A Dangerous Phrase…

The other day I was sitting at lunch with several colleagues and heard a phrase that I’ve learned to hate this year: “I’m not doing that.” I’ve seen so many things fall through the cracks this year simply because teachers don’t want to do something they disagree with. We have several programs that we have tried to implement this year that haven’t been used effectively because teachers refuse to do it. This is the reason that our token economy has had no impact whatsoever. This is why our students hate our character education programs. Teachers don’t like it, so they don’t do it.

I’ll admit it, I haven’t been perfect at this either. However, I think all of this stems from an attitude of entitlement – that when a boss tells you to do something you have the option to do or not do it. “I deserve this” and “I deserve that.” “I don’t HAVE to do that.” Not doing something is very rarely a solution to the problem. In most career fields, if you don’t do something your boss asks you to, you get disciplined or fired.  If you constantly complain and refuse to do things – even in a school – you aren’t going to be liked and your words of criticism will be dismissed anyway.

Not doing something is very rarely a solution to the problem. 

 

On the other hand, if you are a team player and perform a required task even though you aren’t a fan of it, your words carry weight. I once heard my pastor, in talking about our denomination, say, “because I follow the rules, I can complain.” If you are reliable, trustworthy, and obedient, you will succeed in building good work relationships. And more importantly, you will do what’s best for your students. That’s what it’s all about anyway, right?

More importantly, you will do what’s best for your students. That’s what it’s all about anyway, right?

My challenge to you, friends, is to finish out this year with an attitude that represents your willingness to be part of the team and do what’s best for your students, even if it’s not always doing something you enjoy or agree with.

 

Committees, Satan, and Congress

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Ever heard the idiom, “too many cooks in the kitchen?” I felt this first-hand last week, as I’ve been assigned to a committee that very few people in the school look favorably upon. 

One of our tasks was to plan out an assembly for the students. If you’ve read some of my other posts,  you know that I have a lot of experience planning and carrying out youth events. I know how to make them fun and engaging for the kids. Well, apparently we also had 5 other people on the committee who felt the same about themselves. This made for a long meeting where we didn’t really get anything done. And, tomorrow, we’ll produce an “okay” product for the students.

I come from a ministry background, and churches that use the phrase “Let’s form a committee!” are not usually successful churches. In fact, I find the terms “Satan” and “decorating committee” almost interchangeable. As teachers, we should know that sticking five people in a room without a defined leader will not yield the results we are looking for. So, why do we continually form “committees” that are typically more a source of stress than productivity?

We should know that sticking five people in a room without a defined leader will not yield the results we are looking for.

Look at congress! When’s the last time a congressional committee did something that benefitted you? Just last week, they were deadlocked because there were too many opposing viewpoints in one room. Don’t get me wrong, I like the structure of our government and the system of checks and balances. However, I think that there are times where we just need to give a leader a task and let them run with it – trusting that they’ll carry it on to completion.

There are times where we just need to give a leader a task and let them run with it.

Have you had any stressful committee experiences? How does your school handle these things?

What I learned in Black Church

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Ethnicity is a tough topic to discuss, but I’m a person who likes to speak the truth. I still want to be sensitive, though, and state that everything I say here about ethnicity and culture is meant to be respectful and in good taste.

Everything I say here about ethnicity and culture is meant to be respectful and in good taste.

In college, I had the opportunity to tour professionally as a musician in several different settings. One of the groups in which I was involved would travel to churches and do music. This group embraced diversity and that allowed us to travel to Black churches, White churches, small churches, big churches, etc…

If you’ve never been in church, let me explain some of the differences.

DISCLAIMER: None of the things I am about to say are true of all churches everywhere. These are just general observations I’ve made in my unique set of experiences.

None of the things I am about to say are true of all churches everywhere. These are just general observations I’ve made in my unique set of experiences.

White Church

In the churches in which I was raised (I am a white male), the act of doing “church” consists of prayer (by the pastor), singing together, and a sermon. The music is rehearsed ahead of time and everyone sings along to the same tune. Most relevant, however, is the fact that when the pastor speaks, the congregation sits quietly and listens. Crying babies are removed by their mothers, and chattering teenagers are shushed.

