A course learner shares these poignant observations and offers some of his own teaching experiences and advice:
Quotes That ‘Struck’ Me
Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t – you are right.”[i] That is so true about students, they are great examples of self-fulfilling prophecies. It speaks to motivation, believing that you can do something, and having a positive attitude. It also gives me a visual of a child crying on the ground holding his knee, and in between sobs saying, “I … told you … I can’t . . .ride a . . . bike.” Then I picture Yoda from The Empire Strikes Back saying, “And that is why you failed.”[ii]
Another quote from that same page that resonated with me, “It takes just as much energy to achieve positive results as it does to achieve negative results, So why waste your energy on failing when the same energy can help you and your students succeed”[iii] I saw that in students so much in fourth grade. I usually had about five kids a year that would put more energy and time into finding short cuts, time killing activities, instead of just sitting down and doing the assignment. Whenever I would talk with that family and the student that fit that description, I would make a drawing of Point A and Point B, and show a straight line. I would then explain to the child that adults want children to proceed in the quickest most efficient route, a straight line. Then I would make a second drawing with a Point A and a Point B, then I would show a “Family Circus” route of going all over the place, and give examples of kids using more time and energy NOT to do something than just to do it. I see less of that in 6th grade. Maybe they are more aware and smarter, that they’ll save more energy by just doing it.
In the Jones and Jones book there is a section on Creating, Professionally Appropriate Dialogue with Students. There are three different types:
- Almost complete openness in whish we share a wide range of personal concerns and values with students.
- Openness related to our reactions to and feelings about the school environment with limited sharing of aspects reflecting our out of school life.
- An almost exclusive focus on a role bound relationship; that is we share no personal life feelings are reactions but merely perform our instructional duties.[iv]
I loved this section; I ended up talking about it with my wife. When I read it at first, I thought I tended to favor the first description. Then once I read all the descriptions, and read the examples that went with it – I realized I was the second type. I share superficial stuff with my students (i.e. Football and the New England Patriots, music, Harry Potter, My wife, my love of dogs). But, I’ve gotten very comfortable keeping up a boundary. The one area that I get closest to the boundary in sharing real personal stuff is in my writing. I share examples of my writing all the time. Language Arts has always been my favorite subject to teach, when I taught five different subjects. Now I am just an ELA teacher. My writings are personal, but, I will admit, usually created for the assignment (not something I wrote for authentic reasons and then shared it.). So, in the book there was an example of a young teacher who decided not share a reflection letter about the death of a personal friend to her class. I couldn’t decide which way I felt about that. I am still ambivalent. On the one hand, it is a genuine, real authentic letter. Made from the heart. The teacher in the example was complaining that her children weren’t sharing their real selves or taking real risks. This would have been a great role model. The children would have felt the vulnerability, the purpose of writing, and good visuals for real life issues that come up. The children would have connected more with the teacher.
On the other hand, I agree sharing something like that could be manipulative. It also gets way too close to the line. It could really show the teacher in too much of a vulnerable sight. With this much ambivalence, I could see why the teacher did not share the piece. I could also see parents complaining about the subject matter being shared and the lack of personal boundary from the teacher.
The most personal I’ve shared was a piece about a time a tennis opponent made a bad call at a crucial time in the match. Yes, the kids were revved up, emotional, and persuaded to believe my side of the argument. Boundaries were kept, and that subject matter was tame.
On a sad note there was a section in the Jones and Jones book that made me nostalgic. They list a bunch of activities to do with your kids to create those strong personal relationships. They were:
- Arranging Individual Conferences,
- Demonstrating Interest in Students Activities
- Eating Lunch with Students
- Sending Letters and Notes to Students
- Joining in School and Community Events
- Joining in Playground Games[v]
I used to do all of those! Back in 1998 when I completed my Masters of Ed. from Antioch of New England, I had to create a Thesis Research Project. I created a book of all of the self-esteem activities I did, including research from the children verifying how effective each activity was in creating self-esteem. All of those (and more) were in that book. Almost twenty years later, and I’ve stopped doing most of them. Does that make me lazy? Old? Not relatable to the kids? I hope not. I hope many of those activities are replaced by others that work for me better at this stage in my life (I hope.) One caveat: There were two activities I was doing even up to last year when I was in fourth grade, but since moving to sixth grade and joining a team of three other teachers that I have to run decisions through – they didn’t want to do “Sending Letters and Notes to Students” and “Arranging Individual Conferences”. I hope to go back to sending letters and having conferences with families in the future.
Positive Role Models
What are some of the specific ways I act with my students that enable me to be viewed as a positive role model? The biggest thing I am known for at my school is every student receives a high five entering and leaving my class (4 classes 20 students per class.) These 6th graders come into my room loaded with books from other classes. It’s cute watching them struggle with their books to offer me a high five. Many have gotten comfortable sticking out an elbow, giving me the underside of their books, two actually stick out their head – so my hand high fives their head.
