Who I am as a teacher is greatly shaped by my experiences as a student. And my experiences as a student were largely negative. Oh, I loved learning– still do! But as the school years ground onward into the years grouped as secondary education, I came to increasingly dislike school.
One of the worst parts of school was the first day of school. I’m a creature of habit, so learning new routines was always a unpleasant. I’m also a strong introvert and was dreadfully bullied. These two issues tend to come to head in the form of ice breakers and get-to-know you activities. Oh, how I hated Ice Breakers.
As a teacher myself now, I better understand the teacher’s desire to get to know students. Maybe even try to build classroom community.
As a student, I was NEVER going to be part of that “classroom community.” Same with the other outcasts, those of use who were different. My classmates would not allow that. Instead, ice breaker activities had the high chance of giving my adversaries new ammunition. If I shared with the teachers the things I wanted to, I was likely to also be supplying information to the enemy when we would share before the class. So I would stick with safe, generic answers and hope for the best.
I still remember, nearly 20 years later, the teacher who did not warn us our details would be shared with the class– I remember the mortification knowing that the things I thought I was sharing with my teacher were to be public information. And, oh, yes, my classmates made use of that until they got bored with it.
Moreover, these ice breaker activities required me to speak to classmates or in front of the class. Speak to or in front of my tormentors. We were a rather insular community and I went to school with pretty much the same students. Many in elementary, then we all poured into the middle school and the high school. We already knew each other– a classroom activity was not going to change that. It wasn’t going to build new bonds between the bullies and their victims, the cheerleaders and the geeks, the stoners and the preps.
Are ice breakers in the secondary classroom, then, solely for the benefit of the teacher? Could the getting-to-know-you be accomplished without speaking in front of the class?
In my own classroom, recalling my experiences, I have chosen to use a written activity for students to complete to share a bit about themselves. I make sure they know if they are expected to share with the class– which is never. No one has to be uncomfortable in order for me to get to know them. Younger me would have appreciated this so very much.
If you’re going to use Ice Breakers– activities that students will need to share in front of others– please, choose carefully. Understand and be aware that you may have a bully and their victim or even just someone who has to choose between being honest with who they are and not standing out as different. You may not be able to make a “classroom community” because student groups may already be impenetrable, and trying to force it may only alienate the kids who could really use a sense of belonging and safety in the classroom. For a change.
(Ice breakers in the workplace are different and somewhat more tolerable.)