Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Giving High-Fives

Teachers don’t stand at their doors here. That’s different than the public school I retired from where the administration “strongly suggested” [read often demanded] that we stand by our doors during passing periods. The reason there, of course, was that in the public school, fights, drug deals, harassment, and inappropriate behavior could be deterred by the visible presence of a teacher. Here we don’t have those problems.

One of the good things that grew out of greeting the students at the door happened quite by accident. During third quarter a student walking into my History and Thought of Western Man class was feeling goofy and gave me a high-five. When I responded, the student following him wanted one too. And so on… and so on. Within a couple of days students began expecting high-fives. If I was late getting to the door, they waited for me before coming in. It became a game of community—and fairly quickly the woman I taught with felt left out and joined in too. Each beginning of that class became a celebratory event.

After a couple of weeks, I began noticing that that class’ camaraderie was more visibly positive. They seemed to feel good about themselves and each other more than the other History and Thought class that didn’t do it.

When I questioned some students about their perception of a change and what they thought the high-five was doing, one young lady told me:

“You’re the first teacher who ever made me feel like you wanted me in your classroom. I came to class one day, embarrassed that I hadn’t read the assignment—and you still gave me a high-five. I didn’t feel like I deserved it, but you still made me feel like you cared that I was there.”

I’d like to report that her class grades dramatically improved. They didn’t. But what did change exponentially was her involvement with and interest in the class. She knew I cared more about her than her grades—and that made the class easier for her to take.

On my last day with that class, the students formed a long line so they could all give me one last high-five. It was the most appropriate parting present they could have given.

So two years later I’m at a new school where I’m very happy, but I realized today that I am one of the few teachers standing at my door. Last week I shared with my freshman class about the high-fives and they have now bought into their own tradition—a couple are very tentative, some smack my hand as hard as they can seeing if I’ll flinch, one even had to do it a couple of times today to make sure the sound and the hit was to his liking. It’s contagious also. The teacher who shares the room before me said the day we started it, “I want one too.” So now he and I also high-five a greeting as I walk in.

Call it goofy, hokey, whatever you want. But I’m going to be interested in seeing how the sense of community grows.

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