"Everyone who remembers his own education remembers teachers, not methods, and techniques. The teacher is the heart of the educational system." -Sidney Hook
Think of your favorite teacher from when you were in school. What do you remember from them? I doubt it was taking notes or listening to a lecture. When asked, what do your students say their favorite lesson of the year was? The answers may surprise you. Sure they have learned a lot. They might be able to do more complicated math problems, analyze a story, or know all 50 states. But what memories are they leaving your classroom with? Many teachers feel that we must go beyond the standards and leave the students with memories. But how do we do that?
One way to leave the students with memories is to relate lessons to real life. Meaning, connect to the students' lives and interests. Try to tie lessons into something that they enjoy or know something about. This can be difficult because trends change frequently. As a teacher, I always seem to slightly behind on what is "cool." Currently, the big trend (at least in my area) is the game "Among Us." Many teachers across the globe have put elements of the game into their lessons. Teachers can find many of these lessons on the internet for free or at a small cost. You do not have to do this all by yourself. As a language arts teacher, I find examples of the different figurative language types from the year's popular music and put them into my lessons. Every subject can incorporate something from popular culture or something the students enjoy. Find something that works for you.
Go of book occasionally. Sometimes it will be helpful to go off-script. When a student asks a not wholly relevant question, take the chance and talk about it. I understand that it can be scary because you might not be prepared for that discussion, but that is fine. Be honest that you are unsure or are not an expert in this area. Research it with them. They learn that no one has all of the answers, and it is okay not to know something. Plus, it will show them how to find answers to their questions.
Let them be silly. Even more so, be silly with your students. Although students may not admit it, they love to see their teachers have fun. I personally do things like thirty-second dance parties. I turn on the music while the students (and myself) dance however they want for 15 seconds. I try to dance or sing to their music (which usually makes them laugh.) Do not fear making fun of yourself. They will be happy that you are doing something fun. I promise it is worth it to see the smiles on their faces. It is sometimes surprising which classmates enjoy seeing their teacher relax (even for just a moment.)
Try to create a routine of fun. When you are first attempting to incorporate fun into your classroom, scheduling can be a great tool.
Scheduling it as a part of your week forces you to make room for it. After it becomes a routine, the students will not let you forget it.
One of my class' favorites is music Fridays. This one has evolved. I only let music play when they are working on Fridays. Now, I randomly pick a student to play the music of their choice on Fridays. The music playlist has rules, of course. First, I get to view the playlist ahead of time (to make sure it appropriate for school.) Also, I make sure it is not played at too high of a volume. Because this day is scheduled into my plans, the students come into Fridays excited for something. Plus, I do not have to plan anything special. I do not have to think about it much.
Let them see you as a human. Share your life with them. I'm not saying to talk to the students about your problems or drama. But instead, show them your likes and dislikes. Mention your family from time to time. When I was a kid, I thought teachers slept under their desks and had no life besides school. Now that I am a teacher, I want to show my class that I am much more than a teacher. It shows them that I am not a lifeless robot. I am a human being with feelings and different thoughts. Allowing students to see my humanity is a good thing.
Many teachers will argue that they do not have time to stray away from the material. Some feel that they cannot go away from the standards because, with all that is expected of us, we have a lack of time as it is. However, our students need this. In a world full of standards and end of year testing, it will be nice to get away from it, if only for a moment. School needs to become fun again, even if just slightly. We need to show children that school is not that bad after all. Also, this fun can be tied to standards if need be. It may take more time and effort to find something fun connected to your current standard, but there are many resources for you to utilize to help. Doing these types of things helps teachers create a rapport with their students, which, in turn, allows the classroom to run more smoothly. You could be saving time in the long run.
When my past students think of me, I obviously want them to remember all that they learned. But more than that, I want to have an impact on their lives. I want them to come to visit me in the future, telling me I helped them find a love of learning. Who doesn't want to make this impact? It may be a little more work, but I fully heartedly feel like it is worth it.