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Monthly Archives: December 2016

Teachers—Don’t be a Joke

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I recently came across this joke on Pinterest. I like a good joke as much as the next person, but being an educator, my first instinct was to be offended.

My second inclination was to look at it from a different perspective.

This riddle can definitely be true to life. I have had teachers like that. I have sat in class, completely disinterested, for the entire period while listening to the teacher lecture. I don’t think I can ever say that I was engaged and enthralled by a lecture. I recently observed a couple of middle school classes that were like this as well. I was bored out of my head for the students. While some teachers still prefer teaching lecture-style, no one wants to be a joke.

There are some simple ways to avoid it.

  • Be interesting and make your class interesting.

Student engagement is top on the academic scene’s list of must-haves. It needs to go a step beyond that declaration, however. Using a recent, real-life example from my own daughter: kids can be completely engaged in a showing of Monster’s University, yet it has zero relevance to the middle school class that is supposed to be preparing them for college and careers. My daughter can also be thoroughly engaged in playing Minecraft with her friends during health class while the teacher doesn’t teach, and yet, that is not part of the curriculum. So, teachers need to be both interesting, and make sure that their class content and instructional methods are interesting. This can be achieved in different ways.

There are definitely times when direct teaching is necessary, but the keys to keeping that interesting are enthusiasm and brevity. I’m a big fan of the mini-lesson. By mini-lesson, I mean no more than fifteen minutes of teacher talk. This can be in whole class or small group settings. Even during this time, the learning will be more effective if it is interactive. During these mini-lessons give students time to talk with partners, groups or discuss as a class. Keeping students involved will make you and your class that much more interesting. Relating the content, activity and purpose to their own lives will increase the interest levels more than anything else you can do. Nobody likes busy work and students are no exception. If they see how the learning can add to their lives or to others they care about, then they will be more invested in the process and outcome. To end, I’m a huge fan of Genius Hour and Project-Based Learning. Both are student-driven, giving them the power over their own learning.

Student choice (in how they learn and how they prove their learning) is more important than just about else in the classroom. The only thing that trumps student-driven teaching/learning is having a teacher who takes time to listen to and learn about them. Teachers who genuinely care about their students first have students are engaged and active in the classroom.

  • Don’t talk too much.

This may sound simple and it is if you are willing to give up some control. If the information, strategy, or concept you are wanting to teach can be discovered by the students in another way, then let them loose to do their learning on their own. You really don’t have to talk at them. Likewise, you don’t have to give them all of the resources necessary to learn. Chances are they will find learning methods and resources that fit their needs better than what you would have selected for them. This is where technology is your best friend. Ongoing lessons on digital citizenship (i.e. fair use and finding credible sources) need to be taught up front and in the moment when letting students direct their learning paths. There are many resources available to help ensure your digital natives become responsible digital citizens, but Common Sense Media is one of the best. Their lessons are high-quality, grade-band specific and cover a plethora of topics.

  • Learning management systems will also make your life easier by giving you and your students one place assignments, class announcements, sharing web links, holding class discussions and collecting assignments.
  • Have students work collaboratively in teams, and share their learning with you digitally, and/or face-to-face in group meetings. Let them lead these discussions as it’s their learning taking place anyway.

As an educator and a parent of school-aged children, I want all classrooms to be engaging places to be. There are teachers who have forgotten why they entered the profession. There are some who don’t enjoy coming to school each day. But, like I mentioned earlier, no teacher wants to be a joke. It only takes a few small steps in the right direction to move from teacher-directed classrooms to student-driven environments. There are plenty of people, like me, who are more than happy to help in that transition! Just like collaboration among students is necessary for good learning to take place, so it is among professionals. We all need people who can tell us good jokes while giving us good guidance so we don’t become a joke when we aren’t watching.

Know any good teacher jokes?! Only joking! Share with us your techniques which keep you and others from professional stagnation.

What are you meant to be?

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I used to play school with my big sister. Of course, being the younger sister, I was always the student. She showed me what it meant to be a learner. For some reason, my younger brother never wanted to play school with me when I got older. 🙂 Luckily, my younger neighbors allowed me to discover what it meant to be a teacher. And being a teacher was always a career aspiration of mine as far back as I can remember. I dabbled with thinking about other possibilities along the way, but when I dug deeper, they never matched up with my visions for my future.

Fast forward 18 years into my life as a career woman. I left the classroom five and a half years ago, but have never stopped teaching.

I was having a Google Hangout chat with a friend this morning and he asked if I was going to continue consulting. My immediate response was, “Absolutely. I love the work.”  His reply, “or maybe it’s time you took a cabinet position in the department of education….” I jokingly told him to call Trump and recommend my name for Secretary of Education, but then I went on to say if I could do my work without dealing with the politics of it all, I’d be more interested in something like that (at the state-level, pretty sure I’m not ready for D.C. – haha). Unfortunately, politics gets in the way of education even at the local level. I just want student-centered instruction, teachers who care about kids, and administrators who give them the training and support they need. On top of that, I want state testing that’s actually beneficial for student learning and not as a yardstick to measure teacher effectiveness (as there are much more thorough and accurate ways to measure this). And wouldn’t it be amazing if our elected officials (including school board members) had backgrounds in education if they are going to be making decisions about educating our children? I say that a bit tongue-in-cheek, but it’s a valid point.

After we went back and forth a bit about the issues facing students and teachers in the United States today, he said, “YOU NEED TO FIX THIS.” And while I appreciate his confidence in my abilities to fix the entire national problem, I am trying to fix it in the ways that I can in this moment. I’m starting with having conversations with school leaders. I’m working with teachers to change the way they think about instruction. I’m working alongside them, in their current environment with their current resources, to reframe teaching and learning.

So, while it’s never too late to be what you’re meant to be, I’m right where I have always supposed to be. Teaching, learning and leading others to do the same.

What are you meant to be?