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Archive for July, 2017

This one took me a long time to debunk. If you are an insecure person, and let’s face it, most of us are when we begin teaching, the first time a person is disrespectful of your authority, it will throw you for a loop. Having my head packed full of exciting lessons and textbook examples of classroom management, I was stunned the first time someone was disrespectful of me. I internalized it. In my mind, if I was worthy of respect, they would respect me, so if they didn’t, it must be something I did. I spent months, running into years, before I realized that kids are naturally disrespectful, and as I said previously, you have to earn their respect. Finally, I was able to stop beating myself up and truly take the authority that was rightfully mine. I realized that I didn’t have to tolerate disrespect, and even beyond that, I didn’t deserve disrespect.

Now, let me take a moment to stress again: Respect is earned. It doesn’t come naturally. The weakest form of respect is positional. So, how do you earn respect? Honesty and Consistency. First of all, let’s consider honesty. Let your students be a part of your life. Tell them when you’re happy, sad, sick, going on vacation, having dinner with a friend, or attending a family birthday. One of the greatest times I have had as a teacher was the time surrounding the death of my dad about two months ago (as of writing–Father’s Day:  June 15, 2008). It was completely unexpected and happened in the middle of summer school when I was teaching the students I would have the upcoming fall. It was difficult for me, as I had only known them a week before my dad died, but when I returned to school, I made myself share with them, both who my dad was, my pain in losing him, and my pain in knowing that most of them didn’t have a dad like mine. It broke down amazing walls with them, and they were more sensitive than I could have imagined. I’ve met teachers that are so closed about their lives, they don’t want students knowing anything about them. This hardly engenders respect. Let them see you as a real person, and they will respect you. Obviously, there are lines with what you share, but in my opinion, an honest question deserves an honest answer, and boy, will they ask.

Secondly, Consistency is vital. First, let me release you: You will never be 100% consistent. You are, in fact, human, and as such, are prone to miss things, have bad days, or forget what you just told the previous student who asked. That being said, justice and fairness is something that students long for, and they look to you to establish it. Have a few basic rules that students know for a fact will be enforced every time. Apologize when you are out of line, or for those times when you have been inconsistent. A great book on this subject is Tools for Teaching by Fred Jones. He is an amazing instructor with a lot of insight, especially in the areas of establishing boundaries and being consistent.

Example as of posting:  On the last week of our 2016-2017 school year, a teacher I know lost her long-term boyfriend.  She is one who believes your personal life is not the kids’ business, so consequently shares very little about herself (to the point where she had told students she didn’t have a boyfriend despite their almost decade relationship.)  Then, when he died suddenly (as a man around 30), she was understandingly devastated.  I’m so grateful she chose to share her experience with the students.  Suddenly, kids who couldn’t stand her were crying with her–they saw her as a real person.  Those who had always liked her gave her hugs, words of encouragement, and added their tears to hers.  Yes, a few were still jerks, but for the most part, they were incredibly sensitive.  While I understand that personality may play a large role in this, I still tend to believe honest questions deserve honest answers, and being authentic is a great gift.

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If you’re like me, this is the first piece of advice you received as a new teacher. Someone gave you a lecture about not being too friendly with kids and “professional distance” and the way you have to establish your authority early on. On this statement, I have one word to say: Hogwash.

This method may have worked in the time when children were “seen but not heard,” but the fact is, if you truly want to reach this generation, you have but one requirement: Be real. Kids today can spot a fake faster than anything. The more you yell and bluster, the more they will tune you out, or better yet, enjoy the fun of watching you throw a tantrum. I have heard students say that they purposely annoy certain teachers because, “It’s funny because he/she turns red and cries.” It certainly is not the way to win respect.

The adage you should be living by is this: “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.” I have long loved the scene in Patch Adams where he addresses the board about emotional transference. I’ve adapted the words to apply to teachers as well:

“Death is not the enemy, gentlemen. If we’re gonna fight a disease, let’s fight one of the most terrible diseases of all–indifference.

