Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Problems with Being a Popular Teacher


It’s that bittersweet time of year for teachers everywhere. No matter when you head off to school, you will have to leave your summer days behind. Even if you work a full-time job in the summer months, your days are probably more carefree than they will be when you have a room full of students with diverse needs to shape into a cohesive community of learners.

It’s not easy to make the connections that will make every student become a valued member of the class. Creating those bonds takes time, energy, effort, and serious planning. The result is certainly worth it, however. Positive relationships between student and teacher are often regarded as the most powerful motivational force in any classroom.  

Unfortunately, it is very easy to misjudge what it takes to create those positive relationships. Many of us do. It is especially easy to do when you are just beginning your teaching career and are uncertain about the right course of action to take when you are trying to establish the type of relationships that will help your students be successful.

One of the easiest ways to go wrong when trying to connect with students is to become popular for all of the wrong reasons. In this excerpt from The First-Year Teacher’s Survival Guide, some of the warning signs that any teacher will want to avoid are spelled out for those of us who are already planning how to create the positive classroom environment that we want for our students.

“It is natural to want to be liked. It is a wonderful experience to be in a mall or a restaurant and hear a young voice joyfully calling your name or to look out over a classroom full of students who are hanging on to your every word. The problem with being a well-liked teacher is that it is sometimes such an exhilarating feeling that you are reluctant to give it up, even when you should.

It is much more pleasant to hear your students cheer when you tell them there will be no homework than to hear their groans when you give a challenging assignment. Choices like this constitute a teacher’s day. As a teacher, you should base your decisions not on what your students want at the moment but on what they need for the future. Students can be shortsighted; you should not be.

There are many legitimate reasons for your students to like you. Are your classes interesting? Do you treat everyone with respect? Are you inspiring? Unfortunately, there are many other reasons for your students to like you that are seductive traps; you must avoid these by thinking of your students’ needs. If you ever overhear your students make any of the following statements about you, you are becoming popular for the wrong reasons:

She’s an easy grader.

He’s just like us.

We’re friends on Facebook.

He never calls home, no matter what I do.

She never makes us do real work in that class.

We never have to take notes.

She doesn’t really care if we swear.

He likes to joke around with us.”

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Add to Your Classroom Library with Free and Appealing Nonfiction

During a field trip several years ago, I watched my students pile off the bus at a rest area. Instead of heading to the snack machines as I expected, however, they stood around a brochure display stand, trading travel pamphlets and discussing tourist attractions with enthusiasm.


Intrigued, I began to gather brochures for my classroom. In no time, I had amassed a collection that students were reading with enthusiasm in their spare time. They traded stories about trips they had taken in the past and decided where they would like to go in the future. They discussed shopping at outlet malls in other states, dreamed about visiting the beach, and learned all sorts of offbeat tourist trivia. The pamphlets were doing exactly what they were designed for — stimulating curiosity and sparking imagination.


Over time, I have developed an even greater appreciation for these throwaway tourist leaflets. In addition to being easy to find, they are free. It is possible to pick up a class set with very little effort. They are not only brief, but also written to appeal to a wide range of readers with a wide range of reading experience and ability.


Best of all, I’ve discovered that travel brochures lend themselves to many different learning activities. And although my collection of travel brochures is still one of the ways I make my classroom as rich in a variety of printed materials as possible, I also now use them to help my students develop critical reading skills.


I begin this process by obtaining class sets of brochures about a specific place or attraction. I prefer to use ones that are about a place that appeals to most students because they will read carefully if they are learning about a place they would like to visit. Pamphlets about Disney World and cities such as Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and New York are attention-grabbers. Weird attractions such as alligator farms and anything to do with dinosaurs are also popular. So are theme parks, harbor cruises, petting zoos, and national parks.


Here are some of the questions I ask students to consider and be ready to discuss with the rest of the class after everyone has had time to read their pamphlets.


What does this brochure reveal about our social values?
What makes the brochure attractive?
Which methods of persuasion does the author use to entice people to visit?
What are some possible negatives about the place that are not mentioned?
At what point do you think the truth about the site could be exaggerated?
What sorts of careers do the people who work there have?
How did your ideas change from reading this brochure?
What advice do you have for people who want to travel to this place?
What information in the brochure did you find irrelevant?
How did the brochure appeal to your emotions?
Did reading the brochure change your thinking about the site?

