What My 88-Year-Old Grandma Taught Me about Teaching (and Life)

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Teaching is not rocket science, nor is pretty much anything else in life.  I read a book years ago where the authors explained some of the most complicated ideas, inventions, and concepts using only the the 500 most common words in the English language.  It was fascinating to see something like nuclear thermodynamics explained in such common, ordinary language.   

So there I was, sitting at a kitchen table, talking to my 88 year-old grandma about life.  I was soaking it all in as we have so few opportunities to catch up in person.  We were talking about history (of course) specifically World War II era and the Great Depression.  We were talking about how folks can have a positive mindset even through unfathomable circumstances.  Then she shared something so profound and so simple that I had to make a note of it.

“Today may be awful, but tomorrow could be wonderful.”

While I’m sure my grandma had her share of awful days, you would never know it.  She is always positive and always encouraging.  

Obviously this quote is a wonderful quote about life, but so much of teaching is simply about life.  Teaching is partly, if not mainly, about building character and grit and toughness and patience and empathy in these students that God has blessed us with in our classroom.  Clearly we have much content to convey as well, but the content of our character is just as important as learning the date of the invasion of Normandy.

You would be lying to yourself (and others) if you said your year of teaching was perfect.  Who are we fooling!  There were so many moments where I wished I could have a mulligan.  There were so many days where I was left wondering if I taught that lesson effectively.  

Teaching is all about having awful days.

But teaching is also about conveying the idea that tomorrow can be wonderful.  

We mess up.  We forgive.  We make a mistake.  We learn.  Repeat, repeat, repeat.

My Dad asked if we could pick up some lunch for my grandma.  She enthusiastically exclaimed, can we get McDonalds!  You would’ve thought she was about to mention a pancake breakfast (our favorite), at her favorite restaurant, as she spoke with such happiness.  No, it was simply, “I would love a frappe!”  Even when we have an awful day, something so simple as a frappe can bring such a smile. 

It is good for us to remember and remind our students that even on our most awful of days, we have something so wonderful waiting for us… heaven. 

Big History: The Christmas Truce of 1914

We are one month into our study of World War I in American History.  We culminated our first month of study with our lesson on the famous Christmas Truce of 1914.

This lesson was so much fun!  The video is of the brief, 6-minute lecture to go with the lesson.  At the beginning of the lesson, you will hear a group of students using bells to go with the music.  Following the lecture, we enjoyed a “No Man’s Land Soccer Match” outside.  We set up “land mines” and “barbed wire” for the students to perform around.  Our obstacles were trash cans, buckets, etc.  The students loved it!  When we finished, we came in and enjoyed some homemade hot chocolate and finished the lesson with an unbelievable and moving mini-movie (3 minutes) put together by Sainsbury’s.  This video can be found on YouTube.

Enjoy and as always have a passion for what you teach!

 

God Made You

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As teachers, every day we wear so many different hats.  Often times those hats may be tattered and heavy, and it may seem as we are making no progress in the lives of these children and their families.

The following story is a small encouragement for all of us that we are making a difference for His Kingdom each and every day.

 

A friend of ours was walking down a deserted Mexican beach at sunset. As he walked along, he began to see another man in the distance. As he grew nearer, he noticed that the local native kept leaning down, picking something up and throwing it out into the water. Time and again he kept hurling things out into the ocean. 

As our friend approached even closer, he noticed that the man was picking up starfish that had been washed up on the beach and, one at a time, he was throwing them back into the water. 

Our friend was puzzled. He approached the man and said, “Good evening, friend. I was wondering what you are doing.” 

“I’m throwing these starfish back into the ocean. You see, it’s low tide right now and all of these starfish have been washed up onto the shore. 

If I don’t throw them back into the sea, they’ll die up here from lack of oxygen.” 

“I understand,” my friend replied, “but there must be thousands of starfish on this beach. You can’t possibly get to all of them. There are simply too many. And don’t you realize this is probably happening on hundreds of beaches all up and down this coast. Can’t you see that 

you can’t possibly make a difference?” 

The local native smiled, bent down and picked up yet another starfish, and as he threw it back into the sea, he replied, “Made a difference to that one!”

