What are the differences between teaching kindergartners and 5th graders?
“In some ways, the two are very different. For kindergartners, often times, this is the first time they have even been in a classroom setting before unless they attended pre-K. There is a certain level of wonder, excitement and energy that’s so contagious, but also has to be guided. Kindergartners require you to be more ‘on’ when they walk into the room: happier, chipper, excited. With fifth graders you can have more engaging conversations and dive deeper into topics. You can joke more and have a stronger relationship with them as they see things on a deeper, higher level. Both classes, though, have their own version of autonomy and both grades bring their experiences and lives into the classrooms in unique and engaging ways.”
There’s been a lot of positive talk about the “Maurice’s Words” activity you’ve introduced; can you talk about it with us?
“The words activity, which is more of a question, is something I started on a whim one day so that I could learn about my students better. Every day I pose a single question that the boys, originally, had to answer in one word. Over time, we broadened it to be more expansive, allowing boys to answer in short sentences. Sometimes the questions are comical, sometimes they are political, and sometimes they deal with current events. The point of the words is to give students the freedom to speak their mind in a safe space, to learn more about one another, and ultimately, for me to understand them better. You’d be surprised at what information you gather about our students when they have the freedom to speak their minds. It’s been a huge success and a lot of teachers, and students, look forward to it. I’ve noticed, if I don’t do it, the classroom is off-kilter for the rest of the day.”
How does being a male of color influence your teaching? Does it at all?
“As a Black man, I inherently bring a part of myself into the classroom. I bring a different point of view that many students might not have experienced. Being Black is part of who I am. I cannot separate that from my being and I can’t separate it from my teaching. I believe I influence the boys in a positive way by giving them a new perspective, but also giving fellow boys of color a role model to look up to.”
Describe our boys and school in 3 words.
“Transforming, family-oriented, and busy, in the best sense.”
What does “Many Ways to Be a Boy” mean to you?
“To me, a boy is a being of knowledge, curiosity, strength, and hope. One who will make mistakes and continue to grow from the outcomes, whether they are ready or not. Even though they may feel like they have painted their canvas, it is just a speck on something larger. Boys may confuse movement for progress, but there’s beauty in whatever the struggle may be. A boy just is. Create what you seek to be and lean into the idea of knocking it down to start anew.”