Classroom Truths Part I: Realities & Useful Hints


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.



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