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Saturday, May 08, 2010

Teacher Appreciation: Teachers Must Appreciate Their Own "Nobility"



BRISTOL, UNITED KINGDOM - FEBRUARY 24:  Primar...Image by Getty Images via Daylife
Teacher Appreciation Week Was This Week! (OK, so I'm a little late.)
"In general, students know the difference between right and wrong, and they want their teachers to deal with irresponsible peers. If you always respond appropriately and professionally, everyone else will be on your team. But the first time you do do not, you may lose some of your supportive students - and you may never get them back. This makes maintaining a high level of dignity, especially under pressure, a critical skill. Effective teachers have this skill; others do not."  p 28 What Great Teachers Do Differently by Todd Whitaker

Teaching is a noble calling! ACT LIKE IT!  This book has been resonating with me because it is May.

For some reason, in May, "when it rains it pours" and this week it happened literally.

Let's see... funeral... exploding air conditioner... no air conditioner for two days...Internet modem down... firewall malfunction... network down for two hours... portfolio grading till 2 am... academic banquet grades due... National Honor Society hours counted...2 days of network malfunctions... stressed students who missed class for state track last week...stressed students from spring softball and football... stressed teachers who couldn't enter grades because of network malfunctions...oh and that was just Monday through Thursday! Friday was field day!

I'm not saying this to complain, I am saying this to point out that my nerves were FRAYED. My co-workers nerves were FRAYED also. We're all tying a knot and hanging on to make it to the end of the school year when so many deadlines, end of term projects, grades due, graduation, senioritis and summer-it is hit like Noah's flood!

But I come back to Whitakker's wise words -- I was feeling a bit upset on Monday and I actually pulled this book out of my pocketbook and re-read this quote.  I love these students dearly but when I lose my temper -- EVEN WITH REASON - I literally shave off a piece of my nobility. The nobility of teaching.

And one of the essential ingredients is that teachers simply MUST rise above.

Jumping Up on the Desk
Did you ever hear the story of the teacher who jumped up on her desk and stomped her feet to get the class' attention when they were misbehaving.  She gave up part of her nobility - and you know what -- she made it the goal of every class every day to see if they could get her "up on the desk."  (I even think that in my rebellious streak - old "Miss Vicki" here might have tried to help - it sounds hilarious!)

On Friday and Field day I took a look around the gym. I had the orange team, there were all sitting in the stands just as wonderful and great together as anything and me with my chair in front. I looked at the other teachers and their students were being great as well. To know that you have your students together and that there is a relationship of mutual respect is a great thing!


Managing a Class
Now, if it is the end of the school year and you know that you've completely lost it with a class and they are "out of control,"  You can't do a lot about this year except sit back and see what ruts you've falling into that are taking away from learning. But I strongly suggest that over the summer that you pick up the two books that have helped me most with this aspect of classroom management that is very much driven by HOW I RESPOND to things.  This book, What Great Teachers Do Differently and Fred Jones Tools for Teaching would be the two on my list if I knew I had classroom management issues. (I reread Fred Jones every summer!) 

You'll notice that nine times out of ten when parents complain about a teacher it is about what the teacher DOES not the CONTENT knowledge.  Why then, do so many education programs spend so much time on content knowledge and lesson plan creation instead of classroom management and psychology. 
(Honestly, I think a little CIA training for holding up under pressure would do a lot of us some good!)

Keep the Behavior From Happening Again
"When a student misbehaves, the great teacher has one goal:  to keep that behavior from happening again. The least effective teacher often has a different goal:  revenge.  Effective teachers are motivated after a student misbehaves, to punish the student." p 23 What Great Teachers Do Differently

It isn't about revenge it is about IMPROVEMENT. Proving your "authority" over a helpless child is not noble. What is noble is being humble enough to help the child improve and not do it again.


When "Nuthin'" isn't really "Nothing"

"Effective teachers understand that what matters is not whether a student leaves the office mad, and not what the student reports to his peers, but how the student behaves in the future. Effective teachers don't need the principal to wield the sword of revenge on their behalf. They do need the principal to reinforce their expectations for student behavior and to support their responses to misbehavior. In fact, they welcome all the help they can get!" p27 What Great Teachers Do Differently

I love how he talks about that when kids leave the principal's office that they always tell everyone "nothing happened." Personally, I've seen kids cry their eyes out and go to everyone else and say "nothin happened."

(This is why other teachers, parents, and staff members should stay out of disciplinary measures that don't concern them - the principal and teacher involved are usually NOT at liberty to tell you what really happened but you can guarantee that the ONE person who can tell everything  (the student) will only tell you what they WANT you to hear which is very rarely if ever the truth! I've seen more "fussing" over the perceived injustice of a "too lenient" disciplinary action that wasn't too lenient at all but no one but the kid (and usually their parents) knew it!  (Wow, principals, what a thankless job you have!))

