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Archive for the ‘First Day’ Category

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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I woke up early this morning (my first back in the U.S.) thinking about school. I have been out of the country for the past month, and now have a little over a week until a new year starts with all the joys and challenges that brings.

What was on my mind this morning was actually an incident from last year. I had an incredible class last year, and I’m looking forward to seeing many of them after the summer. There are very few years as a teacher when you have a class in which there is NO student that you don’t like. Last year was one of those years for me: No one that annoyed me, no one I hoped would be absent, back teaching a subject I love, just an incredible year. While that is an amazing thing, it makes preparing for this year a lot harder. It’s true that I’ve heard every year from at least one 7th grade teacher, “This is the worst class to come through the system!”, but by the time they get to us as 8th graders, they’re usually not bad (except the traditional 5 to 10.) The class coming up has mixed reviews (Some teachers loved them; most had a few challenges.) Still, going from the best class you’ve had in 10 years at the school to the unknown is bound to be rough.

So, what was on my mind this morning was an incident from the last week of school. I was in the midst of writing my traditional “end of the year” letters for my students, and when I wrote one particular student’s, I started crying (and I’m not usually a crier). So you understand, I put a lot of thought and prayer into the letters and try to say what I feel each child needs to hear. The kid that made me cry was a rough kid. He had had a hard life–more difficult than most of our kids who have hard lives. But, in the course of the year, he had shared bits and pieces of his story with me, and on a few occasions, I was able to see through the chink in his armor to the little boy he was hiding with the “tough guy” exterior.

When I read the letters to my students the next day, a number of students cried over their own letter, but his was the only one I’ve ever read that made someone other than the person it belonged to cry. I had warned him that his letter had made me cry, but he let me read it anyway (and I cried again, as did many others in the class.) When other classes came in later in the day, I heard the same statement, “I heard you’re going to make us cry.” I explained that some students do and others don’t, and that more people had cried in the previous class because I had when I was reading someone’s. They immediately guessed the student, so word had gotten out (as things do in a small school.) A student asked me, “Why did you cry over (student’s name)?” The answer I gave surprised even me. I said, “I don’t know. Maybe because no one else ever has.” The truth of that hit me like a ton of bricks. If even part of the stories I’ve pieced together about this student are true, his dad has never cried, his mom can’t stand him, and his siblings beat him up. So, in all likelihood, no one has ever looked at his life and loved him enough to cry for the things he’s suffered and the wrongs that he’s experienced. No one has watched him make bad choices and grieved for him. Whatever way he’s made, he’s made most of it himself. To me, that’s not how it should be. Somewhere along the way, I had gotten a huge heart for this kid without realizing it until I started typing.

As I gear up for a new year, I know some of the kids I will have are students that have caused a lot of problems for other teachers. I already know them by reputation or discipline reports, or from having to write them up in the hallway. And yet, if I keep in mind this situation from last year, I will remember that this kid was a student who had gotten in trouble, and who, from the exterior, made others assume he was trouble, and yet, I had seen a side of him no one else had. If I approach each student (remembering that looks can be deceiving), searching for that chink in the armor that will let me see what’s really going on with them–if I look beyond the external to the heart of a child, I will have no problem loving each one. And when a child knows you care, it’s amazing what kind of a year you can have!

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Today was our first day of school. I thought it went fairly well. Kids were generally well behaved, impressed with my room and my candor, and predominantly friendly and open. Ahh, the bliss of being a veteran teacher. Then, I got the parent phone call. Here’s the conversation:

“Miss Brailey?”

“Yes.”

“Hi, this is (Name). I’m Matt’s mother. Did you tell Matt you wouldn’t call him Matt and would only call him Matthew because he was rude and obnoxious?”

“WHAT?!? No!”

“So you deny this happened?”