I also verbally greet them with positives while we’re high fiving. When they’re leaving, I try to say positive statements to specific children that I might have observed something academic that day.
Once everyone is ready, a different child each day goes to the front of the room and goes through all the materials that they need for the day. The child will say, “Does everyone have a pencil?” They all chant yes. The last thing that student says is, “Does everyone have a positive attitude?” All four classes chant this affirmative the loudest.
I would take over the class at this point. I would say, “Everyone take out your homework agenda book and open up to page ninety-nine.” Every time! I always get it wrong on purpose.
All the kids would raise their hand, and I would alternate eventually calling on everyone in the course of a month. Each child would then announce, “Excuse me, Mr. C. I believe you made a mistake. I think the page is XX.” (The right one. They always ad lib the phrase to fit their own vocabulary and personality.)
I would make a big positive reaction and reply, “Thanks, Joe, I am so sorry. I will do better next time.”
We do this everyday. Recently, the leader student, (the one who does the materials) has been doing this part in my place. It’s so fun watching the Helpful Kid politely correct Mistaken Child. They use great tone and words.
There are many more examples where I show that their voice is really important to me. Since this is a new grade and school (same district) for me, I am constantly asking the students for ways I can do things better. One great example is I grade one long written piece per child eight times a year. I have a thorough rubric/grading sheet. On it, I give three different forms of feedback: a rubric grid, highlighted prewritten comments, and writing symbols on the child’s actual piece that match up to a symbol chart. It’s too much for me! It is taking ten minutes to grade each piece. 80 kids! The last time I passed back the pieces to the kids I told them I wanted to cut back on one of the three ways to grade to save time. Each class spent fifteen minutes analyzing the pros and cons of each the three types of feedback. They all agreed that my tri-feedback was redundant, but none of the four classes could agree which section could be omitted. Their feedback was erratic. All eighty kids had different opinions. So for the next round of grading, I decided that each student picks their own form of feedback. He/she can cross off one of the three sections, and I’ll do the other two sections. Therefore, I am tailoring my feedback to what works best for each child.
Responding to Students and the Characteristics that Effect Engagement with a Student
Do some students receive more attention, praise, and opportunities to respond than others? What are the characteristics of those students given these favorable responses? Share a brief statement regarding any student characteristics that might make you more or less likely to positively engage a student.
I hate to admit it, but I think the blobs get ignored by me. (Please understand, I use the word blob, not as a physical description, but as an adjective describing their work ethic.)
The really high achievers ask for attention and get it. They always raise their hand. They have witty, insightful, and brilliant things to say I naturally respond and feed off of that. They help move the lesson along and set the tone for the class.
The semi-high achievers come in smiling, and have learned how to participate well during a lesson– so they get attention from me. They raise their hands once in awhile. They know where to focus their eyes during a lesson. Nod in the right places. They produce work that is pretty good.
The tough behavior kids, get effort and energy from me a lot. I do preventative discipline with some Canter and Canter Assertive Discipline thrown in, so I am on them from the start. They know they can’t slide in my class.
The quiet kids who are academically motivated get attention from me usually once I see their work. By October, I am trying to call on them more in class, and get them more involved. By February they are comfortable participating.
But, it is the quiet, hide, and don’t do much work kids that I tend to over look. These are the kids that don’t have any bad behaviors so I never put their name on the board. They smile during the lesson. They lean in to talk to their across partner at the correct time. They don’t raise their hand during lessons. They are different from the quiet kids. By November these kids aren’t raising their hands, they are still hiding and nodding. When it is time to work, they focus on the paper in front of them. If they day dream they’ve learned to do it with their head down looking at the work. You don’t realize there is a problem until I look at their work and say to myself, “What have you been doing for a week?” Then a pit in my stomach of guilt arrives. I realized I let them slide because they acted like they got it, when they really haven’t.
My fault – not theirs.
[i] Wong, H.K., Wong, R.T., The First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher (2009) 4th Ed. Mountain View: Harry Wong Publications. 39.
[ii] Empire Strikes Back ,film, Lucas, George, 1980, Washington D.C., Lucasfilm tld
[iii] Wong, H.K., Wong, R.T., The First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher (2009) 4th Ed. Mountain View: Harry Wong Publications. 39.
[iv] Jones, V., Jones, L. Comprehensive Classroom Management: Creating Communities of Support and Solving Problems (2010). 9th Ed. New York: Pearson. 64
[v] Jones, V., Jones, L. Comprehensive Classroom Management: Creating Communities of Support and Solving Problems (2010). 9th Ed. New York: Pearson. 71-73
Used with permission from M. Coronis, January 9, 2017