From the Trenches

Aiming for the middle ground.

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"A room without books is like a body without a soul."— Marcus Tullius Cicero

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Posts tagged "teachers"



What Teachers Make by Taylor Mali

A friend posted this to my Facebook wall. It’s awesome. (s-NSFW)

“Definitely beautiful”

I’ve had many extended conversations about this very video - I must take an unpopular opinion here and say that I actually take some offense to this being considered representative of a defense for my profession. I don’t know if I would be considered particularly pacifistic for this, but I think a much-less militant approach is so much better when making an argument for the view of teachers. Just because no other profession is questioned as thoroughly as teaching doesn’t mean that lashing out will fix anything - if anything else, it could give the ammunition to say that we are unable to even handle our aggression. Ultimately, the message behind the video is one that I agree and support wholeheartedly, it’s just the delivery with which I take opposition.

Tyler, baby. I’m with you. It’s not my style either. 

Actually, I think a lashing out is exactly what’s needed…we are too damn nice about it.  Love this, regardless of the fact that it’s NSFW. 

(via ohmuffins-deactivated20130716)

Anyone know who to credit on this?  Too true.

 1. Permissive “dances” look like this: student (S) disrupts, teacher (T) asks politely and feels annoyed, S disruption continues, T repeats and reminds, S disruption continues, T Gives warnings & 2nd chance, S disruption continues, T reasons/lectures and feels angry, S disruption continues, T yells/threatens, S disruption continues, T sends kid outside, S disruption stops.   The only teacher ACTION is in bold - all the rest are VERBAL steps. (p. 84)

2. “‘I thought I was giving them every chance to cooperate, but I can see I was giving them opportunities not to cooperate.’” (p. 85)

3. Punitive very similar but T verbals look like this: shames & feels angry, writes name on the board, argues/blames/complains & feels very angry, writes name on board/gives final warning, threatens/challenges, argues, sends kid to office, makes kid write sentences. (p. 92)

4. Mixed “dances” leave the kids really not knowing what the signals are.  

5. “The best way to stop a classroom dance is not to start one.  Teachers can avoid dances altogether by starting off with a clear verbal signal and by supporting their words with effective action.” So skip the verbal steps (except the first, where you clearly tell them to stop and explain the consequence THAT WILL STOP THE BEHAVIOR. If the disruption continues, follow through with the consequence.) (p.101)

6. For me, this requires planning. I need to know exactly what I can do for consequences, because so many options are removed due to legal issues (can’t send a kid outside, but sending them to another class is supposedly forbidden, as well).  So if I sit down with an administrator, I think I could reason out what I can do to stop misbehavior.

I have been contemplating ending my teaching career because of all of the crazy in the last 3 years. Between evaluations that are so skewed that I’m not sure the evaluators are even seeing the same class I am, the recent salary cuts, the garbage we have to go through for passing state exams, and the fact that many of my students just simply don’t want to be in school (early onset senioritis), I’m having trouble justifying it all when I compare it to the technical writing job I had before teaching.

But emails like this help stave it off.  This student came in as a senior, mid-year, speaking very little English, newly in-country from Iran.  She had already graduated from high school in Iran, but wanted to have the adjustment period before going to college, since she was only 17.  A math-whiz, she couldn’t decide between engineering (what she really wanted) or pharmacy (what her dad wanted).  However, because her English skills were so limited, she couldn’t pass the state reading exam, so she couldn’t graduate.  I was working with her, getting her extra study materials and helping her over email when she wasn’t in my class any longer.  She was planning on retaking the exam this fall and applying to colleges for Spring semester, but since I changed schools, I had lost contact with her for a few months.

So it’s been awhile since I heard from her, but this is what I woke up to this morning.  It’s lovely to know that she thinks of me, and took the time to tell me she was doing well.  And after all the crap we’ve all dealt with as teachers in recent years, it’s nice to know that it’s still worth something.  

My aunt - who was a high school English teacher for almost 30 years - got me this Great Courses DVD set on the best practices of teaching.  Thought I’d sit down with it and type out my notes here, because I’m such a professional student that I can’t remember much unless I write it down.  It’s not so much that I’ll go back and read it, but more that the physical act of writing cements the information into my brain.  

And I figured maybe some of you could get something from it, too.  So I’ll set my notes down as I watch, and see if anything cool comes out of it.  

