If you have children you are probably beginning to get a little tired of the most recent Disney hit “Frozen”. Even if you do not have children, I am sure you have listened to the hit song from the movie called “Let It Go” at least a couple dozen times. This song can be somewhat of a theme for those of us that deal with students.
A key piece of information that many veteran teachers know (and the new ones learn real quick) is that kids are going to push your buttons. It is inevitable. Now sometimes it may be more often than others and you may even go through long stretches where you think teaching is a piece of cake. But it is a guarantee that eventually they will push you to your limit. It may the constant behavior that takes you away from your teaching and their learning. It may be something they say that is disrespectful. Or maybe worst of all, they do something that just plain hurts your feelings.
At moments like these I am sure you handle the situation with professionalism and in accordance to your school’s Student Code of Conduct. These policies and procedures are followed and life goes on. But many times inside you, it isn’t that easy. You may have a flood of emotions such as anger, sadness or even self doubt. It is vital at moments such as these, that you do just as the song says “Let It Go”.
You have to let it go and most importantly DO NOT HOLD A GRUDGE! Remember, they are kids. They know not what they do. They view many of their teachers as anything but human. You are a version of a person they see have reactions, but they rarely ever think about what is inside you. They are only aware of the hard shell, not the soft center. If you keep these feelings fresh, it will only cause harm to yourself. Prior to any dealings with students, just know they are going to make mistakes, they are going to push your buttons, they are going to drive to levels of emotions you did not know you had. But if you choose to let it go, if you choose to stay calm, if you choose to be happy then you can flourish in this profession. You will start to see more and more good and less and less bad.
Truly kids are really cool people. They just aren’t a complete package yet and their flaws will come out in various and unpredictable ways. That is what we are their for. To help them deal with these flaws and to hopefully turn them into strong adults.
REDLINE means to drive with (a car engine) at or above its rated maximum rpm. Basically, the engine cannot go or work any faster. Many vehicles have an rpm gauge and the top or maximum part of the gauge will even be marked in red. If educators had an rpm gauge on their chest, I am quite confident that many of them would be in the red area. If they weren’t there at that particular point, you can bet that at some time during the school day they would spend some time in the red.
An engine that redline’s too much doesn’t usually last as long. The engine will wear out quicker and begin to labor even when you are not pushing it beyond the limits. Routine speeds and terrain become more difficult for the engine. This same affect can happen to educators. Soon routine tasks become more tiresome. Student behaviors can become more taxing. New curriculum’s and guidelines can appear overwhelming.
To the outside world, I am sure at times we can appear to be difficult or viewed as whiners. But if the engine is already operating at a maximum level and more is being asked, what do you do? Now I am not saying we should whine and complain. We need to push through and maintain a positive attitude. A positive attitude will take all of us much farther and allow us to handle difficult situations with much more professionalism than whining and complaining. Being positive and being happy are choices. If you smile and tell your self to think positively, soon you will actually be happy and positive. It is a little trick many people have mastered and all you have to do to master it is to do it.
It is also vital that we take care of ourselves. Even if you have to actually schedule it, take some time to relax and recharge. Rest and cool your engines. Put your body into idle mode. Figure out what your favorite thing to do is and be sure you do it regularly. Whether that is a little each day, weekly or longer. Just be sure you have it on your radar so you have something to look forward to. When you have something exciting in your future, it will make the hard work that much better.
Educators are great people. They have skills and abilities only other educators can truly appreciate. But we can also be our own worst enemies. Redlining too much will not be beneficial for anyone in the long run. We exist for the students. If we push too hard and do not take care of ourselves, then the students don’t get the best we can be. So let up on the accelerator, put the car in park, turn off the key and live to race another day.
During my college years, I remember always thinking about school. What my classroom would look like, how I would teach a certain topic, how good it would feel to go to extra-curricular events and see the students. I also remember dreaming about being able to use new pieces of technology or a new technique for teaching. It seemed like every time my mind had a spare moment, I was dreaming about how to make things better, more exciting, more interesting. Just plain more enjoyable and effective.
This constant dreaming continued into the early years of my career. Dream, Dream, Dream. Like the old song by the Everly Brothers “All I Have To Do Is Dream” (note: this song was popular before I was born). That was me. Constantly focused on the visions in my head about school and students and teaching and everything related.
