Education

Favorites

Dear Parents,

Teachers have favorites, and there is nothing you can do about it.

I rarely made it through a school year without hearing at least one of my students complain about how Mr. McTeacherton has favorites. I always pressed my lips together to stifle a smile, because I know the truth. You bet your sweet bippy they do!

You would have thought I shredded their 10-minute research paper they plagiarized off the internet right in front of their faces when I told them this. Teachers have favorites. Every.single.one.of.them. And if any of them deny it to your face, they are probably laughing about it behind your back.

Now, before you get all up in arms about it, please understand teachers have very little control over this. It really comes down to basic science. If you think about it, you have a set group of friends, people that you get along with. There is chemistry between you that causes you to connect and enjoy each other’s presence. That chemistry is why we choose the friends we do. It’s why we go to lunch with certain colleagues. It’s why we invite particular people over to our homes for a meal. It’s why we gravitate towards one of our kids more than the others (you know that’s true, too). We are wired this way.

But what about the other people? They are like certain family members who you are required to tolerate. You just do the best you can, and like a colonoscopy, you spend time praying for it to be over as soon as possible. But deep down (for some of us, waaaaaay deep down in the tip of our broken pinky toe), you still love them. It’s just that in my eleven years in the classroom, there were days when the trumpets of heaven sounded when a particular student didn’t say “here” after I called their name. Butterflies eating lollipops, riding on unicorns appeared, because I knew for the next hour and a half, I would not be fighting an uphill battle with Sammy Student who seemed intent on sabotaging what I had spent hours preparing to teach. Yes, parents. Some of your kids are a burr in the classroom sandal, and the problem isn’t the teacher. But that’s for another day.

So what makes a student gain a teacher’s favor? Surprisingly, it isn’t always about grades and behavior. It’s true that most teachers enjoy students who are hard workers, those willing to submit assignments correctly and on time.

But it doesn’t always come down to your kid being a stellar student. I’ve had a handful of insanely smart, meticulous students who I wasn’t crazy about. Sometimes it was their arrogance, sometimes their indifference, and other times their combativeness. You know, all of the things that drive you, as a parent, crazy! TEACHERS ARE NOT IMMUNE. And just remember, many teachers are juggling 100+ TEENAGERS on a daily basis. Put that in your pipe and smoke it. I bet you’d be ready to quit after a week.

On the other hand, I’ve had plenty of C students I loved, as well as students who rarely turned an assignment in on time. What about the kids I always had to write up? Again, some of my favorites. Sometimes they shared my sense of humor, or maybe we shared a similar life experience. What about that kid who tended to interrupt a lecture to insert his own commentary? Some of them were my absolute favorites! I was able to feed off and harness their enthusiasm to make the excitement for our class topic spread like wildfire.

It goes both ways. I’d be a fool to think I was every student’s favorite teacher. The kids I didn’t click with usually meshed well with one of their other six teachers.

Teachers thrive on the different personalities that flood into their classrooms. It’s what makes for awesome class discussions and incredible group presentations. It’s what makes the classroom a living, thriving organism conducive for learning.

Here’s the bottom line:

Are teachers wrong for having favorites? Nope.

When does it cross the line? When they play favorites.

Teachers should ALWAYS treat students equally. Believe me, my infraction pad was blind. The truth is, I rarely had to write many kids up because most of them were awesome sauce. I really do hope that each of my students at least felt like they were my favorite, even if they weren’t. I certainly loved them all and wanted the very best for them.

I had favorites, but I hope I never played favorites. Those are two very different things.

And by the way, if your kid ever comes home and says they feel like their teacher doesn’t like them, instead of preparing for a round of Kung Fu on the teacher’s face, start by asking a line of questions to your kid. I’d venture to say that half of the time, the problem is with the student’s behavior, lack of respect, or passivity.

But then again, some teachers do need that round of Kung Fu.

Blessings to the start of a new year!

Education

Teacher Gifts

As a subscriber to Parents magazine, I recently stumbled upon one of its online articles titled the following:

“Can We Please AgreeTeachers Do Not Need ‘Back to School’ Gifts?”

As a former teacher of eleven years, I will agree with the following: teachers don’t need them. Teachers don’t expect them. Some teachers (although I don’t know any personally) might not want them. But that’s about all I agree with.

The author of the article, O’Connor argues that she supports teachers, knowing the hard work they perform, citing that her father was a teacher.

I’m sorry, but you WILL NEVER understand how sacrificially, hard-working a teacher is until you’ve actually been one. I can watch an Olympian practice day in and day out at the gym and recognize they work hard, but I can never, EVER assume to know what it feels like to be them. The toll it takes on their bodies, the sacrifices made. This is true for any occupation.