 

Black Church

The Black churches I’ve been to have some similarities to White churches. There is still music, prayer, and a sermon but the atmosphere is totally different. The service is like a mosaic where everyone played a part. During the prayer, people in the audience yell out praises or thanks to God. The music often consists of a choir singing the melody while a leader adds lib or places their own spin on the song. The band stays on stage during the sermon and adds inspirational music behind the words of the pastor – sometimes being so driven by the words of the pastor that the room erupts into a “praise break.” Most importantly, however, while the pastor delivers his sermon, people are free to yell out approval or praises whenever they want.

 

The Point

I teach mostly African-American students. In fact, I can probably count on one hand the amount of White students in our part of the building. When you look at the differences in expected church behavior, it’s no wonder that sitting quietly and raising your hand is so foreign to them. They’re allowed to yell out their thoughts sporadically in church. They’re aloud to shout something without permission and not get in trouble for it. The practice and structure of church is also the closest thing to school that students experience outside of school.

The practice and structure of church is also the closest thing to school that students experience outside of school.

I’ve been trying to find every way to make my teaching culturally relevant to my students. Traditional teaching methods where students sit, listen, and raise their hand just don’t work with these students! We have to make our teaching fun and relevant to whatever culture are students are coming from. To be honest, I haven’t done a very good job of this and would like to improve.

What teaching strategies or modifications have you made to teach students from a different cultural background than you?

Keep it Simple!!!!!!!

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I don’t know about you, but I like things that are simple.

I think there’s a reason that Bloom’s Taxonomy has stuck around. It’s a simple tool with just a few steps that are easy to understand. I love listening to Dave Ramsey and I understand his process because he divides it up into seven easy steps. Alcoholics Anonymous has mastered this, putting its program into a 12-step process that anyone, including people with intense addictions, can understand.

The question is, then, why have we made education so complicated? Why does my pacing guide require me to teach six different things at one time?Why can’t I choose one topic and spend the amount of time on that topic needed for my kids to get it?

I feel that, if I could make my class more straightforward, my students would succeed more.

Is your classroom complicated or simple? What tricks have you learned to simplify things for your students?

How McDonald’s is Saving my Teaching Career

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McDonald’s is saving my teaching career.

How? It’s very simple.

Almost every day, after school, I drive down the street and purchase a Large Diet Coke from those Golden Arches. Then I return to school and get some work done.

This is one of the ways I’m surviving my first year. After a whole day of teaching, I need a break before I can dive into the next day or whatever needs done. After 32 oz of nutrisweety, carbonated goodness and a breath of non-school air, I’m ready to get things done. I notice I’m much more efficient when I do this.

How do you survive? What are your tricks for making it through the day in this challenging profession?

Token Economies

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In college, I remember hearing from my professors that token economies and other reward systems were a thing of the past – that we want to build intrinsic motivation into our lessons.

I remember hearing from my professors that token economies and other reward systems were a thing of the past

However, I was surprised to find out when I started that my school implements one of these. The teachers carry around dollars that can be spent on special treats in the cafeteria once a week. Different teachers hand them out for different reasons, but still, students are being rewarded for their actions.

The adult world they’ll soon be entering just doesn’t work like that.

I’m torn on this. Part of me deplores the idea that we are rewarding our students for things that they are suppose to do. The adult world they’ll soon be entering just doesn’t work like that. On the other hand, it does motivate them to work where they wouldn’t otherwise.

I’ve taken to only handing out the dollars when I see something extraordinary from a student or as part of a game. I use more of them in my inclusion class because I feel those students need the incentive more than others.

What’s your stance on token economies like this? What positive or negative experiences have you had with them?

They can win.

I’ve known since I met them that my students come from households characterized by chaos. I know that many of them are involved in gang activity in their neighborhoods. In fact, the idea that they can come to school in the midst of that and still concentrate amazes me.

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Anyway, I’ve noticed something. Because I work with a very difficult population, my classes are smaller. Sometimes I may even have one student in a class.

