Tag Archives: teaching reality

Failing Our Students: Assessment Success

Boy Covering FaceEach year for the last fourteen I have stood at the front of the room reading from my Virginia SOL manual’s script.

I have been told to never veer off script. Which does in fact make sense if an education official far away is trying to get every teacher across a state to give the same directions without fault.

No unintended advantages, no intentional pauses, no giving secret signs that students’ answers are incorrect. It makes sense.

The whole prospect of testing every students across a state must certainly make someone at the top mighty nervous. When national nightly news reports that teachers have been found guilty of signaling to students in some predetermined way that their answers were incorrect, more testing documentation, parameters and scripts need to be written. It makes sense.

Except for one thing.

We’re dealing with humans and in my case, children no older than nine.

These are the ones that officials want to test in my take-everything-off-the-walls classroom. I even had to take down my clock so that no advantage would be had by looking at it. I tore down my classroom schedule. I had colleagues concerned about whether numbered coat hooks were worthy of covering.

Do you remember nine? I can’t say I remember much more than doing tie-dye during Art Class. I remember Recess where one day I sat on a warm piece of gum while swinging — that’s some serious trauma for a third grader who had to stand up on the bus all the way home. I remember my teacher’s name and where my class was in my elementary school. I don’t remember what happened for those one hundred eighty days I sat at my desk. Do you?

Fast forward to the present and I now stand in front of my students during a test session unable to encourage, unable to give a thumbs up, unable to lean down and convince them it will be ok.

If their little bodies require a bathroom break another adult must lead them to the restroom and determine that no other students are inside — ensuring that no conversation will occur having anything to do with testing.

Welcome to our present state of education and how we have chosen to assess our children – regardless of age, regardless of their fear and regardless of how fair or insignificant questions might be. I can’t bring a sense of calm or even introduce a pleasant you-can-do-it smile, because that would be a testing irregularity and that could send me to prison.

No really, it could.

I’ve been obligated to sign a paper that spells this specific consequence out.

What do I do? What should we do?

I would like to tell you I’ve got the magic dust and I’m ready to share.

I don’t.

Like many of you I continue to be amazed (well, disgusted actually) by what we’re asking little people to accomplish on a given day or two.

The expectation is that they will be amazing, be proficient, and use strategies that have been reinforced to the point that why we do math or read has long since been forgotten. Students will do exactly that which would make any adult nervous – choose the right question when given the answer, interpret a question in math that has more to do with one’s reading ability than computation skills, and choose all the multiple correct answers to one question in order to advance to the next confusing question.

It would make adults nervous. It makes me nervous and I’ve been doing this over a decade now.

Just yesterday we finished our last SOL. We’ve been doing a LOT of math earlier this week. It was like a factory in my classroom with all the worksheets flying from student to teacher, back to student and back to me to assess their success, and mine, at remediation.

For fourteen years I have done this. For most of those I taught fifth grade. Now it’s third.

That’s a Science, Reading, Math, and Writing SOL for most of those years. At an average of 25 students for 12 years, that’s about 300 SOLs plus another couple of years at 3rd grade equaling well over 400 SOLs under my belt – some years I had over 30 students.

That’s a good amount of worry for both student and teacher.

That’s a huge amount of focus on the importance of a few numbers each year that supposedly defines my success as a teacher.

Those numbers are also intended to define a student’s knowledge in a specific academic area. It’s all quite backwards, in my humble opinion, because how can one day’s assessment sum up a year’s worth of learning?

Regardless though, I and my colleagues around me, have all bought into the importance of these numbers because we stress, we worry, we do our best to motivate, and we remediate right up to the last day hoping that each students’ scores will be what we hope.

We know if our scores aren’t acceptable, next year we will have a microscope placed upon us to determine what we haven’t been doing “right.”

Whether students came to us prepared by those that taught them previously, whether students come from homes in which education is valued, whether students’ lives outside of school is a place where the importance of character is reiterated — those aren’t assessed or taken in account at the beginning of the state assessment.

Regardless, we teachers do not want our efforts to disappoint.

Repeat any mantra long enough and it slowly becomes both understood and heartfelt. Tell teachers that scores matter and reiterate it through countless workshops and school wide endeavors and we believe. When we believe it enough, we both unconsciously and intentionally pass on this importance to students. Goals have to be met, we’re told, and we tell to those that sit in our classrooms.

