By Kristi Law
The first day of my first year in the Magnet program in 2002, I said to the students, "All right, guys. I want to see what you can do. Take a few minutes and write for me." One of the boys came up and said, "Well, Mrs. Law, I would like to write about a guy who travels to another planet, so I'll need to know how many earth days it would take to get to Jupiter and back." A few minutes later we were in the media center. We got some books, we looked it up, and he finished his story.
In college they teach you how to write a curriculum but they don't teach you how to manage a class of 32 kids. One of my goals that I work on every day is becoming a good listener. I did a teacher leadership program and they took us through Dr. Stephen Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The one that stuck was, "Seek first to understand and then to be understood," and it is something that I will work on until the day I die. When I have amazing days it is mostly because I have learned to be quiet. Truly being someone who listens and not just hears is about as innovative as it gets.
Photo by Brian Widdis
I am huge on empowering the students. We wrote a classroom constitution together with the kids that's got a bill of rights at the beginning. It's very clear. It covers our homework policy and exactly what's expected. We have a monetary system. We are teaching life skills and organizational skills, which is a must in our room of 75 third, fourth, and fifth graders. We even have sheriffs who handle all the "court cases." "So-and-so took my pencil out of my desk" --those small things that just take away from my energy and everything else that I'm doing, but are still important and need to be addressed. We've trained them, we've sat with them, we've talked to them. And then my teaching partners and I deal with the bigger issues that arise.
The project that I'm doing right now with my fifth graders is probably my favorite. It's our poetry unit. I have them analyzing songs. All the kids bring in lyrics of their choice. Any song they want as long as their parent signs off. The writing that I am getting from them is out of this world. I took something that meant a lot to them -- their music, what they listen to on a daily basis -- and said, "Apply what I taught you." To me, my job is to give them the content that I need to and then let them do what they want with it. I'm not saying that I don't support them or talk them through the assignments, but it is their work and I facilitate.
I always tell my kids, "If I'm bored, you must be bored!" We don't do "busy work" in our classroom. Every lesson involves doing projects, conversing, and problem solving. We work with an amazing engineering program called A World in Motion, brought to us by SAE International. The program partners us with real engineers and allows our students problem-solving experiences that help teach them the investigative process, communication skills, the laws of physics, and other scientific principles.
When you walk into my room there is a vibe that's different from any other classroom. There's a Tom-Cruise-jumping-on-couches kind of excitement. We dance together every day. I feel like I make the kids see a piece of themselves that they may not otherwise have seen until later in life. One of the things that I love the most is getting the quiet kids out of their shells. When I have a student who says, "Mrs. Law, I'm kind of shy," I always say, "Okay, we're going to find your inner Mrs. Law by the time we're done." And that's become the standing joke. By the end of the year their parents always say, "They found their Mrs. Law." That's what I love the most.
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Kristi Law teaches in the Magnet program for Talented and Gifted Student at Roosevelt Elementary School in Keego Harbor, Michigan. For the last fourteen years, she has been working tirelessly in the program to create the best learning environment for her third through fifth graders. Every day, Law goes beyond the role of a traditional teacher, making an effort to get to know every single one of her students.