Friday, July 31, 2009

Do you have to like your students? Yes!

Above everything else, you have to like the kids you work with. Whether they’re teenagers, middle-school kids or elementary kids. It seems like an overly obvious point, but we've all worked with many teachers who don’t seem to understand, love their kids or even like them. All students will soon be adults like you and me and we should treat them as such, not as “evil” or broken creatures that we must "fix." We have to build our classes and lessons with some leeway for kids to be kids.

If you get into teaching and you find you are upset all the time and kids aren’t behaving like you think they should or reacting like you think they should, perhaps you should adjust what you think kids are. It’s not a matter of lowering expectations. There has been some research showing that teachers who account for this bit of spontaneity in the classroom, letting kids be who they actually are, are more effective than teachers who clamp down on every “out of line” response or action. These overly controlling teachers will actually miss teaching opportunities because of this inflexibility. When teachers control too much, kids shut down (See Malcolm Gladwell's "Most Likely to Succeed") .

The roots of this rely on rhetorical theory which says you must know your audience first and foremost. If you are speaking to an audience you are not seeing, your message will never get across. The kids will sense your dislike and constant disappointment.

Kids that may seem hopeless and immature early on in life actually will have a psychological shift in their early 20’s and figure a lot out. I think we have to treat them all respectfully as if they all have that potential to make that change at all points in their K-12 existence. Once you make that perceptual change, to where you’re actually seeing kids for what they are, and adjust your lessons, your personality and your rhetoric to your audience then you will be much more successful and happier too.

When you love your kids and don’t see them as the enemy, you are more likely to listen to them and hear them. They will sense this respect and be more honest with you. This is one way to get over this insane adversarial relationship that has developed in so many American schools. Look at our films and our archetypal characters like Ferris Buehler or Bart Simpson. How can we have a culture in which we rebel against education?

Even more crucial than everything else: If you don’t love your kids, you will not have the energy to sustain your effort day after day, month after month, class after class, essay after essay. When you’ve lost your passion for kids and their learning and opening up the world, everything becomes a drudgery. Without that spark you probably won't do that one extra thing that was going to make a difference for that kid.

In teaching, you are overworked. You will be given much more of a caseload and a task than you can accomplish reasonably. Without that magic infused into everything that you do, you will fall short sooner or later. So yes, you have to like your kids!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Thriving as a Teacher

The focus of this blog is to explore and write about how to think about, conceptualize and feel about teaching, not how to teach. This will be something teachers can use to support themselves rather than something that says, “Everyone teach this way.” So many teaching programs and workshops focus on methodologies, but miss the point of what the purpose of teaching and learning is.

Do you have a reason for teaching? Do your students have a reason for learning?

In addition to reasons, how do we organize our lives as teachers? We deal with so much ambiguity in evaluating ourselves and our students honestly, it creates a psychological challenge.
How can we be sure we are succeeding and we haven't simply created an echo chamber of our own misconceptions about what our students have achieved?

There is always more that can be done to help a student. How and where do we draw the line?

Some future topics I'll look into in more depth:

Loving your kids

Loving your subject



Day to Day

Your Family/Your Life Outside of Work

The Obligation to be Passionate

How do you deal with some of the above questions? Please suggest some future topics as well.