I think as time goes on, educators tend to lose this feeling. They begin to dream less and less. That vision of why they went into teaching begins to fade. There is less dreaming and more concentration on getting things done. I feel a big part of longevity in this profession is the ability to keep dreaming. Don’t forget why this is still the greatest profession. Don’t forget how important this job is. Don’t forget that most students are really cool kids to be around. Don’t forget that if we want students to grow up to be good people, then we have to show them what good people look like.
Is this as easy as it sounds? No way. It is the type of profession that will beat you down and bring you to your knees if you let it. But good people get back up and that is what teachers are and that is what teachers do. They get back up. They keep moving forward. They keep dreaming!
When a school year begins, it is fairly standard practice by nearly every educator to spend time getting to know their students. Some teachers play games while others have their students fill out a questionnaire about themselves. How many brothers and sisters do you have? Do you have any pets? How long have you been going to this school? These are just a few of the basic questions that are asked.
Asking students these types of questions as well as having conversations with them that are not school related is called Non-Contingent Interactions. Contingent Interactions is what our students get from us all the time. They hear us when we tell them to open up their books, copy down notes or watch a certain video.
It is also during this time that very little discipline is handed out. Many people refer to this as the Honeymoon Period. The common belief is that this is because everything is new and boredom hasn’t set in yet. This very well contribute to it, but research is showing that a greater reason is because of the amount of Non-Contingent Interaction that is taking place verses the Contingent. You want to try to keep the so called Honeymoon Period going as long as possible. The schools with the least amount of discipline issues, tend to have the highest amount of Non-Contingent Interaction taking place on a regular basis with the optimal ratio being 50-50.
Some of you at the MS/HS levels may immediately think this is not possible. You may have anywhere from 120 to 160 students a day. How are you going to talk to each student about topics other than school just as much as you do related to school? This can be done in some very simple ways. For example, greet each class with a welcome statement such as “Good Morning” or “Glad you are here today”. You can do the same when you end each class with a “See everyone tomorrow” or “Have a great weekend”. These little phrases can have a huge impact when combined over time.
As you travel around the classroom, be sure to make the little observations such as a new haircut, new shoes, a good drawing (that isn’t part of an assignment), ask what they are doing after school, if they have plans for the weekend, mention the previous nights extra-curricular event. You might slip as many as 100 of these in a day without that much additional effort.
Little connections made regularly can add up to something very significant over an entire school year. Then if you happen to have some of the same students again, it makes the relationship that much easier to establish and/or maintain.
There are still some of us around that started our teaching careers when computers were not the norm. Ditto machines, typewriters and non-digital clocks described our world. Even if you weren’t teaching, some of you may remember these types of items from when you were a student. It was a little shocking when a recent new teacher announced she was born the same year I started my career. Never thought I would see that day.
Now when you walk into most schools, you see laptops, tablets with touch screens and fewer and fewer actual books. All of this comes with their own set of needs. After the initial purchase of the various technology, the greatest need is people to provide support. If you have been in a school recently and the internet goes down, it is catastrophic. Attendance can’t be taken, the lessons the teachers had planned for the day have to be scrapped as well as student lunches have to be recorded with paper and pencil and entered later into the system for each account to be charged. Everything comes to a screaming stop!
At these times, there is no more important person than anyone from the technology department. They are the true modern day superhero when something is not working. There is no such thing as a no big deal breakdown when it comes to technology. It is crucial that any organization maintain a solid technology department to provide the support as well as the forethought to put the pieces in place to handle the change that is always happening.
You always want to make sure there is a back up plan in regards to personnel when it comes to technology support. If you only have one person that is handling most of your technology and that person is no longer their, it is guaranteed you will have chaos and chaos is never good.
Now there are different levels of comfort when it comes to technology, but I would encourage everyone to attempt to learn all they can about the technology they use. Tech support may not be able to help you the instant you need it. Many times with a little problem solving skill, you can do quite a bit yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask the people from your technology department to show you basic trouble shooting. If it is going to save them time and future headaches, I am sure they will be more than willing to help.
