One of the most enjoyable parts of my day is standing in front of my door between classes (weird, I know). The door to my classroom is situated at the corner of our upstairs hallway, neighboring and adjacent to two other teachers’ doors. All three of us observe students as they walk to class.
“Morning, Mr. Boutin.”
“How’s your day, Jesús?”
I would wager that I know eighty percent of the students who pass my room on a daily basis. By June, it will be ninety-five. This sense of community is one of the reasons I love working in a small school. Like or not, students in a small school have no choice but to work with a small group of teachers who know their name, background, strengths, needs, and personalities intimately.
Had you walked into the first day of my sophomore world history class last semester, you might have mistook it for the middle of the year. Nearly all of my students knew me from having taken my language arts class their freshman year, advisory, or from having talked with me in the hallway. The only student I didn’t know was the one who had just moved to SeaTac. When I called their parents in the following weeks, it wasn’t to introduce myself, but rather to ask how their summer had gone and if they had any updates for me on what was going on with their student at home.
Small schools can benefit all kinds of students, but they’re particularly effective with reluctant learners – or maybe I should say reluctant trusters. If you’ve ever tried learning from someone you didn’t trust, then you’ve probably had the experience of many of our students. Sitting in a classroom with someone you may not believe has anything of value to offer you is a lot like trying to drink coffee that’s too hot. You may try a sip or two, but soon you simply give up until it cools down.
Last year, a phenomenal colleague went out on maternity leave at ACE. A long-term sub was brought in to fill her place in November, and by January, many of her students were reshuffled into my class for second semester. A handful of these students I only knew by name and through brief interactions in the hallway. Confronted with learning to trust a new teacher and a new way of doing things understandably frustrated them, and my principal can attest that it literally took me the remainder of the semester to convince many of them that I was worth listening to, learning from, and working for.
As sophomores, those same students often engage in my classes eagerly. Their metaphorical coffee has cooled.
In my “Defining an Education” post, I noted that supportive adults and peers are essential part of any students education. There is no easier structure to ensure those supportive relationships than the small school.