Former Teacher’s Advice On Joy In Class: Let Students Lead the Way

A new collection on teaching during a time of political and social conflict includes a contribution from local author Carla Shalaby, who offers advice on how to reintroduce joy in the classroom.

Carla Shalaby
Carla Shalaby

The book “Teaching When the World is on Fire offers a collection of essays from educators about the politics and culture of teaching.

It turns to educators — instead of “experts” — to discuss how teachers do and should engage with students around issues ranging from Black Lives Matters to sexual assault to hate speech to climate change.

Detroit education researcher and former teacher Carla Shalaby contributed the essay “Calling on Omarto the collection.  Shalaby also wrote the book “Troublemakers: Lessons in Freedom from Young Children at School.”

In the essay, Shalaby describes a moment in a classroom when a child tries to redirect the class — for some, ‘disrupt’ — to inject a little bit of joy.

She tells WDET’s Sascha Raiyn Omar’s story shows how children often model humanity for their teachers.

Click on the player above to hear author Carla Shalaby about teaching in today’s America, and read excerpts, edited for clarity, below.

Sascha Raiyn, 101.9 WDET: As a parent, I’ve had that moment where I am on task or I am stressed out. I feel like it happens every school morning, where I forget that there’s this little human being who’s got her own things going on.

Carla Shalaby, author: We’re tired. And, you know, kids are annoying, kids are frustrating, and they’re exhausting. They are tireless, while we’re tried. It can be a tough match, especially first thing in the morning, when you’re thinking about the next thing you’ve got to do. That’s the big difference between adults and children, one of the big differences, where adults are like, ‘I’m on my way to doing something else,’ but kids are what they’re doing right then. 

That’s really all it is, is adults trying to remember what it’s like to be a child. Be present in the joy that you’re trying to experience in a given moment and not be so anxious.

How do you bridge that gap, between who teachers want to be and who teachers are trained to be in order to survive the work day?

That is the moment that this profession is in. Teaching as a profession is suffering because it’s so hard to be joyful, because teachers are over-criticized. They have absolutely impossible jobs that are becoming more impossible. I think the essay sounds critical of the teacher I write about, but I was that teacher. If I go into classrooms now, I still am that teacher. Realistically, it’s very, very hard not to follow our training, which is bring kids someplace, to drag them along someplace. 

Good teachers right now are wrestling themselves with the gap that you named. The gap between who they want to be as teachers, and what they’re doing each day. 

I want them to feel a little more powerful in their right to close that gap. They don’t. 

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  • Sascha Raiyn

    Sascha Raiyn is Education Reporter at 101.9 WDET. She is a native Detroiter who grew up listening to news and music programming on Detroit Public Radio.