At the end of our work with brochures, my students enjoy activities that appeal to their creativity. Here is a list of some of the more creative activities I’ve come up with that lend themselves particularly well to travel brochures.


Write a brief character sketch of the person who wrote this brochure.
Create a graphic organizer displaying the reasons why you want to visit the site.
Imagine that you have already visited the place and describe it in a letter to relative.
Use your imagination to add a new feature that would appeal to future visitors.
Create a budget for a trip to the site.
Plan what you would like to do there. How long would you stay? What would you do each day?
Make a storyboard to illustrate yourself on a visit to this place.
Invent a new feature that would appeal to visitors to your site.
Imagine that you overhear two visitors talking. Write their dialogue.
Collaborate with classmates to create a video clip of a typical day at the site.
Create a timeline of things visitors should do on a one-day visit, two-day visit, etc.
Create a comic strip depicting a visitor’s adventures at the site.
Write a letter asking to be considered for summer employment.

Like many other teachers, I have been dismayed to learn how little many of my students know of the world around them. Travel brochures bring the world to the classroom. If part of what good teachers do is enlarge their students’ lives, the practical reading material found in those throwaway leaflets can unlock at least a small part of the world around them.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Change Your Classroom with Random Acts of Kindness


“Don’t write in the margins.”

“Don’t sharpen your pencil while I am talking.”

“Don’t distract your neighbors.”
 

It is all too easy for an educator’s day to become filled with well-intentioned negatives. Instead of a constant barrage of negative directives, though, consider the positive environment you could create if you could 1. Help students learn to be considerate of others, 2. Build community in your classroom, and 3. Encourage self-motivation.
 

How?
 

It’s easy: encourage your students to perform frequent random acts of kindness.

Because classes vary so widely not just in age, maturity, ability levels, and general class chemistry, you will have to spend a little time determining how you want to unleash this powerful classroom tool.

 

Start by thinking about your students’ strengths and about the areas that you would like to see improved. Next, think about your students and the things that you know they enjoy. Just one or two simple actions would make a positive difference and is a great way to begin. Perhaps you could ask students to bring in extra pencils to share or write thank you notes to the cafeteria workers.

 

Small things can make a big difference in helping students think about how they can make their world a better place just by being kind. Here are a few more ideas for random acts of kindness written for students to follow that you can adapt for your own classroom.
 

  • Compliment two of your classmates this week on something that they have done well.
  • Bring in a book to donate to the school or classroom library.
  • Help pass out papers that need to be returned.
  • Make a study guide for a quiz or test and share it with classmates.
  • Clean up your area of the room at the end of class and encourage others to do the same.
  • Put a sticky note with an encouraging message on someone’s desk on in a book.
  • Make sure that everyone is included in a conversation.
  • If there is a new student in your class, be a buddy.
  • Tell the bus drivers how much you appreciate them.
  • Be on time to class and follow the rules so that you help everyone learn.
  • Be willing to share materials when other students need them.
  • If a classmate is absent, volunteer to get the handouts for the day and make sure that person knows how to make up work.
  • Check with your teacher first, but offer to bring in healthy treats for the entire class to share.
  • Pick up litter in the hall or around the school whenever you see it.
  • Tutor a younger student.
  • Play a charity game at www.gamesforchange.org to help those less fortunate.
  • Donate rice to the World Food Programme by playing Free Rice at www.freerice.com.
  • Make inspirational bookmarks and share them with classmates.
  • Bring in classroom supplies such as paper towels, tissues, or hand sanitizer.
  •  Write the custodians a thank you note and be sure to leave the classroom clean.

For more ideas about how to encourage your students, check out. www.randomactsofkindness.org.

Monday, June 8, 2015

IF YOU ONLY REMEMBER TEN THINGS ABOUT SCHOOL IN JUNE...

