Windswept 240                                                                                                                                                                                                            

Kathleen C. Greve

Musing on best practices

Mr. Mort

  1. Your room is YOUR ROOM!

You are in control of who leaves and who enters. Students or adults who enter your room to interact with a student need to get your permission (a look, a nod, nothing too onerous). Students never leave without your permission. Class is not dismissed until you dismiss it. Students who are out of their seats (rolling toward the door) have to wait until all others have departed.

When students see that the teacher is in control, they are more likely to acquiesce in reasonable rules. It is important that they see the rules apply to adults and students both.

  1. Treat the support staff with the respect they deserve.

Every day the custodian unlocks the building before anyone else arrives and locks it after everyone one has left. The secretary bails you out once again by running those copies you didn’t make. The classroom aide takes over while you grab a critical, unplanned minute with a parent who happens by. The cook lets you snag an unauthorized apple when you really, really need an apple for that Newton/apple thing you do. Face it, support staff makes the place run. Treat them like the critical element they are.

  1. Do your bus duty.

Students do stupid things around buses. Drivers do stupid things around buses, and student drivers are the worst. It is your job to keep children safe. This is not subject to discussion or disagreement.

  1. Keep students current on how they stand and make the information available to parents. Update PowerSchool on a regular basis.

Sharing information with students, parents, and other faculty members helps everyone. Students know what they are missing, where they stand relative to any goals they have set. Parents have a way to check on the status of their child’s grades, missing assignments, and general progress. Faculty can use information at IEP, 504, and EST meetings. It is also invaluable for academic lab teachers to help students make up missing work.

  • Keep a sense of perspective

If you always have enough copies, if your goals and agenda are on the board at the very beginning of every class, if the TV/DVD player are cued up correctly, if you web page is updated at the end of each class, blah blah blah… if you are always prepared for class, you can insist that students are equally prepared. However, that never happens, so keep a sense of perspective. Banks don’t make tellers bring their own pencils and paper. It cost $100 to supply pencils-on-demand for all students and teachers for a year and eliminated a lot of office supply firefights. Make the little stuff go away so you can concentrate on the important stuff (see Band-Aid above).

  1. Tell the truth; take the hit.

Don’t lie.

It’s more than a little disturbing that it needs to be here at all (and probably ought to be #1), but experience dictates otherwise. No dog in the world should ever need to be fed again given how much homework they have eaten -- this not the lie that should concern you. You should be concerned about the colleague who says that grades have been entered when they have not, that he was attending a meeting when the meeting was cancelled, that she had a doctor’s appointment only to find her skiing. When your colleagues lie to you, what are they saying to their students? Much better to say, “I needed a mental health day and went hiking,” or, “I’m overwhelmed by the papers and grades -- I need help.”

If you lose student papers, suck it up and admit it. Work out a solution. If you didn’t get papers graded as you said you would, take the hit. Honesty doesn’t excuse bad behavior but can make a mistake less of a barrier to progress. Admit you were wrong, take the scorn students love to pour on an imperfect adult, and move on.

  1. Make fun of yourself.

Let students see that lack of a certain skill (drawing, singing, writing, arithmetic for examples) is something less than the end of the world. If you make jokes about yourself, it models one way to be critical without being mean spirited, how to accept a thing for what it is, how to laugh and move on.

  1. Go on, be sarcastic.

Maybe third graders have some trouble with sarcasm, but trying to teach high school students without sarcasm (at least sarcasm directed at yourself, see Make fun of yourself above) tells everyone that you take life too seriously and lack perspective. Don’t be mean; be funny.

  1. Use your hands.

Wave your hands around; draw pictures in the air; point and shout. Visual learners love it, and it keeps your enthusiasm level up.

  1. Pay attention to the brain stuff.
Lectures over about 20 minutes just don’t work. Breaks and variations in activities are dictated by brain development. Wishing that students can sit quietly for 85 minutes does not make it so

  1. Be a team player.

Groups of people can be effective in accomplishing shared goals when they work together. That means showing up at a meeting on time and staying until the business is completed. It means providing information needed by others and doing those things you said you would do. It means abiding by the decision group even when you don’t agree.

