Don’t Listen to the Naysayers

Over the years I have heard many teachers  complain about professional development days and seminars that they are forced to attend. While I will agree that these days are not always scheduled at the most opportune times (is there ever a good time in our busy lives?), I also have to say that in general I have found that I always learn something insightful that I can usually put into practice immediately with my students. Listening and learning from so many wonderful role models and intelligent, growth-oriented people, has surely had a lasting impact on my life as a teacher.

I just recently returned from a five day seminar gathered together with some of the most sincere, dedicated and idealistic individuals I have ever met; teachers. Our instructor was a master and a scholar who truly believes in the lasting impact a teacher has on his/her students. How many people in their chosen profession can make such a claim?

There is a saying, “Who is a wise person? One that learns from every person.” Your fellow teachers  are a resource that you should draw from at every opportunity. Ask them questions, share ideas, and observe their teaching when ever possible. When you have the good fortune to listen to them during professional development, take note of their strategies. They have fought on the same battlegrounds and have much to offer. Ask questions that you have about the material presented. By opening ourselves to the wide experiences of our colleagues and using their experience to deepen our understanding, we can truly become champion teachers!

When the Livin is Easy…

The school year hardly draws to a close before we as teachers (don’t we ever stop!) are planning  ways  to make next year even better than the last. Don’t stress over your vacation! Use the more relaxed summer days to think about and research some of the areas that you are hoping to improve.

Differentiation, or in simple words – targeting many different learning styles in our classrooms, (a task that may sometimes seem daunting) is much less threatening when we are not under the relentless gun to create weekly lesson plans.

Set aside some easy days to peruse  articles and books that you only dream of reading during the year. Education Week is a a great publication to keep you up to date with what’s happening in the education world. Your local library is a good source for new teaching ideas.

Relax, enjoy – the livin is easy… or at least a bit easier than during the never ending rush of the hectic school year.

Onward and Upward

graduation pic 3

Today was graduation day for the eighth grade. It was short and sweet and quite beautiful. The kids seemed so much taller, so much more mature in their graduation regalia. Why do I feel so sad? Shouldn’t I be pleased?

Of course, and I am. The investment that we as teachers make in our students are the investments that will carry them through many challenges in the future. An investment of time and blood, sweat and tears will always bring  great returns. But, it’s not an investment that we will necessarily be privy to the fruits thereof.

And that is the sadness. Knowing that we’ve made the necessary deposit but not sure if we’ll ever see the return. These kids that we’ve come to know so well are now moving on- we pray to bigger and better things. Next year new ones will take their place. A little part of us moves on with every student that we touch. And that is the pain and the beauty of teaching.

Saying It Like it Isn’t

In teaching, as in any type of situation where we try to communicate with others, understanding our audience is key. Teaching is not only imparting information, it is also exposing and opening our students to new ideas.

You may have come across the idea that before teaching or introducing a body of material to an audience, a class, or even another individual, it is helpful to “warm up” your subjects. This might be compared to the pleasantries a salesperson exchanges with a potential customer before getting down to the business or sales pitch at hand.

We want to draw our students into the lesson, to find a point where they can connect to the material. This might be done by starting off with a story, a joke, or even a problem to solve. But it can also be done powerfully by saying it like it isn’t

That is to say, one of the most powerful teaching tools that we have is finding a metaphor or an analogy that explains the material at hand from a novel point of view. What do the students already understand that can be a springboard to make the idea more tangible? How can we explain what we are about to teach with a scenario that is easy, familiar and memorable?

Taking a few minutes to think about where our students are, and formulating an idea that they can relate to, may create just the right mix, making the difference between a great lesson (or communication) and a very mediocre one.

Why Good Kids Do Hurtful Things

Our job is to teach, right? That’s what our degrees are in. That’s what we’re paid to do. But anyone who has been in this business for a while, knows that just as important as the information we impart, is the long term influence we have on our students.

It happened while I was on recess duty. Three sweet girls that are always a pleasure to work with, approached a boy that admittedly, can sometimes be a pain. They began taunting him by asking him some not-so-nice rhetorical questions.

Of course I stopped it immediately and left it at that. It’s been bothering me all day, although I’ve seen it a million times before. I know that lecturing is not the way to go. But not to address the situation?

Sometimes the way to address a murky situation may be to wait for the opportune time. Perhaps one day in class I might find a time to tell a story, seemingly unrelated but targeted to bring the right point home. Or perhaps I might tell a similar story with names and events slightly altered.

Kids are kids. Sometimes it takes a while for their moral compass to kick in. Even the good kids, the sweet kids, can be thoughtless and hurtful. It’s up to us as teachers to keep our eyes open and look for opportunities to guide students along the right path. The lessons that we teach now will be some of the most important lessons in our students’ lives.

Don’t Let the End of the Year Slip By

Most of us are rushing to finish marking papers, complete report cards, update student records, and manage a myriad of tasks that must be completed before the end of the year. The days rush by, unfinished curriculum stares us in the face and  the days begin to feel like one giant blur. It will all be over soon. We are looking forward to a well needed rest. But don’t allow these last precious days to slip by unheeded. Let’s stop and set aside some time to reflect on the past year.

What things went right this year? What did you do that “just worked” for your students? What words captured your student’s attention and made them sit up and take notice? What did you do that encouraged the most growth? What tone did you use that garnered students cooperation without opposition?

These moments of reflection can become the building blocks that fuel your teaching style. By capturing these moments  at the close of each year and taking the time to  review them at the opening of the next, you will create the  successful strategies that epitomize the  champion teacher!