Friday, March 9, 2012

Year 2: Week 25 - The Problem With Business Cards

Around the age of third grade I thought business cards were really cool. I collected them from places I went and people I met. So last year when I a box of business cards arrived in my mailbox of school I was ecstatic.

In my previous two jobs we didn’t have business cards so these were my first. If you ask other teachers around my school most would say that they don’t really use their business cards but I decided to. I’m proud of where I work and it’s nice to have something to gives someone you meet who may have a reason to contact you later.

Naturally when one of my third graders made a business card and gave it to me I gave him one of mine. He was really surprised with this exchange. I explained how business card exchanges work when you are an adult and he thought it was really cool.

Over the next couple weeks, this student’s classmates started making business cards to trade for my own.  These things were made on scraps of paper with their name and made up jobs. My favorite is a business card for a chair company that is shaped like a chair.

The teacher of these third graders asked to talk to me about this business card exchange. At first, I thought that she objected to this activity for some reason, which seemed like a pretty ridiculous thing. In my mind this seemed completely harmless. When I went to talk to her, I explained the first exchange and how, in order to be fair, I needed to make exchanges with other students. She looked at me and instead of being upset, simply laughed.

She understood that I had to follow through in this way, but she did have a concern. Third grade students like most ages contain a variety of skills and abilities. In order to get a business card from me the student would have to make a business card with no directions, be confident enough to come up to me outside of a classroom context and interact with me independently. These are not skills that every student at this age possesses.  Because a student may lack the comfort level of talking to me outside of class they were not able to connect to me in through the exchange of a business card.

It’s great to make personal connections with students and have them see you as more than a teacher. What you need to remember and what I forgot, is these opportunities must be equally accessible for every student in the class. For students who were not as comfortable approaching me outside of class, this business card exchange was not as accessible.

Does this mean I can’t share parts of myself with my class? Of course not. One of the things I do is show students videos and pictures of Buffy, my dog. My students love viewing these things and hearing stories about her. This is a personal connection that I present to the whole class that they can all share with me.

Where these connections are most meaningful are through the curriculum. When I teach a class the techniques to write a song on an instrument and then they write their own song, I’m giving them the tools to interact with me in a personal way through the lesson and my response to their song.

What was the solution to the business cards? How did I make the other students who didn’t make a business card feel involved and connected with me as a teacher? Their teacher gave me the answer: give everyone a business card. Now everyone has something special and personal from me as a teacher. What was amazing was the fact that I saw the same excitement in the half of the class who hadn’t gotten the card as the first students who traded me his own card weeks earlier.  It didn’t matter that everyone was getting one, it just felt good to get something special from me as their teacher.  Of course, I ended up giving my card to the rest of my third graders. 

As much fun as it was to do the individual exchanges, it felt a lot better knowing that I had made all of my third graders, not just some, feel special through the simple act of giving them my business card.

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