No, We Didn’t Sign Up For This

sign up

We teachers sure like to complain a lot. At least, that’s what I’m told by people who don’t teach. Here’s one comment left on an article I wrote:

“Quit complaining. Everybody has things they don’t like about the professions they chose but teachers are the biggest whiners.”

Here’s another:

“I know about a dozen teachers. Every single one of them knew going in how much education they’d have to invest and the amount of effort expected.”

One of the most common refrains complaining teachers hear from non-educators is that we knew what we signed up for.

“Hey,” they say, “You knew the score going in, so no bitching about it now.” It’s an argument that, on its face, makes some sense. It’s true that teachers knew at the outset we weren’t going to get rich. We knew the job would be challenging. We understood that no matter how good we were, no one was going to build a monument to us.

But the truth is, the job of a teacher has changed a lot in a very short amount of time.

I started teaching in 2000. I thought I knew what to expect. I doubt I’m alone. Since many big changes to education have happened in the last 10 years, there are likely millions of teachers who are currently doing a job for which they did not sign up. So when our critics tire of hearing us complain and tell us that we knew the deal going in, they are often wrong. There is a lot of stuff we didn’t sign up for.

We didn’t sign up for a Department of Education that doesn’t actually believe in public education.

We didn’t sign up for wage gaps and the “teacher pay penalty.” In 1996, while I was in college deciding to “sign up” to be a teacher, the average weekly wage of public-sector teachers was $1,122 (in 2015 dollars). In 2015, it had fallen to $1,092. (SOURCE) Weekly pay for all college graduates rose by $124 dollars per week over the same period. I might have signed on knowing I wouldn’t get rich, but I sure as hell didn’t sign on expecting to be paid less after 17 years on the job.

Part of that declining pay may have something to do with diminished political clout. Because when I signed up to be a teacher, teachers’ unions still had power. In the intervening years, Republican-controlled legislatures have done everything they can to erode the unions’ influence. My state, Michigan, became right-to-work in 2012. State legislatures around the country have also removed tenure protections, curtailed collective bargaining rights, abolished last in, first out policies that protected veteran (read, more expensive) teachers, and attacked pensions.

We also didn’t sign up for fewer resources. But according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 31 states provided less per-pupil funding in 2014 than they did before the recession in 2008. In 15 states, those cuts exceeded 10%.

We didn’t sign up for increasing federal intrusion. No Child Left Behind was signed in 2001. Its goal of having all students proficient by the year 2014 was mocked by anyone who knew anything, but that didn’t stop the feds from doubling down with a piss-poor rollout of the Common Core State Standards and a bribery scheme called Race to the Top to get states to adopt those standards.

We didn’t sign up for high-stakes teacher evaluation systems that rely on crummy data and the opinions of administrators whose motives may not always be pure.

We didn’t sign up to give students an ever-increasing number of flawed standardized tests that spit out unreliable data used to determine a meaningless teacher rating.

We didn’t sign up for value-added modeling, a statistical method used to evaluate teachers that the American Statistical Society says, “typically measures correlation, not causation: Effects – positive or negative – attributed to a teacher may actually be caused by other factors that are not captured in the model.”

We didn’t sign up to be scapegoated by politicians. The staff of Central Falls High School in Rhode Island sure didn’t sign up expecting the President of the United States and the Secretary of Education to endorse their collective firing. While we may have expected to be treated like dirt by Republicans, we didn’t sign up knowing the Democratic party would abandon us in such a publicly humiliating way.

We didn’t sign up for longer school years or balanced calendars.

We didn’t sign up for substitute teacher shortages.

We didn’t sign up for active shooter drills.

We didn’t sign up for higher poverty rates and needier students. In my state, there are 15% more kids in poverty today than there were in 2008.

We didn’t sign up for increased funding for charter and virtual schools. The same politicians who claim they can’t spend more on education manage to find billions of dollars for charter schools every year, in spite of their lackluster performance. Virtual schools are even worse, but legislators seem to love them anyway.

We didn’t sign up for declining autonomy in the classroom. We didn’t sign up to have our hands held — mistrusted, second-guessed, and told to toe the line, to teach this content at this time in this way. We didn’t sign up for pacing guides, scripted lessons, or strict fidelity to unproven programs.

We didn’t sign up for less planning time.

We didn’t sign up to implement policies we know are bad for kids. We didn’t sign up for less recess, less gym class, less art, less music, and less fun.

