How you can build strong, amazing classroom culture

By: Mark Joseph, 6th grade math teacher, KIPP Rise Academy

Every time I watch Stand and Deliver I have the same thought: I want the type of classroom culture Jaime Escalante has. Loving and inspiring and energizing and more. The type of classroom where, as well tell our kids, anything is possible because it actually is.

But how do you build that culture in your classroom?

Shea Serrano has my favorite answer in his A Teacher’s Reward:

Teaching was a far more intense job than I’d anticipated. You have to learn the curriculum. You have to learn how to test the curriculum. You have to learn how to manage children who think they’re grown-ups (and how to manage grown-ups that behave like children). You have to learn how to weave differentiated instruction into the lessons you’re building and also you have to learn what “differentiated instruction” means. You have to learn how to manage the tiny amount of time you get with each class each day. You have to learn when and how to discipline your students and you have to learn when and how to let them just exist as children, because they are children. You have to learn all of that. Every single piece. It’s all important. But you only ever really have to be good at one thing: Making sure your students know that you absolutely, no question, no doubt, for sure, 100 percent want to be in that particular classroom with those particular kids. If you do that, shit usually works out.

The idea is a simple one; it’s the execution that can be difficult. Kids need to know you care in a way that’s authentic to you. I’ve seen many newer teachers mess this up because they think they need to be cool or be strict or 100% imitate/replicate the best teacher they’ve ever observed when they really need to just be themselves and care deeply in a way that’s true for them. Because kids have the best bullshit detectors in the world. They can tell when you’re faking and they can tell when it’s real.

Share who you are and what you love with your kids and I guarantee, over time, that they’ll do the same.

Maybe you’re into Chance the Rapper. Or Hamilton. Or both. Share those songs with them and let the kids share their songs too.

Or maybe you’re into poetry and Harry Potter and John Green. Share that writing with them and, if you like to write, share that as well.

Or maybe you like to write cards. Write them. You’ll be surprised how many kids write back.

Or maybe you love movies. Take a few to see Lion. Or have a bunch stay after school to watch Creed.

Or maybe dodgeball is your thing or laser tag or crafting or [insert literally a thousand different things here].

The truth is: it actually doesn’t matter what you’re into as long as you’re the genuine person you are when you’re not trying to impress anyone. The person who listens to Dire Straits when you’re alone in the car (or whoever it is that you really like and you don’t care who knows). Kids will gravitate towards that person. They’ll respect that person. Honestly, I think they’ll fall in love with that person – flaws and all.

And while all this is happening, you’ll fall in love with your kids.

Sure, your classroom culture will be great.

But, trust me, this is even better.

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This is a guest post on the KIPP New Jersey Blog. More information about the author can be found in the title line or in the brief bio at the end of their guest post.