The Professor’s Lesson

 Empty college library

I still remember seeing him the first time and well over 20 years have now passed.

Slowly walking with a cane and looking through larger-than-life glasses he seemed to be lost in thought. I didn’t know him, yet I wondered if he had lost his way as he seemed to stumble toward an unknown destination.

He was just the kind of guy you wouldn’t walk up to and strike up a conversation. He was someone who you either thought was constantly lost in his own thoughts or was quietly dissecting your own from across the desk.

He intimidated. Even from a distance, he seemed odd to me.

I would soon be reminded that I needed to sign up and take his course. It was my third year at Radford University and I had decided on a minor in Political Science.

You have got to take a class from that guy my fellow students had told me.

I must have been convinced.

Every seat was filled that first day of class. I did not, however, know why.

Every effort was made by our professor that day to remind us that attendance was not mandatory – an odd declaration it seemed to me if one wanted students to fill seats in a college classroom.

College students were well known, after all, to find excuses to skip classes, right? Here was a guy giving permission to us to not return.

I admit to being frightened when he would call me suddenly by my last name. I wanted to impress, I didn’t want to disappoint.

The professor had it figured out.

An educator who didn’t believe in standing at the front of the room, he sat in a simple wooden chair in front of us. He occasionally stood up to limp around the room for short spells. I had the impression that the chair brought him discomfort. Perhaps he didn’t walk around the room for proximity sake – he just needed to move a bit.

Lesson learned.

It’s not the material that captivated us. It was the storyteller in front of us. It was the unpredictability that now encourages me to suddenly change into an Australian accent, share a personal story, or attempt to put a smile on a student’s face (see previous post).

I had also been gifted a lesson in listening and learning, versus quickly judging and thinking I knew it all. If my story ended with a lesson about teaching, it would be a good memory, but it wouldn’t begin to share the bigger lesson.

I don’t clearly recall when, but it was some time later that I learned more about why my professor stepped hesitantly and needed a cane. It seemed that my impression that he sat uncomfortable in a chair might have been true.

I would learn that this man who walked with hesitation had done what few of us can imagine ever having the courage to do. He had, in fact, thrown himself on a mine to save his comrades while serving during the Vietnam War.

Another lesson learned.

Thank you Dr. Pappas.

12 Education & Empowering Videos You Must See

stars passing above

Ready to watch a video that will make you smile, reflect, laugh or sit back and say wow?

Here are a few videos about education or just worth watching to be inspired again.

They moved me to share them in the past and they’re no less impactful having seen them again in preparing to place them below.

Serious, funny, and insightful. There’s a mix of all below. Enjoy.

Sir Ken Robinson: Do Schools Kill Creativity?

From TED: Sir Ken Robinson makes an entertaining and profoundly moving case for creating an education system that nurtures (rather than undermines) creativity.

One of the most viewed TED Talks which has now been viewed over 38 million times. Hard to ignore that kind of viewership.

Can We Auto Correct Humanity?

From the video tagline: You need not delete your social networks or destroy your cell phones, the message is simple, be balanced, be mindful, be present, be here.

Here’s a take on cutting off the phone that we keep looking at. A good option to show to your class or others who can’t seem to put down their phone.

The Best Kindergarten You’ve Ever Seen

From TED: At this school in Tokyo, five-year-olds cause traffic jams and windows are for Santa to climb into. Meet: the world’s cutest kindergarten, designed by architect Takaharu Tezuka. In this charming talk, he walks us through a design process that really lets kids be kids.

Watch this and imagine going to or teaching at this school in Tokyo. If only architects and district planners got together and said: let’s build something unlike anything else.

A Radical New Teaching Method

Here’s a video that emphasizes the importance of kindness. Watch and if you’re a teacher – you’ll wish you were this good. As a parent – I wish my child was blessed enough to have this teacher in their lives.

Coach shows players the true meaning of respect…

Virginia Tech men’s basketball coach Buzz Williams apparently did not like the way his team behaved while the National Anthem played prior to Hokie basketball games so this is what he did to teach his team the meaning of respect.

Randy Paush: The Last Lecture

In 2007, Carnegie Mellon professor Randy Pausch, who was dying of pancreatic cancer, delivered a one-of-a-kind last lecture that made the world stop and pay attention. This moving talk will teach you how to really achieve your childhood dreams. Unmissable.