Boys Don’t Need SuperDad, They Just Need Dad

In my years of teaching, coaching basketball, and being involved in the lives of teens I learned one thing that dwarfs everything else I learned. Boys and young men need dads. Most importantly, they need to know that their dad is “there.”

Being “there” doesn’t mean you have to be at every game, every practice, every up and down, every event. However, being “there” means that they can depend on you. That they know you care. That you love spending time with them. That, when the time comes, you are willing to drop everything just to see or be with them.

First, some staggering and sobering statistics. Most of these statistics pertain to single-parent households where the dad is not present in the child’s life.

  • Fatherless children are at a dramatically greater risk of drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, suicide, poor educational performance, teen pregnancy, and criminality, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center for Health Statistics.
  • Over half of all children living with a single mother are living in poverty, a rate 5 to 6 times that of kids living with both parents.
  • 63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes according to the U.S. Bureau of the Census.
  • 72% of adolescent murderers grew up without fathers. 60% of America’s rapists grew up the same way according to a study by D. Cornell (et al.), in Behavioral Sciences and the Law.
  • 71% of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes according to the National Principals Association Report on the State of High Schools.
  • 90% of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes.
  • 85% of all children that exhibit behavioral disorders come from fatherless homes according to a study by the Center for Disease Control.
  • A large survey conducted in the late 1980s found that about 20% of divorced fathers had not seen his children in the past year, and that fewer than 50% saw their children more than a few times a year.
  • In a longitudinal study of 1,197 fourth-grade students, researchers observed “greater levels of aggression in boys from mother-only households than from boys in mother-father households,” according to a study published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology.

Continue reading “Boys Don’t Need SuperDad, They Just Need Dad”

10 Ways to Thank a Student

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#3: Sticky Note Smile

10)  Tell Them

Nothing beats the ol’ fashion look ‘em in the eye and “thank you.”

9)  Stickers anyone?

Not as a reward, but as a quick and easy thank you.  Everyone loves stickers.

8)  Write Them a Personal Note

Stick it in their desk or backpack.  Better yet, if you are really proud of their work in a certain subject, tell them.  Slip it into the next lesson of their textbook so they can have the pleasant surprise all to their own.

7)  Tell the Parents

Trickle-down thankanomics?

6)  Display Their Work

Place their art work or strong assignment in a prominent place by your desk.  Perhaps, on the wall for a few weeks or in a frame right on your desk.

5)   Down Time

Encourage them when they are down.  Be specific and tell them how much you appreciate them.  This one can get emotional, especially if they are really down about something.  The more personal feedback the better.

4)  Have Lunch with Them

Make it a point to sit with them at a lunch hour, and have a conversation with them.  Try not to focus on school.  Focus on their life outside of school.

3)  Sticky Note Smile

Walk by their desk and put a sticky note on top of their desk while they are working.  It is unexpected and it is personal.  That is a rare combination in a classroom.  And seriously, does that take all of 30 seconds?

2)  Extra-Curricular Support

Show up to one of their events outside of school.  The ideas are endless.  Their basketball game, soccer match, football game, dance competition, singing recital, and gymnastics event are all examples in which you can show you really care and appreciate them.

1)  Hug it Out

If you don’t like a hug, then you need a hug.  This is especially important for male teachers who have male students who really look up to them.  They crave that affirmation.  They need to see that male example of care and kindness.  Remember, many of them may not receive any male affirmation outside of school.  The lack of a father in the life of a boy has reached an epidemic in this country.

Have another way to say thank you?  Share it in the comment section.

Are You Reaching for the Sky in Your Classroom?

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I often tell my teachers that it is never too late in the school year to change something.  While there are a few major items, like curriculum, that deserve our full attention during the summer months, most aspects of classroom instruction can be changed at any time throughout the school year.

If something is not working, why would we continue with mediocrity just because there are a only a few months of school left?  That makes no sense.  Teachers should continually be striving for the best, even with limited time remaining.

So how do we continue reaching for the sky in our classrooms and attain the most out of the few time we have left remaining with our students?

