Sunday, July 31, 2011

Teachers are Amazing

    I would think that there are few jobs in our world require people to plan, research, and prepare for each minute that they spend on the job.  As a teacher I feel I often spend almost as much time out of class preparing for the lessons as I do teaching the actual lesson in class.  I’ve heard of some people who have a file cabinet full of all the materials that they will need to teach during the year.  These file cabinets have each worksheet carefully filed away in order so that the teacher simply needs to get copies and stand up in the front of the room to present their knowledge.  However, this stereotype rarely rings true in teachers today. 
     As a reading coach one of my jobs was to go into various K-3 grade classrooms and model a lesson for the teachers.  We would later collaborate and improve both of our pedagogy.  I had the luxury of taking time to adequately prepare each lesson with perfect visuals, lesson progression, and attention to the students needs.  Even with all of this preparation, I could never prepare for everything that the kids would do. 
    My first stop for the day was to do a read aloud in a kindergarten room.  The students were ready for me to arrive and as I went through the lesson I found the students engaged and responsive to what was being taught.  At the end of the story the students even broke out into rapturous applause.   After thanking the students and teacher for allowing me to join them I went next store to another kindergarten class fifteen feet away and gave the exact same lesson in the very same way, and at the  end of the lesson I got a totally different response from the students.  I had to get one students arm unstuck from his twisted shirt, wake another student up, and save a third  student who was attempting to eat his crayon.  The students were confused, distracted, and as I left I was wondering what had gone wrong?
    As I went over the lesson in my head I thought about the variables that could have created the different outcomes.  I thought about the teachers, classroom layout, student abilities, etc.?  As I looked at the teachers schedule I realized that the second lesson took place closer to playtime than the first lesson.  My small window of teachable time had evaporated. 
    Teachers spend hours deciding what to teach and how to teach it.  They then spend even more time collecting materials, manipulatives, and examples.  Then when all the preparation is done they have to be ready to throw it all out and adjust to the constantly changing dynamics of their class.  With various student needs, classroom interruptions, behaviors it is amazing that students make the gains they do each year.  The reason they do is because professional educators are awesome and can accomplish amazing results with the little time and resources they are given.  Maybe someday soon the world will realize what accomplished professionals educators really are. 

(What are some of the reasons you have had lessons bomb? )  

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Wonder of Words

     I am amazed at the power of words.  Before language people roamed the earth barely surviving.  Written language created communities, culture, technology, and our way of life today.  As teachers we have a high calling to use words to make human lives better and to educate our students to do the same.
    Our words are the most powerful weapon on Earth.  Each one of us has experienced moments when someone has used their words to attack us or put us down.  When someone has screamed, “I hate you!” or pointed out an attribute of ourselves that we are uncomfortable with, this acid can cause lifelong wounds.  In our classrooms teachers have to deal daily with the students who use their words to cut their peers down, or to cause trouble.  Often these negative words come from fear or a desire to put someone lower in order to elevate the attackers self esteem. 
     We have all felt the positive power of words.  When someone we look up to pays us a compliment.  Words like, “I love you,” “It’s a baby girl,” “Summer Break,” all have the power to lift our spirit.  In our classrooms the teacher becomes the main barometer of encouragement.  We have to model compliments, praise, and encouragement even when we have little to give.  In our classes students need to be given opportunities to praise their peers and to expand their language to more accurately convey their thoughts. i.e. “Your so ghetto”  “Your so phat”
     In my classroom when we finish a project I have my students fill out a compliment sticky.  On this small piece of paper students are encouraged to write something specific that they liked about their classmates presentation.  At the conclusion of the presentation I give the students an opportunity to hand out their compliments like students would a valentine.  Most students want to immediately read their praise and the encouragement that that they receive makes their face shine. At the end of the year when we clean the pounds of garbage out of each desk that has mysteriously accumulated, students often find these compliment notes tucked away safely in the back of their desk.  I’m always impressed by those children who have hung on to their compliments.  For some, I’m sure, it is the only positive comments that they get to hear. 
     In my life I have had many failures using words in ways that I regret, but I also know that even today I am going to have opportunities to encourage.  Through a conscience effort we can use our words to create positive homes and classrooms.  It all begins with a few small words.

