Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Simple Phone Call

Tonight I was driving home from work while talking on the phone with my wife. We were simply rehashing our days when the house phone rings in the background. My wife went over and noticed that it was my son's school calling and instantly said, "I wonder what he did wrong now." She then hung up on me to take the phone call from the school.

Now, I should explain that my son is...well my son. What I mean is that if he is anything like I was in school, we will be getting many phone calls from the school. That's not to say I was "bad" kid, but I certainly made sure all my teachers earned their paychecks. I knew once I had two sons, that my wife and I were in for a fun, wild and sure to be long ride. In fact, we've already had a few phone conversations with his teacher and assistant principal. Yes, he is only in kindergarten but I did say he was my son. :) Back to the phone call...

As I walked in the door my wife was still on the phone with his teacher and gave me a "thumbs up" sign. After hanging up, she informed me that the phone call was to let us know how well our son was doing both behaviorally and academically. She even went so far as to say he was a good leader in the classroom and a great role model to other students. Needless to say I was a proud father.

I instantly walked over to my computer to email his teacher thanking her for the call. The positive parent communication is something I do as a teacher and now have been on the receiving end of it as a parent. Too often parents only hear when things go wrong or if there is a problem. My own wife instinctively thought something was wrong when she saw the caller ID. This phone call from my son's teacher reaffirmed my belief in the value of positive phone calls and emails. As a parent now, I can clearly say it is a great thing to receive and I wish all teachers would do this as often as they can. Mark it in your calendar or put it in your planner but commit to calling a designated number of parents a week to share good news.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Letter to First Year Teacher Me

Back to future-deloran-dmc-time machine-terabass
By Terabass (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons
I am an eternal optimist and truly believe in my heart that time travel will be possible one day. It is with this belief I write this letter that I will one day travel back in time to deliver to “First Year Teacher Me”. Yes, I realize that if in fact future time travel is possible, I would have probably already delivered this but let’s not get caught up in the details of the space time continuum or the true role of a Flux Capacitor.




Dear First Year Teacher Me,
As you are reading this letter I know you are sitting in your desk very early in the morning getting ready for the school day to start. You are staring at a blank sheet of paper because you have no idea what to teach because you never truly had a mentor to help get you going. Well, look no further, your mentor is here and I plan on clearing up a few things you never learned in college.
First, there is no such thing as controlling a class. Yes, you took that classroom management class where they taught you about Glasser, Piaget, and even some Skinner. You even put together a nice binder for a final project where you made a nice cover page and had appendixes of nice rules and consequences. Well, I have news for you; you cannot and will not ever control a kid. When a kid says, “make me”, you need to understand that you can’t. Rather than focusing on controlling the kids in your class you need to build relationships built on honestly and respect.
Next, content is not king. In fact, it is not even heir to the throne in your room. Very few of the classes you took in college will have a direct connection to the content you are teaching in your classroom. In some cases, you will be learning right along with your kids and that’s ok. You don’t need to be the expert and being honest with the kids will go a long way in building positive relationships. Despite what talking heads and politicians will like you to believe, the content crazy culture of standardized testing is not good teaching. Don’t teach to the test. Period.

Another piece of wisdom I would like to impart on you is to surround yourself with positive role models and peers. They will be there when you fall flat on your face and fail and also be there to put you in your place when you start to think you have all the answers.

As your first parent teacher conference comes up, you will no doubt be nervous and bit uneasy. You will think of parents as someone you need to justify your job to or in some cases as the “enemy”. Neither of those thoughts are true. Be open, honest, and find ways to build a positiverelationship with parents. I would suggest you send home a minimum of five positive calls/emails/notes a week. Parents love this and it is a nice way to end the week focusing on something positive.

You will get roped into boring meetings and training sessions that will suck the very life out of you…sorry, haven’t figured this one out yet. J
Many ideas you had about schools due to your own experiences are not necessarily right in today’s classrooms. Here are a few things I know you will be tempted to do because you know no better:
  • Hand out detentions – While discipline in extreme cases is warranted, I urge you to build relationships first built on trust and respect rather than fear and punishment.
  • Grade everything a kid does – Not everything a student turns in or does in class needs to be graded. Athletes are only “graded” on game day…apply that to your classroom.
  • Kick a kid out of class – With the exception of extreme cases this should never, ever be done.
  • Eat the “Double Spirit Burger” in the school cafeteria – Just trust me on this one and don’t do it.
  • Give extra credit for tissue boxes – Always make sure a student’s grade reflect their learning…not their behavior.
Before you do anything on this list just ask yourself the question, “how would I react if I was a parent of one of the kids in my class?” I’ve got news for you; you will have a couple of sons who will test many of your beliefs on education when they start school. There are many more things I will need to pass on but I will save that for another time. Just remember that you are a mediocre teacher at best…but there is hope for you. Never think you have it all figured out and always try to make each year better than the previous. The moment you think you have all the answers and that you are done improving, it will be time for you to head over to a new profession. Surround yourself with educators better than you and learn everything you can from them. Be a sponge and always remember that every single decision you make must be centered on the kids in your class. If not, don’t do it.
Regards,
Future You
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