Let them be these:
  1. Spend your energy on large problems first. Choose to deal with the problems that will provide the greatest benefit right now.
  2. Use your strengths.  You are stronger than you realize.
  3. Problems can move you forward when you choose to work to solve them. That's a good thing.
  4. Make room for more emotional energy. Ask for help when you have a problem. Ask lots of people for help. Be willing to give help as well.
  5. Learn to see problems as challenges that you can overcome.
  6. Be proactive! Plan what you are going to do if...
  7. Don’t forget that small attitude changes often create bigger patterns of success. What small attitude change can you make today?
  8. If you can’t say it in front of the school board without looking silly, don’t.
  9. Let professionalism be your guide.
  10. Keep things in perspective. Ask yourself if the problems you have today will be important next year.
 

Monday, June 1, 2015

How to Be Everyone's Favorite Teacher


It’s not hard to be everyone’s favorite teacher. Really, it isn’t. If you think about your favorite teachers, there are some common denominators that they shared.

  • You felt important.
  • You felt as if your opinions mattered.
  • You looked forward to class because while there was lots that was predictable, there was also lots that was interesting. Time flew by most days.
  • You knew that you could ask for help without embarrassment.
  • They made you feel intelligent and worthwhile.

 

So, whether school is out for you now or still in session, it is not too late to be everyone’s favorite teacher. Here are some easy tips that will make your students glad to be in your class.

 
  • Don’t forget that the class is about your students and not about you. Be careful not to overpower your students with your knowledge or authority. Instead, be gentle and inclusive in your approach.
  • Smile. Be super polite. Overwhelm your students with niceness.  
  • Tell your students what you like about them. Make it a point to compliment them whenever you can. Compliment individuals, small groups, teams, pairs…the entire class.
  • Be prepared for class. When you are prepared, you will not have to worry about what you do or don’t know. Instead, you can just focus on your students.
  • Show that you have a sense of humor. Share a laugh with your students whenever you can. Playing together and laughing together will make school fun for everyone.
  • When you speak with students, lean towards them slightly. Let your body language indicate that you are interested and accessible.
  • Greet your students courteously as they come into the classroom. At the end of class, stand at the door and speak to them as they leave.
  • Take the time to reveal a little bit about yourself. For example, a brief story about a silly mistake you made or how you learned a lesson the hard way will make you much more accessible and appealing to your students than if you are always right.
  • Ask questions and wait expectantly for answers. Let your body language signal that you are interested in the responses that you may receive.
  • Move around the classroom. Every part of the room should be part of your circuit.
  • Use inclusive pronouns such as we, our, or us instead of ones that exclude students from ownership in their class.
  • Get your students up and moving. Sitting in a desk day after day will not just bore them, but it will also make the distance between teacher and students greater.
  • Find out your students' goals and dreams and help them work toward achieve them.
  • Provide opportunities for students to share their opinions and beliefs with you and with each other in a non-threatening way.
  • Be empathetic and sympathetic. Acknowledge it when a student is having a bad day.
  • Take advantage of as many opportunities as you can to interact with your students on a one-to-one or personal level. Ask about their hobbies, problems, families…whatever it takes to connect.
  • Be fair. Few things destroy a relationship between teacher and student faster than a student’s suspicion that he or she is being treated unfairly.
  • Be tactfully honest. Students know when they are being lied to and those lies will destroy the relationship you may want to build.
  • Show respect for all of your students as well as for their families, neighborhoods, and cultures.
  • Use your students’ names frequently and with a gentle tone of voice.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Do Something Spectacular!


Lots of advice for any teacher this time of year tends to focus on making it to the end of the year. You know how it is: Lots of gritting our teeth and grimly hanging on until the very end. What a miserable way to spend even one minute of our lives, much less convey that attitude to our students. If we are as miserable as the gloomy advice would make it seem, just think how miserable our students must feel.

Instead of glumly counting the days until we can be freed from the prison that school can be this time of year, how doing something---well, spectacular? And by spectacular, think fireworks, cheers, applause, celebrations, a huge smile on every student’s face.

Changing a negative mindset this time year can change everything. It’s a sure win-win. Best of all, it is pretty easy to be spectacular. Here’s how.

