Friday, March 21, 2014

What Do You Teach? (Dear Katie V2 #12)

Dear Katie,

When I was in third grade, I remember walking across town to the middle school to watch some of my teachers take on the 8th graders in basketball and volleyball.  I remember my principal, a former gym teacher, going all out in the volleyball game and twisting his ankle in the process.  And I remembered that one day, I wanted to play in that game against the teachers.

A few days ago, I played for the faculty team against the students in a charity basketball game.  We only had 8 teachers in the game, but many more were in the gym that day, sitting among the students, and cheering both teams on.  One teacher allowed herself to be duct taped to a wall.  In my time as a teacher, I have squared off against students in Softball, Basketball, Trivia Games, and Donkey Basketball.

Kids remember things like that.

I remember I stopped by a soccer game my first two weeks I was at my current school 15 years ago.  I didn't know many of the kids on the team yet, but I wanted to get to know them.  The next day at school, one of the players on the field came up to me and said, "Thanks for coming to the game yesterday."

Kids notice.

An older teacher who I respect told me as I began my teaching career, "Remember, you don't teach history, you teach children".  If you go into teaching for the job security, salary, benefits, and summer off and rush out the door as soon as your contract allows, I can promise you the years will go slowly by as you drudgingly look forward to retirement.  Start when you are in your first years teaching, because as you have a family, it will be harder to find the time for the kids in your school.  Do not be the teacher that people wonder if you even like kids.  Teaching is more than a job; you assist parents in preparing  their children to pursue their happiness.

Kids know if you teach only for the paycheck, or if you teach for them.

Here are some practical tips:

1) Arrange and decorate your classroom so kids are comfortable in it.   Make your comfort secondary.

2) Say "Hi" to kids in the hall by name.

3) When there are events at your school, attend some of them.  Participate in staff/student competitions with zeal.

4) Congratulate and encourage kids in their passions and pursuits outside of your classroom.

5) Eat lunch with students in the cafeteria, or go outside during recess and play with the kids even if it is not your duty.

6) Have pictures of your family or your hobbies around the room.  Bring you family to after school events.  Allow them to see you as a real person.

At no time did I mention anything about the subject I teach.  But I will tell you what, my investing time in getting to know them, playing with, allowing them to see I am a real person, earns me dividends when I am teaching them history.

They are interested in what I have to say, because I am interested in them.

What frightens me is that the push in current educational trends is to see students as a quantifiable product.  I do not teach underwear that I have to drop my "Inspected by 9" slip in the packing for quality assurance, but I teach kids who have highs and lows and bring them into my classroom.  I teach kids who could have different attitudes everyday and are unpredictable.  I teach kids who may understand a difficult concept, and then struggle on ones that are easier.  Why?  Could be a combination of things?  And if I didn't take the time to know them, I wouldn't have a clue why.

Why each kid achieves and struggles is for a different set reasons from each other, not because the stitching machine ran out of thread thus ruining a gross of underwear that was running through the processing machine.

I don't teach underwear.

I teach kids.

And they can be wonderful and frustrating, interested and bored, happy and sad, and I can have each one of these in my classroom at once.

And I wouldn't miss out on teaching kids for anything in the world.

Uncle Kevin

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