7 Things I Selfishly Love About Teaching

love teaching

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My wife tells me that I need to write more positive blog posts. She has a point. I do tend to write more about how teachers are tired and should work less. I’ve written about what parents don’t understand, and how we should stop donating labor. One might infer that I’m complaining and that I don’t really enjoy what I do. But the truth is those kinds of articles get read more than positive ones, so I write more of them. Blame my audience.

In an attempt to balance things out, I shall now present a positive article. Never fear, I will not bore you with the platitudes most teachers recite when asked what they love about their jobs. There will be no mention of “making a difference,” or “seeing the light bulb go on,” or, worst of all, “Ah-ha moments” (thanks for that gem, Oprah–it’s called an epiphany and it already had a name).  I like those things fine, but they go without saying. If you don’t feel a sense of accomplishment when you reach a student, then you’re in the wrong profession. My list of seven things I love about teaching is far more selfish. It’s great when kids learn and all, but I went into this job because I thought it would gratify me.* And it has.  So without further ado, here are 7 Things I Selfishly Love About Teaching:

*For those lacking a sense of humor, this article should not be taken all that seriously.

1. A Captive Audience (Literally)

When you get to be my age, you think you know things and you want to tell people (hence, this blog). But most adults don’t really want to hear those things because they have their own things they think they know. Students, however, are stuck with me. I get to tell them stories, dispense advice, show my favorite YouTube videos, and read them awesome books. They have to listen! (Well, okay, technically they don’t have to listen, but I can convince myself that they are listening, which is pretty much the same thing.)

2. Appreciation of Fart Poems

I write poems sometimes. Gross ones. My wife doesn’t like them. My daughter pretends not to. There are always a few mature students who claim to not like them either. But most kids love my poems. These kids are my inspiration. What’s that? You want to read one of my fart poems? Well, okay then!

My father’s farts are powerful,
they punch you in the face.
My mother’s farts are delicate,
full of elegance and grace.
Grandma’s farts are old and stale,
you don’t want to be near them.
But granddad’s farts are loud and wet,
as offensive as Eminem.
My teacher never farts,
there’s something wrong with her.
If my preacher ever farted,
it would probably smell like myrrh.
One time my doctor farted,
I don’t think it was on purpose.
She coughed and it just happened,
maybe she was nervous.
My brother’s farts are frequent,
he lets loose all the time.
But my farts are clearly perfect,
just like this final rhyme.

3. I’m a Hero At Least Once a Week

I teach in a portable. We have our own bathroom. Which is nice, except when the toilet clogs. It clogs often. I could call maintenance and have them plunge it, but I’m a man with a fair amount of experience plunging toilets. I probably plunge our classroom toilet 40 times a year. Each time I do, I emerge victorious, with arms raised in an V. To those students who’ve been holding it, no greater hero ever existed. Eat your heart out, Ironman.

4. Being Treated Like a Celebrity

I don’t live in the same town where I teach. In the summer, I therefore rarely run into students. But during the school year, a short trip to Wal-mart almost always results in the full celebrity treatment. Students shout my name. They point me out to their parents. They run up to me and then appear unsure of exactly what to do next. They take selfies with me.* It’s like being famous, without the paparazzi, mindless interviews, overwhelming need for approval, drug habits, divorces, and money. It’s the best.

*They don’t take selfies with me, but that’s because they’re eight and most don’t have phones. At least, that’s what I tell myself.

5. Sleep

I’ve always been a good sleeper. It drives my wife nuts how quickly I can be out once I close my eyes. But I am a GREAT sleeper during the school year. Nothing wipes you out like teaching, and even though I’m writing a book about how to stave off teacher exhaustion, some days just do you in even if you know all the tricks. The feeling of hitting the hay after one of these days is exquisite.

6. Weight Maintenance

I’m sure there are teachers who have an easier time managing their weight during the summer. I’m not one of them. Although it’s easier to exercise during the summer, it’s also easier to eat. And beer is a problem. Also ice cream. I’m sometimes bored during the middle of the day, so I eat. I’m never bored at school, and as mentioned in my book The Teacher’s Guide to Weight Loss, one strategy I use during the school year is to eat the same low-calorie lunch every day. I don’t do this during the summer, so it’s nice to get back to work and not have to run so many miles to maintain my weight.

7. Weekends Are Extra Awesome

Weekends are always wonderful, but they just aren’t that special in the summer. In fact, I often stay home during summer weekends because everyone else is out there doing stuff and getting in my way.  I  just go on a Tuesday. During the school year, weekends are gold. They are the two days during the week you can live it up. They feel like a reward. You know how people say we wouldn’t appreciate the sun if it weren’t for rainy days? (Do people say this?) Well, weekends are like that.

And yes, I realize that in that analogy teaching is the rainy day and I said this was going to be a positive post. But whatever. Analogies are hard. A lot harder than plunging toilets and writing fart poems.

