The Bane of Every Teacher’s Existence

Students act out. The question is why?

  • It’s personal. They don’t like you. Never have, never will.
  • It’s karmic payback for the way you treated your teachers.
  • It’s a religious conspiracy. God placed them in your classroom to make your life as miserable as possible.
  • It’s in their nature, they can’t help it, their brains aren’t fully developed.
  • They are compensating for too little attention elsewhere.
  • They’re so hungry, they’re distracted.
  • They’re distracted and upset about other outside-of-school life challenges.
  • They don’t understand what you’re asking them to do.
  • They understand what you’re asking, but don’t have the necessary background skills and/or knowledge to successfully complete it.

Most of the time, it’s the last two. How frustrating would it be if you felt yourself falling behind your peers?

 

The Key to Teaching Middle School

In 1999, I traveled in Japan for two weeks with twenty plus other social studies educators, including Ken V, a crazy funny middle school teacher from Winnipeg, Canada. Before departing for Tokyo, we met in a San Fransisco airport hotel conference room to share our respective curriculum research projects. Afterwards, I went straight up to V and said something to the effect of, “That was excellent, super clear and succinct. Thank you.” From that moment on, we were boyz.

Fast forward a week. On a bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto, V fell asleep with his suit coat thrown over an adjacent seat. I pounced, stuffing a hundred cheap, thin, plastic umbrella rain bags inside all of his jacket pockets. Then I instructed everyone to sporadically ask him for one at our afternoon meeting with the mayor of Hiroshima.

We’ve stayed in touch ever since, even reuniting in Victoria about five years ago. Staying in touch means he sends me sports updates—baseball, football, curling, Nascar primarily, on almost a weekly basis. Canadians are funnier than everyone else, so no surprise his missives are basically one long strand of wickedly funny puns.

A year or two ago, he revealed he had been diagnosed with cancer. His positive attitude was incredibly inspiring and proved integral in his recovery. He’s retired from the classroom, but not the Prairie baseball fields where he doubles up as player and umpire extraordinaire.

Recently, he wrote:

“Filipino Fastball…………….. Sept. 10, I did the Dish for both Medal Games. The Bronze game featured 2 nice teams, who hadn’t played nor practised since mid Aug. At the end of the 4th, the score was 15-6. At the end of the 5th, it was 15-13. It ended after 7, but took way too long. No issues, however it was a hot day, and the Fun was yet to come……..The Gold game featured 2 good teams, who don’t like each other. The eventual winning team began to whine immediately about EVERY call. I finally had a talk with the catcher, and told him to inform his teammates there would be dire consequences if it continued.”

I love the image of V laying down the law. It prompted me to ask “What’s harder to manage a Filipino fast pitch game or a middle school classroom?” He turned on that question and went deep:

“I would rather face a Filipino uprising led by North Korea, catered by ISIS, during a Mexican Earthquake, than manage a Middle Years classroom.”

The first rule of middle school teaching. Always be a little more crazy and funny than them.

 

Why So Many Teachers Quit

That’s the title of this LA Times Op-Ed. I purposely haven’t read it so that you can compare Rizga’s reasoning and mine.

Conventional wisdom is that teachers quit because of the modest compensation, but every teacher enters the profession knowing that.

I hypothesize a lot quit because they fail to master classroom management. Absent positive relationships, classroom life is a complete drag. Also, nothing is more stressful than never truly having students’ attention. And absent attention, respect is elusive. Absent mutual respect, joy is inconceivable. What do those who struggle most with classroom management have in common? They usually aren’t comfortable with their authority.

That’s not all. When some teachers conclude they can’t teach as creatively as they want due to over standardization, they leave.

Another variable is true for everyone at whatever their workplace and for everyone in life more generally, teachers want to be appreciated. Teaching is among the most challenging and selfless endeavors a person can undertake, but no teacher that I know is perfectly intrinsically motivated. New teachers can master classroom management and commit long hours to crafting the most creative lessons possible, but if no one—students, families, colleagues, administrators, the “public”—ever truly acknowledges their efforts and demonstrates a modicum of appreciation, their enthusiasm inevitably wanes.

I suspect a significant proportion of teachers quit because of some combination of these three things.

How to fix it? Empower those teachers in each school that are most skilled in the art of classroom management to mentor those just starting out. Refuse to teach to standardized tests. Continually repeat that teaching excellence takes many forms. Show and tell teachers that you appreciate their efforts.

Hey Beginning Teachers, Don’t Do This

In a 40 yard dash the Labradude would beat me by at least 20 yards, but stretch it out a few miles and the tide turns. In fact, when I pick him up near the end of a run for a lap around the ‘hood, he often slows me down. Until I yell at him. Not that kind of yelling. When I say, “Good boy! That a boy! Keep it up Marley! You’re the Usain Bolt of Labradoodles!” he picks up the pace.

When Kemberly Patteson was getting her teaching credential, someone should have told her that even dogs respond best to positive reinforcement. What’s true for the Labradude is doubly true for adolescents. Which leads to the funny/sad story of the week.

From the Associated Press. STEVENSONSkamania County — A Stevenson High School teacher who used a “Wheel of Misfortune” to discipline students will keep her job.

The Stevenson-Carson School District concluded Thursday that science teacher Kemberly Pattesonused poor judgment but never intended to hurt or embarrass students with the spinning wheel, which violated the district’s anti-bullying policy.

The Columbian reports a parent complained last week about how students would spin the wheel to find out what their punishment would be for low-level misconduct.

One of the choices was a firing squad with rubber balls that classmates would throw. The wheel has been removed.

Think how much time the Wheel of Misfortune took from meaningful teaching and learning. I can just picture the class hooting and hollering as the smiling offender approaches the Wheel. Patteson, playing Vanna White, probably narrated the whole thing. “What has today’s perp won? Death by rubber balls!”

At that point, I imagine, all hell broke lose. If I was a high schooler, trying to bean my classmate would’ve been a highlight of the day. It probably took most of the class period to recover from the pandemonium.