So, I think as we see the culmination of the year upon us, I have several thoughts for you:

1) Maintain Your Dignity and Discipline

It is never too late to start acting like the nobility of a teacher that you are.  Yes, you're human, but if you feel yourself losing it, cope in creative ways.  This week, I had a student I felt that I was about to become unprofessional with because he wasn't doing something he needed to do. The best answer was for both of us to take a break from one another. I was not going to "lose it" knowing that I was emotional and tired.  As much as the kid was in the wrong, I would have moved from right to wrong had I lost my temper.

A servant boy can behave with more nobility than a knight. Nobility is determined by behavior not "rank." 

Human beings who have faced great odds and responded with dignity, kindness, and respect to those who did not deserve it have their names spoken throughout time with great respect because of the nobility of their actions as they walked upon this earth.

Many of those names, though not famous, are the truly noble teachers in our lives. Sometimes the greatest nobility comes from allowing yourself to be misunderstood by others in order to do what is right for the student. Sacrifice of Self for the Sake of Students. 

2) Learn from Your Mistakes
Evaluate what you've done this year. Ask students to complete an evaluation on the last day of class. (Some of the best things I've learned about myself and teaching happen in these anonymous surveys.)

3) Humbly Realize That You're Not "SuperTeacher"
One common denominator of "super teachers" -- they rarely know it.  If you are proud and think that you know it all, I think you should step back and ask yourself if there are some things you need to learn.

My high school English teacher is a "SuperTeacher" if I've ever seen one. I teach right next to her now and she is always working to improve and evaluate and move ahead.  When I praise her teaching ability, she usually deflects the compliment like a bullet off Wonder Woman's bracelet and talks about the places she needs some improvement and what she wants to add next  year.

In fact, every "SuperTeacher" I know is like this.  I can tell you this, I may be Cool Cat Teacher but there are quite a few things that I'm going to do differently next year than this year.  I'll keep what works and change what doesn't!  Be aware that SuperTeachers cannot be put on a pedestal and cast in stone because the best ones are made out of malleable clay that they reach up and work on themselves and allow the specific needs of their class to also mold.

Great teachers are priceless. Some principals think all their attention should be given to the lower performers.  Well, if one of your great teachers needs attention, then you've just made them want to lower their performance to have yours! 

Likewise teachers, if you just pay attention to lower performers, you've just done the same thing for your higher performers.

I wish I could get a transfusion of the blood of a perfect teacher. But since there is only one Perfect Teacher I've ever heard of, for now, we'll all just have to realize that a HUGE, TREMENDOUS part of teaching is how we act towards our students and colleagues.

4) Realize that It is Not Over Until It is Over
One of the most important things that you will do is write comments on student report cards. I can spend a whole year with a student but it is the comments that they live for.  They "earn" the grade but the comments represent who they are!

I challenge you - no matter how you consider your year - set it as a personal goal to overcome exhaustion and crabbiness and the desire to have the year over with to write a comment on every student's report card. (I will say that if I omit 2-3 it is because I don't have anything nice to say but I write on 98% of all cards.)

Find something that they are good at. Give an honest, sincere compliment in your own words that did not come out of the comment bank.  Again, comments aren't about "revenge" as some poor teachers see it (ah, ha - I'll get you on the comments and have the last word) but comments should be about leaving something with that student that they will think on. Having the last word in a positive way.

I want every child to know that they are important, unique, and have a purpose in this world and as a teacher who loves them, I want to help them on that journey to find what they are good at doing. 


In Conclusion
Teachers - you will never be paid enough nor praised enough and that, my friends adds to your nobility.

This teacher Appreciation Week, I hope you took the time to step back and appreciate the gravity of what you're doing. We didn't even "celebrate" the week at our school - not a soul said a thing - but I celebrated it by responding in good ways to bad situations.

Nobility is shown in how we act and the calling upon our lives to educate the next generation. I appreciate you and love you because I am one of you. This is a tough job that is misunderstood by pretty much everyone except those who have ever been in a classroom.  Students nor parents nor principals understand what it is like to wake up in the night and see a student's face and agonize about how to reach that child. Whole futures weigh in the balance of how we behave and if we can meet our calling.

  • Your worth is measured not in accolades or money but in how you behave in your own classroom.
  • Your worth is measured not in newspaper articles nor magazine spreads but in the impact on the individual students who may even forget your name in another year.
  • Your worth is measured by the many thousands of deeds, words, thoughts, and actions that you pour upon a generation that will run the world one day.
  • Your worth is not measured by arrogance but in fact is counted in the humility by which you serve those who will probably not appreciate you.
  • Your worth is measured by how you appreciate the nobility of your calling and strive to behave in ways that reflect honor upon your profession.

Teacher, you have a noble calling in the most noble profession (except for parenting - which technically isn't a profession) --


but the nobility is not conveyed upon you because you are a teacher - 

the nobility of teaching is conveyed upon those who teach nobly.

Remember your noble calling, teacher!




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