This is a different type of post, but today my heart is still heavy for our fellow Louisianans not far from where we live. As you may have seen, a torrential and lengthy rainstorm caused massive flooding in south Louisiana. It reminds many of the devastation caused by Katrina in 2005.
We are heartbroken over the loss of our people, homes, and cars. Even though a house is considered a “thing” by all noun-teaching teachers, we all know that losing a house is like laying a piece of a person to rest. It’s a good thing the memories don’t leave us when our things do.
But in the midst of the chaos, there are students who need to be in school and teachers who need to teach. Unfortunately, many schools have been wrecked by floodwaters.
We’d like to take some time to ask for prayer for the leaders of school districts. There are many issues at hand. They need wisdom and guidance to know how to face the loss of school property. How do you begin to fix schools when the employees themselves have personally lost everything? What happens when your student population dramatically drops because families have been forced to move elsewhere?
I don’t have the answers, but I do know a God who does. I definitely don’t want to diminish the call to pray for our people. But I also don’t want to forget about the school systems at stake.
A prayer for Louisiana (adapted from Isaiah 61):
We proclaim the year of your favor, Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God. We pray that you will comfort all that mourn. We ask that you give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that you might be glorified. And may they build the ruins; may they raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.
Please raise up leaders who will walk in honesty and wisdom, and provide our people with the resources they need to put their lives back together and to educate your children. Thank you, Lord!
Right now there is a little girl sleeping in bed. Her hair was washed and blow-dried, ironed clothes draped over the chair. Shoes and bow placed on the table. It all matches, and it’s all new. The backpack is by the door, and she’s excited to walk with her dad to her new classroom tomorrow. That’s my daughter, Elle.
But there is another little girl somewhere in this very city who does not own a backpack and will be the only child in her class that does not bring supplies with her name printed neatly on each item. She sitting right now, bouncing a baby in her lap who has been crying all evening. She goes and digs in her drawer for school clothes. Maybe the ones that her mom brought home from the church clothes closet will fit. She smooths her hand over the stained shirt, making it look a bit less wrinkled. She’s too tired to take a bath. But she wipes her face with a washcloth and is angry that no one will be there to see her to school tomorrow. She wakes herself in the morning, waits for the bus with neighborhood kids, climbs on, and rides to school. When she gets to school, she has nothing in her hands, but notices all the smiling parents and kids walking together to classrooms. She does not even know what class to go to. Instead of crying like a baby, she grits her teeth and locks her jaw. She would rather be angry than cry. She would rather be bad than be stupid. She would rather bully than be weak. But what she would really rather is to be cared for and loved. And right now, her teacher is her only hope.
Next time you drive by the broken down homes, remember that our students live there. And next time you hear about a drug bust or a shooting in a neighborhood, remember that tiny eyes may have been watching the whole thing.
This is what our job is all about--giving students a chance.
Obviously, I love my daughter, and I’ll do whatever I can to help her succeed. But my calling is to make school better for that second little girl.
We have the future of our entire city in our classrooms.
Jesus, I know that Your will is to prosper my students.
I need your wisdom and your help to know how to teach my kids.
I pray that this year, no matter what the circumstances they face,
that I am an instrument of love, hope, and change in their lives.
May they be different when they leave my classroom.
For the students who are especially difficult,
please give me a compassion for them.
And lots of patience.
Help me to not write them off in the beginning.
Teacher Grit (repost)
A couple of my friends (now in their 30s) have considered teaching as a temporary career. I am unashamedly vocal about the value of public schools and how we need passionate teachers, so I find myself trying to recruit those who have a charisma about them. Unfortunately, charisma will only take you so far.
Teaching takes grit. That double-down, white knuckle, determination mixed with passion. That’s what teaching kids requires.
Susan recently read an article that summarized a study about grit. The author defines grit as “passion and perseverance for long-term goals.” Angela Duckworth, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, studied Ivy League undergrads, spelling bee champions, and cadets at West Point, and she found that grit was the best predictor for success--more than talent! (Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews, & Kelly, 2007).
But then I started thinking: Teaching demands even more than that!
