The culture of each class

good studentsEach class has its own culture. Not always do the rebels, or the clowns, lead. Sometimes, you luck out. The majority want to learn, enjoy your lessons, praise you on teacher reviews, and prove your worth on standardized tests.

I wish all my classes were optimal.

The leaders pull along with the rest with a positive energy. The sloth gets motivated to study. The jabbermouth shuts up and listens. The clown, instead of throwing the class into disarray, shapes up.

In my experience, there isn’t much you can do to form the culture of the class. I’ve had groups that fought me tooth and nail and refused to learn. I’ve had students who have excelled and made me proud. What’s your experience?

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Violence against the teacher

violence against teachersA friend of mine, a good teacher, quit when a student threw a desk at him. The principal, feeling powerless in a system that insanely favors “rights” over responsibilities, refused to discipline the student.

And so the educational system lost another splendid, dynamic teacher. Will the pendulum swing back?

My friend felt his life was in jeopardy. He now runs a business. Who took over the public post in his stead? Maybe it was somebody who didn’t buzz with passion to foster the scientific spirit. Maybe it was somebody who was just clocking hours for a decent pay check. Maybe it was somebody willing to endure threats to his well-being for the state-financed benefits.

Another good teacher leaves, another bad teacher takes his place.

Scarlet Letter A+

Scarlet Letter

My students really got into Nathanael Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter. So what grade did I give them? An A+, of course. But a bright red one.

The reason I love teaching literature is because it makes people into better persons. By analyzing the mistakes of others, we can eschew pratfalls. By witnessing acts of heroism, we can emulate.

teach Scarlet Letter

A cursory reading of the Scarlett gives the anti-puritanical crowd plenty ammunition.

But if we dig deeper, we find unexpected richness. The story was more than just a social critique. We find a resilient Hester Prynne who turned her humiliation into eventual public admiration. We learn to overcome adversity. We learn we can change into better people, no matter how bad we are.

teach Nathanael Hawthorne

We find a bitter, diabolical, jilted Roger Chillingworth, who’s quest for revenge makes him far more evil than the vilified adulterers. They fell in love and got carried away. He deliberately plotted his life’s course towards evil. If there ever were a manual on how to become a Hitler, it’s Chillingworth, whose very name evokes the lack of human warmth. Talk about a lesson in moving on. Yeah, Chillingworth turns his life into the poisoned purpose of tormenting another.

Then there’s Dimmesdale, the secret partner, who cowardly dodges the shaming that Hester cannot. We can sling a lot of mud at Dimmesdale. But who voluntarily divulges their worst skeletons??? No, Dimmesdale deserves compassion. But he’s also a lesson in the value of (dare I say?) confession. He only escapes the clutches of his evil tormentor (Chillingworth) by courageously taking his place next to Hester on the scaffold in the town square.

Improving your teaching: One thing helped me

improving your teachingI went back to school. I had good and bad professors. I was treated unfairly and humiliated sometimes. Being on the other side of the teacher’s desk helped revolutionize my teaching.

I would listen to students. I would legitimate their struggles, not scoff at them and dismiss them. I would be clearer with my instructions and assignments. I would be less dictatorial.

Every teacher should, at some point, go back for some more education — not just to get the latest and greatest theories. No, the purpose is to be the receiving end of someone else’s teaching, to feel the sting of the ogre prof. That will make you swear to never be like that. And your students will appreciate it.

Probably all of us teachers swear by what were doing: “Nobody teaches better than me.” But when we get into a class and change our perspective (to that of a student’s), then we can reflect about what we do. We see it through other eyes. Maybe some teaching technique we confidently use, really isn’t so good after all. Sitting among the classmates helps that.

Encourage class questions

humiliating studentEncourage class questions by discouraging making fun of any question. Old adage: The only dumb question is the one that you didn’t ask.

I can still remember the sting of embarrassment: You don’t get it??? The teacher was running a dynamic of repeating a code pattern until students figured it out by themselves. I was the last one. He kept doing it. Kids were rolling their eyes at me. They were groaning. They were taunting me. The teacher had let the activity go to far. It was no longer a turning-on-the-light moment. It was now humiliation.

Since then, I have been keenly aware of students embarrassing their fellows over (what they think are) dumb questions. Education should not be scary. If it is, quite a number will drop out cursing school. Learning needs to be fun, not embarrassing — just because I’m slower than X classmate.

There are teachers who beam with joy over their best student. They wish all their students were like him. They think that their best student is the true reflection of their teaching. They allow others to fall by the wayside because they are a poor reflection. Don’t be like that. Don’t let your pride get wrapped up in one good student. Search for every student to “get it” at whatever pace he can. You’ll find unmotivated students suddenly motivated if you simply have the patience to help them learn. Once they learn, they discover the joy of learning. From then on, it will be easy sailing.

Education: What hasn’t changed in 20 years

ImageTwenty years ago I taught. Now I’m teaching again. And, man, things have changed!

It used to be that students had to respect the teacher. Now it is the teacher that has to respect the students.

What hasn’t changed though is the love you give the kids. If you’re not teaching because of love, you’re in the wrong profession. After all, it is a people profession.

Love makes the difference. It goes the extra mile. It helps that student who’s lagging behind. It spend more time planning lessons, grading homework. It gives of itself unselfishly. Love never fails.

Maybe it’s good that we teachers have to respect the kids now. At least, teacher abuse will be on the decline.

Somethings change radically. Others never change. If you love kids, if you love learning, there will always be a space for you to teach.