What I Want for Public Education (as a Parent & Teacher)

5 things I as a parent and teacher want for my kids. I want my kids to believe in themselves and to learn how to nurture their own self esteem. Since peace with ones self does so much for our lives, including repairing cells, this is a non-negotiable for a growing child.

14585284216_10c6f5ccb5I should post a disclaimer that I am a parent of 3 public school aged children who is also a teacher at a public school. Ok, now that I am somewhat introduced … here are my points: As a parent I want these things from the public education system:

  1. Programs that foster self-esteem and self-love – I want my kids to believe in themselves and to learn how to nurture their own self esteem. Since peace with ones self does so much for our lives, including repairing cells, this is a non-negotiable for a growing child. Without this, children will have a host of problems greater than any lack of academics. Of course this starts at home.
  2. Academic instruction, based on grade level standards – In my state, this will be the Common Core standards starting next year. This is something I see the public school system fearing and putting at the highest emphasis. I think it is indeed valuable and in some ways a non-negotiable.
  3. Mutual respect and social mores review/training

PBIS is aiming at this. I think more money should be poured into this and self esteem training than academics. Because our country is so barraged with stories of hate and self loathing, like the recent shootings, it is a “no brainer” this area should be our top priority. I want my kids to know how to behave and how to live with others peacefully. Again and of course, this starts at home.

  1. Music and art appreciation – Without music, life would have been a mistake.
  2. Health and stress management training – (put your “humor me” hat on) If life expectancy is 70, health ignorance will make it 55. If the same with stress is true, 40. I want my child to live the most full robust life possible.

We as teachers are often given a schedule and curriculum that lacks the above. As a parent, I would like to see more emphasis put on nurturing the child while teaching the standards. I think we focus too much on getting the child to perform and not enough on helping the child be healthy and happy in mind and body. Parents and teachers are invited to make a comment below as to what you would like to see in public education, and/or what you think should stay that is already there.

Phone Etiquette

Anyone who works on the phone for a living will handle difficult callers on a routine basis. Most employers will not allow workers to hang up on these callers, so they are expected to manage the stress and handle every caller respectfully. Unfortunately, this is not always what happens when phone workers are not properly trained to handle more demanding or downright abusive callers.
For example, how is an employee expected to handle a caller who uses foul language or makes threats? Most employers will provide guidelines on what is or is not allowed in these cases, but the people answering those phone calls still experience a high level of stress when they are dealing with that type of phone call.

When employees cannot properly handle difficult calls, the company as a whole suffers. Negative reviews of the company may spread around the Internet. Employee turnover may skyrocket. The best employees may not want to accept jobs with companies that receive a high rate of difficult callers.
The most efficient way for companies to help employees handle the stress of difficult callers is to provide phone etiquette training for all phone workers. When employees master call management skills proficiently, they remain calmer during difficult calls. They can control their reactions to foul language and unpleasant attitudes because they have the tools needed to manage every call in a professional manner.

It is never too late to offer this type of training to phone workers. Companies can even offer training to select employees who show signs of struggle or high stress levels.

Value of a Pacing Guide

One of the more difficult parts of teaching is pacing ones lessons. You can have the tried and true teaching methods but without a pacing plan of some sort, your assessments will be scattered. One must look at the end goal and then map out the sections of the year in such a way that will enable planning and delivery to meet those ends. If you are lucky (as I am) your district has a pacing guide they offer you to use and plan your lessons around. Unfortunately however, the work doesn’t stop there. You need (get) to plan and deliver the actual lessons the pacing guide dictates.

For me, the best situation has been to have all my materials in a central place. Then, as I read the pacing guide each morning, I can “pull” from my materials and use them under the overhead to teach through the day’s standards. I have written much here in the past about paperless teaching and how I don ‘t like the copy machine. I am usually able to get away without using it. As long as the kin-esthetic learners have paper and a white board (if available) you can get through the week with minimal copier usage. Having a trustworthy pacing guide allows you to focus on materials and other helpful things. Once you have it you can more robustly seek out lesson ideas.