Now, I’ve sat in your schools and heard people lecture on transference…and professional distance. Transference is inevitable, sir. Every human being has an impact on another. Why don’t we want that in a [Student/teacher] relationship?

That’s why I’ve listened to your teachings, and I believe they’re wrong. A [teachers]’s mission should be not just to prevent [ignorance]…but also to improve the quality of life. That’s why you [teach a subject], you win, you lose. You [teach] a person, I guarantee you, you win, no matter what the outcome.” (Movie transcript).

For a while, every new teacher was taught to answer the interview question, “What do you teach?” with the answer: “Students.” The point they were emphasizing is that the central purpose of teaching is the students, not the subject. If all a student needed was information, they would be just as well—better probably—just learning off the internet. But, they need human contact. Another colleague said it well: “90% of what we teach isn’t our subject matter—it’s the life skills—how to find your way in this world. It’s how to deal with other people in an appropriate manner.”

So, let your students be close to you. Enjoy them as people; let them touch your heart. As you truly care about your students, they will respond. I heard a conference speaker share that their standardized test scores had been raised dramatically when they divided the student population and assigned each student to a teacher who merely took an interest in how the child was doing. So SMILE! It makes a difference!

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Introduction

When I set out to write this book, I’ll admit it was with fear and trepidation. You see, like many good teachers, I felt I was young and inexperienced with nothing much to offer. Sure, I was creative, and my students enjoyed my class, but that wasn’t any special gift, was it?

Then, two years in a row, I was asked to mentor women older than myself, who, to me, seemed to have it all together, and whose advice I should be asking, not vice versa. But, through those times of mentoring, I began to see that there was indeed wisdom I had learned that I had to offer. And so was born the decision to share it with you.

Much of what you will read over the next pages is just a compendium of the wisdom others have shared with me (kudos, Mr. Sundberg), seasoned with many mistakes of my own. I trust through this, that not only will you learn new strategies, but that also, you will be reminded of the reason you began teaching in the first place. (No, I’m not talking about the money or summer vacation, which frankly seems not to exist.) I hope to break through the lies you’ve been taught and set you free to be the teacher that you have been afraid to be. This book is yours. Take it; steal the ideas. Use what you can and throw away the rest. (Or as Mr. Norvell used to say, “Eat the chicken and throw away the bones.”) But most of all, be affirmed that you are making a difference every day, and that the role you play in the lives of your students is invaluable.

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I started this blog almost seven years ago when I was in the process of writing a book entitled Life Lines for Teachers–a collection of advice pieces I wish I’d known as a beginning teacher.  I was new to blogging, but had been shamed into believing everyone who wants to be an author needs a blog.  So, I wrote–sometimes previewing sections of the book,  sometimes dealing with incidents that arose in the the course of the school year.

Then, the state made cuts.  By changing the complexity model to only funding based on free lunch, not free and reduced lunch, our school (80% free and reduced lunch) lost almost 20% of our budget.  Overnight, my building laid off 1/4 of its staff, and I went from teaching all of the eighth grade (a task in and of itself), to teaching all of eighth grade and half of seventh grade–all while writing the plans I was teaching, creating power points, etc. (an insurmountable task).  Obviously, the blog got pushed to the wayside–as did the book.  I had gotten a rejection letter from Scholastic, and while I had plans to finish it anyway and submit to other publishers, again, time was an issue.

Yet, often, things would come up, and I would think, “Man, I need to write an article on that.” *Sigh*  And now, the state cut another million dollars from our budget, so once again cuts were made, and next year, three of us will teach all of sixth grade, seventh grade, eighth grade, ninth grade, and eleventh grade (one of our department is only licensed to teach seniors…)

Obviously, I will have even less time next year than I did this, but I realized in the course of travelling (and blogging) for another grant I received, that I have an unpublished book sitting and not helping anyone.  So, while I may not have time to blog regularly.  I should have time to post chapters from my book–and maybe occasionally add something if the stars align.

So, thank you to those who have stuck with this blog or checked in–even during my long absence. I hope what I post will be helpful!

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