One on one, these students are like any other kids in any other school. They are usually pretty friendly and cooperative. However, as soon as they get out in that hallway, they are cussing and going back and forth with their peers. Today, I had to prevent two students from fighting each other who are usually pretty tame by themselves.

I want to hypothesize that this is all just a survival tactic. These kids know that if they don’t act tough and use their fists every once in a while, they’ll be eaten up by their chaotic world.

If we could convince students that they don’t need to act tough – that maybe being responsible and respectful in school will ultimately bring them the success they want – than a lot of our behavior problems would be solved. But that is easier said than done.

I propose that we as educators focus on developing meaningful relationships with our students.

I propose that we as educators focus on developing meaningful relationships with our students. The axiom, “rules without relationships builds rebellion” has never held truer than in urban education. If kids can see us setting an example and believing in them, they may just see that they can do it. They can win.

What do you think?

Where do these aggressive tendencies come from? What experiences have you had with this?

Why isn’t a diploma enough?

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As I sat in the teacher’s lounge today, I heard my colleagues complaining about the annoying certification process they had to go through. I agreed with them. Mine consisted of silly things like:

  • taking a basic skills test (which I had to do to get into college anyway)
  • completing an annoying pilot program (which was one of the worst-assembled things I’ve every experienced)
  • taking a teaching practices and content area exam
  • a nice, hefty fee

To me, this is just another tax that fuels a pretty messed up system.

Accreditation

It’s my understanding that universities with teacher education programs must undergo accreditation by the Department of Education. In short, they’re making sure that whatever the university is teaching will make good teachers. If that’s true, then why isn’t a diploma from one of these institutions enough to get a teaching job? The only thing I can think of is the background checks that go with it….but wait…don’t schools do that when you get hired anyway?

Why isn’t a diploma from one of these institutions enough to get a teaching job?

The Solution

Redundancies permeate education. It drives me crazy to think that, across the nation, there are countless people working in county-level offices of education while school district administrators are doing the same job. Imagine the money we could save without redundancies like licensure and certification. We could open new schools and fund better programs for our kids.  Let’s can licensure and certification programs and let teachers be the professionals that they’ve trained to be

Let’s can licensure and certification programs and let teachers be the professionals that they’ve trained to be

Why does lesson planning have to be so complicated?

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Don’t get me wrong. I love teaching. But when it comes to planning for teaching, I’m kind of a grouch. I tend to spend a good chunk of my weekends preparing for the weeks and months ahead. I definitely feel more prepared afterwards, but I wish I could find an easier way to do it.

When I was in high school, I had an awesome math teacher. Although I admittedly didn’t put much effort into her class, she was always nice and was very good at explaining things to us. One of the cool things she had us do (which I realize now was just a form of tiered instruction or scaffolding) was, after she had explained the concept to us, have us teach the concept to someone else in the class. She didn’t tell us to make sure we engaged all levels of Bloom’s or to differentiate based on our partner’s learning style. She didn’t ask us to explain how we would assess that our partner had mastered it. We knew what teaching looked like and most of us were able to do a pretty good job of explaining the concept to someone else.

All we did was watch something modeled and then model it ourselves. This is what good teachers do and its really very simple.

Again, don’t get me wrong. All that stuff we learn in college about procedures, DI, Gardner’s, Bloom’s, intervention, and assessment is really important. I’m just saying that it would make my job (and my life) a little less stressful if I could make my lesson plans a simple list of tasks with some justification thrown in.

After all, its hard to follow your lesson plans when this class gets behind or that class gets ahead. Half the time, I can’t use the awesome activating strategies or anticipatory sets I come up with because my class didn’t finish what they needed to the previous day. And when a principal comes to observe me, I always have to explain where we are in the lesson plan because invariably what we actually do in class doesn’t exactly match up.

I also understand that we need to be held accountable to what we’re doing in our classroom and that’s why our lesson plans have to be so particular. I just wish it could be a little more simple and straightforward.

What ways have you found to simplify your lesson planning? Do you have any survival tactics when it comes to this process?