Connect with pain: Part 3 on writing successful compositions

college student writingIn my last post, I asserted that if you write bored, your writing will be boring, and the poor bored grader will grade accordingly. Thus the rule: Don’t be bored writing.

It remains to find a trick to become extremely interested in your writing. One good way is to write from pain, to relate the subject in some way to your own pain.

I had a student who slept during class to mask his intimidation, but when he debated the Dream Act, which helps immigrants, he felt passionately about it. He was an immigrant. He argued well. He related to the subject.

You must think before you write. But think about what? Think about how it relates to your won pain (no matter how obliquely). Imagine yourself in the shoes of whoever is suffering in the case. Argue from his/her perspective.

Though not so easy, this tactic really does wonders for writing.

Here’s part 4 of the series.


Cyberbaiting and taking down the teacher

What’s a teacher supposed to do?

cyberbaitingThe pendulum has swung this far. Bored students used to shoot spit wads. Today’s class has gone much further. They provoke a teacher (baiting) until she reaches her breaking point (who doesn’t have a breaking point) and then secretly film the subsequent yelling or crying to post it online and further humiliate her.

A recent survey of 24 nations found that 21% of teachers had suffered some such shaming. One teacher cited experienced a nervous breakdown and was placed on indefinite administrative leave. This is the new fun, a way to while away the school year, to put a flavor into the dry algebra class. Has the “Question Authority” mantra gone too far? If they take out a teacher, a lot of kids congratulate themselves: “Well, she wasn’t apt for teaching anyway.”

imagesNever mind that most of us enter the profession with illusions of serving humanity, changing lives, rescuing souls. We are purveyors of light and understanding. But we are shouted down by the promoters of Middle Ages.

Granted, teachers have long humiliated students. But cyberbaiting turns the tables, it would seem, in a much nastier tenor. (It is supposed that teachers strive for classroom management with an illegitimate technique, but students have no worthy end to justify their actions.)

This article has useful tips to avoid such provocations. What do you think about such student goading?

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).

Believe relentlessly in your students

teachers foster self-esteemI have a student who’s been historically a goofball. He frequently misses class, sometimes sleeps in class, likes to skip homework and works hard just to get a C.

Yet there have been moments when he has joined class discussion — and I was impressed by great intelligence. I see in his fun-loving attitude an emotional healthiness (he won’t be suffering from high blood pressure). He could be a good lawyer because he’s quick to analyze and think of his feet.

Juan (they always call that no-name example “Johnny”) comes weighted down by “at-home problems.” The psychological chaos from his disintegrated/disintegrating family interferes with his ability to learn. He needs to find at school what his parents are coming up short in giving: love. He needs to find someone who believes in him.

Sometimes its not the lesson plan. Maybe your student won’t be Harvard-accepted. Still, a teacher is called to make a life-long impact in the lives of his students. And he must looks past the sting of open rebellion.

A teacher must believe in her students RELENTLESSLY. She must believe in them because nobody else does. She must continue to believe in them because if not they’re going to fall into drugs or cut their wrists. Our society is a society of rejection, and a teacher fills the roll of accepting students. No matter how bad is your student, you must look for that glimmer of hope, that spark of talent. No one in this world is without some gift. It is the teacher’s job to ferret it out, to bring it to the attention of the student, to cause they student to believe in himself.

This is even more important than fulfilling academic standards.

Don’t downgrade learning

inspiring studentsI can’t tell you how many times people have told me to lower my expectations. They tell me to teach according to the children’s level. I ignore them. As long as the kids are learning, I thrill at my job.

I have seen 6th graders learn grammar and syntax and beat high schoolers on a test. When kids are challenged, all of sudden, the electronic device stops distracting. I guess kids thrill at learning. Students like to learn.

You shouldn’t lower your expectations. You should adjust your teaching to the level of the kids but always aim high. The only time you come down is the starting point. You can’t expect a kid to have learned already. You start where the kid is at, not where he is supposed to be at. From there on out, the plane can take off.

When students feel the satisfaction of learning, the momentum builds. Kids who never thought they could go to college, wind up doing so. Don’t downgrade learning.

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.