Saturday, September 27, 2014

What Do You Think About That? (Dear Katie V3 #3)

Dear Katie,

In my last blog post I made the following point:

"You'll discover that most quiet kids aren't shy 
and have a lot to say when asked"

So how does a teacher practically do that.  You could just call on the child.  Ask them a question on your lesson to check for understanding.  But what if they are quiet due to a lack of confidence.  What if they are afraid they will answer it wrong, and instead of answering they just shrug their shoulders and say, "I don't know."

Too often teachers rely heavily on the kids who always raise their hand.  When I played baseball in college, some friends of mine came to the game, and one of them asked, "Didn't you hear me cheer for you when you were batting?".

I told her I didn't.  Even though she was only 30 feet from the plate, beyond the backstop, my focus was on the 90 mph fastball coming at me, not the cheers of the crowd.  A teacher's focus can be single minded on the discussion at hand, that we do not realize we are playing the game while most of the class is sitting around watching us play with only a few other kids.

How do you move that student from watching behind the fence to playing the game?

One simple question can help.  During a classroom discussion, make a statement and then call the student you would like to get involved and ask, "What do you think about that?"

For me, it happened this week.  We were discussing "Chronological Snobbery", saying an idea or practice was wrong just because it was old, we need more reasons other than it is old to dismiss it.  I looked at a student that has not spoken up in my class so far this year and asked her if our principal should still use medieval torture practices like the rack to get information from students.   She laughed and said, "No", and I asked her "Why Not?"

She then explained how the person could just make up something to avoid being stretched.  I commended her response and thanked her for not saying, "Because it's from a 1000 years ago".  It was a form of the question, "What do you think about that?".  It not only puts a kid at ease because you are not putting them on the spot to be right or wrong, but you are asking them about something they cherish, THEIR OPINION, THEIR THOUGHTS.

And you know what happened the rest of the class.  Every time I asked a question about the reading, guess who had her hand up ready to answer.  

When a student feels that his/her opinions matter to the teacher, 
they move from spectators to playing the game.

Uncle Kevin

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Getting Them in the Game (Dear Katie V3 #2)

Dear Katie,

Last week, your grandfather took a trip to a park in one of the retirement communities where he now lives.  He noticed a group of guys playing softball with ages ranging from 50-80 years old (the oldest was 83).  Your grandfather played a lot of baseball/softball when he was young, but now in his 70's, he hadn't ran on to a baseball diamond in over 15 years.  As he was watching, a big guy named John came over an asked

"Do you want to play?"

At first your grandfather said "No" citing the fact he didn't have a glove, but John said that there were enough gloves to borrow.  The next thing you know he was playing a pick up game of softball and it looks like he intends to make playing softball a weekly event in his schedule.

How does this story relate to the classroom?  In the classroom, you as the teacher need to be like the guy John.  You need to get all your students "in the game".  Are you making that effort?  You don't need to get every kid raising their hand for every question by the end of the year, but you do need to make every student know that he/she is cared for and a part of the "team".

There are two types of people.  The first type does not mind being stars on your baseball team, they are flashy and let their presence known.  They are the "players" who are always giving interviews.  The second type stays quiet and doesn't mind being the spectators.  They are necessary to play the game, but you may not know what they are thinking if you don't ask.  Neither is a problem and it is not wrong to be either type.

The problem is that all-star people have no problem making connections with others because they are the ones interacting the most in the game.  However, the fans will stay quietly in the stands, only "cheering" when appropriate, and not making those connections unless someone pulls them in, like a John.  And for the teacher it is easy to allow yourself to believe that since the all-stars are performing like all-stars, there is no need for the fans.

Don't assume that just because someone is in your class
That they feel like they are involved in "the game".

Work at giving field crew kids opportunities to be all-stars.  Here are some ideas:

1) First, realize that some fans are content where they are, so do not push them to be something they are not, but always offer opportunities.

2) Say "Hi" to ALL your students, avoid playing favorites, ask the quiet kids their opinions (you'll discover that most quiet kids aren't shy and have a lot to say when asked).

3) DON'T allow kids to make their own groups.  The all-star kids build their teams with ease, even pulling in friends that are fans.  But if a kid who is a fan is not really close with any all-star kids in the class, they will not go up to a group because they will feel like they are intruding.  It will create undue awkwardness and uneasiness for that child.