How Teachers Should Respond to Guilt Trips

I’m currently writing a book about teacher exhaustion. Before I started, I emailed readers of this blog and asked if they’d share their stories. I wondered what they thought contributed to their exhaustion. One teacher wrote back:

Another factor is the ‘guilt trip’ administration lays on teachers about how ‘if you care for your kids you will do this.’

Principals sometimes resort to using guilt to persuade teachers to do things they would otherwise be disinclined to do. Principals need teachers to attend after-school events, join committees, do additional work after hours, and take on other tasks that are “part of the job” but not really the job. For a parent night, they’ll say, “Parents will expect to see teachers here.” They’ll stress the importance of the committee work. They’ll claim it’s a sign of “professionalism” to take on extra duties. They’ll remind you that “teaching isn’t like other jobs.”

Why They Do It

They don’t do it because they’re jerks. Most of them are in a tough spot. State and district mandates require certain work get done, and they need manpower but lack the funds to pay for it. The school improvement plan calls for more parent involvement, so they schedule two parent nights. As the date approaches, they start begging teachers to attend. The school needs a PBIS team, but the district won’t pay for subs for teachers to meet during the day, meaning they must meet before or after school. The cabinets in the science lab are a holy mess and need to be reorganized, but who’s going to do the work, and when will they do it? You know the answer.

Most of the time, principals use guilt because they don’t have money. If they do have money, they don’t want to set a precedent of paying for everything teachers do outside the school day. That’s understandable, but it’s not really teachers’ problem.

And guilt works. People who go into teaching tend to be selfless. They’ve chosen a career that puts others’ needs ahead of their own. They have a moral code and a self-image as someone who always goes the extra mile for other people. It’s hard for them to stand up to a guilt trip that implies they might be doing anything less than they can for their students, their parents, or their colleagues. Guilt works, so it gets used.

But it’s also manipulative, and teachers shouldn’t reward it. Administrators have other options. The best of them is to foster an environment where teachers want to do more (or at least don’t mind). Principals who trust their teachers, who show them appreciation, who understand the challenges of the job, and who support them and respect their personal time will need to use guilt far less often. Teachers who work for bosses like this won’t have to be begged. And if you’re a principal who finds himself pleading, prodding, and laying on guilt trips to get teachers to do more, then you should first question your school’s culture. If you think you’ve got a pretty good one but teachers aren’t willing take on extra responsibilities, find out why. Ask them.

What Buddha Can Teach Us About Guilt Trips

If you’re a teacher on the receiving end of the guilt trip, you might consider the story of Buddha and the angry man:

It is said that one day the Buddha was walking through a village. A very angry and rude young man came up and began insulting him, saying all kind of rude words.

The Buddha was not upset by these insults. Instead he asked the young man, “Tell me, if you buy a gift for someone, and that person does not take it, to whom does the gift belong?”

The young man was surprised to be asked such a strange question and answered, “It would belong to me, because I bought the gift.”

The Buddha smiled and said, “That is correct. And it is exactly the same with your anger. If you become angry with me and I do not get insulted, then the anger falls back on you. You are then the only one who becomes unhappy, not me. All you have done is hurt yourself.”

It’s true of guilt, too. When you refuse to accept the guilt someone is trying to make you feel, then you will not feel guilty.

How Teachers Should Respond to Guilt Trips

If you can’t, if you find yourself giving in again and again, then you need to reframe your thinking. Try these:

  • It is not my job to solve problems created by other people.
  • It is not “professional” to work for free.
  • It is only “part of the job” because teachers have allowed it to be.
  • My primary job is being an effective teacher to the kids in my class. If doing extras in any way hinders my effectiveness in that regard, then I should not do those things.
  • Allowing myself to be persuaded by a guilt trip makes it more likely I will be subjected to the same manipulative tactic in the future.
  • Choosing something means not choosing something else. Instead of thinking, “I should really help out at the after-school event,” think, “By choosing the after-school event, I’m choosing not to spend time with my family.”
  • Nothing will change if teachers keep volunteering their time. If I think teachers should be paid for their work, then I need to stop being part of the problem.

Guilt trips only work when you let them.

Stop taking the ride.

How to Get Your First Teaching Job

 

It’s summer, the season of baseball, ice cream, the beach, and road construction. It’s also the hiring season. Districts everywhere are working to fill their open positions and the competition at some is at hot as the sand on the soles of your feet. Many aspiring teachers enter the interview season with fear and nervousness. They scour the web for anything that might give them a leg up. There’s a lot of advice out there, some good and some not. For this article I reached out to eight school administrators to find out what sets apart those teachers they hire from those they don’t.

Before you even sit down to write your resume, there are a couple of things you should do. First, clean up your social media. If an administrator can find a scandalous picture of you, then so can any parent, student, or future colleague.

