? I remember that I was EXCITED about learning the material. I remember that instead of cramming facts, the teacher allowed us to construct and build an understanding through experience.
I try to remember all of these projects when I teach my children. Each weekend when I’m planning lessons for the week, I try to think of projects that will make my kids excited about learning! It’s not always the easiest process. There have been times when I sat back and decided, “That went really well!” There have also been times that I’ve sat back and thought, “That was a disaster!”
In my opinion, we need both of those times to remind us how important this process is when we are planning. Not everything is going to go the way that we planned. Although we wish that it would, it’s just not practical. There are going to be things that we mess up but there are also going to be things that we hit right on the mark. All of these times are important to improve our effectiveness in the classroom.
The mistakes help us figure out how to do it better the next time. As we continue teaching, we figure out what works and what does not work. We decide how we can change it to make it better.
Then there are the times that we get it right. You know how those times feel. I’m talking about the times that you see the expressions on their faces change and you know that a lightbulb has turned on. The times when they look at you and say, “I get it!” It’s in these moments that we know we are being effective.
I have found that the times I try to make learning fun are the times that the learning really soars. I remember making a video in college for an assignment. The assignment was to create a “rap” to help teach any area of Language Arts that we chose. The result was The Alliteration Rap. Shortly after, I had some students that would be learning about alliteration. I wanted to make sure that when they were presented with the new information they would WANT to know more about it. I decided that this video was fun, upbeat and included movement and music. It was perfect for the students that I was teaching. My students that year, aced their assessment on alliteration. They could relate and that made all the difference.
If we truly want to see learning take place, we have to decide to make it RELEVANT. We face a ton of competition today outside of the classroom. Children are bombarded with entertainment everywhere they turn. The truth is that if we teach with passion and present information in exciting ways, our children will truly love what they are learning. Sure it takes more time. Sure it’s hard work. I assure you that every bit of the hard work is worth it, when a student looks at you with a smile on their face and truly understands the material that you have so purposefully wanted to share with them.
I challenge you to inspire your students to love learning by teaching in ways that they can truly relate to and enjoy. You won’t regret it. Challenge yourself to shy away from shoving facts and instead, maybe even sing a little tune. Your children won’t forget it and you will accomplish something truly great. You will teach your children that learning can be, dare I say it, fun!by