As I start a new school year in a new school teaching a new grade level, I find it slightly ironic that the first theme that my textbook series addresses is courage. As I start another school year, I have thought deeply about courage and mix of emotions that come into play that very first day of school. Many may not readily admit it, but the first day of the school year for both teachers and students is filled nervousness and unease. A first impression is extremely important, and a good first day can set the tone for a very productive school year.
My colleagues use ice breakers, engage in explicit instruction of routines, and pay careful attention to individual students to create ideal learning conditions. For many teachers, the start of the school year is the time when they are on high alert when it comes to their classroom culture and individual identity of their students. For example, some teachers focus on one aspect of a student as a method to remember names; I have been “blue-eyed Brandon” more than once. It is important to sustain the attention on a positive classroom culture and the identity of individuals when ice breakers are no longer appropriate and academic content needs to be taught.
Once we are in the swing of things, one reason why I keep coming back to IWitness and continue to use it as a teaching tool is because it is easy to use the testimonies and activities that are within the site to discuss identity and difficulties that people have experienced in the past. The past gives a comfortable distance to talk about some of the difficult topics that are often impacting my students. Many of the students that have I taught have experienced real trauma and hardships.
Working in an urban school, it is common for the unease and nervousness to never end during the school year for select students. Using the testimony of others that have lived through difficult and overwhelming experiences helps students to see that others have faced difficulties and have coped with them and that they can too. That helps me to keep my classroom culture positive and helps students to think in more nuanced ways about themselves, their emerging identities, and their actions and treatment towards others.
Courage is not a feeling that comes naturally. Once the school year is underway and the ice breakers are over, the testimonies within IWitness are one key resource that helps me to show students that living courageously isn’t easy or natural, but it is possible even in extreme situations. That is an extremely important life lesson to learn.