First goal: pass. Second goal: pass advanced. Ultimate goal: perfect score of 600.

Students, teachers, principals, specialists, school divisions and states all celebrate when those scores hit passing and above.

There’s cheering when it goes well, and downcast eyes when it doesn’t. There’s serious anxiety, walk down any school hallway this time of year and tell me you don’t see it on the faces of both students and teachers.

All of it outrageous. Just go ahead and let’s call it child abuse of the testing variety.

Perhaps these thoughts convey to you that my students didn’t do well and therefore I need a place to express my frustration.

Actually they did an excellent job. As students finished, their scores were posted for our administrator to view who in turn shared them with me. Impressive pass rate. Had some pass advanced scores too.

I was relieved, administration was complimentary, but for me, I’m not happy.

My frustration isn’t that students can’t do well or even that there’s an assessment. My frustration is that our educational system has gotten to the point in which a whole year’s worth of teaching, student success and challenges overcome comes down to one assessment.

How have we gotten to the point in which students’ scores are valued more than students themselves?

 

Denay Haist Answers 12 Questions

Over twelve years ago I found myself sitting across from Denay as we both started in a new school. With a background in special education and specifically with emotionally disturbed students, Denay introduced me to a world in which students wanted nothing more than to be included, while also grappling with their own challenges.  She would became a dear friend and would be my classroom neighbor and teammate for over a decade. Here are her answers to 12 questions that I hope will bring insight into another professional’s experience in the classroom.

Note: As you might guess from the picture above, Denay is not a fan of having her picture taken so this is a favorite from her school days that she shares on the first day of school.


1. Why did you want to become a teacher?

I became a teacher later in life when I wanted to find a more meaningful career. I felt I had something to offer young students, especially those with disabilities. I went back to school to get my Master Degree in Education.

2. How long have you been teaching and where?

I was a teacher of students with emotional disabilities for ten years at Wells Elementary and for the last eleven years I have been a fifth grade general education teacher at Beulah Elementary, both in Chesterfield County.

3. What has been your biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge is meeting all the needs of students from those with disabilities, to those who are gifted, those who didn’t have any breakfast that morning, those that have lost a parent and those who have yet to find the value of education. There is never enough time and no matter how much you do, you never feel you have done enough.

4. What do you think makes you successful?

I genuinely care about the students. I also think I am creative with lessons as it keeps students engaged in the learning process. I constantly reevaluate how I present concepts to make it as interesting as possible. I use many visuals and hands on activities. My room is a visual overload. I am also a big believer in that you train people how to treat you and I put a lot of work in the beginning working on how we are going to treat each other in the classroom.

5. How do you start your first day, first week of school?

On the first day I always read and discuss the book The Giving Tree. It has many nuanced lessons about life. I also play a PowerPoint on my life, many photos of me as a kid, and the students love it so much that they want to see it the next day. I model organization all day to set the tone for the year. I also smile as much as possible.

6. Do you have any daily norms?

I try to connect to each student daily with questions about their life outside of school or give them a compliment about how hard they are working or how well they are behaving. We also read daily from a shared novel and the students generally love the novel we are reading. I also try to provide writing time every day and whole writing I try to play music from other cultures. Currently my students love music from Iceland.

7. How do you motivate?

I motivate by trying to celebrate every time I see someone working hard or being kind. Kids love to be positively recognized, it can really turn around an unmotivated student. I also set the academic and behavior board very high and do not lower that bar. Students quickly figure out that they can achieve goals they never thought they could and this becomes the source of the motivation.

8. What do you hope students remember about you?

It is so rewarding when they tell me fifth grade was their favorite school year. I hope they remember that I cared about them and that I helped them academically to be life long learners. I am still in touch with so many students and I love seeing the path some of them took. I love receiving letters from parents about his grateful they are that I was their child’s teacher.

9. Favorite subject / topic?

My favorite subject to teach is math. I teach accelerated math and it is my favorite hour of the day. My favorite subject to learn about is science. I am continuing to learn about astronomy, biology and chemistry. I love how You Tube makes available scientists and educators from all over the world to keep the educational process going long after school is over. I love breaking down complex subjects so that students can easily understand, it is definitely an art form.

