Student playing a board game at lunchtime.
Every year, there seems to be a class that gets a bad rap-“that class,” which teachers say is tough to teach. Recently a few teachers met with me about this year’s “tough class.”
The teacher’s solution: they wanted to invite the students’ parents into the classrooms to witness how the students were behaving.
I was surprised: why would the teachers want the parents to see the kids behaving badly? In fact, wouldn’t the kids just be good on that day? “Well,” said one teacher, “if the kids are good, then we can say, ‘See, you were good when your parents came in so why can’t you be this good everyday?’”
I remembered my first years of teaching middle school. When I struggled with a student, I would call parents about the problem. In hindsight, I see that I was asking—and actually wishing for– the parents to solve the problem. But in fact, the problem was mine.
My answer to the teachers’ request was no.
At the beginning of the year, I did a presentation for a 9th-grade class. As the students walked into the classroom, I told them where to sit. “Good morning! You can sit here,” I’d say, pointing to a table.
One student chose another table than the one I had pointed to. “I’ll sit here,” he told me, plunking himself down. He smiled and folded his arms.
“No,” I said. “You’ll sit here.” I pointed to the original table. I smiled back.
“But I can work better here,” he insisted.
“No,” I said again. “I’m very happy you’ll be in this class today, and so I need you to sit here.” I pointed again and repeated myself: “Here, please.”
A friend was recently telling me about his experience when he was a child in the 5th grade. “I used to get in trouble before the 5th grade. But my 5th grade teacher, she liked me. It was like, she never expected me to do anything bad. So I didn’t.”
I recently saw the excellent documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor about Fred Rogers and his children’s television program Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. One of the extraordinary things about Mr. Rogers was his obvious, unconditional love of children. Like millions of others, I watched his program as a young child and I remember him saying, “I like you just the way you are.”
I realized what an unusual idea it is to be “liked” just the way one is. Continue reading
As our nation discusses the idea of arming teachers, I’ve been thinking about a teacher’s ability to see and hear the many things happening in a classroom.
Years ago, I was working in a school where a teacher left in November due to illness. A few days later, a new teacher was hired to fill the position. The students in the class were struggling, and even though they were compassionate about the situation, they were upset. And hungry for structure.
I met the new teacher the morning she was starting her new job. She had a lesson plan. She’d be entering the classroom in an hour. There were so many things she needed to do on that first day to establish structure. Where to start? Continue reading
In my first year of teaching, I was never observed by an administrator. I started to think that not being observed might be a good thing, as I was struggling mightily to keep my classroom under control.
I taught 8th grade English in a public middle school in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. The school itself was struggling and had been placed on a state list for low student achievement. The principal and assistant principal were both brand new in their jobs and in hindsight, I have empathy for the difficult situation they were in (although I certainly had no empathy at the time). I got used to the idea that administrators were people who helped when things went badly—for example, when a discipline problem forced me to call them and get help. Maybe it was better they weren’t visiting, I thought. What would they see in my classroom? That I was a failure?