We sure as hell didn’t sign up to give eight-year-olds reading tests that could result in their retention.

We elementary teachers didn’t sign up to stress out nine-year-olds over their “college and career readiness” or to take the play out of kindergarten.

There’s an awful lot about teaching today we didn’t sign up for.

In spite of this, most teachers will continue to do the job. Most will do their best. I’m not naive enough to expect those who call teachers whiners to join us in fighting for change. I have no illusions about any of the things I didn’t sign up for going away anytime soon. I won’t challenge our critics to get in the ring and become teachers themselves. After all, they now know what they’d be signing up for. But I will ask them to believe teachers when they tell them what needs fixing. And if they won’t do that, then I will kindly ask them to shut up, and quit telling teachers that they knew what they signed up for.

What do you think, teachers? What else didn’t you sign up for? What’s changed since you decided to become a teacher?


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Don’t Let the Last Hour Spoil the Whole Day

end of day

Here is a list of nonsense words:

lurst, nifkin, bluck, pansate, wazzle, morky, wolire, chagg, fonticule, kittop, glope, tercopular, moobin

Fun, aren’t they?

In 1964, a German researcher named Hermann Ebbinghaus conducted a series of experiments using words like those above. He wanted to determine whether the position of a word on a list affected how easily it could be recalled. To accomplish this, Ebbinghaus prerecorded lists of nonsense syllables, then played them to himself and tried to recall them. He found that the words near the beginning and end of the list were more readily recalled than those in the middle. He called this the “serial position effect” and postulated that the words at the end of the list were more easily recalled because they were still in his short-term memory, a phenomenon he called “recency effect.”

The recency effect is a recognized cognitive bias nowadays, and you see it everywhere. Your favorite sports team (and its coach) is judged by what they have done lately, regardless of how successful they’ve been in the past.  Investors make decisions based on how the stock market has done recently, instead of paying attention to historical trends. Companies use the recency effect in their marketing by making sure the product is as attractive as possible at the point of purchase. You get angry with your spouse over some trivial matter and forget all about the wonderful things they did just last week. Recency matters, and the classroom is no exception.

The recency effect explains why the last hour of school has the potential to ruin your (and your students’) perception of an entire day.

Earlier this year, my class was really struggling during the last 45 minutes of most days. I’d shoehorned science into this time slot and was attempting to include a lot of hands-on group work into my units. Students were not handling it well. Many were off-task. Patience was thin. Kids argued and fought over everything from who got to use what, to how long they used it, to whose idea was good and whose wasn’t. There were more than a few blowups from students whose frustrations reached the boiling point. And of course, my own willpower was at its nadir. I had little tolerance for nonsense and that just made the whole thing even more volatile. It wasn’t a good situation.

When I got home and my wife asked me how my day had gone, I told her it was horrible. I replayed what had happened at the end of the day and lamented how poorly I’d taught procedures and expectations. I complained that I wouldn’t be able to do hands-on, fun science experiments because the kids just couldn’t handle it. I was mentally drained, physically exhausted, and I didn’t even want to think about going back the next day.

This was the recency effect at work. But the truth was quite different.

For most of the day, my class was great. Mornings almost always went well. The students listened, worked hard, got along, and had positive attitudes. Most of the afternoon was productive, too. More students were on-task during independent reading than I’d had in years. They worked well with partners. Even recess was good. We had very few behavior problems on the playground.

When I really thought about it, the only time my students had trouble was during the last 45 minutes of the day. The problem was that when I went home for the day, it was this 45 minutes that I remembered. It left a terrible taste in my mouth, and since the recency effect also works on children, it was a horrible way for students to end the day, too. I imagine that after those chaotic science lessons, many students went home with few good feelings about being in my class. They likely shared those opinions with their parents, just as I had with my wife.

Ending your day poorly is a really good way to destroy your classroom culture, as well as your own enthusiasm for the job.

I had to find a way to combat the recency effect. So here is what I did. Try these strategies if you are finding that your last hour is spoiling the whole day.


First, be aware of this cognitive bias we all have and give the end of the day the same weight you give the rest of it. At the end of my difficult days, I took a few minutes to just sit at my desk and replay each subject in my head. This way, I could remember how students had done during different periods of the day and remember that although we might have ended on a sour note, most of the day was actually pretty productive. Acknowledge the recency effect, and don’t judge your whole day based on how it ended.