What the kids need more than just “a worksheet” is a teacher who models the concept. If you are delivering lesson plans from the pacing guide each day, you are doing what you should. If you choose to use copiers after that, it’s up to you. Most the time I find myself making copies only because it is the “traditional” thing to do and not because it is crucial to learning. At the same time, I have seen first hand the power of daily calculated usage of the pacing guide. If you don’t have one already, I would say all teachers need one … unless you are a computer.

Random Non-Volunteer Success Today

I used the cards today as usual but something different happened. I think a few kids actually finally “got it” that they have a good chance of being called on. I noticed the who class was more alert when I said, “Here’s the question now have an answer ready because I’m calling names from my random cards pile.” After a few blank stares, the whole class appeared to be on the edge of their seat when I’d ask a question. When 3 or 4 had no clue about the answer, I used pair share as a strategy. This takes the affect filter down quite a few notches. It also produced the correct answer several times.

At the end of the day, I played some of our favorite classroom songs: This Land is Your Land, The Rainbow Connection, The Candy Man, I’ve Been Working on the Railroad to name a few. I think it’s great when the kids can relax with me in some songs. It helps me as their teacher gain trust with them so they can take more risks answering things in class. Plus, music is relaxing and by the end of a long day of learning, their heads are tight and tired. Nothing like a song for that.

Goal Based Teaching and Focus

My heart goes out to the teachers that have been (or will be) issued pink slips. Even if you know they will hire you back, it is still hard. You can still be successful and make a difference though if you don’t lose your focus.

Of course every teacher wants to be successful every day. Some days this is more possible than others. I say, it’s always possible if you set goals for yourself. The hardest times for me as a professional are when the rules change. In times of financial cutbacks, this is likely to be occurring across the country. In times of adversity, we can still be successful through what I call goal based teaching.

Whether you are teaching a math lessons or esl lessons, you have strategies and programs you can use to teach. This isn’t a post about showing you mine. You can find the best strategy I know of, EDI elsewhere on this blog. I have written numerous posts on how it works and how to use it. This post is, rather, about setting achievable goals and then gauging progress once the teaching day is done. In your quest, check out websites for teachers.

In the early morning minutes before the kids come in, take the time to write down what you want to achieve today. It might look something like:

80% mastery of Reading Standard 2.1 that will be measured through whiteboard answers.
-or-
Listen to kids more today. This will be measured by my journaling what one kid from each period told me.

You get the idea. It is possible to teach and be successful in these uncertain and often just plain “weird” times. My heart goes out to the teachers that have been (or will be) issued pink slips. Even if you know they will hire you back, it is still hard. You can still be successful and make a difference though if you don’t lose your focus. It happened to me my 5th year teaching. Then they called it “reduction in force.” They told me I would likely be hired back but I had to teach 3 more months with no guarantees. With a fledgling family of 3 at the time, I was nervous and it was hard to stay focus. Goal based teaching helped me define my own success.

I don’t see success as something you achieve. Rather, it is the daily, hourly triumphs where you take chances and then measure your own success. No one can tell you otherwise when you know you’ve met your own goals. What are your thoughts on taking control with “Goal Based Teaching.”

Have You Modeled the Correct Behavior?

kids in a lineThis past week I experienced a relapse in my kids’ behavior. They were doing great for a few days then all of a sudden, BAM! They were out of the line, slapping each other, running, not putting their hands behind their backs, talking … shouting. I got bad comments from 3 grownups on campus and when I got the third I knew we were going to have to practice until they were blue in the face (figure of speech). Sometimes teachers forget to model the behavior they want to see in their students. I think this was one such occasion. I marched them to my door from the blacktop and out again about 10 times. Each time I repeated the things I wanted to see and each time, up until the last time, someone in line did not conform to the expectation.

The rest of the story is that they really line up well now. By showing them what I wanted and having them practice it over and over, the line problem was solved. I wish every challenge of student behavior would be solved this easily. Unfortunately, all teaching is a work in progress. Notwithstanding, when you feel like you are beating your head against a wall with your class and they just aren’t doing the expected behavior. It is wise to ask yourself, “Have you modeled the correct behavior?” I think 9 times out of 10, they will rise to your expectation if you get out there with them and SHOW them.

Staying Healthy and Inspired as a Teacher

A teacher’s mental and physical pressures should not be permitted to go on too long. He/she must be a responsible professional and take care of her/his own needs first. After that, the kids.