(What is your favorite way to celebrate your student’s accomplishments in your classroom?)

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Worlds Best Curriculum

      Due to the effectiveness of book companies lobbying our state law makers, my state requires schools to purchase new curriculum every four years.  Sometimes we haven’t even gotten all the material unwrapped before we have to send it away.  Other times we have grown to love a specific curriculum and then we are told that we must try something new because the new curriculum will be the solution to everything.  In my state this waste makes the publishers coffers larger as our teaching salaries continue to decrease.
     It’s amazing to me that I have never had a student who said to me, “I love this curriculum!”  I find fewer and fewer students who look forward to learning from today’s fancy curriculums.  With flat screen tv’s, projection systems, and the internet; textbooks and the traditional materials have become an anathema.  For this reason districts around the country have been striving to catch up to the technological age.  Yet, for thousands of years teachers have found ways to take even simple tools like books, whiteboards, and stories to captivate their classroom.  These simple tools have worked for thousands of years and are still effective today. 
      I have never had a student who said I love science, ”because of the really thick workbook, glossy textbook, and the little one person experiment buckets.”  My students look forward to science because they get to use their hands to make magical things happen with common objects.  They get to see life created from seeds, matter moving without their own forces, chemicals creating energy from the air.  The curriculum might guide us in what experiment to conduct, but the teacher is the one who makes it all possible. 
      No student I’ve ever met says to me, “Give me a box of shapes and manips and I can figure out what I need to learn in math this year.  No matter how many blocks, clocks, and manips you have, the educational connections almost always come from the teacher instead of the stuff that we have in the room.    
     I’ll be the first to admit that the right curriculum is a great help, but a common perception is that if schools have the right technology, curriculum, or materials that students will succeed.  The truth of the matter is that successful teaching almost always comes from a hard working teacher who uses the tools available to improve the lives of their students. Even if the governments, administrators, and parents of our country cannot see a teacher’s importance, those in the classrooms know the truth.  Students learn because of their teachers.  Hopefully, one day soon, the voice of teachers will grow louder than the special interest groups that currently guide our nation’s lawmakers. 

(What curriculums, programs, or technology have you had success with?) 

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Scissors are for paper-not for hair

     Every teacher has preferences about what grade level they would rather teach.  I feel it is good to get experience in all of the grade levels to be a more rounded teacher that better understands the flow of learning.  However, experiences like I had in a first grade class this summer make me glad that I’ll be teaching fifth grade in the fall. 
    I always marvel at kindergarten and first grade teachers who at the beginning of the year look like they are herding cats down the hall way.  Their little students wander aimlessly in the great wide world trying to get from point A to point B.  Yet, by the end of the year they manage to teach their primary students complex activities such as walking in a line.
     My class of first graders looked no different as I managed to get them into my classroom and seated.     We had a short lesson and then we began a craft to further the lesson objective.  Each child in my class was working hard coloring paper and then cutting it so that we could begin assembling our project.  I sat down with a discipline student to help him get his project done when another boy I’ll call Gregory came up to me and said, “Hey Mr. Smith, look at this!”  As I turned to Gregory I noticed two things.  First, in his outstretched arm he held a few fingers full of fuzzy brown strands.  Next, I noticed a bald spot where his bangs used to be!  I didn’t know whether to laugh or to shout out, “What are you thinking?”  I managed to stay calm and ask Gregory why his hair was in his hand.  With a big smile on his face he proudly said that he had told the cute little girl he sits next to that she could cut his hair. 
     In the next few seconds the cute little girl looks up with fear in her eyes as she realizes that she may have done something wrong .  Gregory tries to parade around showing his friends his hank of hair and soon discovers that the hole in his cool hair style may not be as fabulous as he had originally thought.  I’m thinking how I’m going to explain to the parents how a child four feet away from me managed to get a partial hair cut. 
     In the end Gregory’s dad thought it was hilarious, Gregory’s mom was mortified and made Gregory wear a hat until his hair grew back in, and my two little first graders learned that it isn’t a good idea to cut each other’s hair.
    We have all done things that at first seemed like a great idea, and later we found out that it wasn’t our best decision.  By leaping before we think we sometimes find ourselves in a mess, but we hopefully learn from the experience.  As I begin this school year I am going to continue to use the mistakes of my students as teachable moments to help them to avoid bigger mistakes later on in life.  I’m also going to tell my primary colleagues how much I respect their efforts, because who knew that you have to tell students that school scissors are for cutting paper not your neighbors hair. 