10. How do you teach challenging students?

Every class has challenging students and part of teaching them is to accept the challenge. I feel lesson preparation, staying even keeled emotionally and having supportive team members helps. Sometimes it helps to figure out what is making that student challenging – fear, loneliness, a disability, sad home life, lack of confidence. You have to be realistic in that you can’t fix every student, but you can be a positive adult in their life. Almost every teacher I know has turned around some of their challenging students.

11. Best memory teaching?

The best moments are never anything big, it is always the small quiet moments when students are being kind to one another either by encouraging one another or helping each other learn. I love watching kids who are working towards a goal with their classmates. I remember a time one student comforted another student. I also love that feeling with I can say to myself, “Well that was a great lesson!”

12. What have you learned while being a teacher?

Teaching is not for everyone. You have to be your own cheerleader and motivator. The amount of work is overwhelming and often you are made to feel you never do enough. You have to be selfless, but you should also have boundaries. It is all a huge balancing act, but I can’t image doing anything else!


What are your answers to these questions? I would love to hear them. Please comment here on the blog so others might hear about your experience. Thank  you for sharing with others teaching in classrooms.

 

Why Teaching Might Not Be For You

Are You Sure You Want To Teach?

Been thinking of joining the ranks?

There will be no special letter in the mail saying we’d be happy to have you join us.

Nor will your doorbell ring and on your stoop be a man dressed in his best and ready to have you sign on the dotted line.

However, allow me to say, we’d be happy to have you join us.

Teaching is a profession often misunderstood and has certainly changed from when you and I sat in the classroom – so it is misunderstood even more so.

Teaching shouldn’t, however, be misunderstood by those interested in making it a career choice.

Each year I have the privilege to speak to students at the University of Richmond who are in the process of earning their bachelors or masters and then their certifications to teach.

I tell them this:

“I will be honest with you about the teaching profession, if you honestly think about whether you really want to enter the profession.”

As a student sitting in an evening course over a decade ago, I so appreciated when a high school principal came to our class and shared with us the truth about his job. There were no punches pulled; it was all unfiltered truth.

Hearing him share his experience, made a difference to me.

I am hopeful the following has the same effect on you.

Before you decide to call yourself a teacher, here are six unfiltered realities about teaching you need to know:

  1. It isn’t just about the kids.
  2. It isn’t easy.
  3. You won’t go home and be able to forget about your day.
  4. You won’t go home and be able to not do anything until you go back to work the next day.
  5. The first year is hell.
  6. You will be under-appreciated.

You’ll notice that there isn’t much positivity there and I don’t like that a bit because I pride myself on being positive when life throws a curveball.

There’s no positivity in those six realities above because you should go into the profession knowing that it isn’t all popsicles, pigtails, patient parents, pink bowties, and paper bows. Being the teacher isn’t always pretty.

You’re reading this because you know there must be a reason you’ve been called to teach – I really do believe it’s a calling.

We all love the little people – I get that.

But do you love the little people enough to endure all the challenges you’ll have to overcome?

It Isn’t Just About The Kids

It’s about a lot more than what might have drawn you in at the beginning.

Teaching is about being with students for a year and then hoping you’ve imparted enough, impressed enough, for them to go on to the next grade. Hopefully, once there, they will leave upon others the impression that they can and will be successful.

It’s about the future and your impact upon it now – and how that manifests itself later.

It’s about those that your students live with at home. It’s their experience at school that often shapes dinnertime conversation. It’s their challenge at school that dictates the worry parents share with one another. It’s your students’ success that bring celebration at the ice cream counter.

It’s about the value of their parents’ homes – state test scores are often one of the first qualifiers prospective homeowners research when deciding to moving into a neighborhood. It’s about district accreditation and the politics of school boards and their decision making.

Again, it’s about more than kids.

It shouldn’t be, but it is.

It Isn’t Easy

In fact, expect to be frustrated.

If there’s anything I’ve realized it’s that teaching doesn’t come naturally. Sure, there are some that can command a room, but there’s so much going on in the classroom. It’s going to take some time to feel competent.

From assessments to learning objectives to group dynamics to motivational strategies. From  student meetings to recess duty to grade book peculiarities to district focus to recertification classes. From training modules to faculty meetings to student files to parent-teacher conferences to morning meetings.

It is going to take some time to get comfortable up at the front – and that’s to be expected.

