Working in a title 1 school (low income, high poverty) has changed who I am on so many levels. Not only has it made me realize things about myself I did not know before and didn’t necessity always like, I discovered things I’m actually really good at and it opened my eyes to so many new and seemingly “crazy” teaching practices. Part of what you sign up for when you take a job at a title 1 school is that you are not only 23 kids educator, but now you are now also their personal mentor, therapist, social skills teacher, voice of reason, most often only consistent adult in their life, etiquette and manners teacher, mind reader, psychic who can anticipate behavior before it happens, referee, and magician.
Title 1 children, more often than one can imagine, bring the stress and uncertainty from their home lives into the classroom. Many have so much to deal with at home that when they come to school they either act out, sleep all day, space out, or shut down altogether.
Imagine a time when you have to sit in a long meeting…your mind starts to wander, your whole body starts to feel antsy, and you stop hearing what is being said. You find an excuse to get up by using the bathroom just so you can get up to stretch your legs and get the blood flowing again. When you return to the meeting you feel refreshed, more alert, and awake. Now imagine you are 6yrs old trying to learn how to read a clock, 11 years old trying to sit and learn the elements of the periodic table, or 17 years old and trying to keep up taking endless notes off of the smartboard on the Industrial Revolution and you are not allowed to get up to stretch you legs. Kids of all backgrounds and home lives struggle with this. Now imagine you are a child from a home where you have to take on a parental role to your younger siblings, where you don’t sleep much at night because the two siblings you share a bed with won’t go to sleep or take up a lot of space. You don’t get the choice to just slip out of the room to “stretch your legs” and clear your mind. You are expected to sit in one seat for hours on end learning. Usually, the teacher will yell at you to stop moving, to sit down, or to stop talking. Well, times have changed, people! It’s not 1924 anymore. Kids should not be expected to sit in utter silence, not move, or speak, just as we as adults couldn’t imagine being forced to do.
During the day as we transition from subject to subject or after sitting for more than 6 minutes on the carpet, I will put on a Fitbound video (the karate one is my class’s favorite) and my kids LOVE to get their wiggles out that way! Afterward, we take deep breaths, refocus on learning, and then continue on with what were doing.
In my 1st grade classroom, movement and “appropriate voice level discussion” is encouraged. I play soft instrumental songs of “today’s hits” all day while we work and often during a whole group activity/project I will put on music and I have found, after 6 years of doing this, the students will end up standing at their seat, quietly sing along while they do their work. They are MORE focused and on task! They are STANDING, SHIFTING their bodies from side to side with the beat, SINGING quietly along WHILE they work. This practice is something many teachers would shake their heads at and say, “No no, my class would go crazy.” But I tell you; I have done this with 4yr olds, 6yr olds, and 10yrs olds. It works because one, the kids feel they have control over the situation due to the “freedom” of being allowed to stand and sing along. And two, their brains are getting more blood pumped to it faster than if sitting still, therefore they are more alert. They are now ready to learn.
In my class, we practice “flexible seating” where students have the freedom to choose where they sit whether it is to lay or sit on the floor, sit or stand at a desk, table, or a mini couch. They may do their work on a lap tray or using a clipboard. There is no “bathroom rule,” if you have to go, you just go. I try to implement real life practices in my classroom- the students know to wait (unless it’s an emergency) until the whole group mini-lesson is over before they use the bathroom, get water or use a tissue. I feel this freedom of movement better helps my students take care of their movement needs without disrupting learning.
After being shocked at the realization that there were many students in the low income, high poverty elementary school that I work in were missing out on the joy that a bike brings them, I decided to create a GoFundMe to get all 650 students in my school a new bike, lock, and helmet. I chose a bike because it not only represents the basic childhood right which is a right to joy, it is a memory and experience children have been sharing in for decades and decades, it is a sense of ownership over something of true value when many low income, high poverty students don’t have anything that is truly theirs- not even bed, which is often shared by multiple people in the home, it provides freedom and escape from a possibly less than pleasant home life, it is a type of transportation, and it also is EXERCISE! Kids’ riding their bikes to and from school is always a great way to begin and end a day, keeping them alert and focused. Riding a bike keeps students healthy and blood flowing to their brain. Students are less likely to sit on the couch watching TV all day when they own a bike; they are going to be out in the neighborhood racing around with their friends exercising even though they don’t even know it! All of this affects their learning in the classroom as well! As adults, when we are healthier and have joy in our lives we are more awake, alert, in a better mood, and learn better. Kids are the same way! The more we incorporate exercise into their day as much as possible with only enhance their learning, not take away from it.
If you are interested in learning more about my mission to provide joy in the lives of low income, high poverty students, please check out my nonprofit, Going Places. https://www.gofundme.com/GoingPlaces2017