Focus on the Majority

We teachers have a tendency to focus on the negative outliers, and I’m no different. 20 students can be doing their jobs, but if three are arguing and one of them throws a fit and goes storming out of the room, the whole lesson feels like a debacle, I feel like a failure, and I worry what students think about my classroom management. Instead of focusing on the problematic few, I try to force myself to think about the majority. I’ve written more about this in my article, How to Feel Like Less of a Failure.

Understand Why It Happens

While doing research for my book Exhausted, I learned a lot about willpower. We start each day with a given amount. As the day goes on, we use it up. By the end of the day, our stores of willpower are exhausted and we have a much harder time regulating our emotions. Glucose is the fuel we need for self-control. By 3:00, we’re pretty low on it, so students have a harder time using willpower to do the right thing. It takes energy to resist temptation and have patience with others, and by the end of the day, many students, especially those who have to use the most willpower to do the right thing the rest of the day, just don’t have any left. I explained all of this to my students, but while understanding helps, it doesn’t make it any less infuriating when you feel like the class is going off the rails.

Teach Expected Behaviors

Since I knew the last hour was going to be a challenge, I committed to being much more intentional and detailed about expectations. Before we got out the science materials and split off into groups, I taught and modeled exactly what students needed to do. We also made If/Then plans for handling predictable obstacles. “If Tony isn’t sharing the magnet, then I will remind him that everyone needs a turn before time is up.”


Frankly, all the modeling and careful attention to detail annoyed me. I’d spend 15 minutes going over all this stuff, which meant students were pinched for time to perform the science activity, which led to some of the problems I was trying to prevent. In my book Exhausted, I write about how researchers have discovered that people with the most self-control actually use very little of it in the way we normally think about exercising willpower. They don’t will themselves to do the right thing by staring temptation in the face. Instead, people with a lot of self-control use it preemptively to avoid temptations and distractions. College students with exceptional self-control use it to sit in the front row instead of using it to avoid daydreaming or playing on their laptops in the back of the lecture hall. Dieters don’t use willpower to stop themselves from eating a bowl of ice cream at night. They use it to not buy the ice cream in the first place. Knowing this, I finally figured out that the best way to set my class up to be more successful — and the best way to go home feeling good about my days — were to rearrange my schedule so that students wouldn’t have to use so much willpower at a time of day when they had very little of it. I moved science class to the morning and put writing–a much quieter, more independent subject–at the end of the day. That solved more problems than anything.

Flip the Script

The recency effect doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It can be used to your and your students’ advantage by ending every day with something positive. Brainstorm a list of things you could do with the last ten minutes that will linger in your and your students’ memories. You might have students share something good that happened to them, either aloud or in writing. You could end the day with music and dancing. You can end with a game that builds the classroom culture. You could have your class meeting at the end of the day and share positives and goals for the next day. At the very least, you could do as Michael Linsin recommends in this post and end each day with calm, predictable procedures and high-fives all around. Send them home smiling and excited to come back tomorrow. Send yourself home the same way.

And now, since you’re at the end of this article, do you remember any of the nonsense words at the start of it?

Wait, let me guess….




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Top Tips for Teaching Kids With Dyslexia To Read

Guest post by Laura Buckler

Top Tips for Teaching Kids with Dyslexia to Read


Dyslexia is a learning disability, but it is not a disease.

Kids with dyslexia simply process language differently from those without the condition. They have a problem with turning heard words and sounds into written form, and have a hard time remembering and reading words in isolation, such as on flash cards, or in sequence, such as the days of the week. Most people with dyslexia are of normal to high intelligence, and cope with their difficulties by accessing higher language learning skills.

Many kids with dyslexia reach adulthood without a proper diagnosis, and this can lead them to think they are not as intelligent as they actually are, simply because reading is a basic skill they have failed to master. They are scared that something is wrong with their brain, when in fact they simply learn differently.

While no one really knows what causes dyslexia, researchers believe it is hereditary. Because they learn differently from others, traditional methods for teaching them to read are not very effective. In many cases, the undiagnosed dyslexic child will use context to “read” without actually recognizing individual words to keep up with other children.

People with dyslexia can learn to read just as well as other people with the proper attention, methods, and tools. It is therefore important to diagnose the problem as early as possible to help them now and in the future. Here are the top tips for teaching kids with dyslexia.