For every kid who shouts out "can we make our own groups" 
there is another kid thinking to himself/herself "Please Don't"

I think everyone (kids and adults) want to feel included and want to be involved.  Some are comfortable letting others know that and quickly get their gloves on to play in the game.  Others will remain "in the stands" waiting for someone to call them down to the field, believing they are imposing if they are not invited.  Neither view is wrong, it's just different personalities.  

The teacher-leader creates a welcoming classroom
and creates opportunities for everyone to get in the game.

The next week, I visited your grandparents and went down to the field to watch my Dad play softball like I had many times as a young boy.  As I was standing near the fence watching him play second base as if he was a kid again, a smile broke across my face.  Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a big guy approach me and he said:

"Hey, do you want to play?"

Make sure you are asking the same question of everyone in your classroom.  Get everyone who wants to play into the game.

Uncle Kevin

Monday, September 15, 2014

Back to School Night (Don't Be That Parent, AGAIN)

I write this for my non-teaching friends (and now that I experienced back to school night from the other side of the desk for a few years, as a reminder for my self).

I give you my tips for a successful back to school night.


1) DO NOT consider the teacher's chair as an option if the student chairs are filling up, or if it is the younger grades, if they are too small. (Yes, parents have selected my chair as an option even when it is behind my desk, even before every seat is filled).  Consider going any where behind the teacher's desk as entering their second home.  And you wouldn't want anyone breaking into your home (or second home if you can afford one).

2) DO NOT expect to get any questions answered.  As a teacher, we are told from our first few years to filibuster the allotted time.  Questions may put you on the defensive because you never know what classroom practice you will have to defend.

When I am feeling daring, I will entertain a question or two (Especially if I conquer the first one well)

If you have a question for the teacher based on something they said, email him/her.

3) DO NOT talk with your friend while the teacher is talking, it is just as wrong as it was when you were a student.  Save the talks for the hallways.

The CAN DO's

1) LISTEN to the teacher who will be investing their time in your child for the next year.

2) LOOK around the classroom.  Most teachers labor for hours transforming their classroom into a comfortable place for your child.

3) SELECT one idea or thought the teacher says (or something you see in the classroom) as a conversation starter with your child when you go home.

4) IMAGINE your child sitting in that teacher's class. It will allow you insight into your child's day and you will be better able to assist them.

It took me a lot longer than I planned to be able to experience my first back to school night as a parent (my wife and I did not have our first child until year 11 of our marriage and my 16th year as a teacher).

I do not take Back to School Nigh lightly, not as a parent, or as a teacher.

As a teacher, 
I try to make it as memorable as I hope their child will find my class.

As a parent, 
it is a blast to experience, in a very small way, my child's school day.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The First Day #23 (Dear Katie V3 #1)

Dear Katie,

Congratulations! You have finally made it to the practicum experience in your undergrad education.  I am sure you are full of excitement.  The butterflies will probably begin the night before you go into the classroom to which you were assigned for the first time.  Those butterflies will be there the first day of your student teaching assignment, the first day in your first teaching position, and probably your first day of school for years to come.

I noticed somewhere around year 16 or 17 I stopped getting the butterflies.  It wasn't that I was any less excited. You can ask your aunt, I'm usually ready to get back in the classroom as August rolls around.  (I love what I do) I'm not sure why it has stopped.  Maybe I have been doing it so long, it no longer makes me nervous.

Thankfully, you have the type of personality that loves new experiences, loves challenges.  I believe you have to be a bit of an adventurer to be a teacher.  It doesn't matter if your classroom is the same, or the curriculum is the same, from year to year.  Your students will not be.  Even if you have the same set of students you had the year before, they will not be the same, they will have matured over the summer, hopefully : )

Your students are always changing; they are not static like totals on a spreadsheet.  Due to this, you need to be adaptable, willing to change things up in order to reach your students.  At times, it may be exhausting, difficult, and aggravating but when you see that the kid that you "pulled your hair out" in trying to think of ways to reach him/her finally "gets it", well, I can't even explain the joy and sense of accomplishment you will feel.  It will allow you to see the effort was worth it and encourage you to struggle to reach the next "difficult" student.

Why do I love the first day of school?

It is a new beginning, a fresh start.

I get to work with people that have moved from colleagues to friends in my life.

It allows me to improve the faults in my lesson plans and their implementation.

It allows me to continue the practices that students enjoy and are effective.

But most of all

It brings into my life a new crop of students

Who will bring a smile to my face as I remember them in future years.

I love the first day of school, best wishes on yours,

Uncle Kevin