(Please tell me in the comments below of something a student in your class did that utterly amazed you.)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Media-Does it rob us of peace?

     For the past week I have not had access to television, phones, internet or other forms of technology.  Our vacation took us away from the frenetic life we live and provided us with a few days of peace and relaxation.  As I sat in the airport I looked up to the flat screen tv and saw that teenagers had been mauled by bears, another famous singer had overdosed, a crazy person killed 80 kids in a seemingly peaceful country.  These rapid images made me think that we had just been in the woods and seen several bears; we could have been eaten.   We had been in another country and some crazy person could have come after us.   With all of our hiking along mountains we could have died.   In the few seconds I focused on the television I allowed the media to create in me a sense of insecurity.  Although bad things do happen, my family’s reality was a wonderfully peaceful and safe vacation.   
     A few years ago our local newspaper offered to provide free daily newspapers to any classroom that signed up.  This sounded like excellent material to provide nonfiction teaching opportunities.  The first day I taught a mini lesson on the parts of nonfiction text and then had the students search to find the elements in their newspaper.  As I circulated around the room complimenting each student for the element they had found, I noticed a group of boys gathered around a particularly fascinating article in the newspaper.  As I got closer to this group I found that the local department store lingerie ad was the nonfiction element that they had focused on.  I quickly moved them on to a different page and hoped I wouldn’t be getting a phone call later.  The next comment I heard was about a recent riot and the violence that resulted.  It became very obvious that even though our newspaper wanted to inspire the next generation of readers, I didn’t want to be the cause of polluting the minds of the same generation of readers. 
    In time I have learned to do better at previewing the newspaper and focusing students on safe sections of reading.  I use all forms of technology and media in my classroom during the year, but I must be vigilant because each one has its own pit falls.  I have come to understand that we have a class of people in our country that love to soak in the mire of human evil.  As these families procreate, you and I receive students who come to our classes and look forward to fights, they love to stir up classroom gossip, and they want to tell you about the R rated trash they stayed up late watching the night before.  Since these families are unconcerned with their child’s morality it becomes the job of teachers to filter out the mire of this world and to help our students focus on what is really important. 
    I know that we need to be informed, but part of the reason that many kids are so happy is because they are not informed.  I find that the more aware students are of the filth of this world the sadder their lives become.  I think this is where the phrase, “Ignorance is bliss” can be applied. 
     In my classroom I am going to strive to create the safe caring environment that so few people get to experience today.  If I am successful I think that my classroom will be more like a vacation and less like the evening news.  

(What do you think about the benefits or evils of media in our classrooms?)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Follow the Rules-Stupid

