Every teacher knows that different classes have different personalities.  When I was in school, I thought that the personality of the class was set by the teacher.  But now that I am teaching, I think that it is really the students who determine how the class runs.  This seems more pronounced the smaller the class is.  And it seems that a single person with a strong personality can really influence the tone.

Strategies is my smallest class — 4-6 students — and this is where I have seen the most variability in class personality.  My first Strategies class had 2 men and 2 women.  One of the guys was very open and willing to share his thoughts and feelings about coming back to school and the choices he had made in his life.  Because he was a very open, friendly guy, that class became good friends.  They teased each other a lot, and had a good time in class.  I had the timing of my lessons down perfectly, and I could count on a lot of conversation when I threw some discussion questions at them.

My second Strategies class had 2 men and 3 women.  One of the men was a jokester, and I thought he would set the tone for the class, but one of the women was very reserved.  She tended to stay disengaged from class, and would give short answers when asked to participate in a discussion.  She and the jokester would bicker good-naturedly in class, but she had the ability to shut him down.  With this class, getting a discussion going was like pulling teeth, I think because of her reserve.  I often found myself with extra time at the end of class, and had to have exercises on hand to fill in.

My third Strategies class has 4 women in it.  They are much more comfortable putting their thoughts onto paper than speaking out loud.  I have a hard time hearing many of them when I ask questions, because they are uncomfortable raising their voices.  Once again, I think I will need to have additional exercises on hand, because discussion will not fill up our time like it did with my first class.  I have been a little worried about how I will get this class to engage with me, since their class personality is so subdued.

But on Thursday, we had a student appreciation barbecue during class, complete with a DJ, out in the school parking lot.  Most of the students went through the food line, and then sat on the curb in the shade along the building.  Several staff members got up and started dancing to the music, in a little clump, but despite a lot of encouragement, most of the students wouldn’t get up to dance.  A line-dancing song I didn’t know came on, and the quietest of my students got up.  She got the group of staff members and a few more students to start doing this line dance.  During the remainder of the barbecue, she got all of my students to get up, dance, and have a great time.  I was so proud of her for inspiring her classmates, including one woman who said she hadn’t danced this much in her life, ever!  Other students were dragged onto the dance floor by staff, only to go sit back down as soon as they had a chance.  I’ll admit, I wasn’t brave enough to shake it in front of my students and coworkers.  But I hope she becomes the inspiration for the rest of the class to follow.  And that she learns to raise her voice.  *smile*