The author goes on to say that “teachers don’t deserve gifts.” The year hasn’t started yet and they haven’t taught your child anything. Why would you reward them when you don’t even feel “genuine appreciation” for them yet?

It’s simple. It’s called a token of encouragement. When I was teaching, I received very few first day gifts, but the ones I did receive made me feel like I could soar. I felt cared for, appreciated for the two weeks of work I had just put in in preparation for the first day of school so I could be a successful teacher. It formed an understanding that these parents were on my side and were going to cheer me on. The benefits of such a small token are far-reaching.

Further in the article, O’Connor complains some parents might “raise the bar,” turning a small token into a huge expectation amongst parents. Why would a parent compare herself to what another parent is doing? Are we that insecure as a society? If you want to give a small gift to your child’s teacher, do it! If you want to give a big gift to your child’s teacher, do it! If you don’t want to do anything for your child’s teacher, then by all means, do what you feel comfortable with.

She does state that parents have so much to do this time of year; they don’t need another thing on their to-do list. I agree. But again, she’s going into this article with the assumption that a gift is expected. As a former teacher, I will reiterate this again: IT IS NOT. The expectation you feel is the one you’re putting on yourself. And let me tell you how long it takes to type the following email:

“Hey, there! Just want you to know that our family is cheering you on this year. If there’s anything you need at all, don’t hesitate to let me know!”

There you have it. A free gift idea that took less than 30 seconds.

At the closing of her article, O’Connor comments on what teachers really need. She then proceeds to put a list of school supplies that will assuredly run out throughout the year, and those are things “you can’t buy at Starbucks.” It’s a well-known fact that teachers spend a lot of their own money on things for their classrooms, so if you’re able, be that parent who checks in periodically to see if there are things you can supply for the classroom.

You might not be able to buy school supplies at Starbucks, but over the years, I’ve enjoyed several hot lattes, moments of relaxation in a cup, moments feeling encouraged and rejuvenated because of a parent’s small token of appreciation. You see, many teachers make just enough to get by, so spending $5 on a coffee is a luxury, something I have rarely done without the use of a gift card.

What a crummy way to live…to sit on the sidelines and wait to see if your team succeeds or fails before you’ll cheer them on. The cheering should begin before the first whistle ever blows.

If you aren’t able or don’t want to do a first day gift, I can promise you that teachers won’t think anything of it. They aren’t waiting to see who is going to walk through the door with something to set on their desk. But if you feel so inclined to even write a note (for free!), know that many teachers save these small tokens for YEARS, just to have something to look back on when they have a tough day.

Encouragement, encouragement, encouragement. Instead of ranting and stomping on the idea that our children’s teachers don’t need anything, let’s support them before they even start.

Education

The Ten Commandments of the Parent-Teacher Relationship

Tomorrow is August, and that means school is just around the corner. Have you ever wondered what keeps a teacher from crossing the crazy line of sharpening pencils to sharpening children’s fingers? It’s as simple as a little gardening, and below are the tools to help you have healthy, productive relationships.

1. Start the beginning of the year with a token that lets your child’s teachers know that you are cheering them on. This can be something as simple as a notecard of encouragement or as lavish as a gift. A little encouragement goes a long way, especially when a teacher is overworked, underpaid, and always a pencil snap away from joining the loony bin.

2. Back off and let your child take some responsibility. I know you just earned your wings for being the world’s best helicopter parent, but by the ninth grade, students don’t need their mommy and daddy on the payroll as their personal assistant. There are times when a parent needs to get involved at school, but for goodness’ sake, allow your kid to transition into a young adult.

3. Teach your kid the proper way to interact with his teachers. I’m never surprised by the behavior of a parent of a student who is known for losing his temper, whining, complaining, and blaming others for his failures. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Model and coach your children on how to respectfully interact with others, especially those in authority.

4. Only call a teacher when it’s a pressing issue. Most teachers dread the ringing of their classroom phone, knowing that answering it could force them to shuffle all of their responsibilities to the evening, when they are in need of getting their personal responsibilities complete and spending time with their own children. Typically, teachers only have a fifty-five minute planning period a day to do what takes three hours. They are expected to work on lesson plans that are not only creative and cutting edge, but that will also be more engaging than Netflix. They must make copies, build their online portal, grade tests, papers, and quizzes, return calls and emails, collaborate with colleagues, attend meetings, and help students who drop by with questions. Email is almost always the best option.