A final word of advice that has worked well for me…be sure to always read any information you get from them carefully. Their phones and email inbox’s are always blowing up. When they try to make things easier by giving step-by-step instructions of how to do things yourself, do your best to follow them. Not being on their good side is like being on the dark side of the moon.
I have been thinking recently about the support staffs at school. This is the custodial/maintenance people, bus drivers, kitchen staff and the para-pro’s. You could also include the coaches that are involved in the school district as well. At this time of year, some of these people get recognized. Usually it is the custodians for getting the buildings shined up for the first day and the cooks for making the Welcome Back Breakfast. But outside of this, there isn’t a lot of attention given even though they can make a significant impact on the students.
Now this lack of attention or recognition is not intentional in anyway. They just aren’t usually in the public eye unless something goes wrong. The fact that they do their jobs well is probably the reason people don’t tend to think of them. The teachers, principals, superintendent and school boards are most often the first line of sight when someone looks at a school district. But the support staff is like the glue that holds it all together.
For example, it was 20 minutes before a home track meet was about to start. At my school we use an electric cart to move hurdles and starting blocks during the meet. This is a huge need in order to keep everything running smoothly and on time. I go to get the cart and the key is missing. After a short panic, I call our Head of Maintenance on his cell phone. It’s after work hours for him so I am hoping he picks up. Long story short, he answers, leaves his house, rushes to the track and wires the cart so we can use it for the night. Then assures me he will get it fixed permanently later in the week, which he did. On his own time, without complaint he was there. You cannot put a price tag on that. In the big picture, that had an impact on hundreds of people (athletes, coaches, workers, parents and fans).
What if you had a child that needed a 1-on-1 aide. Wouldn’t you want someone as close to an Angel as possible taking care of them when you’re not there. What about a child with severe food allergies. The cooks are literally in a life or death situation in some cases. There is no room for error. Anyone who has sent their kid to school for the first day of Kindergarten can appreciate the bus driver who greets them with a genuinely warm smile. And the first time your kid is on a team, who doesn’t want the coach that teaches the skills of the game, while giving them a positive experience that will keep them wanting more.
Bottom line, a school district doesn’t function without them. It is to their credit that they go unnoticed, but lets remember throughout this school year to make it a point to say “Thank You” and “Good Job”.
I have had the good fortune to have traveled all over the country working with educators of every school size and grade level. I really enjoy this because I find it interesting to listen to what educators from other places talk about. Do the teachers deal with the same issues in Arizona and Missouri as they do in Michigan? Are the student behaviors really any different? Do they face the same criticisms from their public and politicians as we do?
What I have found out is that they deal with almost the exact same issues. As I have mentioned before, education is not a perfect profession. Like anywhere, you will occasionally get the bad egg. But when you look at the number of teachers on average who are dismissed from their jobs due to poor performance, it is less than one percent. All school employees are hard working individuals regardless of location, school size or cultural make up. Union members, non-union members, support staff…it doesn’t matter. They all want what is best for the students and are willing to do whatever it takes.
The piece of information I found the most interesting was the universal frustration with those people or groups that are the most critical of our educational systems (particularly the teachers), yet know the least about it. I wish there was data showing how many educators are asked about issues discussed in the political arenas prior to them taking action. Maybe this data is out there, but I have not found it.
I made it a point to read us much of the recent campaign materials here in my local area as possible. I even made phone calls to ask some of the individuals there direct thoughts on the schools and education. The personal conversations I had were pleasant and convinced me that they truly want education to be the best it can be for all those involved. The unfortunate piece was their personal opinions were based on information gathered from very few people and some of those people were not in the field of education.
For example, the Common Core is a big issue in education, therefore it is a big issue in the political scene as well. One individual is under the impression the Common Core is completely bad and should not be the curriculum of choice. They were stating this because they had watched a short video presentation of a college professors opinion. Now the Common Core may be terrible or it may be great or it may be both, but the thoughts and opinions of it have to be based on more than one source and preferably those sources are the educators that have to deal with it directly. Like the saying goes “Those closest to the problem are closest to the solution”.
This is just one example. There are many times in education when the thoughts and opinions and most importantly the decisions are not based on what the educators know, but rather what others think.