Make sure we are setting and sharing learning goals

Are we giving our students goals for the instruction that they are being taught?  What is the point of this test?  What is the plan for this project?  How are we going to get to this end result?  It is important that we stay on task.  Are we holding ourselves and our students to task by articulating our learning goals for each new unit?

Continual Assessment 

I don’t mean drill and kill worksheets.  With so many months of school in the preverbal bag, we must ensure that we are continually changing up our assessment strategies.  Yes, at many levels tests are crucial to reinforce study skills, habits, and memorization skills.  However, are we also offering other varied avenues for assessment?  Skits, class videos, music videos, clay sculptures, real life math projects, group presentations, are all types of assessments that we can use to invigorate our classroom.  The list is endless, our creativity and drive are the only barriers.

Passion

Have you lost your passion in these winter months?  If students see teachers who are going through the motions, won’t they emulate the same?  How are you keeping your lessons engaging?  This is the time of year to put in that extra effort to make sure your lessons remain interesting and mentally challenging for your students.   If they see that passion and enthusiasm in your presentation, that same attitude is all the more likely to transpose into their work.

Relationships

Win their hearts, gain their minds.  I can’t write about achievement in the classroom without concluding with relationships.  Teaching, our calling, is all about relationships.  When students know we care, they care.  It is all the more important, as the school year closes, to make sure we are building those relationships with our students.  This is crucial with students whom are struggling.  This is the time of year in which they prefer to just throw in the towel.  That is if they know their teacher doesn’t care.  Students who struggle, strive for that relationship.  While many teachers may see that student as a student who doesn’t care or is lazy, the teacher who cares sees that student as another soul.  We never give up on a soul.  We never give up on a student.  Build those relationships, show your students that you care not only about teaching but about them.

So have you set that bar high?  Are you reaching for the sky?  If not, there is time to change.  Don’t wait.  Make that change, in your classroom, in yourself, and in your heart, now.

The Most Valuable Feedback in the World is Your Students

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“We all need people who give us feedback.   That is how we improve.”

                                                                                        -Bill Gates

Our harshest critics, are often times the students whom we serve. I have the privilege of teaching an amazing group of junior high students. They may be some of the harshest critics of them all.

One thing I love about teaching children is they are brutally honest. If they don’t enjoy something, they will let you know. The opposite is also true, if they enjoy something, they will most certainly let you know.

Every day that I enter my classroom, I receive feedback throughout the day.   I can tell when my students are engaged. I can tell when my students are anticipating a lesson. I can also tell when my students are bored out of their minds.   This feedback is invaluable.

As teachers, we must ask ourselves, am I listening to my students’ feedback? There is some feedback from students that we can ignore. Decisions we make based on classroom climate, culture, discipline, etc. may be unpopular but needed.

There is a whole stream of feedback that we must listen to, however. We must answer tough questions as educators. Are we engaging our students? Are we meeting all of our students needs? Are we serving our students to the best of our abilities?

This is when we must listen to the feedback our students are giving us. It is invaluable. Furthermore, if we listen to it, it will make us all the stronger as an educator.

My students have called me to task before. My junior high students used to have an inward grown when it was time for science class. I knew I had to make more of an effort to engage them in class. I had to add more hands-on activities, more experiments, and more labs. I had become too dependent on the lecture as the basis for my science class. It was easy. It had become a crutch. I knew I had to change, based upon the feedback of my students.

Now I have students who look forward to science class and the topics we will be learning. While never perfect, my students helped me become a better teacher for them. We must be open to not only identifying our students feedback, we must be open to implementing change based on that feedback.

“We must be open to not only identifying our students feedback, we must be open to implementing change based on that feedback.”

As Bill Gates stated in the opening quote, it is how we improve. As educators, we should be compelled to be reflective. We ought not be afraid of constant evaluation; we shall embrace it.

What kind of teacher do you want to be? More importantly, what kind of teacher do you want your students to see you as? By listening to their feedback and being open and honest with them, it shows them that you care. It fosters a relationship with your students that cannot be measured.

Finally, how can we insist on our students to improve and grow as learners, if we are not continually growing and learning ourselves?

Listen. Listen with an open heart and a reflective mind.