Don’t Smile Before December: Is it True?

I do my best work when I feel connected to my students.

My students do their best work when they feel connected to me.

My students and me?  We are humans.  Learning is a human experience.  In fact, learning as we do in school is uniquely human – no other species has established the structures of organized education as have we, and structured education is so important to human nature that it developed independently in cultures throughout the world.  It is fundamentally human that we desire to learn and that we educate others.  It is also fundamentally human that we can smile at each other and share happiness.

So it makes sense that some of my best lessons are the ones when I smile and laugh with my students, when I connect with them emotionally, let my guard down, deviate constructively from the plan, and allow them to see me as another human being.  When I get excited about what I am teaching, about who I am teaching, my students get excited too!

How unfortunate, and oh so boring, would it be if these lessons did not come until January?

At times when I have been nervous, apprehensive, or felt overly controlling about my students, they have reacted accordingly – they did not necessarily lash out, but they also did not get caught up in their learning; for them, my class became more of a chore.

Of course, students are clever enough to recognize artifice as well.  If I try to manufacture relationships and come at it in an overly sweet, fake manner, I put up a different kind of barrier to learning.  In such a circumstance students will notice, and even point out to me that I am “forcing it”; they certainly won’t feel like they can relate to me, and that will negatively impact their learning.

In order to allow the space for human relationships to contribute to my teaching, even before December, I spend a lot of time at the beginning of the school year establishing structures and routines in my class, exerting my influence on students at the time when they are still nervous about who I am.  During this time my concern is not my facial expression so much as it is setting up a predictability to each day that allows students to feel safe when they walk through my door.  Students who feel safe have fewer management issues.  Fewer management issues means time and flexibility during class for my humanity to come through as soon as we get into the interesting material of the year.

And that makes me smile 😊

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Post written by Laura Vago, a New Member Committee Member and 7th grade Science teacher in Malden, MA.

Follow Laura on Twitter: @LRVago

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True Accountability

“The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears, or the sea.” -Isak Dinesen

One of the major issues stressed with new teachers is the work/life balance. After 5 years of teaching, I’m getting the hang of that balance. I’ve mastered not bringing work home during the week and I can even take a weekend off occasionally. But even when you do achieve the perfect balance, there’s still going to be work-related stress. That’s where the quote above comes in. To deal with the stress of work, I workout (sweat) and frequent Martha’s Vineyard in the winter (the sea). But what no ever talks about are the tears.

On Tuesday, when my students left for the day, I cried. On Wednesday, during my prep, I cried in front of another teacher. After the second set of tears, I felt better and was able to refocus and begin to solve my problem.

The reason for my tears is not important. You could substitute any teacher’s stressful situation for mine. What is important is what the occasional cry (or other displays of emotion) shows about a teacher. It shows that we care. It shows accountability.

Teachers work their tails off so every student gets the education they deserve. And when some are just not getting a concept after a week of different approaches to the same concept, we may just cry. However, that cry does not equate to giving up. We try again. We ask for advice. We persist until we can make a breakthrough. We do all of this because we know that it’s our job and our passion to educate students well.

That’s true accountability; no standardized test or summative evaluation is going to capture that.

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Written by Jennifer Maio, a New Member Committee Member and 7th grade English teacher at Groton-Dunstable Regional Middle School.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter: @jmaio88

My Idea: Making Teacher Prep More Like Scrubs

Imagine if Teacher Prep programs were more like the hit TV Show Scrubs!

While I have been accused of having ridiculous fantasies, I actually think this idea has some merit.

I mean, doctors have “Teaching Hospitals” (as seen on ER, Scrubs, and House), why don’t we have “Teaching Schools”*? A place where first years (new teachers) walk around the school with department heads discussing what they see in the classroom and how it can be improved.

It would probably look something like this…

The following scene takes place in a school with classes behind two-way mirrors (like ones that can be found in interrogation rooms on TV shows). The Department Head leads a group of first years around the school.

Department Head: “Milton! Tell me what you see here.”

Me: “A class, sir.”

Department Head: “If I wanted an answer that vague, I’d ask a politician!” (To make this feel more sitcom- ish, I made the department head sardonic. For the overall storyline, this is a necessity.)

Me: “A class of students watching the teacher give a lecture. From the look of the drool on that student’s notebook, this has been going on for 30 minutes.”

Department Head: “How do you propose to fix this?”

Me: “Interaction, sir. I would begin class with an introductory activity bridging prior learning to what we’ll cover today, move into a short lecture, begin an activity that demonstrates the principles of the lecture, and, finally, debrief it with the class. In general, I would recommend switching gears every 20 or so minutes.”

The scene continues with clever wit, discussion, and music by The Fray.

OK, so this may not be the ideal situation. There do seem to be a few problems. First, I imagine few teachers would actually want to teach at said school. Second, parents may object to 2-way mirrors being installed into their community. Third, I haven’t actually heard The Fray’s new albums so maybe we should use Of Monsters and Men instead.

I realize that in order to teach, we go through an education program, student teaching, and eventually, at least in Massachusetts, an induction program.

But a little of me just wants to be on Scrubs.
*When I typed “Teaching Schools” I chuckled a bit. I am fairly certain that every school really is a “Teaching School.”

A note about the title: Scrubs devotees will understand.

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This article is also posted on Michael’s personal blog michaelkmilton.com where he shares ideas and lessons from his classroom.