5. If an issue arises, don’t assume (insert donkey joke here) and don’t point fingers. As adults, come to the teacher first. You don’t need to run to the administrator to have them take care of a problem that might not exist. It’s been my experience that most “issues” that pop up are not even issues. Parents were fed misinformation from their child and all it took was a quick e-mail, or in some cases a necessary phone call, to clear it up. Healthy problem solving always strengthens relationships.

6. Encourage them throughout the year! I know this sounds like a repeat, but most of your child’s teachers manage approximately 100 students a day and often feel empty at the end of it. They have poured, and poured, and poured into the lives of their students until their buckets are dry. And wouldn’t you know it, invariably some smarty pants comes and smacks that empty bucket right out of their hands and sends it clattering to the ground before they can even leave for the day. Write a quick email, drop a card in the mail, or even stop by the office with a smoothie or coffee to let them know they are doing something right, that they are appreciated, or that your child enjoys their class. Encouragement refills a teacher’s bucket more than you will know.

7. Okay, so this one might sound silly and a little off topic, but can you please not give food as Christmas gifts unless you are a pastry chef? Teachers end up with three plates of fudge, four-dozen chocolate chip cookies, ten pounds of candy, and enough hot chocolate to make a cocoa faux-beach in their backyards. I know it’s the thought that counts, but the thought of wasting so much food is equally disheartening. If you must bake, consider keeping it to a much smaller portion.

8. Don’t drop by a teacher’s classroom unannounced unless it’s just to briefly say “hello.” Respect a teacher’s schedule. She has so much to do and such little time to do it. Stealing twenty minutes from her might take her two weeks to gain back what she lost. If you must meet, schedule a time. This allows her to shuffle her responsibilities accordingly.

9. Support a teacher’s decision and model healthy reactions to disappointments. You and your child’s teacher are on the same team. Remember your teacher is the expert in her field and should be treated as a professional. And for heaven’s sake, don’t send her articles about how she should do something based on the current research. That’s as silly as diagnosing yourself on WebMD and then telling your doctor you’re certain you have Sarcoidosis and should begin treatment immediately.

10. At the end of the year, thank them. Most teachers are ready to stick their own fingers in the pencil sharpener by the time May rolls around, and nothing says, “it was worth it,” than getting notes from parents who praise the year their student had. Really want to put the cherry on top? Have your student write the thank-you.

 

It’s true that you reap what you sow, not only in your own garden, but also in your neighbor’s garden as well. When it comes to your child’s teachers, consider pulling some weeds for them and planting grace, encouragement, and love. The harvest will yield plentifully.

…And for the parents out there with something to add from their perspective, worry not! I’m sure I’ll be writing from the other side of the coin once I send my little one off to school. 😉

Education

Teaching by Numbers

This is one of the last times I will sit in a classroom, specifically as a teacher. The students are gone and all I can hear is the ticking of my clock.

With each stroke, I think about the numbers involved in my life since I began teaching.

I have taught over a span of 10 years and have made 9 different classrooms my home. There have been approximately 1,000 students who have filled my rosters and I’ve taught a total of 10, 260 class periods. I’ve taught history, science, writing, reading, English, AP Literature, The Truth Project, and creative writing.

In my years strictly as an English teacher, I’ve graded approximately 28,500 pages of writing (not including tests or quizzes) which adds up to be approximately 7,125,000 words.

I’m staring at empty desks and blank walls. I sigh with relief.

Relief that I won’t have to create another lesson plan. I won’t have to grade another essay. I won’t have to deal with any more bad attitudes or ungrateful hearts. No more blood, sweat, and tears as I try to convince students why reading and writing is important.

But I also won’t hear my name spoken cheerily on the lips of students as they enter class. I won’t see the look of understanding or the look of satisfaction when hard work does pay off. I won’t dry any more tears from heartbroken girls or tell guys “great game” even when they lost.

It’s been a good ten years, but I doubt that I shall ever come back. I’ve read over 7 million words from my students. Over the next ten years, I hope to construct my own 7 million.

Education, Life

Playing with Fire

It’s time to throw back to 2009… the first time I thought I’d get fired.

It was time for our annual retreat days, a time when classes are canceled and students spend time bonding with one another and listening to guest speakers. This particular year, our high school students were bused to a neighboring school to hear David Nasser speak.

As one of the senior class sponsors, I, along with two other teachers chaperoned the senior charter bus. It’s an easy enough task because, to be honest, our students are usually very well behaved.

After the event was over that day, we reloaded to return back to our own school. Once we arrived, I was the first to exit off the bus to distribute copies of the speaker’s book to students. After handing out the last one, dreams of what my weekend would entail overtook me as I started fumbling for my keys to head home. The other teachers had already left.