You Won’t Go Home And Be Able To Forget About Your Day

If my day didn’t go as well as I would like, I often want nothing more than to do a redo. Mostly though I’m trying to figure out how I could have done a lesson better or how I could have had a very different conversation with a student.

Your drive to your home may include a call to a student’s home to share not just challenges, but also a positive experience at school.

You are going to arrive at home and if you’re lucky enough, as I am, to have a family waiting for you then you’ll probably repeat the entire day’s experience to them.

There will be days you’re bothered by a parent’s remarks about you or the low assessment scores from the last test. Other days will find you smiling and laughing at the dinner table remembering what happened earlier in the day. Either way, you’re going to daydream about your students during the day, and perhaps even have some schoolmares at night.

You Won’t Go Home And Be Able To Not Do Anything Until You Go Back To Work The Next Day 

I have yet to figure out a way to leave work at work – literally.

At the end of the school day I’ve seen teachers roll suitcases, pull milk crates on wheels and have canvas bags hanging from the end of each arm as they head toward home. Others use backpacks or shoulder bags. I’ve even seen a grocery bag or two.

I would very much like to tell you that you won’t need to do any work at home, but I would be lying to you.

I won’t lie to you.

Between beginning of the year reports, getting your classroom organized, figuring out your first week of lessons, getting to know your students’ names, remembering the copier code, and understanding the acronyms that are mentioned between colleagues in the hallway – you’re going to be exhausted.

There’s no way you’re going to be able do the other million and one items on your to-do list at school.

Well, you could if you got a cot, a nice soft pillow and warm comforter, but they frown on that nowadays.

Your family will most likely frown too.

The First Year Is Hell

I hate to say it this way because I am grateful that I really don’t know what hell is like, nor do I have any interest.

It got your attention though, right? The first year is definitely the toughest.

Like swimming in a pot of water being slowly heated on the stove, the first year is going to get increasingly uncomfortable.

For returning teachers, we all start the year on a positive note after we acclimate to once again not being able to sleep in as long as we would like (note: actually full disclosure: not all teachers start on a positive note which I don’t truly understand – the time we have with our families during the summer is awesome).

We envision great things and try to improve on areas in which we didn’t do well last year.

For a new teacher, you really do go into that first year largely blind no matter how well your college classwork might have prepared you. Perhaps though, ignorance is bliss as some would profess.

The year starts slow and consistent. The year then begins to get frantic.

And then it quickly becomes a rollercoaster of emotion brought on, not only by uncertainty and inexperience, but also from utter exhaustion.

Your students will test you, your colleagues will often be speaking a different language during team meetings, and your principal will try to determine whether they’ve made the right decision hiring you.

The experience will be similar to that of being on a moving sidewalk – the kind you find at the international airport between departure gates, with no exit point ahead that you can see. You can try to turn around and go backwards to seek an escape, but that’s no solution either. Face forward and you will be rolled into the unknown.

You’ll be on the ride every first-year teacher has taken – it ain’t much fun.

You Will Be Under-Appreciated.

Your own parents will initially be supportive (or not) – it’s hard, after all, to say with an honest face that one disapproves of teachers.

Your spouse will be happy that you’re now getting paid after all the unpaid student teaching you did, but they won’t have counted on all the extra work you’re now doing at home.

When people ask you what you do and you share your career decision, they will remember all the unhappy experiences sitting in the classroom.

They will ask how you in fact do it? How do you manage all those kids? They may even place their hand on your shoulder and proclaim that you are a saint – but do it with sad eyes.

Perhaps during the summer you will feel elated that your new year has yet to start. That there’s still time to take another trip to the beach. Then you hear your neighbors talk about who their child has this upcoming year and they share their displeasure.

Ready To Change Your Major? Ready To Throw In the Teaching Towel?

So why do it?

At this point, if you’re still reading this, why in God’s name would you even consider teaching?

Simply, there is no more noble profession than teaching.

We teach every child.

Whether they come to us from homes where they’re well taken care of or come from homes where they’re an after thought, they arrive to us each morning.

They come to us hungry and well fed, happy and sad, well loved and mistreated.

They arrive full of hope and tired before they ever sit down. They sit down excited about a favorite subject and never having found joy in anything that has to do with school. They want to tell stories and not ever utter a word. They begin the year at the start line and they begin well behind because of challenges they’ve had their entire life. They want to impress you and they could care less.

