I like you just the way you are

20170222_120237.jpgA 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

Solving 90% of discipline problems at the door

Julie Nariman - Discipline problems at NYC schoolsI once visited a principal who greeted his students as they walked in the front door of his school.  He told me, “I solve 90% of my school’s discipline problems by standing here, greeting each student.  I notice who’s smiling and who seems to be upset, and I stop them, talk to them, see if I can intervene and catch the problem before they walk into their classes.”

I never forgot this statement.

Continue reading

A teacher’s attention

art photography by julie narimanAs 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

Channeling My Inner Norma

art photography by julie nariman

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?

Continue reading