Tuesday, July 30, 2013


     In my first couple of years of teaching I was very concerned, well actually I was in fear of my room full of middle schoolers getting out of control and creating such a disruption that my colleagues would complain and then I would be sitting in the principal's office having to explain why my students were "so loud and disruptive".  
     I thought I would be branded as a teacher that couldn't control their classroom.  I pictured myself sitting down in the teacher's lounge and my colleagues getting up and moving away.  Outcast!  On Friday spirit day, when everyone was wearing jeans and their school colors, I would be wearing the Scarlet Letter "O". Fellow teachers would whisper as I was walking by, "You know he is the one!  The Outcast that can't control his classroom!  
     Of course my fellow teachers or principals never treated me like this.  They were always very supportive and kind.  I was probably paranoid about this because of how I viewed my experiences in classrooms when I was a student.  Nevertheless, I was determined to not have my students be a "bad" example to my colleagues.  I didn't want to end up in the principal's office again.  It's understandable to be in the principal's office as a kid, but as an adult, it's a walk of shame!
     I decided that I would keep my kids busy.  You know the old phrase, "Idle hands are the devil's workshop."  I took it to heart. I wanted to keep my kids busy from the time they entered the room till the time they left.  There would be no time to meddle in someone else's business or get involved in a discussion of what happened in the world's news.
     My first school year was in 1990-1991.  One of the major historical events of the decade happened in that school year.  If you are old, I mean experienced, like me you probably remember the day when U.S. troops invaded Iraq. It was January 17, the start of the Gulf War.  You were probably glued to the TV, just like my students were, watching the night vision footage of missiles being shot and exploding over and on Bagdad.  
     The next day in my class we had a chapter test scheduled.  When my kids asked if we could talk about the invasion, what did I say.  Nein, we have a test!!!  Actually I didn't say use the word nein but the look on the student's faces sure made it seem that way. This would have been a great time because the student's attention was ripe for the picking. It was "A Teachable Moment".
     I was the history teacher for crying out loud!  It was a start of a war, you dummy!  I could have been easily justified to stop the content and talk about what was happening in the world.  But no, I was too busy thinking about how we needed to stay on pace with the content and not cause a disruption.  “I will keep the students occupied with my fast paced lectures and when I get tired of talking I will give them a "Shutteruppersheet"!  hat will keep them quiet!”  My reputation as a teacher would be on solid ground for teacher lounge small talk.  
     If you read my last post titled "The How is More Important than the What", you read that I eventually discovered that engaging my students in the lesson or projects became more important than keeping them quiet.  Some projects would get a little loud!  If I knew that in advance, I would apologize in advance to my next door teacher.  What was their response?  Shame on you for wanting the kids to learn, you Scarlet Letter "O" teacher!  No, they were very supportive in what I was doing and told me to not WORRY about it!   My attention was turned from worrying about what others thought of me to worrying about engaging my students in the classroom!  No more long fast "Kentucky Derby" lectures or "Shutteruppersheets" but more engaging lessons that involved students in their learning.  
     The more I engaged kids the less lecture and worksheets were needed.  My world opened up as a teacher. I saw my students as individuals and not factory workers in a system.  When I left teaching and moved onto being a building principal, I literally missed those students because I missed them as people.  I missed those moments when "they got it" in a project or discussion.  Or when they got excited about discovering more about a topic that was being covered in the class.  I never would have had this opportunity to see these kids fully if I would have kept lecturing all hour and giving them those shut up sheets. 
     I'm sure they were better students because of my shift in teaching, but when it came down to it, I was a better person because I stepped out of my comfort zone and got involved with my kids.  What about you are you involved with your students in their classwork.  Do you have them too busy to learn and reflect?  Does your teaching style allow them to be the leaders of the classroom or spectators?

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