     This week I went to the bank with my daughters to get some money.  As I stood in line my daughter handed me $2.27 in change and asked me to turn it into dollar bills.  As I finally approached the bank teller I set the change on the counter and begin to organize it into easily countable order.  The young teller looked at me in alarm and said, “We can’t take change, there is a change machine over there that you can use. “  I looked at the young man following his orders and asked, “Isn’t this a bank, you can’t accept $2.27 in change?”  This dumbfounded him so a teller beside him came to his rescue and said that it is up to the teller whether they accept change or not.  To avoid making a scene and embarrassing my daughters I sent them to put the change into a machine and we finished the transaction without being dragged out by the security guards. 
     I’m all for rules, but isn’t there times we should just use our common sense?  One of our school rules was no eating in the classroom.  So my Kids who came to school without food were supposed stand outside to gain their nourishment.  Another rule my school had was that we were not allowed to have a clock hanging in the room. So we had to turn on the tv to get the time.  Last year we had a rule that before each lesson we had to write the objective on the board so the students would know what they were supposed to learn.  All of these rules were developed for various reasons, but I must admit that I didn’t follow all of these rules.  My students didn’t miss our morning learning while they ate at their desks, I kept the wall clock in the closet for when the tv clock wasn’t working, and my students seemed to learn just fine when I had them write the objectives in notebooks instead of posting them all over the wall. 
     This year will probably begin with a faculty meeting where you will get a heavy binder with all of the rules.  Do a good job and follow all of these rules to the letter.  However, once you put that binder on your shelf and begin working in the real world consider using common sense. 
(In the comments below, tell me of some of the stupid rules you have at your school.)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Success Comes When We Prove It

     While reading our local newspaper I saw today that our district found it necessary to hire someone to improve public relations.  This individual will more than likely send us emails about how wonderful our district is doing, enhance our district web page with videos, clips, and awards, and finally work with the news outlets to promote how awesome our district is.  Our district has also worked hard in the past few years to develop school attractors, which are small advertisements as to why you would want to choose different schools in the area.  Our state is even fixated on image and tries to motivate each school by assigning a grade and awarding money to high performers and punishments to schools that make them look bad.  The district and state that I work in want to look good, because the reality in our schools is not always that impressive.
     I don't have control of what is happening in my state or district, but I am in charge of my classroom.  In my classroom I often make a comment early in the year, 'Don't tell me how awesome you are, prove it!"  This mantra usually comes about when I ask students, "Who in this room has mastered their multiplication facts?"  Usually almost everyone in the class has supposedly mastered these facts.  I will then have them prove it to me.  A few students usually can then demonstrate mastery in a five minute speed test.  So I have these students stand up and receive praise.  I then make these super stars compete against me to demonstrate that we rarely arrive in life.  I tell them when they can beat the teacher they are welcome to quit practicing.  At the beginning of the year it is no contest with me easily winning, but later in the year, I have to work hard to keep up with some of my students who have learned to prove their abilities. 
     In our jobs it is important to play some of the games of image.  Students may not respect us as much in our comfy clothes as they would in our professional attire.  Our administrators and district gurus might not appreciate us throwing out hundreds of dollars worth of curriculum to head in our own direction.  In the life of a teacher we need to work hard to focus on what works instead of what looks cool. Our students need to understand that learning is not a destination, but a continual improvement over the course of our lives.  As the bureaucrats in our states work hard to make us look good, the real solution will quietly come from teachers who "prove it." 
(Let me know in the comments below some of the ways you celebrate your classroom successes.)

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Failure Only Comes From Quitting