Show and Tell (and Feel and Smell and Taste)

Kids with dyslexia learn to read best by engaging all their senses in the process.  This helps the brain create more associations with a particular word. This is the basis for the MSL, or Multisensory Structural Language, approach, and it works well with all language learners, not only people with dyslexia. Learners are encouraged to see, hear, smell, feel, and taste a word using various tools. Here are some ways to use the MSL approach with your child:

  • Use flash cards with a picture and the word printed together on it, and have the child hold it as they read the word. This gives them something to hold and look at as they say the word. Have them trace each letter with their finger as they read the word.
  • Use actual objects. Whenever possible, have the student hold the physical object of the word being taught. For example, if you are teaching the word apple, have them hold one, and encourage them to smell, feel, and eventually, taste it!
  • Use sand trays. Fill a flat, shallow tray with sand or beans in which the child can spell a word repeatedly. This engages their sense of touch and sight.
  • Use music. Songs, rhymes, and chants can help the child remember spelling rules and sequences.  For example, you can teach the child to spell “Mississippi” by chanting MIS-SIS-SIPPI!
  • Use color to classify different types of words and numbers. Use different colors for nouns, verbs, and other parts of speech. Use a different color to distinguish whole numbers from decimal numbers, and so on.
  • Use reading games. Games are always a good way to teach anything. Check out these links for some MSL games and activities to help your dyslexic child.

Start big

Some people with dyslexia see letters all jumbled up, and they have a hard time seeing subtle differences. Lower case p and q, for example, look the same to them. The same is true for b and d. To help them distinguish similar letters, write them big and bold, and put plenty of space between words. As they learn to recognize the letters, you can gradually make them smaller and closer together.

Just to be clear

Kids with dyslexia need a lot of reinforcement when learning to read. Do not assume that the student has any familiarity with the lesson. When introducing the letter B, for example, you should tell the student that it is letter of the day. You then clearly sound the letter out and ask the student to repeat it several times before introducing words beginning with the letter B.  Make the student say each word aloud several times before moving on to the next one. You can also use other strategies such as games and songs related to the letter or word.  

Repetition is the Key

Make it a habit to repeat everything several times to help kids struggling with short-term memory, which is common among those with dyslexia. Instructions, concepts, sequences, and words have a habit of slipping off into forgetful land. Encourage the student to write them down to help them remember, and make sure to correct any spelling mistakes.

An important aspect of teaching kids with dyslexia is connecting concepts when building new skills. Whenever you introduce a new lesson, make sure to connect it to an old one. If you must, refresh his or her memory by reviewing old lessons. A kid with dyslexia will learn something new better if they can associate it with something they already know or experienced.


Teaching kids with dyslexia to read is not hard if you accept and understand that they learn differently from other kids. Accommodate their learning styles and difficulties and give them practical coping skills using these tips and other teaching strategies. You will soon have them reading with the best of them.


BIO: Laura Buckler is a great writer, always making the best out of her articles. Her belief in life is that anything can be done with an amount of perseverance, so she puts an effort into all her duties. She teaches people to be aware of their potential. Check out her twitter.

3 Things Teachers Can Be Thankful For


While researching my book, Happy Teacher, I came across the work of Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology. Nobody has contributed more to the science of happiness. One simple exercise Seligman recommends to those wanting to improve their outlook on life is what he calls “Three Blessings.” He writes in his book Flourish:

“We think too much about what goes wrong and not enough about what goes right in our lives. Of course, sometimes it makes sense to analyze bad events so that we can learn from them and avoid them in the future. However, people tend to spend more time thinking about what is bad in life than is helpful. Worse, this focus on negative events sets us up for anxiety and depression. One way to keep this from happening is to get better at thinking about and savoring what went well.”

This is especially good advice for teachers, who are regularly faced with negative events, stress, and anxiety. Because of our tendency to focus on problems and deficits, we can easily start to view our jobs as a burden. By the time Thanksgiving rolls around, many of us are stressed and exhausted and we wonder how we’re ever going to make it through the rest of the year.

Thanksgiving is the perfect time to step back and force ourselves to acknowledge the things we should be thankful for. The Three Blessings exercise is really simple. You just write down three positive things in your life. Since many teachers start to view their jobs negatively around this time of year, it might be beneficial for you to take a moment this Thanksgiving break and write down the things you appreciate about your job. Here are some to consider:


No blowing smoke here. A lot of teachers, when you ask them about their jobs, will start their answers with, “I really like the students,” and then go on to complain about the things that make the job annoying.

