What students need the mostly

Are you frustrated sometimes by the fact that your students seem disengaged and not interested in the lesson?  Do you often wonder about what else you can do to get them involved and to participate?
As a responsible teacher, you know the material, read the standards, prepare lessons, keep your eyes on the high stakes test, correct homework, keep accurate records, try to deliver your lessons in a fun and dynamic way and make a constant effort to get to know your students.  It sure seems like a lot, and indeed it is, given that you most likely teach five lessons and see a large number of students each day.
For how many of your students doing what it is asked of them in school is easy and comes naturally?   Robert Redford was quoted in an interview with AARP magazine talking about school days: “It was hard to sit and listen to somebody talk.  I wanted to be out, educated by experience and adventure, and I didn’t know how to express that”.  You might not want to share this with your students in an effort to get them more involved with school and learning; I am sharing this with you as a way to get us to think together about our student’s needs.
Most likely your students have become accustomed to using several technologies on a daily basis like cell phones and computers, and they are comfortable with managing several things at the time, for example: texting a friend and talking to another while listening to their I-pod music.  This state of affairs in their daily life might make it more difficult for them to “just sit and listen to somebody talk” to use Redford’s words about his world, a few years back.
But where does this leave us? Can we run schools having students get all their lessons from a computer or a cell phone? Should we? Or is it still valuable to create a learning community in our classroom and have students learn to discuss, share, criticize and draw conclusions, while they interact with each other? I believe it is.
Learning is social, and while students construct their own learning starting from what they know, they have also the ability to learn from one another, and to learn social skills under the guidance and direction of a caring teacher.  So I will say that in my opinion one of the things that students need mostly from us is that we care.  That is the first C of community.  Maybe this goes without saying it, because if you are teacher you care about students.  However, it is important to think about it and to acknowledge that it is of value for our students, as well as to find appropriate ways to express it. I will explore this topic at another time.
In a true community, people feel a connection to each other. Think of your family, or your church, perhaps the two most basic community experiences.  If we want to create a learning community in our classroom, we must foster connection between our pupils, we are learning together, from one another because when I have a question for the class and a student answers it, the others listen and might then have other questions, which when asked, can be answered by anyone in the class, not only the teacher.  Students need to feel welcome to participate in this dialogue, with a common understanding that we are all seeking answers, making conjectures, and analyzing results.  We as teachers are also learning during this process, maybe not the answers to the actual questions, but how our students think, what interests them, and much more.  Connected thus gives us the second C in Community.
Now let me ask you, why are you a teacher?  Why do people go to work as doctors and secretaries and bus drivers, besides the fact that we all have bills to pay?    I believe it is because we need to contribute.  Students need to feel that by their efforts, they contribute to the collective process of constructing knowledge.  They need to be celebrated for their accomplishments, congratulated for their success, told they are doing a good job, encouraged to move on to more contributions.  Contributing is the third C of community.
You do not have to agree with my ideas, you are welcome to comment and contribute your own.  This is meant as food for thought, a starting point for discussion, to create our own community, share our own thoughts and learn from each other.
In my next blog I will share some of the ways I have used to build community in the classroom, maybe some of these will also work for you.  Do you have some to share? I would like to hear from you.
Thanks for being here and welcome to paths to math pilot program!