Made a promise. Gonna keep it. But it’s not a “hafta keep;” it’s a “wanna keep.” I have done varied versions of Community Circle in my room for years now, and while some of my colleagues have openly suggested that it’s a waste of time, I have found it to be among the best teacherly decisions of my career. Getting to know our kids and giving them opportunities to know us and each other is not a waste of time. It may be one of the most important things we do. Rita Pierson suggests that kids won’t learn from people they don’t like. But even more, I believe, kids won’t learn from people they don’t know. Kids won’t learn from people who don’t know them. And ultimately, kids won’t learn from people who don’t care about them. Caring requires knowing. As a teacher, I know to care, so I care to know. And so, I do. A few weeks ago, the kids and I settled on doing Community Circle on the first Friday of each month. I made a promise, a promise I am pleased to keep. But what my current kids don’t know is that I made a similar promise to myself long ago.
I wonder if they know
That I failed Marina.
Too late I learned
She wanted to teach.
Too late. For,
I had already placed her on
The 16-and-pregnant track.
I will not tell
We have community circle
I will never not
Know my kids again.
–from “I Wonder if They Know,” From Seed to Apple, 2013
These two stanzas are from a poem that I wrote as a requirement of the Washington State Teacher of the Year competition in 2013. All the competitors had to submit a story to the From Seed to Apple publication. Unable to dredge up a Chicken-Soup-for-the-Soul story from my classroom, I instead wrote a poem revealing some of my less-flattering experiences, experiences of which I was not proud but were nonetheless some of my most important moments as a teacher.
And this moment with Marina, ranks among the top. She was not a good student. She was dating an older boy. In the classroom, she was a wallflower, and I let her fade into the background. And then, near the end of the year, in a community-circle-type discussion, she revealed–earnestly–that she wanted to be a teacher. Rocked my very foundation. It may have been the first time that she really made eye contact with me all year, the first time that she had said something for months, the first time I realized my monumental mistake. How dare I not know. How dare I script her story based on my perceived notion that 16 and pregnant was the fate in her cards. And it was then that I vowed to never not know my kids again. All my kids.
And while it’s been a promise only partly kept, for we do not do CC every Friday, I have kept the spirit of the promise as I have created other ways to create a “culture of knowing” in my classroom. Presently, we begin every period with a connections activity before we do anything else. It is priority one, and I join the kids in the activity every day. And today, the first Friday, we will have Community Circle. Promise kept. I will never not know my kids again.
Happy Friday, all. Have a fabulous weekend.