That’s when it happened. I noticed a pocket of senior boys standing outside of the charter bus, laughing. I gave the ringleader an inquisitive look and he just pointed up, up to where the flesh of a boy’s face was smooshed up against the cold glass. He was fast asleep. To my horror, the charter bus’s brake let out the hiss it gives right before the wheels begin to roll. I commanded the leader to race up to the front of the bus and get the driver’s attention to let him know he still had a passenger aboard.

After her exerted a half-hearted jog, the boy doubled over unable to stop laughing. Ah! But it was 3:45, and that meant the back exit to the school was locked. The bus would HAVE to circle around campus to leave through the front exit. We could get his attention then.

I’m not going to lie. At this point, I thought the prank was pretty funny.

Thirty seconds passed and no bus. I walked two hundred feet to look around the corner of the school and discovered that the back exit was still open.

The bus was gone.

My student was gone.

Several phone calls to the sleeping football player revealed that his phone was still silenced from the conference.

Did I mention his dad is a lawyer?

From the time the charter company was contacted, it took thirty minutes to reach the bus driver to let him know someone was still sitting in the back seat.

We recovered him an hour later after a round trip of fifty miles.

He was late to his team dinner, his dad was angry (at his friends), and I had just found the perfect size cardboard box with which to empty the contents of my desk.

But…here I sit four years later, employed by the same school, and laughing about the time the boy was left on the bus.

Education

“To My Dearest”

After many years our passion had cooled.

But when you died,

I discovered the evidence.

Lipstick on collars, late night calls, love letters.

Receipts and roadmaps.

Withered flowers, chess pieces, take-out boxes.

All things that made me cry.

Signs that all along, I was yours and you were mine.

Education, Life

Lessons from the Classroom – Apologies

Teachers make thousands of decisions every day, many of them impulsive. It’s the nature of working with people, especially hormonal teenagers. While you can perfectly plan your day, you can’t control the questions your students ask or the actions they take, most of which call for redirection. And just like that, things don’t go as planned.

The problem with making impulsive decisions is that you WILL make mistakes. This is an indisputable fact. I’ve made my share of mistakes, and even with thirty-eight days of teaching left, I will, indeed, do or say something that will cause me to take the walk of shame through the breezeway and to my car.

In my ten years of teaching, I have discovered that it’s easy to apologize to students when I’ve made a glaring mistake. It’s not so easy when I can justify the content of my mistake.

Let me explain.

Three years ago while teaching an honors level American literature course, I let my “righteous anger” get the best of me. Fourth period had dismissed and a student had stayed behind to discuss an assignment. While giving him counsel at my desk, one of my fifth period students came flying through the door and immediately interrupted my conversation, as if I wasn’t speaking to anyone else. I snapped. As the words of correction slid past my teeth and between my lips, I wished I could snatch them back, cram them in my mouth and choke them back down.

It wasn’t what I said. I was right in what I said. But tone. Tone changes the meaning of words.

By the time I finished with the student I was helping, the tardy bell had rung and my fifth period students were in their seats ready for class to start. Even her. I saw the wilted flower sitting in her desk, and I felt broken. As I walked over to her, I discovered tears were welling up in her eyes. Kneeling down beside her desk, I quietly apologized for the harshness of my words and excused her to the restroom. Even though she accepted my apology, I was so consumed that period with the thought that I had lost her forever that I couldn’t concentrate on the lesson. The tone of my words had caused irreparable damage that would prevent me from ever having a good relationship with her.

Several more periods passed and I still felt like I had unfinished business. Yes, I had apologized, but who wouldn’t if they made someone cry. It was what needed to be done. Another impulsive decision. I so desperately needed her to understand how sorry I was, that my apology wasn’t a superficial reaction to her tears. So I did what I do when I’m serious: I picked up a pen.

By the end of the day, I had fastened a note of apology to the inside of her locker. To my surprise, she returned to my classroom in tears once again. This time she hugged me and spilled about her bad morning that had prompted her grand entrance into my classroom.

I can’t explain how precious that ten minute conversation was.

She stopped by after school often that year as well as the following year when I wasn’t even her teacher. A freshman in college, she came by my classroom yesterday just to spend twenty minutes catching up.

I wholeheartedly believe that the note of apology is not only what salvaged our relationship, but also what sparked its growth. It proved the sincerity of my initial apology.

There’s something to be said of resolved conflict in relationships. Do I wish I had never spoken to her the way I did? Absolutely. However, without my mistake, or rather the reaction to my mistake, I don’t know that we would have had the grounds for a lasting connection.

If life is about relationships, we have to be willing to climb over the wall of pride and say those words that the offended so desperately need to hear.

Pride makes apologizing painful. But the sweet balm of expressed remorse heals many a wound.