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Monday, April 18, 2011

Monday Morning Pep Talk for Teachers



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Like a gas tank running on empty, we teachers who give too much without refilling our tanks can start sputtering and stopping during the long haul of the last six weeks of schools. Dickens' "these are the best of times, these are the worst of times" are never more true.

Let's contemplate the things that help us stay motivated, excited, and high performing during the last few weeks of school.

1 - See Long Term.
I look at every student and know my time is short with them. I ask myself:
  • What are the things that if I do not address that someone will say "why didn't someone ever teach __ that?"
  • What is something I know of that each student is good at doing? (put in on report card comments, or tell them.)
  • What am I teaching with how students earn grades? (A grade given for doing nothing teaches a harmful lesson.)
2- Be a Blessing.
Blessing takes many forms. It can mean speaking well and lifting someone up but making something up is lying and that is never a blessing.

Take the two types of things we found (areas for improvement and the things a student does well) and turn it into a blessing in the form of lesson plans, life lessons, AND encouragements. Today in my classes, we'll take time to read and discuss an article from the New York Times about the 5 Habits of Highly Successful CEO's as a life lesson.

Sometimes drawing the line in the sand and NOT "giving" a child a grade is the blessing the child needs to learn the hard lesson now. The world is full of kids who grew up having things given to them in school and they wonder why they can't keep their job only showing up 4 days a week and giving a half effort.

3- Being "Battle Hardened" is Good.
As I read the New York Times article I mentioned, I had to laugh that "battle hardened" is listed as a habit of highly effective CEO's because that is the same with teachers.

Why do so many teachers quit during the first 2-3 years of teaching? They think it is going to be easy and they probably make the decision in the spring when they are going to be worn out.

Good teaching isn't easy! We lay awake at night upset about kids. We think about them, pray for them, get angry at their parents, etc.

Teachers are on the front lines of a war against the decivilization of society. See problems as learning opportunities for both the student at hand (see #1) and the students watching.

Never give away your nobility by acting in ways that demean your profession (we all have ;-( ) and if you feel yourself tired or losing it with a child - put measures in place to help you deal with the triggers by enlisting another teacher or administrator.

4- Being "set in your ways" is not.
The good teacher knows that there are new horizons not explored and sets an example to her students of an explorer who has just begun the journey.  

5 - Be yourself.

Don't try to be cool. If you are, you are.

Most teachers worth their weight in gold must wait to be thanked until their students strike gold. When students see they are masters of knowledge and how to acquire that knowledge they will thank you. If you get it early, count yourself fortunate.

6 - Be Realistic About Short Term.

Look hard at the school calendar to note the events and activities that will serve as a distraction. Good teachers study human nature. They time tough lessons when kids are ready to learn and tweak pedagogies based upon the emotional and physiological needs of students. Sometimes, teachers look back at #1 and know that teaching kids to do tough tasks when they are tired is a good thing. The good teacher knows when to do which!  

7- Be Good to Yourself
Show me a teacher without rest and I'll show you a powderkeg waiting for a match. Every 90 minutes you need a break according to one of my favorite books, Way We're working Isn't Working. Walk outside. Talk with a friend. Get up from your desk and disconnect. It is counter-intuitive that rest sparks increased productivity but the research bears this out. You have to intentionally plan breaks and times of rest. Staying up more than two nights in a row past midnight grading papers is asking for  trouble.

8 - "Sometimes You Gotta Let the Rough End Drag"

Granny Martin was a smart woman and I miss her every day. In May, I write this on a note card on my fridge to remind myself I don't have to be perfect. During the last month of school it is best that a teacher lay aside hopes of being polished, poised and perfect and know that it will be a bit crazy and chaotic. The things that should never drag are the safe, respectful environment built for students. To keep it respectful at school, you might have to let the laundry go at home or bring home pizza once a week. It is OK not to be perfect, especially if you have a hungry brood of your own at home waiting to be fed every night.

9 - Laugh and Learn.
 He who laughs, lasts! If you can't laugh and enjoy the kids sometimes, why teach? For most of you, standardized testing is almost over. Do something fun. Plan a lesson packed in learning AND enjoyment.

I have three boys in my noon study hall: Camel, Knee Knocker, and Squirrel. (yes, those are my nicknames for them) They work, I work, but we laugh. I'm not their BFF and am tough on them in class but I enjoy seeing them come in my room b/c I know they will keep me young. When you are old you will remember the laughter and learning.  

10- Finish Well.

When you think back on the school year, you'll always remember how it finished. Finish well and with the honor, nobility, and sense of humor deserving of your profession.

Your Pep Talk
To all you amazing teachers out there - you are the heroes to a generation that sees you as their present enemy.

Do right by their future selves and know that their present selves may have to disagree with your intent. 

Our job is not to be liked or loved, although that usually comes with the territory of being good at what we do - it is to teach.

Remember your noble calling, teacher. No one can take away the nobility of a teacher except the teacher herself.
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