     As a fifth grade teacher I have seen several students, who lacking  basic skills, become brain tied when learning a new concept.  For example my students were neatly arranged at my gathering area and trying their best to give me their undivided attention.  I was rolling out a “perfect” lesson, my visuals were so artistic, and the pacing of my lesson had gone from basic skills to our new concept.  All of this while  providing my students with chances to revoice, collaborate, and digest the important concept I was so eloquently imparting to them.  Before wrapping up, I checked my pedagogy by asking the students to answer a question that I would use to gauge their level of learning.  It is at this time that I could tell that my “perfect” lesson was not quite so perfect.  I could tell by two students looking upward  hoping the answer would fall from the air onto their paper.  Four more were working hard, steam rolling out of their ears only to be creating the most convoluted answer the world has ever seen.  The final group was ready to burst if I didn’t acknowledge their correct answer.  All of these emotions were ebbing and flowing each day in the students I taught.  And all of these emotions are a part of every human today. 
     Last night I had a fun time participating in Denise’s Linky party.*I spent several hours looking at the quality blogs that professionals all around the country are creating.  One element in common was a button to grab.  I thought to myself, “I need a button like everyone else.”  Several years ago I had worked with a little HTML coding to create web pages and so I thought it would be fairly easy for me to create a button and add the widget.  Four hours later I finally finished.  For four lovely hours I tried to solve one problem after another to make a ridiculous icon with some code beneath it.  Other wiser people on the web had written perfect directions and even provided coding generators that provided the basic idea, but time after time I failed to make it work correctly.   With no people for guidance I had to solve the glitches myself or give up.     
     In our classrooms we often find that the difference between a great student and a poor student has less to do with their teachers, home life, or aptitude, but many times has more to do with their motivation.  No one likes to fail or try something that they are terrible at, but in our lives and the lives of our students we must be willing to keep working on our inadequacies until we have accomplished an acceptable outcome.    We must foster in our lives and the lives of our students the ability to identify our weaknesses, ask for help when we need it, and be willing to work hard to reach our goals.
  This fall I am going to share with my students my inability to master a simple concept and express to them the misery I felt.  I am then going to use that in establishing a classroom culture where it is ok to fail, as long as we learn from these failures and take steps to avoid repeating the same mistakes in the future.     

(Let me know in the comments below how you motivate students who want to give up to avoid further failure.)


Friday, July 15, 2011

For the Love of Money

    Americans are known for their work ethic.* According to the website below we rank 9th in the world for the number of hours that we work each year.  It has become the norm for both men and women to put in long hours to raise their level of income and reach the American dream.  I’m sure many people need these funds to provide a  level of comfort that we have grown to accept in America, but where do we draw the lines of enough and too much?
   As a teacher my friends often make light of the fact that I usually work 6.5/5/190, or 6.5 hours a day, five days a week, and 190+ days a year.  It doesn’t do much good to tell them that it takes nearly an hour to prepare for each hour of quality lesson.   Each day I have paperwork to fill out for every aspect of my job, and must communicate with several different constituents all while managing a class of 20+ students.  To do a quality job of teaching it requires me to put in far more hours than are printed on my paycheck.    The public sentiment is that teachers should be pitied for our career choice, but I find more and more how I pity those outside of education. 
    My first example is my neighbors and friends who are out working from dawn till dusk to gather more toys to park in their front yard.  I actually have the time off needed to enjoy life.  Second, I recently had a millionaire business man ask me, “Do your kids like you?” and my answer was, “yes.”  I get to spend time with my family every day and I am involved in their lives.  Third, I hear of so many people who are lonely and just don’t seem to know anybody in these impersonal times.  I usually can’t go anywhere in our community without meeting at least one person that I have touched through my teaching.  I could go on and on. 
    When I look at the fact that my government has positioned my income just above the poverty line, I can get pretty mad.  Yet, I try to keep my focus, not on my bank account, but on my quality of life.  And for me there is no better life than that of teaching.  When I die with my few last pennies I will have left the world a better place and the hundreds of lives that I have impacted will live on.    Until then, I’m going to enjoy life, I’m on summer break.  To the rest of the world, have fun at work.
(Tell me in the comments below what your favorite part of teaching is)


Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Power of Praise

     When was the last time someone gave you a real compliment.  A sincere thank you or acknowledgement for the hard work you had put into a task.  It’s not like we need the affirmation of others to warrant hard work, but isn’t it nice.  Doesn’t it make you feel like getting back to work to further demonstrate that we are worthy of additional praise. 
     At the beginning of each year I work hard to find something positive about each student.  Once I focus in on an attribute I use it to encourage the students as I greet them each morning. As the year progresses I use compliments in my discipline, both for a class running total that earns them parties and to increase discipline by rewarding positive behavior.   Most students will do anything for your attention and respect.  However, there are those few students every year that really challenge your ability to find something worthy of complimenting them for.   When the best we can come up with is, “You are the noisiest and most irritating person in my life right now,” we have our work cut out for us.
    This past year I was stopped by a teacher in the hall and she said, “Let me see your class list.” Upon showing her the list she proceeded to tell me all the low down on the students in my class.  One particular student’s name set her off and she spent a few moments telling me all of the troubles she had faced with this child.  As the school year began the child we had talked about exhibited the same depressed attitude and low self esteem.  His class performance was mediocre and so I didn’t have the usual opportunities to praise him.  One morning as I was greeting the students at the door I noticed his shirt touting a popular game and I complimented him by telling him how much I enjoyed the game as well.  The student took his downcast eyes and looked at me and I saw him smile for the first time that year.  The one positive comment opened the door to a successful year.
   As we look to having successful years in our classes, develop better relationships in our families, and improve our friendships remember the power of praise.  One positive comment can make a world of difference in someone’s life. 

(I would love to hear about a compliment that has meant a great deal to you or to your students.)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Do You Still Have Teacher Nightmares?

    Have you ever woken early in the morning from a fright; the kind of terror that only a teacher can contrive.  It may go something like this.  In our sweet dreams we find ourselves standing in front of a classroom full of students that we may know or might not even know.  We are probably sharing some key piece of curriculum with perfect timing, because were dreaming .  Then the nightmare begins.  A student or two starts to act out, they might be talking back or not following directions, and then the classroom erupts into pandemonium.  It is at this point that we probably pull ourselves back to consciousness and then look around to see if what we just experienced was real or just a terrifying dream. 
    After years of teaching I can’t remember ever really losing control of a class.  Most days are rather mechanical as we go through our routines.  Yet, the closer I get to starting school the more likely that I will experience “teacher nightmares.”
    Today, I was talking with a first year teacher who did a wonderful job last year.  Yet, she is dreading her second year of teaching,  because of the challenges she had faced in her first class experience.  I tried to reassure her that it often takes three years, at least, to get comfortable in your role as a teacher.  Even then, veteran teachers are not immune from  having challenges.  One reason for the uncertainly that teachers experience is because of the unpredictable nature of students.  No matter how good your routines are, no matter how great your lessons are, regardless of how many years you have under your belt, you never know what students are going to bring to the classroom.  In one sense this is the excitement that keeps many of us in teaching.  We know that no two days are the same.  However, this uncertainty can also lead to anxiety. 
      The way I overcome my anxieties in teaching is preparation and experience.  When I’m nervous about something in teaching I probably haven’t spent enough time thinking it through.  I spend a great amount of time talking with other teachers to see what they do in different situations.  These collegial conversations have given me strategies, back-up activities, and a strategic direction to handle most situations.   My varied experiences have created confidence that enables me to walk into almost any classroom situation and hold my own. 
    So when our subconscious’s begin to tell us that a nightmare is about to happen.  Let’s take time to review our processes, enhance our strategies through collegial conversations, and embrace the new experiences that we will face.  These experiences can make us stronger and more effective teacher. 
           (Tell me of some of your best teacher nightmares in the comments below.)
Also, I’ve started a resource page where we can talk about enhancing our pedagogy. Feel free to share some of the good that goes on in your classroom. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