Teaching requires selfless grit.
Those Ivy League-ers had long-term goals for themselves.
I have a hunch that grit becomes grittier when it’s not for your own success.
We teachers are very passionate people--those who aren’t passionate don’t last long--and we tend to vocally criticize policy changes and poor administrators, which is probably not always good.
But in the end, it’s always about someone else. The kids.
Few jobs in this world require you to spend large amounts of time outside of work planning, grading, going to sporting events, and decorating, while all the while creating relationships with kids, who quite often break your heart with the bad decisions they make or with the obstacles they are forced to overcome. I’ve cried many tears with students and for students. That’s grit.
Think about the people, excluding family members, in your life who made the most impact on who you are. Most likely those people are teachers, coaches, directors, or professors. They had grit. For you.
You chose to enter the most incredible profession in the world... Susan and I came up with several undeniable attributes of what “teacher grit” might look like in your classroom:
1. Driven. You would be driven by a deeply rooted moral purpose. This purpose would include touching the lives of children each and every day, helping them realize their potential as students, leaders, and responsible, compassionate citizens.
2. Focused. When things get tough, you would stay focused on what’s most important. Buzzwords, trends, and policy are ever-changing. The current landscape would not interfere with you doing what is best for your students.
3. Challenged. When a student struggles to understand, you would take this as a personal challenge to figure out different ways to teach them until they have a “lightbulb moment” and really get it.
4. No excuses. You would not let factors out of your control hinder student success. You would understand…. and accept, that parent involvement (too much or too little), home life, economic circumstances, and many other potential influences may indeed be out of your control.
You would not use those concerns that are out of your control as excuses or obstacles, rather, as opportunities to teach your students how to overcome adversity standing in the way of success.
So, do you have the grit that it takes?
What does teacher grit look like to you?
Instagram and tag @passionpurposeandpedagogy #teachergrit
Duckworth, A., Peterson, C., Matthews, M., & Kelly, D. (2007). Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92(6), 1087-1101. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01781. Retrieved on January 3, 2015 from https://www.sas.upenn.edu/~duckwort/images/Grit%20JPSP.pdf
Talk about Whole Class Consequences: Plan B
I have to be honest. I’m a bit concerned that this post will be misunderstood by some, but I’m going to discuss a strategy that I used in my classroom that worked very well for me. However, I have to give you a disclaimer: I’ve also seen this strategy totally flop when it’s used the wrong way.
As a rule of thumb, if many students in a teacher’s class are misbehaving, it may not be a student problem. It may be a problem with the management and the discipline of the students.
However, even the best teachers must teach on Halloween, with a full moon during sixth block on Friday. (I had an observation on Halloween one time!)
So, when your students are getting rambunctious, and are not listening and following directions well enough, despite your air-tight procedures, you need a back up plan. You can call it Plan B.
At the beginning of the year, I explain to my students that each week, I write two sets of lesson plans. Plan A is my first choice. I explain that I like it when they collaborate, challenge on another, and think deeply. This is Plan A.
However, I also explain what my junior high English Language Arts class was like. We sat in rows, facing the teacher who lectured the entire time. We were expected to write and take tests silently. I remind them that I still learned in that manner. This is Plan B. (In my class, Plan B consisted of pulling out the textbook and working on the same skill, but using the textbook. Students sat without talking or moving around the room. They didn’t really even talk to me. It was completely silent.)
I discuss that, although my preference is not to teach in that manner, we can always do Plan B if they can’t handle Plan A.
A couple of norms for Plan A/Plan B:
The last year that I taught, I think I used Plan B only once. If you content is relevant and rigorous, the students will be engaged. They wanted to talk about literature and life. They wanted to write and debate. They wanted to create videos. So if they got close to Plan B, they quickly straightened up.
If they are engaged, then Plan B is something they absolutely do not want. If they are never engaged in your classroom, Plan B is not going to work.
