Tag Archives: teaching hints

Coach’s Definition of Success

Life lessons are sometimes best told by others.

Our parents tried their best and perhaps later in life we learn to appreciate their intentions. Sometimes we don’t.

At the start of the academic year I outline classroom rules. Then I begin to share stories that best answer the question why we do what we do.

Why they’re sitting in our classroom. Why we’re at the front teaching those that are sitting.

Some years ago my colleague made a concerted effort to begin including videos that would positively impact his students. It was, naturally, a great idea that I too adopted. Students loved the break in the routine of academics, while I secretly plotted how I might make a difference in a way they weren’t expecting.

I included some of them in a past post about videos you should show your class.

One of those videos that I didn’t share was about a college basketball coach who just happened to have won more NCAA championships than any other coach before and since.

Yesterday while thinking about how to impart the lesson of doing things well to my students, I thought about the lesson this coach taught about teaching his freshmen players how to put on their socks and shoes during their first Bruins practice.

It’s a lesson about doing the simple things right. Doing right what you can control, so that the things which you can’t control have a better chance of being one’s success as well.

I looked up Coach Wooden knowing there must be more to learn and I am grateful to have found the following TED video that highlights the lessons he taught as a teacher, and not necessary what made his team a success.

Within the video are lessons that might inspire you, my fellow teachers, to continue in what I believe is our noble profession.

There are days in which it seems the classroom clock is moving much too fast as our year end assessments approach. This man has seemingly thought long and hard about what determined success in his English classroom.

Perhaps your definition and his are the same.

I hope you enjoyed it.

I’m curious what lessons he shared were impressed upon you. Which lessons resonated with you.

Please feel free to comment.

Escaping Classroom Failure

I try to be that teacher.

The one you wish you had. The one that you might have had long ago and wish you had again.

Funny, impactful, caring, sincere, kind, patient, and understanding. I’ve had a few I still remember all these years later. They were helpful, insightful, introspective, and said the right thing at the exact right time.

I admit it. I admit it to you now with humility.

I am not that teacher every moment of every day.

I fall short. I fall short a lot.

I share this because not being the teacher I wanted (and want) to be  really annoys me. Perhaps writing about it will bring some solutions. Maybe my sharing will ease my annoyance with myself.  I think about my failures as I stagger down my trailer’s stairs at the end of the day. I reflect on them as I drive home. They introduce doubt.

And then I try to remember about who sits in my classroom each day and I remind myself that each of my students is not a widget to be sold or a cog that’s part of a bigger machine.

Each of my students is a little human with all sorts of history of which they themselves don’t realize. Their parents in turn have a life of which I know very close to nothing. Combined, all of it leads to a myriad of experiences with which students enter the classroom each morning.

So maybe who I am and how I do it is exactly what some of them need. If they’re little people who come wrapped in so many different packages, then being different than the next teacher, then doing it differently than my colleagues who I know are excellent – is ok.

Yet the doubt still creeps in.

What happens after they get on the bus at four in the afternoon and when they come back the next school day at nine in the morning?

I don’t know.

I can tell you about what happens during the school day and I try my best, my very best, to be understanding that each is a human being in the process of changing into a not so little person anymore.

Some days, I proudly confess, I am successful. Happily successful.

I reach my students and not only teach them, but I connect with them. That’s when I know that teaching is what I’m meant to do. When I pick up on a student’s displeasure or confusion and help bring a dose of confidence or reassurance – all is right in the world. When I change my teaching mid-lesson and the end result far outshines what I was planning to do initially – I am happy.

Then there are the other days when the awesomeness doesn’t happen, regardless of what I try. Jokes fall flat. Encouragement doesn’t encourage. My happiness does not sprout more of the same. Plainly said, students can be a tough crowd and sometimes aren’t at all receptive to the best of intentions.

Here’s where I think being stubborn is a good thing. It’s on these days that I do some of the following.

Option One: Mercilessly Plow Ahead

I gather steam and haphazardly continue what my lesson plans require of me without second guessing any of my antics. The jokes will continue regardless of how badly they are received. In fact, I may just amp up the zany in hopes of breaking through the tired-don’t-care-please-don’t-make-me personalities sitting in my room.

This is exhausting. This is a gamble. When it works, it’s like finally reaching the top of a long climb and seeing the vista. It’s completely worth it.

Option Two: The Sound of Silence

Fall back to my quiet place. Sometimes quiet really is the best medicine. In fact the sound of silence is a great remedy to recenter both teacher and student.

I don’t like the quiet in a classroom. I enjoy hearing their laughing too much. I love our conversations. I appreciate a good story – whether theirs or when I get to tell my own. Quiet is tough on me, but I continue to learn that some of my students work best when their teacher doesn’t interrupt them with a story about that morning’s crazy realization or what happened at my own home the night before.

Either approach isn’t foolproof, but deviating from what expected often works.

Option Three: The Honest Truth

What I think works best is what I find myself doing when I’m at a loss for how to proceed.

