In 2002, my boyfriend (now husband) was a close-up magician. He could manipulate cards, create illusions and attract a crowd within seconds. As his interest in magic grew, so did his ideas. He decided to buy a snake and bring it with him to all of his shows. Needless to say, when I married him, I said yes to more than just him.
Although I wasn’t too keen on having a pet snake (her name is Panda), she quickly grew on me. Believe it or not, at first, I didn’t even want to go near the aquarium. But as teacher, I could see how students could be curious, amazed, intrigued and how easy it would be to have her spend time in our classroom and create memorable lessons that would have students excited and motivated to learn. My first year as a teacher, my husband was the one who came to take her out and show her my students. The next year, I had the courage to take her out myself and I haven’t stopped since. I’ve heard comments from parents saying their child was disappointed because they didn’t have the teacher who had the pet snake (little do they know, they get to meet her anyway). Some parents come up to me and say “Is it true?”. Yep.. it is.
When I read Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess (@burgessdave), I could instantly relate to his message. To increase student engagement, we have to transform our teaching and draw students in creatively. Would you want to be a student in your classroom? As Dave Burgess puts it, “Provide an uncommon experience for your students and they will reward you with an uncommon effort and attitude” (p.55). This has proven to be true on more occasions than one. It just takes the right hook and you’ve got their full attention.
Bringing in my snake in the classroom has taught me that those somewhat disconnected students come alive when they are presented unique learning opportunities and that I can overcome my own fears. However this year’s learning experience has reminded me to be the deliverer of good news.
I’ve always been one to express gratitude towards others who have helped me or taught me valuable lessons. When someone merits a compliment, I deliver and at this one particular moment, the timing was just right.
You see, every year, Panda comes to stay a short while in my classroom and as always, other classes ask to come to visit her too. I invite them to come when my students are in gym or music class so I can give them the full experience. As I was hosting this one class, one kid in particular was bright-eyed and in awe. Full of questions. Curious as can be. I answered the students’ questions, made them predict her colour and length and explained her needs. This one student, who I’ve spoken to on many occasions on the playground, came to me afterwards and thanked me for letting his class see Panda as the other students were walking back to their classroom. I smiled and said “It’s my pleasure, you’re so welcome!”. The next day, when I crossed him in the hall, he thanked me again. And again at lunch, and again the next day! I thought it was so thoughtful that he’d be so thankful, for this experience must have been very special to him.
A week later, as I was leaving the daycare after dropping off my kids in the morning, I held the door open for this grateful student. He went inside and got his things in order. As I waited for his mom and younger sibling who were further behind to come through the door, I stopped her, asked her if she was this student’s mom and she instantly looked at me worried. I presented myself as the 1st grade teacher and explained how her son had come into my classroom to see Panda and that he had really impressed me with his big heart and kind words. I described to her how every time we crossed paths he would sincerely thank me for letting him see Panda, and that I just wanted to let her know that her son was extremely polite and grateful. Tears instantly filled her eyes and I didn’t know what to say. She genuinely thanked me for the message because her son had recently been written up for a major incident at school, and the positive message I delivered at that particular moment was just what she needed to hear.
Of course, I could have just greeted her, held the door open and carried onto my classroom, but I didn’t because I wanted to deliver my message. The chance presented itself, so I took it and I’m glad I did. Who doesn’t like to have a thoughtful note in their mailbox or to be stopped for a candid compliment? When you have something nice to say, say it. You never know how much of an impact your message may have on someone’s day.