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?


Infighting leads to losing

Captured by, Ghana defender John Boye kisses the cash he receives.

Captured by, this image shows Ghana defender John Boye kissing the cash he receives.

The U.S. was lifted out of the Group Stage by Ghana’s loss to Portugal June 26, which calculated the right FIFA math for Clint Dempsey and crew to advance.

And Ghana’s loss was brought about by infighting. It was the scenes behind the scenes that determined failure for Ghana. What went wrong for Ghana at the World Cup?

  • The players nearly boycotted the game, demanding $3 million in payment. Ghana president flew the money to them in emergency fashion.
  • Towering superstar Sulley Muntari physically attacked Ghana officials and was kicked out of the game. His absence was felt.
  • Talented Kevin-Prince Boateng insulted the Ghana coach and also was suspended. On the field, he’s a difference maker. Off the field, he was prevented from helping his team.

With key players suspended or injured, Portugal was a decimated team. It should have been an easy win. If Ghana would have won, they would have advanced, and the U.S. would have flown home.

Maybe you are right to be disgruntled. Administration is obstructing teaching. Parents are throwing stones. But don’t let the brouhaha distract from teaching. Don’t sacrifice class quality because of interference.

The news about Ghana’s turmoil has been almost completely overlooked because people are only interested in goals. But the goals were lacking due to the infighting. Don’t allow politics and personality clashes play out in student suffering. Don’t let the lack of money affect your teaching energy.


Pay attention to the subplot


Klinsmann with his former assistant and friend, Low.

On the surface, USA’s pass to World Cup knockout stage leaves people scratching their heads. We lost, but we won?

On the surface, the Germans dominated, as expected. And the United States did a decent job defending and mounted a few attacks. They managed the result, which with low-scoring loss combined with a favorable Portugal-Ghana scoreline, helped them to the next round.

But if you dig deeper, there are fascinating subplots.

Take the U.S. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann. He’s German, marshaling forces against his native country. Would he throw the game for Sacred Mother Country? He’s basked in the sun of Southern California since 1990, but does German blood course through his veins?

Or even more thought-provoking is the question of rivalry. The current German coach, Joachim Low, was his former assistant. Actually, the previous friendship and collaboration made the current contest more intense. Low has criticized his former boss’s tactical ability. Klinsmann declared before the faceoff: “We want to go for gold!”

The subplot if the major story. What happens on the surface is just a product of what happens below the surface.

When your students enter your class, it’s the hell at home that’s dooming them. If you can give your student the tools to calm the inner storm, you can help him pass your class.

Pay attention to subtle signals of inner turmoil. Who is being bullied in your class? Who is socially outcast? Who is so insecure that she flaunts and I-don’t-care attitude?

Dig deep because today’s teaching assumes a chaotic and distracted mind. There’s no more Leave-it-to-Beaver households in America, and as a result the kids are venting their frustrations at school.

In the end, the U.S. lost to superior fire power, not coaching prowess. The players made the difference. But they lived to see another day in World Cup play.

In the end, the student whose heart you touch will be transformed in his/her educational success.

Day of joy in teaching

jigsaw puzzleAs a student of languages and as a bilingual teacher, I have seen the “jigsaw puzzle moment.”

There comes a moment, when you put together a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle, that you can make out the picture. It looks more like the picture on the box front and less like an amorphous jumble. That happens when studying a language. There comes a moment when you understand more than you don’t. That’s a joyous day.

When does that day come? Somewhere after piece 500. In the meantime, you are painstakingly learning vocab and grammar, one piece at a time (the day’s lesson). It can be arduous and despairing (“when will I ever learn this language???”). But just as in the jigsaw puzzle as with the language, all advance from that day on is downhill. It’s fun, a mad rush towards total fluency, the satisfaction of snapping in the last piece and admiring your work. Congratulations, you’re bilingual.

I imagine that moment happens for math and science too! (I must admit, I don’t know if the light ever fully came on for me as a student in these studies).

Individual attention works wonders

schoolboy-his-teacher-reading-class-6081096To make teaching efficient, we bring in experts and pay them. To take advantage of this, we put quite a number of kids all in the same classroom to learn from expert, commonly called a “teacher.”

But the more kids we put in the classroom, the lesser individual attention each kid gets. And what makes a difference in education is that individual touch. One of my followers calls it a “connection” with the student.

There needs to be human compassion, empathy in the classroom. Otherwise, we could just put on a film to teach with a robot supervisor. This would not work.

A human being is needed to find the level of the student — not the level at which the student SHOULD be, but the level at which s/he IS. I’ve always made it my aim to help students to improve. Even if they don’t do well on standardized tests and are subsequently catalogued as “below level,” I feel an inner satisfaction that I helped a fellow human being rise to a new level.

Who were the teachers who most inspired me? The ones who treated me as a person, not a just another pupil in the classroom. The ones who met me at my level, made me believe in myself and helped me climb a rung. They didn’t complain at me for not being smarter than I was.

Let’s keep the human element in the class!

Reform education? Reform the home

Education Reform

Reforming education has become a political football. There are those who promise revolutionary change and those who talk without doing anything.

Surely, there are many great techniques and shifts in tactics to improve output. BUT the real problem is the broken home. Without mom and dad at home pushing Johnny to get the grade, reform is doomed to modest results at best.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for honing. I favor paradigm shifts. What I oppose is charlatan fads exploited by unscrupulous politicians (forgive the redundancy) that sway public opinion momentarily without delivering better graduates.

I realize that there are those who make their living promoting reform. I congratulate all sincere efforts that seek better results. But I’m a bit skeptical. Learning will always involve some amount of plain, old, boring work. You can sing the times tables, if that works for you. But at the end of the day, you had better know how to sing your way through a complex multiplication and division problem. Results are what counts.

A change-up in methodology can be good. Hocus pocus, not so.

However you approach it, at the end of the day, students need to know how to write, to do math, to analyze, to think critically. No doubt teachers play a critical role. But a heartbreak from home to ruin a student in class. It’s great to be dynamic teachers, but if Sarah Sue is crying inside, she might not be paying attention to anything Mrs. Summersault is saying.

Please, please, please, for good of students, keep your home together.

Motivating the unmotivated

books' powerAs a child, I lived in a dreamworld of books. Narnia transported me beyond the wardrope. James took me on his journey with the giant peach. I visited other countries, continents and even planets. Books were a marvel to me.

Now I marvel to see that kids don’t read. Their dreamworld is their smartphone.

Technology has put learning at kids’ fingertips — and they don’t want to learn!

Recently, I am having the kids read Hamlet, and some fall asleep in class!

The negative side in me worries we are heading back to the Dark Ages. The positive side in me is trying to strike the fire in the cold world of anti-learning of today.