Classroom Climate

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Chapter 6: Classroom Climate

Classroom climates must be created.  I am not always successful in creating a trusting environment that encourages learning, but I know how important climate is, and I spend a good deal of energy on trying to develop a good climate.  If we visit a zoo and walk into the carnivore house, the one with pacing lions and tigers, our blood pressures rise as soon as we smell the carnivores, even if we do not see them.  Conversely, our blood pressure drops when we enter a barn and inhale the earthy, non-threatening smell of herbivores.  This is probably due to eons of evolutionary conditioning.  We are often not consciously aware that the levels of anxiety have changed, and what we, as teachers, may view as a generally warm and pleasant environment may be charged with tension for some students.

A former student, working for a local paper, once interviewed me.  John was a very polite and respectful young man who had worked his way through top level courses in high school.  I asked him what college he attended.  To my surprise, he confided that he had entered and dropped out of six or seven colleges in the decade since he graduated from high school.

“John, why is that?  You were a good student in high school.”

He looked at me and put his writing pad on his lap.  “I was scared stiff in high school.”

My shock intensified.  “Scared?  Why?  You were fine in class.”

“Yeah, in class, but I was terrified of using the bathrooms.  I was afraid of getting mugged in there.”

“Were you ever attacked in the lavatory?”

“No, but I worried about it all the time.  Same in college…I always got nervous about the living conditions so I kept on changing schools.  Maybe I will go back one day and finish my degree.”

John may have succeeded at what we call “playing school,” making the grades, appeasing the teachers and administrators, but his fear of imagined incidents prevented authentic learning.

I try to create a relaxed climate in which student fears are minimized and learning is maximized.  One of the ways to achieve that productive atmosphere is to be in control of the class.  Control does not mean that I march up and down the rows periodically whacking my riding crop against the tops of student desks.  Control means that the students believe I know what I am doing, that I genuinely care about them as people and as students, and, most importantly, that I will not let others prey on them verbally or otherwise.  There is also a difference between resting and relaxing.  A deer, pursued in the forest by a predator, may rest to catch its breath, but it is not relaxed as it is still participating in the chase.

I observed a class in which students were working on various projects.  Three or four had their heads on the desk, asleep, saliva dripping from the corners of their mouths.  One student was lying prostrate on the windowsill snoring.  The teacher saw me watching these students and explained, “I run a relaxed classroom.”  The purpose for a relaxed climate is so students learn readily.  That purpose is not achieved if they are sleeping.  No one sleeps in my class.  I want my students relaxed, not comatose.


 



Last Updated on Saturday, 13 November 2010 17:34

 

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A Class Act--Teaching for Smarties

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