Those with careers in teaching are often under pressure. The administration wants the paperwork turned in on time and the parent wants accurate and full reporting of their children. Your own family wants and deserves your complete attention. Of course, as a teacher, this is your job so we shouldn’t whine too much about it. At the same time, it can feel overwhelming to have so many precise demands. It can affect you. A teacher’s mental and physical pressures should not be permitted to go on too long. The teacher must be a responsible professional and take care of her/his own needs first then the rest. This is a basic truth whether you teach English abroad or elementary school here at home.

There are certain basic “self-checks” you can do to remain sound of mind and body health in the classroom. Here are a few I do at yearly intervals:

  1. Check your blood pressure. Demands of kids and work can really raise this. If you don’t know already, a healthy blood pressure is below 120/80. If you neglect this, a heart attack or stroke could occur which would make you unable to be a great teacher.
  2. Plan your exercise routine. By that I mean, plan something you know you can do consistently and vigorously. For example, I really enjoy running outdoors but I seldom get to it. On the other hand, using my treadmill is much easier to be consistent at. If I choose the running plan, I will likely get no exercise whereas the treadmill is easy access and likely to get used. Vigorous exercise helps circulation and keeps you laughing through those challenging days.
  3. Get out of the house. If you are married, take your spouse out on a date. If you are single, go out and do something you love alone or with friends, good old fashioned “rest and relaxation.” You are “Mr. Riley” all week long, now go be you!
  4. Do your favorite pastime.

More than any tip, remember this: Those in education jobs are no good to your students, your school, or your own family when you are mentally or physically spent. Be responsible about taking care of yourself first and then the kids. Recharge your batteries. They will thank you for it!


This post was published first as Staying Healthy and Inspired as a Teacher on Dynamite Lesson Plan.

Teaching Responsibility and Patience with Marbles

100_4838In our middle to lower class majority, one rarely sees someone buy a large item like a car with cash. Kids don’t have a concept of what it means to “make payments.” Furthermore, most don’t remember what layaway is and all have a hard time deferring gratification and saving for a large ticket item. One way to teach these things is through marbles in jars. Each jar can be labeled the item or reward they get when it’s filled. If it’s an expensive one for me, I make it a large jar. When the kids do something well and receive a reward, the class can vote or one person who earned the marbles can decide what reward to save for. By making payments to that jar, they invest in that reward. Continue reading “Teaching Responsibility and Patience with Marbles”

Teacher as Coach

star-badgeBefore I start talking about a sports analogy, let me inform you I am not a big sports fan. I ran x-country and track in high school. I learned the value of a each back then. Having said that, I do not watch organized sports much in the year. Okay, now that I hopefully have avoiding alienating those who don’t like sports, I want to talk to you about the teacher as “coach,” and expert on student motivation. We have a group of kids we are to “model” the lessons for and then foster their ability to do it as independent practice. I sometimes forget about my role coaching kids. For over 13 years I have set clear goals for my class and we have worked tirelessly to achieve them. Sometimes my class meets the goals, sometimes they fall short. Every year they have a goal and I coach them toward it. One year we were shooting for a percentage of proficient kids in the class. We ended up missing the goal but scoring highest in the district for my grade level. That was extremely gratifying to me professionally. So much so that I set higher goals for the next year’s kids. That didn’t work out quite as well. I saw my kids getting burned out when I’d say I wanted 20 students advanced on a test and we ended up with 18 for example. The “proficient only” ones sort of got ignored. Continue reading “Teacher as Coach”

Throw a Little Guitar in There

Guitar as Academic Teaching ToolOk, so the kids aren’t paying attention. It’s been 5 hours of the same old academics with mixed results across the board. How about this? Throw a little guitar in there. It could be my personal standby old reliable This Land is Your Land of any number of a million others you have ready for them. Trust me, I’ve had a guitar in my classroom as an antidote for burnout, both teacher and child, and it works like gangbusters every time. If guitar isn’t your thing, try something else to break up the monotony once in a while. You’ll be encouraged because you’ll experience your kids in a new way, a restful, laid back way. Later, this may even translate into higher academics because they feel more comfortable taking risks. Continue reading “Throw a Little Guitar in There”