  • “The kids are great, but administration doesn’t support us.”
  • “I love my students, but I’m working 10 hours a day. I’m beat!”
  • “The best part of my day is when I’m in my room with my students. It’s everything else that sucks.”
  • I love teaching the kids. I just wish government would butt out.”

Yeah, except.

Students can make or break your day. The reality is that the lion’s share of our day is spent with students. If you happen to have a great class, then you probably enjoy your job. If you have three or four kids who are really challenging, you’re probably stressed out and tired. If you have more than that, you’re probably on every night. All of that extra, outside-the-classroom stuff matters, but so do the kids sitting in front of you every day.

Too often, we tend to focus on those who are struggling. Poke your head into a teachers’ lounge and it is these students who are being talked about. Attend a staff meeting, and it’s the behavior of these students that is being discussed. In fact, at our last staff meeting, the principal shared the number of office referrals and suspensions we’ve had this year in the building. It was a high number, but the great majority of them came from 12 students, which represents less than 5% of the student population.

So here is one thing teachers can be thankful for: Most of our students, the vast majority in most schools, are doing their best. Most listen. Most follow the rules. Most get along with others. Most are respectful. Most try hard. The next time you get frustrated with your class, stop and count. How many are doing what they’re supposed to be and how many aren’t? Chances are you’ll find most of them are doing the right thing. It’s important to remind ourselves of that and be thankful for it.


I read this piece from the Atlantic this morning as I prepared to write this article. It includes some depressing information:

“While public-school teachers made $30 less per week (adjusted for inflation) in 2015 than in 1996, around $1,092 from $1,122, wages for college graduates rose from $1,292 to $1,416. Where other college-educated workers used to make just slightly more per week than teachers, they now earn significantly more.

“There are only five states where teachers make within 10 percent of what other college graduates earn, and there is not a single state where teachers earn the same or more than other people with four-year degrees.”

So if you want to feel underpaid and unappreciated, you’ve certainly got some numbers to support that point of view.

But I’d rather feel good about how much I’m paid, so I look at different numbers.

In America, most of us are rich. The median per-capita household income worldwide is about $3,000. If you have just $3,210 in assets, you are wealthier than half the world’s population. You’re better off than 3.5 billion people!

According to the National Education Association, the average first-year teacher in the United States earns $36,141. If you’re a woman–and three-quarters of teachers in the United States are–then that income puts you in the 67th percentile for all female earners in the US. If you’re a male first-year teacher earning the average, your income places you in the 48th percentile of all males. Regardless of your gender, the average first-year American teacher makes more money than 57% of all US workers. Open a phone book (if you can find one). Pick two people. Odds are you make more than one of them.

According to Glassdoor, the average US teacher salary is $47,760. That figure puts the average teacher in the top 0.35% of the richest people in the world. That’s right, teachers are one-percenters. Actually, we’re more like one-third of one-percenters. In other words, if you want to be rich, you can stop wishing. Because compared to almost everyone in the entire world, you already are.


Regardless of how much the people I went to college with now make, or how much other professionals with similar education levels make, or whether my pay has remained largely unchanged for five years, I make enough to live a comfortable life. I can afford the things I need, plus a lot of stuff I don’t. I’m thankful for that.


I am never ashamed to tell people that one reason I became a teacher is because of the time off. To the best of my knowledge, I’m only getting one life to live and I want to spend as much of it as possible doing things I want to do. The more time I spend at work, the less time I have to pursue other interests. Teaching is one of the very few professions that offers a middle-class income and lots of free time, if you choose to take advantage of it.

So I am thankful that I have nine days off for Thanksgiving break and two weeks at Christmas and one week in April and two months in the summer. That allows me to spend time with my family, write, exercise, travel, read, and live a complete, well-rounded life. I’m thankful that I’m not going to spend the best years of my life in a cubicle. I’m thankful that I get to “retire” every summer. I’m thankful that I’m a teacher.

There. I feel better already.

Engagement Isn’t Everything

engaging.The contrarian in me bristles whenever any idea achieves such widespread acceptance that those who dare question it are subjected to reflexive condemnation. One idea that has gained such universal popularity in recent years is the power of engagement. Spend any time around educators, whether in person or in digital form, and you will have surely seen or heard the following sentiments passionately expressed:

  • Kids are bored because teachers’ lessons aren’t engaging.
  • Kids act out when they’re not engaged.
  • Kids cheat because the work isn’t engaging.
  • An engaged student will never give you any problems.
  • Kids hate school because they’re not engaged.