From The Art of Teaching: Best Practices from a Master Educator from The Great Courses (Professor Patrick N. Allitt from Emory University)

  • Yay, a professor who understands that students are not all ready, willing, empty brains waiting to be filled!  
  • Concerned at this point that this will be directed more toward higher education rather than secondary.
  • Dealing with material in lectures, powerpoint, student participation in seminars, getting students to do the assignments, evaluation, proper training, teaching ability, equality v. inequality (theoretically), quality of discussion classes, etc.
  • Yes, talking more about college teaching, but perhaps this is good for high school as well, especially since I’ve got 11th graders who are mostly college bound.
  • He believes that the classroom should be a bit uncomfortable, but is happy to be contradicted…I may agree with him a bit. I’ll have to explore that a bit.
  • Teaching benefits from experience, and you should try to keep getting better at it.
  • Society benefits from passing on the great mass of knowledge it has generated.
  • Aiming at “universal literacy” is new to education
  • Need to create “life-long learners” because the information will change and the students need to be able to adapt and acclimate.
  • "If you can overcome the temptation to procrastinate…it’s all going to work out."
  • What was it about the great teachers you had and what is it about them you try to emulate?
  • The possibility that what students hate might be “lovable” in a sense.
  • Teachers must be willing to be self-aware and “self-critical”. 
  • Try having yourself filmed while you’re teaching. What is too distracting and what encourages learning.
  • "What do I want my students to remember from this course five years from now?"
  • "Teachers’ high" - like a "runners’ high" - I’ve had this!!!!

Ok, this is a little boring, but it’s only 1/2 hour lectures - 23 more - and I think this guy might have some really great things to share, so I guess I’ll stick with it for a bit. 

All middle school and high school teachers will get a kick out of this (as well as parents of teens).


1. “…children’s beliefs are largely determined by what they experience with their senses.  What they see, hear, touch, and feel determines how they think things are….only our actions are concrete.  Actions, not words, define our rules.” p. 63

2. “Compliant children don’t do a lot of testing….Their underlying desire is to be compliant….To strong-willed children the word stop is a theory waiting to be tested.” p.66

3. Although strong-willed children constitute less than 15 percent of the school population, they are a powerful minority because they’re responsible for nearly 90 percent of classroom discipline problems.” p. 66

4. Explaining why the rule is in place seems to do nothing.  The child already knows that information.  What the seem to want to know is what you will do. What they hear when you explain only what you want them to do, then explain your feelings about what they’re doing (“I’m uncomfortable with you doing that because you may get hurt.”), is only that you are uncomfortable.  That doesn’t affect them. “‘You can put that away in your backpack…or I can keep it in my desk for the rest of the semester”” works much better…the student has all the information they need now to make a decision. p. 78

5. Students don’t take anything away when we explain the rules.  Then they only learn that there are 2 sets - the ones we say and the ones that we follow through on.  p. 79.

5. “‘You can put that away in your backpack…or I can keep it in my desk for the rest of the semester.’”

Ch 2: How Teachers Teach Their Rules

  • Teachers, like parents, have four approaches in creating rules and enforcing them: permissive (respectful but not firm), punitive (firm but not respectful), mixed (neither firm nor respectful), or democratic (both firm and respectful).
  • MacKenzie describes various scenarios he has seen with teachers and students, which he terms “dances”, visualized as vertical timelines with teacher behavior on the left and child behavior on the right.  Teacher behavior is often characterized as cajoling and giving students the opportunity to follow the rules, which MacKenzie says gives the students opportunities to NOT follow the rules if they don’t want to…the teacher is only going to talk and not act.
  • I was hoping I was simply permissive, but it looks like I might be mixed.  I generally am permissive in the beginning of a “dance”, but move quickly to punitive when I get frustrated that the behavior isn’t stopping.  

Always take time to be nice to your custodian. Mine is a truly interesting person who will go out of his way for me when I need something.
English teachers…you’re guilty.

English teachers…you’re guilty.

Become an editor here if you want to earn a little extra for the month.  Answering student questions and participating in discussions helps, but there’s bigger money for writing the study guides.  I’m trying it out myself, so I’ll report back.  Just thought I’d let it leak first and see if anyone else wants to try, what with so many people stressing over finances at holiday time. 

Every few weeks, I feel the need to check job listings in careers other than teaching. Because of the public service loan forgiveness option I have chosen to take care of my massive student debt, I have limited options. However, I also feel limited because of public perception, and perhaps my own perception, of teaching. I keep thinking, I’m just a teacher, so what else could I do? 

