In my opinion, one of the most important and most difficult standard of the Internship Program Standards to maintain well in the classroom is number 5, Learning Environment. This standard states “5. Learning Environment – The teacher fosters and manages a safe and inclusive learning environment that takes into account: physical, emotional and intellectual well-being.” While at the outset this standard does not seem difficult because it’s all about relating well to students (which any teacher should be able to and want to do), it’s a difficult standard to maintain consistently throughout the year. As the workload increases and the pressure builds for academic achievement sometimes the simple acts of building relationships and nurturing well-being can fall lower and lower on the list of priorities.
The substandard of this criteria which I have really tried to focus on in order to maintain a consistently positive classroom environment is the first, 5.1: “Creating an Environment of Respect and Rapport:Teacher-student interactions are friendly and demonstrate general caring and respect. Such interactions are appropriate to the age and cultures of the students. Students exhibit respect for the teacher.” I have found that if I can truly invest time up front in authentically building strong relationships with each and every student, then the maintenance of a positive learning environment almost does the work for me later on. It is so essential for a teacher to build rapport and trust with each student if the student is to trust the teacher enough to take the risks necessary to learn. Building this kind of relationship requires the teacher to really get to know each student as an individual, understand their likes and dislikes, and nurture that which needs nurturing within them, regardless of any personal feelings the teacher may have. An example of the importance of this standard occurred for me in the first couple of weeks of my internship. During the first week I struggled a lot with one student, T. T seemed to constantly be in a bad mood, testing the limits with peers and his teacher, and making inappropriate and disrespectful comments. I had a really hard time liking this student. At the end of the first week, while reflecting on the relationships I was building with my students, T was the only one whom I did not feel good about. I decided to do whatever I could to find something I liked about him as soon as possible – I made it my number one priority. The next week I noticed that he seemed to have an extensive knowledge of animals. With this in mind I went to pick the class up from lunch a few minutes early so that I could sit and talk with T for a bit. During that conversation I asked him about his favorite animals, I joked with him about the animals he was eating at the time (chicken nuggets), and I imagined with him different terrifying animal hybrids. Together we created a new, horrifying animal creature named Father Nightmare. T talked for the entire rest of the afternoon about Father Nightmare, and at the end of the day I asked if he could draw a picture for me. The next morning he was the first to come into the classroom and say hi to me, and proudly presented me with his portrait of Father Nightmare.
From that day on T has been one of my most enjoyable students. I love chatting with him and imagining strange and funny scenarios, and generally hearing about the incredibly interesting perspective he has on the world. Without spending the significant effort and investment in building rapport with T, I might not have seen how great he is, and I would have certainly struggled with his behavior and learning for the remainder of the internship.
If I had to choose only one performance standard to abide by as a teacher, I think it would be Learning Environment. After experiencing my own classroom during my internship, I firmly believe that no real learning or growth can occur without a strong foundation of trust and care that comprises a positive environment.