Logan Laplante: Hackschooling Makes Me Happy.

From TED: when 13 year-old Logan LaPlante grows up, he wants to be happy and healthy. He discusses how hacking his education is helping him achieve this goal.I saw this and I thought to myself.

Wow, this is so different that when I saw it the first time that I went back and listened to it again. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” he asks. “To be happy.” In this TED Talk Logan outlines what education should contain – that current schools focus on making a living instead of making a life. I’ve listened to this again and motivated yet again.

Admiral McRaven Addresses University of Texas at Austin Class of 2014

The Head of the Navy SEALS explains why making your bed every day is the most important life lesson. The Admiral continues noting other lessons from SEAL training that will make you both laugh at times and listen with awe at what these soldiers endure by choice.

The kids clean their own classrooms… and have fun doing it

A short video of Japanese students cleaning up their school. A great one to share with your students when they don’t want to pick up after themselves at the lunch table or their classroom desk.

Kid President’s Pep Talk to Students and Teachers

Required viewing the first week of school. If you haven’t seen this little guy yet… prepare to laugh. Your students will appreciate your desire to start the year on the right foot.

Alan Watts: The Dream of Life

Take some time and sit back. Listen to Alan Watts lead you through some thought provoking thinking about why we’re on this Earth. Contemplative.

Key and Peele – Teaching Center

Here’s one to make you laugh, or is it cry? Boyd Maxwell and Perry Schmidt report on the latest developments in the exciting world of pro teaching.

I would love to see your favorite video links in the comments section and perhaps sharing them with my own students.

Teaching Today: Myths Debunked

Teacher Believes In You Picture
So while I’m still new at the blog world and finding others’ interests that are similar to my own it’s reassuring to already read other teachers’ posts about the misconception of today’s teaching profession.
Especially when they attempt to “tell it like it is.”
I often tell others that unless one is married to, dating a, or a parent of… a teacher, people just don’t understand the challenges of the profession.
In fact after teaching over twelve years it has been my experience that most don’t understand the difficulties facing the classroom teacher in a public school setting.
I think most recall their own experience in the classroom. Those experiences we all remember from watching the teacher over the heads of those sitting in front of us. Watching the teacher’s reactions. Critiquing the teacher. Wishing we were the teacher. Thinking, of course, that we could do better than the teacher.
And so perhaps as observers of the profession many think that the profession has every so many benefits. Benefits that are so remarkable, that not being a teacher would seem ludicrous. Benefits such as you get to teach what excites you, you get summers off, students want to do well.
Allow me, for a small moment, to dispel some of these urban myths.
This isn’t earth shattering, but is might surprise you.
No we do not get to decide what to teach. Perhaps many remember a favorite teacher teaching us more about their favorite pastime of hunting than Earth Science. Whether it was happening in the 80’s I don’t know… but I’ll reassure you that today’s educator has a well thought out plan about what will be taught – one combed over by a long list of experts at both the state and district level.
Yes, there is some time off during the summer. Ask your favorite teacher about the time spent at home on work and you’ll find we’ve put in the hours during the year.
We remember the antics of the odd faculty member known throughout the halls of high school. Yes, there were teachers we loved and hated with equal passion – no doubt that students still do. But what do you remember about elementary school?
I remember the love note I sent across the room labeled “do you like me, check here for yes and here for no”. I remember that the playground was so far away from the school and often the dismissal bell would scare us into thinking that the buses would leave us behind. I remember the squirrels racing across the branches outside the classroom windows. I remember art class and tie-dying white t-shirts. And yes, referencing academics, I do remember being nervous when the report cards were handed out. What a different time that was.
How much more students are required to know now.
I tell the parents during Back to School night: students have to now know an amazing amount of information and then relate it all on one day… on one test… regardless if they are having a good or bad day.
Imagine being given a writing prompt and then having all day to write regardless of whether you have a headache, have writer’s block, or can’t relate to the prompt. Students today have enormous challenges set before them at school.
Teachers now don’t focus their entire instruction on a loved subject. In Virginia, the Commonwealth decides what will be taught during what year. They outline by date or by quarter. They outline using specific numbers and letters so that teachers can reference these when necessary. Fact… teachers don’t get to decide what to teach. We may or may not love the specifics of instructional objectives to be met… however we DO love it when students understand what they first experienced as difficult. Every students knows it when the teacher enjoys being the classroom with the teacher… we remember don’t we?
And the students that annoyed us as students don’t make it easy for the teacher either. Of course I will also add that my favorite memories of years past are the students that were difficult to teach initially, and then by year’s end… had transformed into young men and women wanting to succeed and prove to others that no challenge was too difficult. They persevered… a lesson that I try to consistently reinforce.
Yes, we have to do more than teach. In fact if we only had to teach the subjects well… teaching really would be easy. It’s all the other factors. Never mind that state standards and the assessments that occur at year’s end ignore the fact that a student may not want to do well, teachers have to overcome not just a disability or an academic challenge a student might have… they have to succeed regardless of a students negative and sometimes debilitating experience outside the school. (MUCH more on this later).
Summers do give us an opportunity to remove ourselves from the classroom for a few weeks. Those that don’t teach summer school, are taking summer classes themselves – professional development is constant. Or perhaps others are working their other job. Teacher pay scales are public knowledge… take a look. We didn’t become teachers for the paycheck but we still have to pay the bills. It will be interesting to see what occurs when school calendars are year-round… allowing for a few weeks between quarters. I agree, the summers are certainly captivating… yet if the time spent planning outside of school during the academic year were counted… I, like most teachers, are due some more “comp” time. As an example, my wife and family will attest to the fact that during my entire first year teaching… I spent each and every Sunday planning for the coming week. And while a teacher’s first year in the classroom is, well… horrific due to the fact that one is both learning the curriculum, figuring out how to teach the curriculum, and also keeping up with all the other demands of the classroom. I know that good teachers keep learning themselves… and using the summers to make the next school year better than the last… making the next year even more impactful.
So enough of the rambling. My colleagues and I talk for hours about our profession’s challenges and share stories when we prove successful in our interactions with our students. I heard it told to me once that the profession is an honorable one… I agree. I just wish more of society would agree and understand what a teacher’s day entails. I assure you, the front of the room is not quite the easy endeavor we might have thought it was when we were in grade school.