It also means that both the teams and the goals must be realistic, not artificial. When teams violate this principle, team members who do not speak out are displaying enabling behavior. A lot of stupid committees are created to solve stupid problems because no one will say, “That’s just dumb, and I won’t be part of it.” That’s being a good team member too. Don’t agree to do something stupid.

Once you agree to serve on a team, do it right.

  1. Get down on the floor.

Sit down on the floor with students. It expresses a certain of equality in the search of knowledge, and it gives students a chance to mock their elders when they try to arise. These are good things.

  1. Use different disciplines within your discipline.

Being comfortable with you subject area is a given. Students need to understand that the discipline within a given area also interacts with other disciplines. Painters write, physicists draw, writers sing, historians compute statistics. Students need to see, and expect, that any given discipline is informed by others.

  1. Model the behavior you want from students.

If you want students to be on time for class, be on time yourself. If you want students to complete assignment (their job), make sure you grade and return the assignments promptly (your job). If there are consequences for late student work (reduced grade for example), student should know there is a consequence for late teacher work (no more homework assigned if more than one week late returning papers for example). If you want students to take responsibility when they screw up, take responsibility when you screw up.

Students need to see the same principles applied to both students and teachers. Consequences for making a mistake can’t be identical but can be comparable.

  1. Always have some Band-Aids available.

Reduce those trips to the nurse after those nasty paper cuts.

  1. Establish what you job is and what it is not.

Teaching the classes you are assigned is a full time job. To do it well can soak up every minute of every day, so each time you do something not related to your classroom, it makes your teaching less effective. Still, as part of a community there are reasonable demands that can be made on you. It seems that you ought to show up to school every day, serve on one serious, on-going team each year, do one or two short ad hoc assignments, perform such bus and lunch duties as are typical, get to the faculty meetings, and attend student related after school meetings and conferences. A full time job and the extras listed above, that’s enough to ask of someone. There comes a time when you cannot perform in the classroom if your time has been eroded by extraneous demands. People who ignore this basic fact are little more education hypocrites.

  1. Grade the papers.

You ask students to produce work so they can learn, practice, and improve. They need your feedback to accomplish those things. There are all kinds of reforms that get bandied about, the silver bullet(s) as it were, none of which come close to grading papers promptly and returning them to students. The longer you wait, the more learning is reduced. The longer you wait, the less importance students assign to their homework. The longer you wait, the longer they wait. Suck it up; grade the papers.

  1. Rewards are for everyone.

If you hand out rewards, they should be for everyone not only for the well behaved. If you think students need a little piece of fruit, then everyone needs a piece of fruit, not just the goody-two-shoes. Students have a sense of being equal partners in the educational endeavor if they are treated as equals. “This teacher treats me just like the good kids. Maybe I should give her way a try.” Worst that happens is you lose a couple of pieces of fruit (and is that such a bad thing).

  1. Establish your areas of incompetence

Be honest about what is hard for you, maybe what is impossible. Students like to know there are levels of frustration that you share, things that you can’t do no matter how hard you try. Let them see how you cope with your own low-skill areas so they can learn to cope with theirs. Not being able to do something is not the same as being condemned to death.

  1. Get plenty of sleep

Americans are generally sleep deprived. You are; your students are; your students’ parents are. No one operates well when they have not gotten enough sleep. When you begin to lose your sense of humor, when things that you could laugh off a month ago drive you mad, when you have just had enough, you’re probably not getting enough sleep. And one night catch-up is not enough. Several days of sufficient, relaxed sleep are indicated.

  1. Be friendly, not a friend.

You are a teacher not a friend. Teachers have to do and say things that friends do not. Teachers have to hold people accountable in ways that a friend does not. Teachers have to demand things a friend cannot. You should be approachable, friendly, but you are always a teacher.