The mug shots...er...I mean...photo booth pictures here were taken
at the district's recent Teacher Orientation gathering.
It's often the first thing a person will ask of a teacher.
When does school start?
Or maybe this:
Are you ready for school to start?
And the teacher on display will often roll her eyes. Or sigh. Or return a snide comment.
It seems she doesn't want to go back to school any more than her students. She's dreading that first day. She's uncertain about the quality of life she will have when classes begin.
But is that really the image that she wants to portray? Is she being aloof because she thinks it's a funny response, or does she really feel that way about her chosen career?
I wonder how a corporate secretary or assembly line worker would respond if, once a year, we asked him about his impending days. How would the clerk at the store or the janitor at the hospital answer the questions.
Actually, they would probably roll their eyes and sigh, as well. Maybe that's just human nature. Dreading the work. Feeling the impending burn. Being forced back into service for another nine months.
I think we might do well to rethink how we answer. Our constant response of, "Don't remind me," just doesn't cut it when we maintain that we are teachers because we want to make a difference. Well, do we or don't we? You just can't sigh about it and still be passionate about it. I wonder why we don't anticipate August in much the same way as so many anticipate baseball season or football season.
If we feel like we have one of the most important jobs in the world, why do we play it down so much when somebody asks if we want to do it? That's clearly the wrong message to put out there. We don't accept such from our students, so why do we accept it from ourselves? We don't have to demand respect from the general public, but we would garner a fairer amount of it if we humbly and cheerfully anticipated getting to do it for another year. It's time to rethink our response to Are you ready?
This puts things into perspective. It is my annual display of annuals, my yearly display of yearbooks. From my first year (1990/1) to last year (2016/7), I now have a complete collection of 27 of these precious mementos.
Really! Twenty-seven years.
This is more than a pile of pages, a plethora of pictures, a menagerie of moments. These are the last 27 years of my life - a big chuck of them anyway, 27 years of connections with other human beings, 27 years of entertaining and teaching, laughing and crying, 27 years of living.
This, the 28th year of this great experiment, and I continue to tweak and tighten my teaching. Those in the know have long realized that a teacher never "arrives", that we never experience mastery in this profession. I suppose that's because there is certainly a human factor to our job. We don't assemble our products on the conveyor in a standardized line. Here are some observations:
On and on we could go, filling the pages of a book with thoughts concerning our students. At this time of the year, I tend to have double vision: I look back to almost three decades of elementary students, and I look forward to the next one.
We're all a little apprehensive.
We're all a little frightened about what lies ahead - but all we need to know is this:
Are you ready?
In my own book, There's No Busyness Like School Busyness, I give a few examples of the greeting. It is a pivotal part of my day - greeting students - not only because it allows them to practice their eye contact and firm handshake, but also because of the one-on-one connection it affords each of us. I make an effort to call students by their names in a positive greeting every morning, knowing that for some their names are only used, along with their middle names, when they are in trouble. Using their names in a positive manner each morning helps unravel some potentially negative feelings they may have about themselves.
Sit with the Runners
When you have assigned seats, this one can be tough. I know because I sit in the teachers lounge to eat my own lunch. It's a very small room - not one that allows a person to distance himself from negativity - but I feel like eating with my peers is a professional thing to do. As a new teacher - even before that - I was always told to avoid the lounge. My college professors seemed to know the lounge as a den of whining and complaining, and they were right. We learners, however, must learn how to face the negativity and perhaps even turn it. When you are a fourth grader, this may require some intervention in the form of a cafeteria supervisor or a classroom teacher, but together, perhaps the positives can influence the negatives rather than the other way around.
Change the conversation to change the culture
In general, Mr. Clark is right. I want to sit with the winners, too, but if I segregate myself and make no effort to change the conversation of negative people, have I been a part of the solution, or have I only contributed to the problem. If we want a positive culture, we have to actively participate in positively influencing the people around us.