And it’s what I did yesterday – I was just plain ol’ honest with them.

I’m a believer that every teacher has to draw a line in the sand and share some real honesty. Whether their writing hasn’t been up to par, it’s obvious that they aren’t following directions regardless of prompting, they aren’t using time to catch up, or their efforts have been lackluster.

Yesterday I stopped all charades and worried less about balancing positive with criticism. With my filter set on a lower setting than usual, I let my worries and concerns known.

How I end the sugar coatin’ changes depending on what I think will work.

Sometimes it’s a letter I write and let them read as the morning begins. Other times I remind each student what I am impressed by and what each needs to improve upon. Occasionally I will sit in front of them all and share with them the thoughts that woke me well before my alarm began – this morning it was 2 am.

That last one. The one about being super honest while I tell them what thoughts spin in the teacher’s head – that’s what I did yesterday.

Effective? Today they were much more civil with one another. Their efforts improved. The writing looked to be done with more attention to detail and more missing work arrived on my desk. Not all of my students, but most of them. But most of my students heard what I had to say, so today I left feeling like I earned that paycheck again.

Fingers crossed for tomorrow.

Resolving to Reach the Unreachable and Ignored

Until I took a trip to Campeche, Mexico in my junior summer of high school, I was that kid who thought little of himself.

It would take six weeks in a foreign country, living with a family I didn’t know, understanding not a word of Spanish and surrounded by a very attractive group of girls to convince me that I might actually have something within me that others find interesting.

Why that group of girls chose to pick me up in that tiny VW Beetle and take me with them to the discotheque I have no earthly idea. I will of course admit to you, it left quite the impression.

Before that trip, and the events of which still confounds my mother to this day, I was the quiet one.

In school, I would hide behind the student in front of me.

I kept my hand down and cast my eyes downward when the teacher asked for a response.

If there was ever a chance to voice discontent or share an unpopular opinion, it definitely wouldn’t be coming from me.

I did not cause trouble and did not cause my teachers any grief. Because of this demeanor, it was rare that I held the attention of my teachers. I did not appear on their radar as unruly or as someone that needed to be confronted. In fact, thinking back, I can’t think of many teachers who made an effort to get to know me.

Except for Mr. David Saunders. My sixth grade teacher made it a point to ask me for help with German, a class he was taking. I felt special being called upon by my teacher for academic help. He made science an adventure as he included me in his plans to confound my fellow students with remote control contraptions for which only I had the remote. He left a great impression on how to bring out the best in this student.

And now that I’m that teacher calling on students, I know that the same kind of student sits in my classroom.

In what has become an annual tradition, New Year’s Eve survivors now either hold tightly to their resolutions or have in these last few days resolved to admit that they were shared in a moment of weakness.

I therefore refuse to do the same and attempt to continue what I sometimes do fairly well.

Sometimes, but not nearly enough.

I will do a better job of being that teacher who calls on the person sitting on their hands.

I will more often ask the shy one to step forward and share with the class how they successfully solved a problem.

I will attempt to have an honest conversation with the student who wants no part of sharing why he or she is so defiant.

I will keep trying to force a smile upon my quietest students with a joke or self-deprecating humor. I will summon from my list of nicknames till one fits so well they begin to use it on the top of their papers.

I will do a better job at focusing on those who would rather not be focused upon.

In doing so I will remember that sometimes we all need some time alone with a good book or a brain break by doing something creative.

We all need a break, teachers included, from what can become a monotonous classroom. It is then that I will introduce a game, a stretch break, a song or perhaps evoke the timeless thrill of story time – or even show and tell.

I will remember the students who aren’t always at the top of their class, nor in danger of failing their state assessments.

I resolve to reach the unreachable and ignored.

This of course does not happen anywhere near as much as it should. After thirteen years, you would think I’ve got a successful plan that hits on all cylinders.

Sadly, you’d be wrong.

Caught in the zeal to get to the end of my lesson plans I’m too often relieved that there weren’t too many questions. I assume that means the students learned enough to be able to continue to the next lesson.

Yes, I know.

Assumptions aren’t a good practice to rely upon.

As this new year begins, as I enter the dark classroom in the morning and turn on the computer that sit on my desk, as I write down the morning message that my students will read when they arrive, I will do a better job paying attention when I haven’t in the past.

I will reach out and do more than teach – I will connect with those who are hiding and hoping that they can quietly sit and remain anonymous.

I won’t allow them to be unreachable or ignored. I won’t let them be who I so faithfully tried to be.

This is not a resolution that will fall by the wayside as other priorities find their way to the top of my to do list.

This is simply a promise to my students.


What resolutions or promises have you made to your students this year? What is your hope for your classroom and why? I would love to hear them, and would appreciate your sharing them in the comments section.

Classroom Truths Part I: Realities & Useful Hints

 

classroom
A classroom of students who desire to be teachers is a wonderful thing.

There’s enthusiasm among peers. The desire to do good. Ideas and hope in what can be done at the front of the room.

