My absolute favorite part about being a teacher is the relationships that I get to build with my students. Strong relationships are something that I pride myself on as a teacher and I am constantly working on building those relationships. At my previous school, it was super easy to build those relationships. I lived and worked in the same neighborhood, so volunteering after school was an activity that I did often and I was able to spend tons of quality time with my students (and coworkers) outside of the school day. In addition, I saw my students out of the school building all the time. I would run into them at the grocery store, parks, and restaurants and I absolutely LOVED hearing my name being yelled when I was out somewhere.
Since I moved schools and I live almost a half hour from my current school, building relationships with my students and their families have been more difficult. In fact, it has made teaching almost unbearable, though I’ve made a strong effort to change that this year. The first step that I took was moving from teaching third grade to fifth grade. I knew that I would have many of the same students for a second round, so I was ecstatic to make the jump and continue building those relationships that we started in third grade. That move was only the tip of the iceberg, however.
At the beginning of the school year, I told my students about how my husband and I enjoy playing table-top role-playing games (RPGs) like Dungeons and Dragons. While some of them laughed at my nerdy-ness, more of them were intrigued about what roleplaying games were and how you play them. I’m not going to lie, I indulged them every question because I absolutely LOVE talking about it! Soon after, they started begging me to teach them how to play during our short 20-minute recess block.
If you know anything about table-top RPGs, you know it is impossible to play during a 20 minute period, so I recruited my husband we started an after-school RPG club for 4th and 5th-grade students at my school. We spend an hour a week playing a watered down version of the Pathfinder game. We use a simplified character sheet that I found online and spent a couple of sessions introducing races and classes, as well as building characters before we split the 24 kids into two groups to start campaigning.
One hour a week has made all the difference. For the last 4 months, I have been spending time with my students – inside and outside of the school day – discussing and playing a game that we both love. I get to use my creative juices as the game master (which I’d never done before!) and my students get to build their critical thinking, imagination, and teamwork skills. It has changed the way that I interact with my students the classroom, it has changed my enthusiasm for going to work, and it’s given my husband a chance to feel connected to my work as a teacher and spend time with the students I can’t stop talking about. It’s a win-win for everyone involved.
Maybe table-top RPGs are not your jam and, maybe, you struggle to find the time to volunteer after school, but I challenge you with this: Find something that you and your students can connect through. Maybe it’s an afterschool art club or board game club. Maybe you want to have a short before school coffee chat (with hot chocolate for the kiddos, of course!) or a writing club. Find something that creates a true, genuine connection and builds lasting relationships with your students, so that when they look back on their time with you, they remember how much they enjoyed being with you.