(Dawning realization….)”No, I told students when I called roll to tell me if they wanted to be called by something other than the name I had. Matt said he wanted to be called Matt. I said, ‘Okay, I’ll only call you Matthew IF you’re in trouble or annoying…As in Matt…Matt…MATTHEW! I’m so glad you called me…”

“OOOOHHHH, I do that to get his attention too…”

She went on to explain that he is very respectful and an honor student and was crushed to think I thought he was rude and annoying on the first day of school. I offered to speak to him to clear the matter up, but she said she’d explain it. Because and If–who knew subordinating conjunctions could be so important…

A fun side note: While I was preparing to publish this, another parent facebooked me: Hi, Miss Brailey. If you have any problem out of (Student), just kick his butt, okay?

Aaahhh, parents…One of the many joys of teaching.

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Tomorrow is the first day of another school year. I have spent the last week spending most of every day at school preparing on for “the big event.” Before I get bogged down in the reasons it’s hard being a teacher, I want to focus on the things I love about my job, and why I’m looking forward to it.

1. I love my fellow staff members. Many of us have been into school every day the last two weeks. While much of that time has been spent in our own rooms, a great deal has also been spent in the hallway or other teachers’ rooms just catching up with each other. I remember when I had first gotten a job here and my parents were helping me move into my classroom, my mom commented, “People here seem friendly and happy to be here. That’s important.” It is indeed. Students come and go, but most faculty changes only slightly over the years. Additionally, we have had faculty battle cancer, have major health problems, lose family members, be in lawsuits, get married and have babies. Through each of these events, our staff has rallied behind each other. When my dad died, other teachers covered my classes and arranged my time out. I got cards from faculty and custodians, flowers from the school, and many kinds words of support. I’ve seen teachers give up their sick days for one another, teach for one another, visit each other in the hospital, and go to each others’ family funerals. We truly have an unparalleled staff.

2. I love my students. I was walking out to my car yesterday, carrying a small shelf, and one of my students came up beside me and said, “Here, let me carry that for you.” Wow. I loved that! And it happens all the time with our students. From opening doors, to hugs in the hallway, to carrying things, our students genuinely care about us and invest in us as people. We’re not “the enemy” or the bad guys. They treat us respectfully (if we’re not jerks), write notes of encouragement, and help us out when we need it.

3. I love our administration. That is not to say I always like them, agree with them, or like what they have us do. But, just today, I sat in a room for an hour and a half with 4 fellow teachers and our new administrator who took the time not only to listen to our concerns about a new program we were adopting, but to affirm each of us as teachers, explain issues until we understood them, offer support to help us be successful, and never make us feel like there was somewhere else she’d rather be. When push comes to shove, every administrator from the superintendant down has been there for me–Multiple times.

I understand that my experience is not the one every teacher has, but I think it is something new teachers should consider before they take a job. When I interviewed at my school, I came from an interview at a wealthier, less diverse, and higher paying school. The contrast could not have been more stark: Huge, white, successful, wealthy school versus small, mostly Hispanic, on probation, 75% free and reduced lunch school. But when I walked into the first interview, the principal was arrogant and condescending, while at mine, the principal asked to have the department head sit in on the meeting because, “He’s the expert and I’m not, so I value his opinion.” That fact alone made my decision. And I haven’t looked back since except to thank God I didn’t accept the first school. Maybe I’d have more money, but it would never equal the treasure I have where I’m at.

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Yesterday, I spent some time at school in what has become my annual ritual: Praying over my building. A lot of parents and churches take time to pray for their schools, but it’s different having an “inside scoop.”

See, unlike those members of the community, I have the almighty key fob, which lets me in the building almost any time. Additionally, I know the faculty and stuff personally. So, I go in on a weekend when no one is there. I walk around the building, stopping at each door to pray by name for the teacher who teaches there. As I know their families and lives, I can pray over areas where they struggle as well. Also, I pray at each entrance, bathroom, and locker room for safety and protection (A number of our fights occur there since there are no cameras.) Finally, I pray over my eighth graders’ lockers and their seats in my room. The process takes about an hour.

While I realize not everyone believes in God like I do, I’ve found it’s a lot harder to be a jerk to someone if I’ve spent time praying for them. I’ve also seen teachers have breakthrough in the very areas I’ve been praying for (Ex. One teacher who’d been separated from her husband reconciled their marriage, as I’d prayed for her the beginning of the year.) It’s a true statement indeed that where your treasure is, your heart follows. And when you invest in the place you spend every day, you can’t help but be blessed in return!