Ah, the things they don’t teach you in teacher school. The truths of being the teacher.

Like the parent I once had who was quick to criticize. Again and again.

Or the woman who wrote me a note every day either asking for more specifics about homework or criticizing what she thought I did from the reports she received from her child. There would be no pleasing her.

Or the time I tossed a student a tissue box and heard a couple days later that the father was convinced that I had an anger management problem – that was over 10 years ago.

Or the mother who reported to my principal that I made her blood boil. Why? Because I had high expectations for her son to achieve. She had told me in her most convincing, angry tone that I needed lower them.

I should have known that nothing I could say would be enough or the right answer for any of them. It made for stressful days in which I worried a great deal more about what they thought of me. What I should have been worrying about was being myself in front of the classroom.

Trying to explain what a teacher does in the classroom is close to impossible. There are too many variables at play. I only teach basic algebra, otherwise I might be able to come close to explaining the concept mathematically – probably requires elements of calculus too… of which the mere mention brings beads of nervous sweat to my forehead.

When I tell, or is it unload, the day’s classroom antics to my wife she sometimes shares that she doesn’t know whether she would want to be a student in my classroom. I think it’s a nice way of saying that she does know – she in fact wants no part of having to sit in my class as a student.

Not being the one in charge for over 180 days allows for others to quite easily do a bit of armchair judging. I readily admit to doing it when I watch other teachers’ behavior – again, unfair.

Why is it that parents are so quick to criticize?

Would they do the same with their dentist, optometrist, lawyer? Imagine: hold on now doc, muttered between the saliva straw and numb tongue, I think that filling placement is all wrong. I just don’t have the nerve to even suggest that I know their job.

Perhaps it’s because we have all sat in a classroom.  Probably about 13 years at a minimum. We’ve had to endure loads of poor teachers unless you’ve won some sort of lottery and can say every teacher was awesome.  I bet you, like I did, had some thoughts about how to make it all more bearable?

So here’s a couple of ideas that might prove useful in the classroom. Whether they prove to remind current teachers about what they already know or help a starting teacher find footing, or give a glimpse into what teachers do… I hope you’ll think they’re at the very least… thought provoking.

Here’s my first six helpful hints.

  1. Be real. Students have been sitting in front of teachers for some time. Perhaps in kindergarten the students love you because you’re their kindergarten teacher but titles don’t work for very much longer. Students know when you’re being legitimate. As a colleague shares with his students: “Here’s how to be a great teacher… care about your students… and don’t fake it because it doesn’t work.”
  2. Understand that the ol’ adage holds true — you have to choose what “battles to fight.” The German side of me wants to be in control of every aspect. I have learned that it is much more effective, and healthy for my sanity, to take a more surgical approach. Of course there’s the worry of what my principal will think when she arrives to find students laughing or working noisily in groups.
  3. I utilize the Dr. Pappas Affect. I share this story at the beginning of every year. Dr. Pappas was a Political Science professor of mine at my alma mater at Redford University.He was an institution whose class was suggested by many. So I registered and remember sitting in his classroom wondering what would happen next. Whether by design or because “that’s just the way he was” his classroom was a space where unpredictability occurred.He whistled upon his entrance, consistently reassured us all that there was no attendance policy and wondered out loud why students kept at it, sang ridiculous songs that seemed to have some type of relevance to course content but quite honestly was over my head, and would consistently take a break from discussing the likes of Machiavelli with more odd behavior.His classroom’s chairs were always full even though role was never called.Lesson learned: predictability breeds discontent. Be a little unusual and so many other classroom problems dissipate.
  4. Be honest. Say you don’t know when you don’t. If a student asks a question that will result in an answer they many not like… ask the student again if they are prepared for brutal honesty.This requires a relationship with the student to have been formed so the sting that might be felt will be offset by their knowing you care enough to be honest with them. If I can’t be honest with students who I expect to be honest with me, then I need to be in another profession.Granted, I take into consideration their grade and wh. My honesty is always intended, and worded, to be helpful.
  5. Celebrate success. I have a Success Board where all A papers are stapled. Initially I think my students aren’t sure that they’ll ever get an A. They try to get me to put up their B’s which I refuse – B’s are great… but shouldn’t we strive for the best possible? Or let me say it a different way — what inside a child dictates that they aren’t capable of top tier success?I’m a believer in their ability to accomplish whatever they set their mind towards doing. After a few weeks, my bulletin board has papers stapled upon previous weeks’ papers. If classroom conversation ventures into the “I don’t think I can do it” I point to the board from across the room. A classroom full of examples in which they can do it, and have done it.
  6. Use technology. They love seeing a picture of themselves on the morning PowerPoint presentation, love the odd reference to your own childhood. I share my grade school class picture and ask them to guess which one is me. Kids love technology, it’s their world. If you can make it function towards meeting your learning objectives they’ll squirm in their seats wanting to see what you’ll do next…

For the next six, check out the next blog.