     Whether at the beach, mall, or classroom I’m noticing an increasing number of people that are HAVING TROUBLE CONTROLLING THE VOLUME OF THEIR VOICE.  As a teacher I used to pass this situation off as a mere personality flaw, thinking that some people must be more outgoing than others.  So I worked in the classroom to encourage students to have different levels of conversation instead of using playground voices all day.  However, today as I sat on the beach relaxing I saw a display that made me wonder. 
    The sky was blue, the waves lapped repetitively upon the shore and the only sound was an occasional gull laughing into the wind.  It was the picture of serenity.  A group of parents came to our left and camped out.  Even with more than six adults my peace and quiet was undisturbed.  Then the kids that the new families brought ran down to the beach and began to build a sand castle.  It was a few minutes later that the kids began to “talk” with their parents.  Instead of running back up to their parents presence they screamed their request from the shore.  The children’s parents, obviously well adept at ignoring their child, didn’t hear the caterwauling coming from the shore.  So the kids tried to solve their problem by screaming even louder.  At this, the parents responded by yelling back down the beach an answer to the child’s question.  It was like an impasse, neither party wanting to get up off the ground and spare us the agony of their air war. 
    It is a free country and I don’t hold it against them for being noisy.  The families with rowdy kids have just as much right to sit on that beach as I do.  Yet, I think that in times past people may have had a little more consideration for their neighbors.  Maybe it’s just me recovering from being around kids too much? Or maybe, in our age of remote controls and lethargy we are getting too lazy to get up and handle simple tasks such as talking.
      If I were perfectly honest I would have to admit that I found the same problem starting to creep into my teaching this past spring.  Instead of calmly walking across the room to address a student I would, at times, speak over the heads of my class to answer or talk with a student.   This may seem insignificant, but today I saw first-hand the potential outcome of my laziness.  As a teacher it falls on my shoulders to model even the simplest of activities, talking.  Hopefully this modeling will lead to a calm and peaceful classroom conducive to learning instead of THE CHAOTIC NOISE WE HAVE TO DEAL WITH EVERY WHERE ELSE.

(How are you encouraging students to communicate appropriately in your classroom?)    

Monday, July 11, 2011

Teaching Inspite of Unhelpful People

    I’m always amazed when the student who has taken the majority of your attention feels compelled to help you do your job.  After spending time telling a child to listen up, use their materials appropriately, or avoid negative comments toward their neighbor the class begins to function smoothly.  It is at this point that the student you’ve finally got moving in the right direction blurts out some useless comment like, “Tommy is not using the right kind of paper. “  Typically their input only begins quarrels, distractions, and more work. 
     As teachers we can all use help to keep up with the paperwork, planning, supply gathering, etc.  However, few of us get any useful help.   The helicopter parent that wants to attend every function to stand around and watch their child, the assistant the disappears mysteriously from the time students arrive until the last few weeks of school, administrators who side-step discipline problems to avoid stepping on toes, all of these are examples of the help that we often get in our every day teaching. 
    The amazing part is that in classrooms all over the world teachers are taking those distracted students and putting them to work with room assignments and tutoring of other students.  We’re finding ways to get parents involved without allowing them to get in our way.   We find the best ways to work with our fellow employees to get the job done.   I’m sure none of this was taught in our education classes, but we learn through experience how to turn the unhelpful people each day into useful additions to our classrooms.
     So when someone tries to demean you as a teacher saying that your job is so easy.  Remind them that you are managers of fifty or more people all with personal agendas and different abilities you manage in 180 days to accomplish mastery of hundreds of specific expectations.  That takes talent. 

(Let us know your suggestions for getting students, parents, and staff members involved.)  

Sunday, July 10, 2011

School is still in session

     Weekends were made for relaxing, and the creation of summer break was designed to allow students and teachers to recharge.  In an effort to follow this philosophy my family and I spent a wonderful day together out in the summer sun.  As the temperature hit its peak we decided to head to the pool to cool off.  As we slipped into the water we moved to the middle of the pool to find a comfortable spot to "chill out."  Moments later, a ball tossed from some frolicking kids landed just past us.  A loud mouthed girl came to retrieve the ball and then threw it back to her loud mouthed friend.  Not three tosses later the ball came our way again, so we decide to move further away from the action.  Our attempt was in vain, because no sooner did we find our new safe spot, then the ball came soaring over the girl's head and hit my wife.
     There are many ways to handle this type of situation, but you can always spot a teacher from a mile away.  My wife grabbed the ball and glared at the child who was making her way over to retrieve the wayward toy.  With ice in her voice she said, "If this ball comes this way one more time, it's mine."  The little girl stopped in her tracks, and looked as if her teacher had risen from the depths and now stood before her.      
     Every teacher has experienced the curse that comes from spending hundreds of days correcting students. We sometimes find ourselves slipping back into that role.  For others of us, teaching is who we are, and we don't stop when the school bell rings. 
     As we hit the middle of our summer break I hope that you are finding time to relax and enjoy life.  And if in the course of this enjoyment you should encounter some restless young hooligans, don't be afraid to let them know that school can still be in session.

