Excuse me while I serve up yet another life-to-classroom analogy!

Bear with me now…

I’m just one of millions of patients who suffer from dental anxiety.

As I sat in the chair at the dentist’s office today, I realized how much more at ease I was when the hygienists and the doctor talked to me about my kids and my husband and our family trips, and so on and so forth.

Then it dawned on me: there is no way these people mentally keep track of how many children everyone has, what their family members’ names are, where they like to go on vacation, and all of the other major tidbits that seem to come up at the dentist’s office. Of course! They keep it all in our files!

Now, I certainly have been to dentists who did not do this. Look at me now, at the age of thirty-three I am sleepless for 48 hours prior to a visit to the dentist. Could it possibly have something to do with the trauma of having a complete stranger dig around in my mouth for many, many years?

Don’t you think that so many of our students feel this way when we, completely strangers, try to rattle around inside their head with all of our tools and different methods? Then we scold them, from our stranger’s perspective, for not flossing, er, studying enough and letting their brains go to rot.

Now imagine the value of learning about these students’ lives, and just using simple things that we know about them to put them at ease and help them learn.

It is definitely easier said than done to remember all of this information about 150+ students, much the same as it is for a dentist to keep up with all of her patients. So why not try it the dentist’s way?!

Here are some ideas for making personal information on your students easily accessible when you need it the most: DURING your lessons.

1. You could try something along the lines of the Ben Slavic technique and have students draw images on seating cards. If I remember correctly, Ben only keeps his up for the beginning of school. I know I struggle to remember details of my students’ lives ALL year long, so I may need to have my students use these all year. You could also have students update their seating cards quarterly to show any changes in interests or new things that they are “into” currently.

2. Let students decorate personalized file folders to use for each class. My students love to take our file folder “dividers” and draw all over them. I have stopped fighting it, because honestly, a lot of their artwork is absolutely jaw-dropping, and it looks way better than ugly manila file folders. Why not give each student a file folder to personalize? They could think of it as their own personal mural, and you could refer to it during your lessons to engage students who are drifting or otherwise struggling. For the last couple of years, I have had students keep their classwork in these same kind of file folders. We used a numbering system and file folder dividers in crates, and each student would grab his or her folder as he or she walked in the room. This would be another way to keep up with this personalized snapshot of the students’ lives.

3. This is one of the things that I am most excited about this year: interactive notebooks! Ok, I cringe a little every time I hear that phrase. Their just old school notebooks, and our methods of adding more exciting things to them have improved. Anywho, I plan on having my students personalize their notebooks this year by cutting out magazine pictures and decoupaging them to them to the cover. I will have them choose pictures from categories such as: my free time, my family, my friends, my personality, etcetera. As a visual person, I know this will help me understand my students WAY more than a laundry list of descriptions, aka “The Personal Interest Survey/Inventory.” To be honest, I’ll probably have the students fill out a detailed inventory anyway, because they really are helpful to have on file when things go south (as they sometimes do).

What ways do you keep up with students’ interests and lives? How do you incorporate that information to help students feel at ease or to engage them in the lesson?

Finally, my dental anxiety has produced something positive 🙂

Buena suerte,

Profe C


Ps. Don’t you love the pain invoked by the image here?! Don’t you ever get the feeling from the occasional student that you are inflicting this kind of pain on him or her?!


Photo by Beatrice Murch
Source: Flickr
For more info and access to the license: https://www.flickr.com/photos/blmurch/2294501318