Imagining your classroom

by Margaret Felice

he began to marvel at the difference and to reflect upon it, realizing from experience that some thoughts left him sad and others joyful.

This is how Ignatius describes, in his autobiography, the realization that his heart’s reactions to his imaginings were a way of hearing God’s voice and discerning God’s will. As a champion daydreamer, I have always been drawn to this part of Ignatius’s story, and to the valuing of the imagination that comes with it.

Summer months, with long days and more relaxed schedules, are a perfect time to daydream. On long care rides, or while sitting and enjoying the sun, I might imagine a new retreat to offer at school, or design a handout for a lesson. Vacation’s clear-headedness frees up space for the Spirit’s voice to sneak in with guidance and encouragement.

In addition to imagining certain programs or activities, I have found great value in simply imagining my classroom environment.

There are many ways to organize a classroom, and many ways to serve students well. What’s right for you will take into account your needs, your students’ needs, and the larger environment of the school community. Depending on your experience and length of employment, you have varying degrees of knowledge of those things. What you do know, is what kind of teacher and person YOU are, and your students are better off if you are teaching to your own strengths.

When you imagine your classroom different ways, which feels right to you? Students taking different seats every class? Students in assigned seats? Students taking advantage of window ledges, radiators, and corner benches for their work, or students sitting at desks? Do they ask you to go to the bathroom, or silently take a bathroom pass, or just walk out of the room? Depending on your context, any of these could be a fine way to approach your class environment, but if one is going to make you uncomfortable, there’s no reason to organize your class around it.

Once you have decided, be strategic about how you are going to implement it. It’s acceptable to shape some classroom procedures around your preferences, but it’s not acceptable to ask students to be mind readers. Tell them what your expectations are. To use a mundane example: If there is a bathroom pass, have it ready on the first day, explain what the policies are, and repeat them until everyone is acclimated.

Be thorough in your imaginings – if you imagine a daily introduction of the saint of the day, and that feels like something that would energize you and your students, keep going with your thoughts. Would there be a daily handout? How would you make it a routine? Is there a creative way to assess what you are introducing? The more you have thought through your plans before the year begins, the easier they will be to implement.

If you’re really feeling ambitious, spend some time imagining how you will handle conflicts. What happens when a student doesn’t do his or her homework, or when they break a significant rule, or when a parent challenges your grading, or when a colleague says something frustrating? If you spend some time imagining what your ideal reaction would be, you’re more likely to be your best self when you’re dealing with a challenging situation.

We do a lot to prepare for these first days of school. In between the organizing, cleaning, poster-hanging and roster-reviewing, try to find a few moments alone with your thoughts to see where your imagination leads you in your teaching this year.

Initial quotation from A Pilgrim’s Testament: The Memoirs of St. Ignatius of Loyola, as transcribed by Luis Gonçalves da Câmara and translated by Parmandanda R. Divarkar. Saint Louis: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1995

Margaret Felice is an educator, writer, and musician. She teaches religion and music at Boston College High School and is an Assistant Director of the Liturgy Arts Group at Boston College. She is the author of 2019: A Book of Grace-Filled Days (Loyola Press) and is writing two booklets on teen spirituality for Twenty-Third Publications which will be published in 2020.