Ask for help
It can be hard to ask for help. I never enjoyed admitting my shortcomings. I know what it's like feeling as if I am the only person in the room who does not understand something. Perhaps my mind wandered during the instructions or perhaps I just haven't wrapped my mind around a concept. In my high school algebra course, for example, I missed a few days of instruction due to band and speech competitions. Upon returning I was entirely lost and could not seem to catch up for the rest of the year. But as much as I didn't like the feelings that brought, I still did not want to admit I didn't understand. I still have problems with this - a matter of pride, I suppose - but I keep reminding myself that if I ever want to progress, I must admit when I do not understand and when I need someone else's help. My peers and supervisors are great resources for helping me get through my problems. Naturally, if I can get fourth graders to understand that, as well, I can also bring them forward. Of course, that means I also must -
Speaking of speech contests, that is the point in my life when I learned that criticism is not all negative. In fact, when the performer deals with criticism well, sorting through anything that might be insulting and getting to the constructive portions, said performer will improve. I've come to understand that even the harshest critics have something to say. Just because they are yelling or calling me names does not necessarily indicate that I should stop listening to them. Just because they lack the tact and respect does not mean there is no validity to at least part of what they tell me. I've received some very tough criticism from certain people. In retrospect, some of that criticism served as a kick in the pants to jump start a new chapter of my career. Sometimes a kick in the pants is exactly what the doctor ordered - even if it is unpleasant at the time. Now, I just need to recognize the value earlier in the process - maybe I would enjoy the ride a little more if I realized I was on it in the first place.
Listen more than you talk
There's the eye contact thing again. Call if active listening if you must, but a learner's eye contact is the window to his learning. The eyes give away the true object of your attention. If you are not focused on the speaker, you will not reap the full benefits of his or her wisdom. We call it tracking the speaker, and it is an important and impressive skill for nine and ten year olds to develop. It's cool to see it working in class, but even cooler to see it outside of the classroom. I, too, must continue to work on this skill. Eye contact is difficult in one-on-one situations, as well.
Stay in your lane
OK, Mr. Clark, you caught me with this one. In my efforts to keep the entire school on track, there have been times when I failed to stay in my lane. But in my defense, I don't think this lane-staying is necessarily true. If I don't wish to see my friends fail, isn't it my responsibility to help out from time to time? I don't want to watch them step off of a cliff; shouldn't I put a sign up at the edge to warn them the drop is coming? At the same time, I understand what Mr. Clark has written here - that others also have to learn from their mistakes. If that's true, I have to be willing to let them make their own mistakes. I think his last line in the quote above is the qualifier here: There's a fine line... I just need to be more alert to the placement of that line, and then strive to not cross it.
I want my students to be creative problem solvers. I want them to look at situations from different points of views. I want them to critique others. I want them to find solutions in unlikely places. I want them to apply the skills they already have to new situations that arise. Then and only then will they contribute to society in general. Their success depends on how quickly they can think on their feet, how accurately they can identify a problem, and how precisely they solve it.
Mr. Clark covers a few other topics in this section of Move Your Bus, but these are the ones that stood out to me. Again, they are real and realistic, and they just make sense. I need to remain conscious of these important skills and ethics as I teach, and I must teach my students to do the same.
Mike Lupica always seems to bring out the best in sports. I have read a few of his books, and even though I do not enjoy sports (never have), I always enjoy reading his books. I especially liked the first half of The Only Game, a character-driven baseball and softball story.
There's more to The Only Game than a story about sports. The first half of the book sets up the story quite well, with the star pitcher quitting the team after his brother dies in an accident. The reader questions the reason for his quitting the team, as do his teammates, and his new friend - a girl who stars on her softball team. His new position on the sidelines gives the main character a different perspective than he had before. Another character, an unlikely fellow student who is not physically fit and is often bullied, rounds out the story.
The second half of the book reads too much like a play-by-play radio broadcast and doesn't feel like part of the story that Lupica started to write. The play-by-play always shows up in Lupica's books and often moves the story along, but in The Only Game it got in the way. There was just too much of it.
I'm glad Lupica's books have made the Mark Twain Award list (Missouri's middle-grade literature awards). They aren't books I would pick up to read on my own. In fact, I couldn't help but think that Mike Lupica is probably a pretty nice fellow. His books show the most romantic and idealistic parts of sports. They also display kids who have great character and citizenship. The characters in this volume are especially supportive to each other. I like that.
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