This morning I was coming down the hall toward my classroom, about fifteen minutes before my next class was due to begin, when I heard a gentle adult voice coming from the 6th Grade room. I eavesdropped for a moment, decided there was some inspiration to be had here, went to my room for my notebook, and quietly slipped into Steve's room.
The students were sitting at tables taking notes while Steve was quietly talking at the front of the room. He had made a careful diagram of his main points on the board, and I could see that the students had just as carefully copied the diagram into their notebooks. I asked one student if I could examine her notebook and was impressed by the neatness and thoroughness of it -- and all the notebooks seemed to be of a similar quality. Steve was engaging the students in a conversation about the topics on the board -- a conversation that I would describe as totally cordial. He kept a slight and friendly smile on his face, looked attentively at each student as he or she spoke, and occasionally put out his hand toward a student in a gesture of appreciation or congratulation. He presented a comforting and accepting appearance to the students, which made for a comforting and accepting atmosphere in the room.
I then slipped into Carol's room and sat for just a few minutes with a group of four students who were discussing a book among themselves. (Carol was sitting with another group.) I was instantly impressed (as I have been in the past by her small groups). The students conducted their discussion in a more proper and polite manner than many adult groups I've been in. They looked at the person speaking, gave helpful feedback, and stayed on the topic. A few times, when they began drifting from the topic, one or other of them said, "We're off topic", and they instantly got back on track. I was impressed by the fact that they paid no attention whatsoever to me. They were engrossed in their discussion -- looking, listening, pondering, talking. I wanted to stay and be inspired some more ...but I could see my students arriving for my next class.
It's amazing what just fifteen minutes with good teachers can do for me.