Here is a list of things that teachers can do:

  1. Manage a team (if you can’t then a classroom of 25 teenagers would be in a state of continual chaos) 
  2. Work independently (a closed classroom door means there is still work being done) 
  3. Work with a team (common planning time with other teachers, as well as instituting school-wide initiatives need some heavy-duty collaboration skills) 
  4. Work to a deadline (have you ever been late turning grades in?) 
  5. Knowledge of most common computer programs (ever tried to make a worksheet in MS Word? Miserable! Publisher is so much easier!) 
  6. Remain calm in tense situations (having a parent scream at you during parent teacher conferences because they SWEAR their kid turned in that assignment and they’re gonna SUE kinda makes you immune to loud voices and stressful conditions) 
  7. Plan ahead (doing lessons off the cuff is just as bad for you as for the kids) 
  8. Improvise in a pinch (but if you MUST do a lesson off the cuff, it could be worse) 
  9. Can work evenings and weekends (do you think I go home and just watch TV? No! I go home and watch TV while I grade essays!) 
  10. Can seek out funding (have you seen the latest budget cuts? I’m a fundraising goddess!) 

Can you think of any more?


Via PostSecret.

The general population has NO clue how bad teacher bullying actually is.  I’m not talking about the metaphorical, general bashing of the profession.

I’m talking about the personal attacks individuals face, like this, at least once a week.  

I’ve been dealing with the same issues, and I have found that being less concerned has actually been the solution in my particular environment.  I told my students from the outset and remind them frequently that this is an equal agreement: they have to do work for me to do work.  If they choose the route of laziness, I give zeros liberally and remorselessly since, if this was a job and I was their manager doing most of their work for them or having to show them how to do something for the 12th time because they weren’t paying attention, they’d be sacked.  

I note that this only works with my current population; they care about their grades and the parents are involved.  At my previous school, my students honestly could have cared less about their zeros and F’s, you couldn’t ever get a parent on the phone, and I got reprimanded by my administration for having too many failures (talk about a Catch-22). 


Do you have a “no notes, no speech” policy?

I teach speech at the junior level, and my requirement is an MLA outline and works cited of at least three sources.

If students want to use their outline for their speech, they can; they can also make their own modified note cards.

However, I have…

I agree with this post only if she is speaking about high school.  Once a student gets to college, they ARE expected to educate themselves.  In college, students are expected to be self-motivated and exploratory, and be able to bring up suggestions in class when they see a gap in the professor’s thinking.  I have issue, not with the topic this post deals with, because she is absolutely correct, but with the level she is pointing it to.  I’m not going to make assumptions about her daughter, because if the topic of rape is so disturbing to her, then obviously there is some other issue at hand that needs to be dealt with on a personal level that I am certainly not going to judge on. 

However, in college, just like so-called “real life”, students need to be self-advocating.  No one is going to be careful of their feelings or troubles unless they happen to be a nice person.  So if something a professor says in discussion or lecture comes up with holes, like here where their wasn’t any sort of rape victim advocacy, then it is up to the student to bring it up at that time.  

Now, it sounds to me like in this particular situation, it was the student who emailed the professor, to which I applaud, but there are SO MANY parents out there who are still hovering over their students in college the way they hovered in high school.  Remember that Alexander the Great wasn’t even 20 when he began one of the greatest military campaigns in history.  If we start to treat our teenagers as adults, they will begin to act to act like them.  A parent’s job (I’m saying this as a teacher) is to bring a child up to be a successful adult in society and give them the tools they will need to DO IT BY THEMSELVES.  By college, unless there is some overwhelming issue, parents should not be involving themselves in their child’s academic affairs…they should be dealing with it by themselves.  

One more example, before I step off my soapbox, I have a friend who didn’t know she was supposed to file for income tax because her parents always did it for her without telling her about it.  So she turns 18 and moves out, and two years later, she gets a notice from the IRS saying she will have wages garnished and faces heavy fines for not filing.  She never knew she had to do anything.  THAT, my friends, is irresponsible parenting under the guise of good parents “just helping their kid out”.  

Just saying.  </soapbox>


it’s a poor idea to leave it to the students to figure them out and react to it as they will, with no guidance. New and complex issues should be dealt with as thoroughly as possible both in the context of the literature at hand as well as that of the students’ experiences, society, and sometimes…