1. Hold a classroom awards ceremony. Celebrate the little things that have made the year special: most improved, neatest papers, most cooperative…the list is endless.

2. Surprise students with a bulletin board dedicated to their accomplishments. Take sneaky photos of them working and print them out. Then, use bright paper to spell out their successes. Maybe a Top Ten list of the best moments of the year.

3. Have students write each other thank you notes for the kind things they did for each other during the year.

4. Hold a Teach-a Thon to prepare for final exams or end of the year standardized tests. You can manage it, but students can be the actual teachers.

5. Bury a class time capsule to be opened when they graduate. Fill it with notes to their future selves, headline clippings, and other memorabilia.

6. Hold a charity event where students work together to help others less fortunate. Online games such as Free Rice are wonderful for this. Locally, there are many organizations that could use student volunteers or donations. The key to making this type of project spectacular is that students will be having fun with classmates.

7. Turn review sessions into sporting tournaments. Hold an Olympics or a World Series or a Stanley Cup Playoff. Have students make up rules and procedures and have a blast!

8. Break out giant sheets of bulletin board paper and have students write advice to next year’s students. They can outline each other’s hands or feet and write their names on it as well. You benefit from the relaxed time now as well has with a wonderful bulletin board next fall.

9. Have students make two or three paper airplanes each. Then, have them write facts related to the material understudy on the wings. Take everyone outside and fly the planes. Students have to pick up someone else’s plane, read the information, and fly it again. Chaos? Yes. Fun. Yes. Learning. Yes. Spectacular? You bet.

10. Somehow, find the time to write each child a two or three sentence note about his or her strengths and accomplishments. Wish them well during the next year. Tell them you will miss them. These will sure to be treasured for a long time.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Redirecting Off-Task Students: Ten Tried and True Suggestions



Redirecting students skillfully is not an easy task. There is often a delicate balance between trying to gently redirect a student whose attention has wandered and disturbing the entire class. Many of us wonder just when to redirect—at the start of a problem when it is confined to just one person or when a group of students seem to be off task? As a rule of thumb, most experienced educators will agree that it is best to act fairly early and with the least intrusive methods.
 When you notice students off task, try these tried and true suggestions for gently redirecting without raising your voice or embarrassing students.
  1. Matter-of-factly remind all students of the behavior you would like to see from them. The key idea here is that you have already made the expectations clear for every student. All you need to do most of the time is just to calmly remind students of what the expectations are.
  2. Praise students who are on task. Be explicit and direct so that any student who is off task knows what is expected and, even more importantly, how to accomplish the expected behavior.
  3. Put reminders on students’ desks. You could use one color of sticky note with a smiley face on it for students who are behaving well and another color with a frownie face for those students who are not on task. Another reminder that some teachers have found useful is to walk around placing stickers on the papers of students who are on task. If you announced that you only had five stickers and were going to give them to the first five on-task students that you see, then you can expect that your students will generally rush to earn them.
  4. Count 1, 2, 3 and then wait for everyone to pay attention to your directions.  Calm wait time is crucial to getting every student to pay attention to your directions and then to attend to them. Instead of a flurry of directions, count slowly and wait expectantly.
  5. Often students need redirection when their attention spans have reached their outer limits. Set a timer and give everyone a two minute wiggle break. When the timer buzzes, students can go back to work refreshed.
  6. Ask students if they would like help from a classmate or if they would like to help a classmate. This will often give students confidence as well as a shift in the lesson delivery that just might be effective at keeping them focused.
  7. Use your “teacher look” to remind students to keep working. Often just an inquisitive glance is all that it takes to remind a student to focus on learning instead of misbehavior.
  8. Ask students to restate the directions. If you notice a student off task, first move near that student. Then quietly ask for a restatement of the directions. If you then see that there is a larger issue, you could remind the whole class of the directions. If the problem is confined to one student, then it is easy just to clarify the directions and move on.  
  9. Ask students who are struggling with an assignment if they could use a little help. Often all it takes is a brief moment or two and students are able to go right back to work.
  10. Proximity is effective. Move to stand near the students who are off task. While you are near, smilingly glance at misbehaving students. This will almost always serve to keep them settle to work and stay engaged in the lesson.