Monday, September 15, 2014

Reflective Teaching Day 15: 3 Things I am good at as an educator

     Everyone is good at something. Everyone. The key is to find out what that something is, work at it and become even better. I have a few things I think I do well in, teaching is one of them. It comes natural to me. I am by no means perfect at it, but I have learned a lot over the time in the classroom and here are 3 things I have done well with...

1. Building Relationships: One of the most crucial aspects of teaching young people is the ability to connect with students in a meaningful way that helps to build trust and assists in the learning process. Remember, teaching is just as much an art form as it is a science. So building relationships with students is difficult to put into a formula. However, one piece of advice that I was given about this job in general is this: passion and compassion. I believe that if students see your passion for what you do in your class on a daily basis, they know you care about what you are doing. Nothing sends the wrong message more than sitting behind your desk for most of the year handing out worksheets that gets a red check when you "grade" it. How are students supposed to get excited about learning from a piece of paper that has no connection to their world? When you make your lessons dynamic and demonstrate your passion through what your students are doing, that transfers to your students. As teachers, we cannot control a lot of things in our students' lives, but showing compassion about those lives is crucial. A little understanding and flexibility goes a long way. I am not saying to be a total pushover, but realizing that students have lives outside the school walls is important to them too. Tap into that. Strike up a conversation about something you notice they have an interest in. Just don't hand out a student survey without actually having non-school related conversations with students. Share something about yourself. Put yourself out there. Allow students to get to know you too. Remember, building a relationship is a two way street. You would be surprised how far that will take you. One final thought on this: do whatever it takes to know your students names. I don't care how you do it, just do it! Say hi to them in the hallway. Buy them a lunch or a drink when they are standing behind you in the lunch line. It becomes difficult to show your passion and compassion towards students when it's been a semester and you still don't know everyone's names. I have been blessed with the gift to know 150 students within the first month of school. Not sure how I do it, but I do. I believe this, along with many other little tips and tricks helps to build a good relationship with your students.

2. Wait, half my class is gone and the network is down?: Another aspect of teaching that is so vital to this profession is the ability to adjust. Just like that. All that time you spent on that great lesson and it comes crashing down. Now what? Give up? Read out of the book? You have to make adjustments at the snap of a finger. A lot of this comes with experience: you just learn how to fix stuff as it breaks. And oh, it will break! It will be a mess. As a great person and a wonderful educator once told me, it's going to be a mess and it's okay! Roll with it and learn to fix it! Thanks Joy Kirr !! I think I have always been able to adjust (I just got better as I got older) because I really never was satisfied with doing the same thing over an over again. I was always tweaking lessons and trying to find another way to make it work. Now that then creates more work for me. As I have often said, "I will retire the day I perfect this thing called teaching." Rigidity and teaching do not mix well. I guess this "thinking on your feet" is one of those art type skills that again I have been blessed with. If there would be one thing I would teach at Wolski Teaching School is akin to the Marine motto of "Improvise Adapt Overcome".

3. Relevance: I guess sometimes I am no better than a student sitting in a desk who is handed work to do and says "Why are we doing this?" I hate handing students materials that are not interesting and relevant at the same time. Maybe I am just a bit selfish. I tell the students that I don't want to do something that is boring or from the textbook publisher. I want them to see the relevance of history or government in their lives. Why wouldn't I? I know history has a rep for being boring and nothing more than facts. Again, having passion for your subject matter makes it easier to teach. I love sharing my love for history and government with students. I once had a student who told me (happens a lot) that history is boring and it never changes. But luck (I wasn't trying to prove them wrong....well maybe!) would have it that an article came out a week later explaining how the colonists at Jamestown might have resorted to cannibalism because they found human remains in the garbage pit with human teeth and bite marks in them. I told her about this and said (which is true) that history is people, it's arguable, it's opinion supported by fact. Sometimes, new evidence is found that changes forever how we think about a subject. Government is the easiest class to make relevant to their lives. Rather than just current events games on Friday, how about use the news on a daily basis or make sure to connect something in the world to each unit?  So much material out there it's just finding the right story.

     I might do other things well, but these 3 really make doing what I do for a living more enjoyable and interesting.


  1. It is great that you see how your strengths benefit students. You are right on about relevance! And yes, the ability to adjust, think on your feet is what can drive student interest and engagement. Your reflection on relationships is spot on. That is why we are in this profession!

  2. There is nothing more important than getting to know our students. Early in my career as a teacher, I received advice from two retirees. The first teacher said, "Be firm, but fair." The second said, "Be loving and giving." I respect and follow both pieces of advice, but the words of the second teacher are what I repeat to myself nearly every day.

  3. Thanks for the comments guys, I appreciate it!!