So at the risk of being ridiculed by the Engagement-is-Everything crowd, let me say that I’m skeptical.

We’re asking engagement to pull an awful lot of weight.

It’s the Wrong Word

First, let’s clear up some terminology. People who talk about engagement are often not talking about engagement. Engagement means that a student cares, that she gives a damn. Engagement ultimately comes from the learner, not the teacher. I don’t care a whit about needlepoint, and it won’t matter how much choice I’m given, how much technology gets incorporated, whether or not I get to work with my friends, how enthusiastic my needlepoint teacher is, or how much relevance she attempts to convince me needlepoint has to my life, I’m just not going to be engaged.

When some people talk about engagement, what they’re really talking about is involvement. Anita Archer, the Guru of Engagement, uses all kinds of involvement techniques that have been mislabeled engagement strategies. She keeps a brisk pace and requires a high rate of response from every student in the room. She expects attention and participation. She keeps kids on their toes. But none of those things ensure that students care about what she’s teaching; only that they’re involved. Anita Archer doesn’t do engagement. She does involvement.

The Student Owns the Learning

Perhaps that’s because Ms. Archer understands that true engagement cannot come from her. She can get students to actively participate in her vocabulary lessons, but she can’t make them care about learning the words. She can lead the horse to the very edge of the creek, but she can’t make it dip its head to drink.

The problem I have with engagement — at least, how it’s used today — is that it conveys the message that a student’s failure is his teacher’s fault.

  • It’s not a student’s fault for failing to do his job; it’s his teacher’s fault for failing to engage him.
  • It’s not a student’s fault for skipping class; it’s her professor’s fault for not making her lectures more engaging.
  • It’s not the salesman’s fault he didn’t sell anything; he just didn’t find the act of selling very engaging.
  • It’s not the teacher’s fault for showing videos all day; she just doesn’t feel engaged at work.

It’s bull.

There’s also this problem: What’s engaging for one student isn’t for another. I often see teachers on Twitter bragging about how hip they are because they incorporated fidget spinners or Pokemon Go or [insert current trendy item] into their lesson plans. But for every student who thinks a particular toy, game, or song is the greatest, there’s another who’s annoyed by it, and some who are flat-out pissed because their parents wouldn’t buy them one.

The Real Secret to Success

Here’s an unfortunate truth about life:

There are things we must all do even though they are not engaging. Those of us who do these things have more success in life than those who do not.

People who create and stick to budgets have more money. Making and sticking to budgets requires self-control. Few would argue it’s engaging.

Buying groceries is almost always an awful experience, but if you don’t do it, you end up at McDonald’s, wasting money and getting fat.

Sitting through meetings requires self-discipline, and your boss may or may not care to make those meetings engaging. You better pay attention anyway.

Doing your taxes sucks. The government makes no attempt to make the process engaging. And if you decide to not file your taxes, you won’t be able to blame the government for failing to sufficiently inspire you. Sometimes, you just have to do things.

In fact, much of life — pretty much everything between all the awesome, engaging parts — is about self-discipline, the ability to stick with or do something well enough even though we dislike the task or find it boring.

Not Everything Needs to Engage

I’ve got nothing against making your lessons more fun or finding ways to involve your students more. There is no question that an involved student will usually learn more than an uninvolved one. Use whatever tricks you can. You can do a whole lot worse than Anita Archer when it comes to involvement.

Nor will I try to dissuade you from creating experiences for students that give them warm fuzzies, create indelible memories, and make you the kind of teacher students remember for the rest of their lives. Go for it. That’s what makes teaching and learning fun.

But let’s stop putting so many eggs in the engagement basket. Students who learn to do what needs to be done, regardless of how they feel about it, grow up to be adults who have the self-discipline to balance their checkbooks, do the laundry, get out of bed early enough to make it to work on time, get the oil in their car changed, shop for khaki pants (just me?), and clean everything from their teeth to their dishes to their showers.

Instead of focusing so much on engagement — an endeavor that is, at best, a crap shoot — why not teach students what self-control looks like in different situations? Why not teach students that people with self-control lead more successful lives? Why not show them how to exercise self-control through talk-alouds and modeling? Why not even intentionally teach something that’s not engaging at all and explain to kids that successful people must sometimes will themselves to complete uninspiring tasks?

We don’t do students any favors when we send the message that they must always be entertained. And we’re sending our teachers the wrong message when we imply that every problem in their classroom comes back to their inability to engage their students.