I had one class period that had 31 students and the majority of them were football players. That was a fun year. It really was. But on game days, they were hyped! I would try to do discussions, and they were constantly getting off topic. When I gave them the signal to listen to instructions as they were working in groups, they did not listen. In my class, the first time they did not get quiet 5 seconds after the signal, it was automatic Plan B. Sounds harsh, but my kids always got silent as soon as they heard the signal. Well, that year during football season, they quickly found that they liked learning using my original lesson plan for the week--Plan A. It was not a problem the rest of the year.
Ironically, this was the class in which I was observed on Halloween--third block. I remember going to their PE class that morning (second block) and giving those big football players a pep talk about leadership. It’s funny what you’ll do when you know you are getting observed! ha!
It's the Little Things: Building Relationships with Your Students
I was recently looking through some of the letters my students have written me over the years, and this by far, is one of my favorite letters because it makes me laugh!
"Thank you for being pashint [patient] with the choir when we was goofing off and being disreaspect ful. The entire year I was just waiting for you to snap. Every time someone would be goofing off I would see the look on your face and I would think, now is the time shes going to snap, but you didn't, you cep your cool the intire time. And I thank you for it.
I also wanted to thank you for the caring teacher that you are. You have something that not every teacher has, a heart. Every time some one was sad or down you ask what was wrong and you helped as much as you could. That one day I was down you told me that if I wanted to talk to you about it I could. Thank you Mrs. Stokes..."
“Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like,” Rita Pearson bluntly stated.
Take a moment and think about a few of your teachers. Can you remember the nature of the interactions that you had with them? How many years ago was that?
It’s difficult to balance the business-like teacher with the caring, motherly or fatherly type of teacher. However, it can be done.
Here is a revelation that I had.
When addressing the entire class, always use your business-like tone.
When addressing students one-on-one, use your motherly or fatherly tone. This is when you can get down on their level and say, “Ok, sweetheart, I can tell you are not yourself today. What’s the matter?”
Relationships are an extremely important part of classroom management. If your students can trust you, they will fight for you. They will take up for you in front of other students.
Here are some really simple ways to begin to build trusting relationships with your students. Most of these are common sense, but it took me a couple of years to get into the habit of using them.
Notice that none of these ideas involves gluing, glitter, or gifts. The things students remember most are the words that you say. Use them wisely. Words really are potent. In hindsight, I'm so glad I didn't "snap."
How to Tame the Blurter
I’ve never had a school year in which I didn’t have a blurter. Blurters usually never enhance the lesson, and typically, if left unchecked, they distract other students from learning. There are different types of blurters.
The excitable blurter is my favorite of all. This is the kid that is genuinely excited about what you are saying and just can’t keep it contained. He is usually the one that, when he isn’t blurting, is sitting on the edge of his seat, waving his hand frantically for you to call on him.
The know-it-all blurter can ruin the chance for other students to even think about the question you just asked. Other students seem to resent this blurter because this student likes to show a bit of dominance when she answers the questions. Even though you may feel the same way, don’t show it. We not only have to manage these blurters, but watch that other students don’t bully them.
The attention-seeking blurter is obviously motivated by attention, but the root behind it can be difficult to find. Sometimes these students have difficult home lives, or they have limited social skills.
The worst kind of blurter (at least in my opinion) is the dominating blurter. All blurters can dominate your class if you let them, but this type of blurter is motivated by controlling your class. This student is more rare than the others, and this type of blurter is usually a discipline issue. If you can get this student on your side at the beginning of the year, then you will have an easier time.
So, how do we tame the blurter?
Address the blurter quickly and move on with what you were saying. Do not ignore it. They will not stop unless you address them. You can say something like this, “Thank you, Andie, for your comment, but you need to remember our protocol for speaking. Please do not interrupt me. We can discuss this later.” If it happens again you can stop and say, “Andie, I’ve already addressed this. See me after class.”
One mistake that new teachers (including me) make is stopping to have a conversation with the blurter while the rest of the class is waiting for you to continue what you were saying. Do not allow students to draw you into conversations during the time in which you were addressing the entire class.
With all this being said, if you ever have a student that looks a bit green, don't make him wait for you to call on him! ha! (Made that mistake before...)