(Tell me of a time when you slipped into teacher mode in public.  Did it go well...or not so well?)

Friday, July 8, 2011

Where should I wash my hands?

     While working on a project today, it became very clear that I didn't have the attention of the students in my class.  In my earlier days I would have kept on going, but I've learned to use the traditional phrase of "eyes on me," or "if you can hear me put your hands on your shoulders."  This worked well to gain my students attention, but it wasn't two minutes before we had to repeat the whole process over again. 
      After completing our project we all lined up and trooped down to the restrooms down the hall.  I told the students to wash their hands, use the restroom, and get a drink.  One little boy came up to me and said with all seriousness, "Where should I wash my hands?"  My first thought was to shoot back, "Where do you think?"  Sarcasm wouldn't have accomplished anything other than confusing the student further so asked the student, "Where would be the best place for you to clean your hands?"  His solution was to go in the bathroom to wash his hands. 
      Each day as teachers we handle hundreds of questions in which we simply want to respond, "Duh." I think that students today are taught learned helplessness, where they are unable to solve the simplest of problems, because they have rarely been asked to think or do anything on their own. As teachers we can become guilty of taking the short cut of giving students answers and teaching them to parrot back to us a certain response upon command.
      This year feel free to take the time you need to help students think.  This practice may take a little more of our time initially, but down the road we'll reap the benefit of students with the ability to solve problems even as difficult as, "Where should I wash my hands?" 

(What are your ideas for keeping your students attention?)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

You can just deal with it!

     To make some extra money over the summer, I am working at a local summer camp.  The camp is comprised of students in first grade through fifth grade and gives the students the opportunity to have fun learning during the summer.  One particular student has been an incredible challenge with his impossible behavior.   He has been kicked out of two public schools during the previous year and his parents have conveniently decided that he should attend camp with us.
     As the summer camp began we talked with our boss about the fact that this child's extreme behavior would sully the camps program.  The answer that came back from our boss was that the child's family was going through a hard time and that the child would be staying in our camp, because our boss knows the family and wants to help them out. 
      In teaching we rarely get to choose the students who enter our classroom.  The administrators, parents, district, state, and national guidelines all converge to bring us a class of students and a place to teach.  Often we are given little else.
     As I have worked with this challenging student for the past three weeks I have often wanted to pull my hair out and simply give-up by removing the child from my presence.  Some days I win with good behavior management and other days I can see the child's elfish grin as he thinks of the next way to try and get me.  I keep trying not because I'm a sadist, but because I am the teacher that at this moment in time has the opportunity to change his life for the good.
     Yesterday, as I helped this child tie his shoe, I noticed the soles of his shoes were worn all the way through to his bare feet.  In addition to feeding, corralling, and teaching I worked on getting shoes for this child.  I don't get a bonus or even a "thank you" for my extra effort, but I know it needs to be done.
    You and I do not always get to choose the children that we teach, but they are in our lives for a reason.  Sometimes we get to make their lives better by giving them the skills they will need to be better citizens.  At other times they help us to become stronger by taking us to the brink of insanity so that we gain super human patience.  Regardless what the greater reason, teaching is a tough thankless job that is accomplished by hundreds of thousands of teachers all across the world.
    Please join me this year as I take us daily through the trials and joys of a full year of teaching.  It is my hope that together we will gain the strength we need to teach effectively in spite of the challenges and odds that can sometimes seem impossible.

(What would you do if you had an impossible student in your class that you had to deal with?)