Rock Star Teachers or Rock Solid Teachers

The messages we receive as teachers about what it takes to be a “good teacher” range from the ridiculous to the unattainable. Our job is hard enough without trying to attain a standard that either doesn’t fit our situation, our personality, or honestly doesn’t translate to effective learning. “Teach Like a Rock Star!” proclaims an email advertisement that I receive frequently, designed to entice teachers to attend their professional development. Jumping on desks and tables, doing special dances with his students, installing a slide that goes from the top to bottom floor of his charter school- Ron Clark, a guest speaker at one of our inservice days regaled us with motivational tales to inspire us to be more exciting teachers. (Watch this youtube video for a peek at a day at Ron Clark Academy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zJFhAT_B2iQ)

Rafe Esquire wrote a book called “Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire” which details taking his class on field trips from Los Angeles to New York to perform Shakespeare, among other strategies he uses to engage his 5th grade students.

A teacher made national news for doing elaborate hand shakes with his students each day before they entered the room. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2017/02/03/nc-teacher-has-personalized-handshake-every-one-his-students/97461664/

Another teacher made the news for creating original raps for every biology concept she taught in class. http://abcnews.go.com/Lifestyle/high-school-biology-teacher-rhymes-raps-teach/story?id=46773632

 

These stories of “extreme” teaching are inspirational and defeating at the same time. I get excited about the ideas, but when I consider, seriously, for one second implementing them I want to give up teaching completely. I can’t jump on desks or generally be crazy and entertaining for an entire 8 hour day unless I chug Red Bull to the point of being sick. I can’t take my classes on field trips to New York to perform Shakespeare, for starters I’m a math teacher so that wouldn’t make much sense. I can’t rap or make up an original, catchy song- that is not in my repertoire of skills.

 

Here’s the reality in my high school classroom:

 

First, I cannot compete with the quick stream of images, sounds, and entertainment that students stream constantly on their phones. It simply cannot be done. Jim Carey could not keep these students entertained every day for 180 days. And speaking of Jim Carey, Ron Clark, or any of these rapping, dancing teachers, I am not extroverted in the least. Luckily it is not my job to entertain students, but to make them competent in mathematical concepts. I can use strategies to keep them engaged, but if my goal is to entertain I am going to burn-out quickly.

 

Second, many of these “extreme” teaching ideas are inspired by elementary teachers, who teach one set of students, different subjects, for the entire day. They have a very different schedule than a high school teacher teaching the same lesson, 8 times, every hour over the course of the day. If it takes 15 minutes at the beginning of class to creatively fist bump each student as they enter the room, I am not being an outstanding teacher, I am being an outstanding waster of class time.

 

Rather than feel defeated and depressed because I will never be one of THOSE teachers, I began to brainstorm what genuinely matters to be a “rock-solid” teacher, rather than the unrealistic goal of being a “rock-star” teacher. There’s a popular book called the “Fundamental Five” which I’ve mentioned in previous blogs. It is a great foundation for outstanding teaching and I’ve condensed them into my own “fundamental five” after discussions with students (and my own observations) about the difference between a poor teacher and a “solid” teacher. These are simple things that any teacher can do and be proud of what they accomplish in their classroom, no special skills or extreme extroverted personalities required.

  1. Show up
  2. Teach what you are supposed to teach
  3. Be pleasant and patient
  4. Be fair
  5. Be social

 

  1. Show up
  • I have students who had 3 different geometry teachers over the course of one year. The students have told me that they appreciate the simple stability of having the same teacher every day. In so many situations in life- work, family, social organizations, simply making the effort to be physically present where and when you are expected to be is a standard that a majority of people never meet.

 

  • Be there mentally as well as physically. Answer questions, circle the room, don’t just sit at your desk and be unavailable (grading, working on the computer, surfing your phone).

* Fundamental Five “The Power Zone”

 

  1. Teach what you are supposed to teach
  • This is not oversimplifying and needs to be said. After keeping my ears open when students talk about previous teachers and seeing gaps in their education, another nugget of wisdom that seems very basic but is extremely important is: teach what you are supposed to teach. Too many teachers water concepts down, skip whole sections that are “too hard”, or don’t manage their time well so that when the end of the year arrives they haven’t covered everything that was supposed to be taught.

 

  • Fancy and fun is sometimes distracting and key concepts are often lost in fluff.

*Fundamental Five “Frame the lesson” identify the objectives and be straightforward in how you present the material.

 

  1. Be pleasant and patient
  • Students are put in “fight or flight” mode if they are constantly berated. They won’t learn if they are afraid to ask questions and make mistakes, or are feeling animosity towards the teacher.

 

  • Classroom management naturally extends from students wanting to know you care about them individually as person.  It can take multiple positive interactions to undo the damage of being unpleasant or impatient in just one interaction. (This is true for any relationships, but especially true when working with adolescents).

 

  • The day-to-day experience is easier and more enjoyable for both the students and yourself when you are able to maintain the “big picture” in your interactions. Be reflective of the overall purpose of your life and how you are choosing to spend that life. If you don’t enjoy your subject and don’t enjoy spending time with young people, you should find a new profession, because you are making yourself and the students miserable. Vice versa, it is difficult to find people who enjoy teaching itself, spending time with young people, and are flexible enough to handle the baggage that comes with the current education system. If you are one of these rare gems, that in itself is a special quality and makes you an important contributor to our society and your community.

*Fundamental Five: “Recognize and reinforce”

 

  1. Be fair

 

  • The best strategy in classroom management is to be fair and consistent.  Being fair is not necessarily punitive and equal consequences. The majority of students will appreciate that you hold them (and others) to a standard in order to maintain an orderly learning environment, but at the same time every student brings with them special circumstances. Sound judgement and being reasonable based on individual cases goes a long way to being viewed as a “fair” teacher. This is a skill that requires practice and a depth of empathy. It’s hard to model or turn in to a catchy book or speech so it rarely lands a teacher in the spotlight, but to students and parents, if you can do this you are worth your weight in gold.

 

  • Be prompt in grading and posting grades so students and their parents have adequate time to adjust and be successful. All teachers will sympathize- grading takes a large proportion of our time outside of class and it can become overwhelming, but waiting until the last minute of a grading period to input grades is not fair to the students. Learning is more effective with immediate feedback, and emotional trust is earned when they feel that you are a partner in their learning, not a task-master setting impossible standards.  Being respectful and flexible with students when assigning work outside of class is also a hallmark of a fair and reasonable teacher.

*Fundamental Five “Recognize and Reinforce”

 

  1. Be social
  • Play games, joke around, let students work in groups or pair-share, encourage questions, pose questions.  Don’t make students sit in rows, facing forward, listening to you lecture and never having a chance to explore/discuss the material with their peers and hands-on.

*Fundamental Five “Frequent Small-group and Purposeful Talk”

 

Show up, do your job, and be happy to be there. It’s not hard (pun intended) but this is the underlying bedrock of a rock-solid teacher. We can’t all be rock-star teachers featured on national news, but we can still be reliable, effective teachers, and that’s still something to be proud of.

For a researched-based article discussing this subject I recommend: “Contradictions of Good Teaching”

 

 

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