We teach every one of them.

They are the little people entrusted to us and regardless of how they arrive, you are their teacher.

You will always, from here on out, be their teacher.

You will be on their class picture hidden deep in a pile in their attic, and found when they move from one home to another. You will be in their thoughts when their own children are in the grade you’re now teaching.

You have the opportunity to change lives at an age in which your students will look back and include you as the reason they are who they are. That’s pretty amazing.

It’s an opportunity few others have.

And that’s why you should join the ranks of teaching.

I hope you’ll join us.


Do you have some realities I failed to share? Please share in the comment section so that those new to teaching might know the challenges you faced and they in turn can be convinced to become a teacher. Thank you.

We’re Not Making Widgets: Teaching Is Tough

Rubber Ducky

They arrive at 9 a.m. and leave six and a half hours later. Instruction, conversation, art, worksheets, questions, quizzes, homework, assignment pads, tests… what did we accomplish?

Sometimes we teachers drive home at night thinking… “great day! Yes.”

Then there are those other days.

Every new teacher is certainly told about those every experienced teacher has had. There are days when it seems no matter what was attempted, the end of the day brought frustration. All the planning and forethought… all the enlightenment we hoped they’d experienced… all the effort — to no avail. Those are the days we go “well that didn’t work… now what?”

But as a career switcher, I know from first hand experience that other professions have their ups and downs too. No matter what the workplace may look like, sometimes one’s drive home is happy… sometimes depressing. I think it’s fair to say that the difficult days make teachers say… “why do this?”

So I had a student teacher a few years ago now. She did a great job. Finished up her undergraduate experience in my class. What an ending it was for her. Watching from my desk and sitting on my hands, as they say, trying not to interrupt…

I realized all over again – teaching is tough. Why are we expected to do so many things well?

We plan outside of work hours. We grade then too. Teachers are asked to become experts in areas that they teach. In elementary school that’s defined as language arts, science, social studies, and mathematics. If every student doesn’t understand the concept, we’re asked to remediate until they do — regardless if the student even wants to understand. We need to both understand and identify learning disabilities. We are asked to differentiate instruction depending on an individual’s strengths. And of course we need to be sure that everything that occurs in class ties to district goals. And there’s lots more… but there’s one important lesson worth noting more than others.

You know… they don’t teach you how to motivate in teacher preparation courses.

They do mention that how your students do on the state assessments is how you’re evaluated.

Where teacher programs fail is that those assessments don’t have a check off box for that child to check off.

There’s no “I didn’t give it my all” or “I really don’t like math so I don’t care about my score” or “there are so many crazy things going on at home, I really couldn’t concentrate on school”.

Yes I know. Construction is tough. Accounting is tough. Firefighting is tough. Nursing is certainly tough too. I suppose everyone will argue that they’ve decided on a difficult profession.

But I’m molding human beings here. I’m not selling widgets. Determining success can’t always be quantitative. Saving lives as a doctor or rescue worker certainly is important work — rewarding too I’m sure. But for close to a year I not only meet the expectations set forth by the state, I try to also meet those of my parents, colleagues, administrators and… my students. It can be quite the tricky balancing act.

And there is no better feeling than when students return after continuing on to the next grade and they tell you how the zany things you did in class actually made a difference. How my origami lesson that frustrated them so much really showed them importance of details and perseverance. Or how a difficult subject was made easier because of something I said or did.

I don’t think a state assessment score really equates that I’ve been a successful teacher. Sure, seeing those pass advanced scores in print feels good. But after over a decade of doing this teaching thing, I think that’s just the beginning. What about the rest of the student?

Have I successfully encouraged them to go beyond what they thought possible?

Teaching is like overseeing 24 little nations (the current number in my class). Sometimes they get along, sometimes they argue and want nothing to do with one another. Sometimes they just want to be acknowledged. And each day is different.

I hope that when students leave my class after a year. They will remember me as someone who cared enough to be honest. Who was able to challenge them and they in turn met the challenge. Most of all, I hope I taught them that success is not determined by the degree of genius within. It is in fact determined by persistence and a desire to accomplish what they desire.

I call it a life lesson. Something that I think we definitely ought to be teaching. Can we please assess that too? Now how do they put that on a multiple choice form?

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.

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.