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It Always Matters Who Is In The Room

As a middle school teacher, I look at my adjunct professor role as an opportunity to connect with other adults and help share what I've learned about being a teacher. The single most important sentence I will ever say to them is simple: It matters who is in the room.

After nearly two decades of teaching, I've come to a place where I truly appreciate the individual as a part of my class. I've come to understand that I can create an outline of the class and a loose curriculum, but I need to assess who is in the room before I can firm up plans. Why? I could have a group who is way ahead of what I would expect, another that is behind, or a really complex mixture. I could have a room of introverts, or I could have a room of Alphas. Before I can determine how we are going to learn together, I need to know who is in the room, and figure out the best way to make that learning exciting and accessible to them.

In my "Adolescent Literacy in a New Literacies World" course this spring at Canisius, I had students create a literacy narrative, and during their time sharing, I jotted down what I was learning about my new students. I was thrilled to notice patterns (English major minds vs. Science/Math people), find out that I had devotees to video games, Harry Potter, photography, comics, J.D. Salinger, theater, history, and even Arthur (yes, that Arthur).

How might these tidbits translate themselves into what my students will be learning in our class? One specific example is that I used their interest to help me to decide who to assign particular readings to for our guided discussion. Instead of alphabetically or randomly, I assigned the Gamification article to Bret, and the "how does advertising impact teens" one to Amanda (for fun, since she didn't want to make everything about the patriarchy and objectification and such).

The results--hopefully--are twofold. I want my students to know that I care about them and their individual interests and ideas. Additionally, I tend to think people are more invested when they have a way into the material, especially if it is philosophical or theoretical.

So, in my class that is in large part about technology changing everything, I learned that the scribbles in my journal will always be Queen of what I do.

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