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I decided today as I was anticipating the start of school with students tomorrow (We had the first day with teachers today) that starting school has all the emotions of going on a blind date.  Think about it–all the same questions run through your mind:

Will I like them?

Will they like me?

What if I hate it?

Can’t I just hide in the bathroom until they go away?

Additionally, I think if you approach the first day of school with a similar mindset, you can save yourself a lot of heartache.  First, recognize that you’re going to feel nervous and awkward–and so will the students.  Everyone has hopes that the experience won’t be that bad.  And everyone knows, regardless of the experience, that it has a definite ending time.   So, laugh a little, and enjoy the ride while it lasts.  And as I tell my students on the first day of school:  Congratulations, you made it!  Only 35 more Tuesdays to go! 

So in honor of my first day tomorrow, I decided to write a little poem to commemorate the solemnity of the occasion.  Here goes:

                                     ‘ Twas the Night Before School Starts           

‘Twas the night before school starts

And all through my mind

Thoughts chased each other

Twelve at a time

The children were nestled–

What would they be like?

Would I love them forever

Those dear little tykes

Or would, in my classroom,

They make such a clatter

with their pushing and shoving

And incessant chatter?

How could someone do this?

Their nerves must be steel!

With the first say tomorrow,

Tell me how should I feel?

If being too strict

May lead me to folly

And woe to the teacher

Appearing too jolly

What if I get up there

And forget what to say?

Can’t we postpone this

Just one more day?

And the names parents choose

Tell me how they could do it!

Khalid? Laquisha?

Who’d NOT stumble through it?

Whatever my worries

Most surely they’ll keep

Now if only I’d manage

To just fall asleep

Despite what my day’s like

Whether good or a bummer

I have to remember

Only nine months til summer!

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Lie #4: Rules can govern every aspect

of student behavior

While a great deal of press has been given to The 55 Essentials, I would encourage you that unless you are that particular teacher of the year, much fewer will probably be sufficient. When trying to write rules, several teachers I know have tried to cover every aspect of student behavior. They think of all their own personal pet peeves and the things that students traditionally do wrong, compiling them into one monstrous list. There is one major problem with this: Students are varied and seemingly eternally creative.

You doubt? A demonstration, then. In one of my early years of teaching, I had three rules, conveniently starting with the same letter: Responsibility, Relationship, and Respect. I had explained to my students that these were to govern our time together. I expected them to be responsible: bringing supplies to class, doing their homework, and being punctual. Then, I pointed out that there were certain things that were necessary merely because we were in relationship with each other, explaining that there were things I couldn’t let one student do because not everyone could do them. Finally, I explained that I expected them to act respectfully towards themselves, their classmates, and me. These three rules could be applied to every situation. If, however, I had made the typical rules like “Don’t chew gum,” “Bring two #2 pencils to class,” etc., this situation would have been allowed:

It was the year of the Winter Olympics, so many of my junior high students were watching the events. As I was enthralling my class with tales from history, I looked over, and what to my wondering eyes did appear, but one of my students in his seat with his knees under his chin, calculatingly moving from side to side. “What are you doing, Nate?” I inquired.

“I’m bobsledding.” He replied, most innocently.

Never would my rules have naturally included things like, “Do not participate in Olympic Sports using your desk as equipment,” “Don’t practice invisible instruments in class,” “Don’t make sound effects for imaginary animals,” “Do not light matches and stick them on your person,” or “Do not lay on your stomach and spin on the library tables.” [Note: I have said all of these to students.] So, you see, less is really more. Pick a few rules which address character (I currently use the Code of Chivalry, as my classroom is now decorated like a Medieval Castle) and apply these to the situations in your class. (Note: As I am predominately a middle and high school teacher, I will say that little ones may need more specifics. Just please don’t insult your seniors’ intelligence with “hands to yourself” type rules.)

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