Joy in the Classroom

I recently took my grandsons to Lake Delton’s school’s playground. When my older grandson asked me if I’d ever brought my students here, I told him I had. Years instantly melted away and memories, like welcoming ghosts, rose from the familiar ground.

I was fortunate to have taught fourth grade for over 30 years at that close-knit, community-minded school. The building and this playground hold many happy memories.

As an incentive for students to finish work and follow the rules, I had what I called FFTs, “Friday Fun Times,” which were often held at this park. For the small investment of 30 minutes a week, I saw many benefits, including a chance to bond with my students. 

I recalled not being able to connect to a new non-English speaking student until he and I spent a FFT trying to keep a beach ball in the air. He was much more athletic than me and during the event, we laughed at my ineptitude, communicated through exclamations, and ultimately bonded. He was willing to work hard for me after that day, and every once in a while, he and I caught each other’s eye, and we broke out in smiles.

FFTs were also a chance to provide outdoor education and enjoy nature and the various seasons. Whether it was holding spring duckling races, watching the fuzzy waddlers splash in puddles, participating in scavenger hunt, piling up fall leaves and jumping in them, or ice skating on the small pond during those years when the city provided a skating rink, students had fun.

Likewise, during those carefree moments when children glided across the ice and joyfully tried spins, often twirling with their classmates, they formed friendships and brought joy to their school day. 

While I appreciate the need for squeezing out every second for academics especially now that many children are behind due to the pandemic, these FFTs set them up for success. Educators are farther ahead if students enjoy school, since then they’re often willing to read or do homework or extra projects beyond the school day.

FFTs were also a chance for the less academic students to shine. I recall a game of capture the flag where a girl fell and cut her leg. A boy who struggled with reading but knew first aide impressed his classmates and me with his medical knowledge and quick actions. For the rest of the day, he held his shoulders back with a new-found confidence.

In William Glasser’s The Motivated Student, he writes: “Walk into any great classroom, and the feeling of fun is palpable. It can be seen on the faces of the students. Just as importantly, it’s seen on the faces and in the body language of the teacher. This doesn’t mean there is chaos and foolishness going on. On the contrary, the best classrooms are characterized by focused work in a joyful atmosphere.” (p. 42)

This year students and staff are faced with challenges like never before. My wish is that along with learning and growing, they can find their own FFTs, pockets of joy in their day. Here's to a terrific school year.

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