Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Real World in a Classroom

Courage! What makes a king out of a slave? Courage! What makes the flag on the mast to wave? Courage! What makes the elephant charge his tusk in the misty mist, or the dusky dusk? What makes the muskrat guard his musk? Courage! What makes the sphinx the seventh wonder? Courage! What makes the dawn come up like thunder? Courage! What makes the Hottentot so hot? What puts the "ape" in apricot? What have they got that I ain't got? 
~The Cowardly Lion

One of my all time favorite movies when I was growing up was The Wizard of Oz.  I can vividly remember as a six year old getting ready for the yearly, evening time broadcast on our family television.  Oh! If I could have only had some of those ruby slippers, the places I might have gone.  As I got older I soon realized that there was no such thing as ruby slippers and if I wanted to go anywhere, then I had better figure out how to drive a car and make some money.

Decades later, I've never forgotten the lessons that Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion learned on their way to see the Wizard of Oz.  And as the Cowardly Lion so eloquently puts it in his quote, having the courage to step out and try new experiences is a lesson that all teens should master if they truly wish to reach their personal goals.

Much like Dorthy and her travel companions, who each had different reasons for seeing the wizard, students in the classroom need to be accepted for being different and having different life goals.  This acceptance is established when the teacher implements activities that are specifically meant for helping students to become familiar with each other and eliminating fears of acceptance.  There are countless resources and websites devoted to helping students overcome fear, but I found the most useful way as a classroom teacher was to create experiences that challenged them to step outside their comfort zones and "just do it."

In addition to these challenges, students should be supported through encouragement, teamwork building, and through a positive environment that allows them to feel comfortable and accepted by not only the teacher, but most importantly, from their peers. This effort proves beneficial in creating a lasting bond among students in the class. Even the Wicked Witch from the West was unable to keep Dorthy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion from fulfilling their unique, personal goals. Did they really need the wizard anyway?

With regard given to rigor and high expectations, I always tried to give assignments that challenged students to create and to produce a little more each time.  If I wanted students to give a presentation that included a visual aid, on the first day of class, I paired them up with a buddy and made them introduce each other to the class.  If I wanted them to write a persuasive essay, I made them write one and read it to the class.  If I wanted them to conduct research on a topic, they researched and gave a presentation that included a visual aid.  Every assignment was created to scaffold succeeding assignments and designed to motivate each student to become more confident in researching, speaking, questioning, and presenting their knowledge.  By the end of the semester, when an assignment was due, students knew it would include a paper, a presentation, and a visual aid. So much for being the "wizard." I almost felt sad because they no longer needed me to tell them what to do.

As for The Wizard of Oz, I'll never forget how sad I felt at the end of the movie each time I watched it.  I'll also never forget how much I thought about how the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion looked like those men who worked for Dorthy's Uncle Henry and Auntie Em. Comparatively speaking, I've often wondered if students have ever had experiences after high school that reminded them of lessons they learned in class.  I know I have. 

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