Teachers: Take Care of Yourself Too

A good teacher is like a candle, it consumes itself to light the way for others.

We’re almost beyond that time of year.

Sniffles, coughing, sneezing, noses being blown and multiple absences per day.

No longer are students crowded in stuffy classrooms coughing on one another and getting up endlessly to grab a tissue or two… or three.

I’m now in need of tissue boxes. Serious boxes. Like the kind you find at Costco that comes in a box filled with endless tissue boxes inside.

The door that leads outside, I so wish could stay open all day. Like the door that leads to a screened in porch with a little bit of breeze blowing in.

Yes, that sounds about right. Getting rid of the stale air sounds quite good about now.

Allergies, flu, ringworm, laryngitis, broken bones. I’ve seen teachers endure all of these and more. I’ve been told by a previous principal that there are no substitutes, so I’ll just have to teach without a voice. That was a surprise during my first year.

And here’s another one.

Question: Name the professional who schedules surgery on vacation?

Answer: Teachers

If you’re not a teacher, you just don’t understand that time away is compounded when you return. Not knowing whether the substitute was able to accomplish what you left is one thing, but you’ve also got to make sense of the note that was left.

I’ve had to be the detective the day after in attempts to make sense of what happened between two (or more) students that didn’t get along for a reason I can’t begin to get to the bottom of the next day. It’s the kind of work that sets you three steps back for every one step you had hoped to make. That time away, even if you were sick, suddenly doesn’t sound like a chance to rest up and feel better. It quickly feels worse.

Stop it. You can’t take care of your students if you don’t take care of yourself too.

Moms do it. Teachers do it too.

You care about each of those in your charge. Heck, you cared about them before you ever met them and they were just a name on your roster.

You think about them on the way to work and then again on the way home. You’ve got their parents’ number in your cell and call to give updates. You prepare for Monday by planning on Saturday… and then on Sunday. Sounds like what teachers are supposed to do, right?

You’ve got to make time for yourself too.

Like grabbing the oxygen mask as it falls from the overhead compartment during a mid-flight crisis, you’re told to take care of yourself first to be able to take care of those around you.

Great advice.

So start taking some time for yourself before you decide that there’s no time for yourself anymore. It’s not being selfish, it’s called reserving some time for yourself so that Monday isn’t exhausting because you spent all week doing more schoolwork.

Your worth it and so are your students.