I was on Facebook and one of the people I consider a friend posted the following:
My first thought was why does it have to be a teacher? They could have used any adult such as a parent, grandparent, friend etc. There are endless options other than using a teacher. Now I really don’t think the intent is to make the teacher look bad. This was meant for the purpose of those who may not believe in God. But regardless of your thoughts and beliefs on religion, don’t you take away from this that the teacher is dumb, that the teacher doesn’t have a brain and that the teacher is close minded!
I know for most of you I am preaching to the choir, but I still do not understand the lack of respect teachers receive. Deep down I do believe it is the majority that still appreciates the incredibly difficult job anyone working in education has. It just seems that more and more of these types of things are creeping into the norm and becoming socially acceptable.
As I have written before, teachers are generally sensitive people. We are put under incredible amounts of stress and expectations in the name of what is best for the kids. We understand that, but these things begin to get old and overtime start to chip away at our efforts and energy levels.
So many times you are expected to do a little more, give a little more stay a little longer and in nearly every case, the teacher really doesn’t mind. Teachers are givers by nature. The key to this is no different than it is for anyone. Teachers want to be appreciated for what they do. A pat on the back and a genuine thank you can go a long way and be very uplifting.
Some of you may be thinking but not all teachers are good. Unfortunately, that is true. Teachers are hired from the human race and not everyone is good. But most are and they care very deeply about their students and the job they are doing.
All things seem to cycle and I am sure this is no different. I just hope I am still around when it does.
Last week I went with my wife to a staff get together at a restaurant. My wife is a middle school counselor (grades 5-8). She has not been there long and was excited to do something socially with the staff. This was organized by one of the teachers for a fun time before the new school year officially blast off!
Having been in education myself for now 23 years, I was very comfortable around all of them even though I did not know them very well. But it is amazing how similar these people were to the people I work with every day in my school district. They talked (and laughed a lot) about the crazy things their students did last year. They were very curious about any new hires over the summer as well as there was much discussion about changes for the upcoming school year.
At one point during the night, someone brought up the building project and how the new windows were being installed. One person had driven by the school and was showing pictures they had on their phone. Everyone one of them was genuinely excited about these new windows. I listened as they described the size of them and how the shades were embedded within the windows. Others started asking if they had done their particular room yet or were just the offices complete. These windows truly made these people excited.
I am sure windows are not something people would ever think would help a students education but it does. It is the little things such as new windows, or a freshly painted room or even new carpet that can make you feel that little bit better when you walk through the doors ready to face a day. It brings a level of respect as a professional. I know when I look in my own room and see the ripped carpet with cement floor exposed; I surely don’t feel overly appreciated.
Now I understand school funding and the cost of such things. Especially the taxing process of asking the public to give even more than they already do, but it is still important, very important, that everyone remember that little things like new windows can make a BIG difference in the overall picture.
Recently our elementary principal, who has two children of his own, started having kids come to his house where he has set up a very nice cement slab and basketball hoop. The kids can play basketball (3 on 3) for about two hours. Parents are welcome to drop them off or stay, but if they stay, they cannot say anything to the kids. The idea is to let them call their own fouls as well as work out any conflicts themselves. It has been a great experience.
This has made me think of how many life lessons these kids get from playing what many people would consider just a game. The most obvious benefit to them is the physical activity. Prior to 1980, childhood obesity or juvenile diabetes was practically unheard of -very rare. That is no longer the case. It is great to see these kids red faced and sweaty after a couple of hours of hard playing. The other obvious lesson they are learning is problem solving or conflict resolution. Calling your own fouls, settling the disagreements of if the ball was out of bounds or a foul was committed all are skills that will help them later in life. All of us have to work and get along with others. Now is the time for them to learn this.
Another observation I made from watching, that may not stand out to many (perhaps because of my math background) is the academic component. They have to keep score, win by two as well as logically think if a two pointer will end the game or should they just go for one. The ages for both boys and girls range from 4th grade all the way up to Seniors. The older ones help the younger ones which gives some of those kids the opportunity to be a leader. Something they may never have experienced before.
With all of this, I am left with the final thought of what a shame many schools have or are considering cutting physical education. There is much more going on during so called play/games than you would think.