Making the Most of Your Classroom Space
Let’s face it, as teachers our classroom often becomes our “home away from home.” It should be a space in which we enjoy working and inspiring students to learn. As we approach the first day of school, students will be able to tell a lot about you when they enter your classroom. So what are the most important things to keep in mind when you are setting up your classroom space?
1) Spatial arrangement should support student flow of movement. Think about your daily schedule and the expectations that you have for your students. Arrange the furniture, materials, and supplies so that students can move about easily from desks, tables, stations, and/or whole group gathering areas. Sometimes, less is more. A space crowded with too much furniture can cause problems, so keep only the furniture that you need.
2) Label, label, label! The more you label spaces, material stations, etc., the less confusion you will have on the first day. If you have a procedure than requires students to do things in a certain way, make certain it is easy to follow that procedure. Labeling helps with this!
3) Make your classroom inviting. Students (and their parents) can walk in and immediately tell whether you care about your job as a teacher and about them as students based on the way your classroom looks. Your boss can also tell whether you care enough to invest the time needed to make your space an exciting, inviting place for students to learn. If you are in need of ideas, check out Pinterest. You can find so many creative ideas for decorating your classroom without breaking the bank.
4) Make each space in your classroom organized and purposeful. An organized classroom is one of the most proactive ways to avoid behavior problems. This involves having your materials and supplies in a designated space and procedures that support the procurement, usage, and return of these items. Also, use your bulletin boards, wall space, counter space, and any other space to support the daily activities and routines that will occur in your classroom.
5) Experiment with flexible seating. Students need to problem-solve, discuss, create, and build collaborative relationships. Sometimes traditional seating does not support this type of work. Flexible seating allows students to sit in the type of seating where they learn best. It mimics real-life work spaces and promotes collaboration among students. Several teachers at my school have added flexible seating for students as part of a student-centered initiative in our district. We are very excited to see how it improves the learning environment and student success. For more information about flexible seating, stay tuned. We will provide more about this soon.
Photo credits: Pictures are from the classrooms of Michelle Landry, Natalie Nettles, and Jessica Tarver from Tioga Junior High School. Thank you, ladies!
Rules vs. Procedures
“I have to admit, Austin, you are pretty stubborn,” I say as I lean in closer. In a low, whispering voice, I say, “But I have to warn you, I’m just as stubborn, if not more. The thing is, Austin, I’m running this classroom and I want what’s best for you. And quite frankly, it doesn’t matter who is more stubborn because I have the administrators backing me up on this. I’m going to come back in five minutes to see your progress. Thank you.”
Boy, he gave me fits that year. But he knew I loved him and I was not going to give up.
This post is how to survive kids like Austin (pseudonym) who can make or break your classroom.
You must quickly establish rules and procedures, and I suggest you review them every day for at least a week.
Your rules should be simple, written in positive statements, and limited to around five or less. Students who break rules should have consequences. Here’s an example: Respect your teacher and your peers.
Procedures can be more lengthy in description and you should have as many of these as you need. Students who break the procedure should practice doing the procedure correctly. Here’s an example: When finishing an assignment, walk to the table, highlight your name, and place your paper in the basket that corresponds with your block and read your book unless the teacher tells you otherwise.
Here is a list of things you should consider when planning procedures:
Here’s a major point: Teach them how to do the procedure exactly the way you want it. And make them stick to it--all year long. When you let things slide, they will take advantage of it.
I’d love to collect ideas on these procedures for our readers. Email us if you have an idea you’d like for us to post, so we can give you credit.
A Potential “Things to Remember” List
Susan Dewees, Ed.D. is an administrator at a large middle school. She also served as a Turnaround Team Coordinator for a public school district in Louisiana. She has 20 years of experience in public school education, and special education is one of her specialties.
Erin Stokes, Ed.D. is a Title I Instructional Coordinator for a public school district in Louisiana. She has over 10 years of experience as a teacher and instructional coach. She is also an adjuct professor at Louisiana College. She loves students, teachers, and most of all--learning.
Becky Pippen, Ed.D. is currently serving as principal of a large middle school in Louisiana. She has over 20 years experience in educational leadership. She is passionate about improving the teacher workforce so that all students have the quality of instruction they deserve.