Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!

Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!
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Teaching is the profession that teaches all the other professions. ~ Author Unknown

My goal is to reveal one teacher's humble journey of self-reflection, critical analysis, and endless questioning about my craft of teaching and learning alongside my middle school students.

"The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called 'truth'." ~ Dan Rather

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A colleague's response to the Times article....

I know I am responding very late on this but felt compelled to, after reading and letting it "simmer." I worked in an alternative setting for students who had been expelled from BPS, this outplacement (which no longer exists) was a school of 20, 5 kids per "grade" and class. The population was comprised of students from very needy situations including abuse, drugs, violence and gang involvement. The "behavior system" of the school involved a binder following students as a class throughout their day in which was a page for each student with individualized behavior and academic goals, some all had, others were student specific based on IEP goals/counseling goals. At the end of each class the teacher would sop class 5 minutes early, check mark goals that had been met and discuss this with the student. These check marks translated into weekly points/percentages which earned the kids 3 things: 1. a color coded behavior sheet (pink, yellow, green) that corresponded with outside break privileges, 2. if you earned a certain percent of your checks you earned Friday reward (a time where those who had earned could go as a group to the movies and out to lunch or to an arcade or on swan boats, free of charge) AND 3. ALL students regardless of level earned money per check mark that was given by the school and stayed in an "account" for two yearly shopping trips... before winter break and before the end of the year. On these two shopping trips (at a mall in New Hampshire and local malls for students who weren't able to leave the state due to police involvement) teachers would hold on to each student's money and were required to accompany the students from store to store until they had used their money or elected to save the balance.

I haven't thought about this setting in quite awhile but am now teaching elsewhere and am happy to have the opportunity to reflect on motivation having worked there and in other systems. What I observed in this setting was that some students became confrontational with teachers about not earning check marks, would lose their temper, shout, throw desks, etc... Other students realized how many checks you needed to make Friday reward and once they could not earn it for a given week would give up entirely for the remainder of the week and not attend school on Friday. Other students also knew the system and would misbehave and disengage academically once they had earned the minimum checks needed for Friday reward. The ones who didn't earn were put in the same room to complete work to earn some on site free time in the afternoon. Often fights/arguments would flare up constantly in this room and practically no work was completed, some kids even slept. Staff rotated watching this room throughout the day. It was decidedly unpleasant for everyone involved.

Granted this situation isn't typical of most classrooms and this is decidedly a very needy group of kids with big challenges and a VERY detailed system, but this experience provided me with very fertile ground for my own thinking about my practice and motivation. It is different from the system in the article also, but i felt parallels could be drawn. I realized the days I felt best about working with this system were the days I could have conversations with kids about doing well and noticing improvement, and helping them reflect on their behavior and work. Some good conversations happened and students frequently knew how they were doing in all of their classes. I was able to pair this check mark with authentic praise. My approach was not the norm... check marks were used to threaten kids, or happened in isolation of conversation. Some teachers felt pressure or fear to give undeserved checks to avoid retaliation/anger/fights that would ensue. Some teachers completed their checks on Friday for the entire previous week! I think the motivation you get from paying kids lacks in comparison with what you can get by having a strong relationship with students, holding them accountable, using statements of caring and authentic praise, conferencing around growth and celebrating gains. It denies kids the priceless feeling of accomplishing and seeing a challenge through to the end. It DOES cheapen the learning, paying limits the effort you'll get.... only as good or meaningful or as long as the reward in in place. Learning is hard and doesn't always feel good but it is powerful to hear students reflect on their skill development and take pride in their work. I am left wondering about how results would look at these paying schools if every staff member FREQUENTLY communicated, checked in, showed caring, discussed goals, praised and held students accountable for who they were in the school community as a learner and as a community member. Would they still need the "capital gains" and paychecks? In my own classroom the only external motivator I use is our "shout outs" during Friday morning meeting. We gather in a circle, greet each other and I read a positive statement about 2 or 3 students that I have noticed during the week (ex: turned in all homework on time, wrote an interesting poem to display in the library, demonstrated kindness, showed kindness, etc..), I then name the student, they stand, we clap, I give them a certificate and also post a copy on our classroom entryway, they get a pencil of their own (many of our supplies are community or shared), and they get to choose their classroom job for the next week (bin emptier, mail delivery, etc...). The kids congratulate each other, stand a little taller when they are recognized, love having their own fresh new pencil, reread the postings on the wall, show their parents and friends from other rooms where their certificates are and are VERY motivated by this relatively simple practice.... and not one desk has been thrown when someone doesn't get a shout out, there's always next week to look forward to and try for! I hope our thinking as a nation moves away from systems like the ones highlighted in this article and we are inspired as educators to know our kids and how to reach their learning spirits to keep their motivation and curiosity alive.

Sorry for the length and/or hope you enjoyed my "rant!"


Sarah B.

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