Next, take advantage of relationships. If you substituted after student teaching (and you should have), then now’s the time to call school secretaries, teachers whose rooms you subbed in, and principals who are familiar with your work. Almost all of those people want to help young people succeed (that’s why they’re in education!), so don’t be afraid to ask them for letters of recommendation, to put in a kind word to administrators they know, or to use their names as references on your resume. These connections don’t guarantee you a job, but they can often lead to an interview.

Your Resume

First impressions are almost all that matter. Your resume will, if you’re lucky, get a couple minutes of consideration before it’s put into one of two piles. The administrators I talked to want a professional looking resume with well-organized credentials. Each of them said that grammatical errors and disorganization will disqualify you. Keep it brief; you needn’t include things that every teacher does in the course of their job.

You need something to separate your resume from the rest of the pile. A principal in Florida said he wants, “A resume that is eye-catching in organization, clarity, and content. Too many resumes are boilerplate and have no presence or personality.”

Another principal said, “Just ALWAYS try to find at least one thing to help you stand out among the others, ANYTHING. An international internship, bilingual, volunteering at schools while you are doing your undergrad, anything to help you get a leg up.”

A former principal and Superintendent told me, “The most attractive candidates pop out as a person who authentically cares for children. Something unique. At least one thing that separates you from others. Communicate that you’re willing to do the work of an educator–pd, meetings, parent communications.”

Andrew Phillips, the principal at Brandon Fletcher Intermediate in Ortonville, Michigan said, “I want to know what he or she did to go above and beyond. Did a candidate do the optional stuff, like help coach, or participate in an optional book study, or tutor kids? I want to hire someone who will come to after-school activities without me having to beg, who will do optional learning to better themselves and our students.”

Even the paper can help. One principal said, “The use of colored resume (parchment) paper always stands out to me that the candidate took the extra time to print their documents on something other than the traditional white copy paper that happened to be in the printer.”

The Interview

If your resume does what it’s supposed to do, you’ll be called in for an interview. In addition to obvious things like looking professional, not chewing gum, keeping your phone in your car, and smiling, there are a few things you can do to increase the odds you’ll get called back for a second interview or even offered the job.

job

It’s About Your Attitude

“Show me that you are interested in the interview,” said one principal, but don’t, as one former Superintendent said, “be a basket case.” Smile, be enthusiastic, be happy to be there (even if anxiety is eating away at your stomach) and sell yourself. It’s about attitude as much as knowledge. One principal uses the “cup of coffee test.” Would they want to have coffee with you? They have to be able to see themselves working with you for many years.

Be confident, but not arrogant. One teacher who has served on multiple interview committees said, “There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance. If your attitude comes off as you “know everything” you may be a turn off to teammates and difficult to coach if the need arises. Ultimately, nobody likes a “know it all.”

Be Specific

I’ve served on five interview committees over the years, both for teacher and principal jobs, and the one thing that kills candidates is a lack of specificity in their answers. The administrators I heard from echoed this. They said:

“I want to see how the applicant has applied the necessary skills in the real world with meaningful examples. I just don’t want to see one’s goals or skills. I want to see how they can demonstrate those skills.”

“Talk specifically about the way you operate math and literacy in your classroom. It’s great to make all the kids feel like your classroom is a home, but everyone says that. Not everyone can talk about running a true math workshop or guided reading groups.”

“Talk about what you will do, not what you did while student teaching. Too often, candidates talk about what their master teacher did and how they witnessed that. It leaves the impression that they don’t have any ingrained beliefs or thoughts independent of that teacher.”

Be Honest

Some knowledge of the district is good — it shows you want the job badly enough to do some research — but you’re not expected to know everything, so admit when you don’t. Listen carefully to the questions, and answer directly. If you are not sure about an answer, be honest. Don’t try to make an answer up just because you think you should. Say, “I really can’t address that question, but I’d be glad to learn about it immediately.”

Ask Questions

One principal explained that, “Asking intelligent questions shows reflection on the part of the candidate.”

Many administrators would prefer the interview to be a two-way conversation, so don’t be afraid to ask clarifying questions if you’re unsure of what the interviewer is asking. You can also separate yourself from the competition by asking questions that serve a dual purpose by satisfying your authentic curiosity about aspects of the job as well as communicating your willingness to go the extra mile for students. Questions about what extra-curricular opportunities exist for new teachers, or whether or not the school has after-school clubs run by teachers are always impressive.

I hope this helped. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to email me at [email protected]

Thank you to the current and former administrators who shared their thoughts for this article.

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Proof Your Teacher Evaluation is Meaningless


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It’s bad enough that part of teachers’ evaluations are based on student growth. This growth, usually based on just a few poorly designed assessments and for which students are not personally held accountable, can be affected by a number of factors completely outside the control of the teacher, such as student attendance, motivation, technical issues, and whether or not a kid remembered his glasses or whether or not mom remembered his medication on the critical day.

But even more egregious is that a large percentage of a teacher’s evaluation comes from administrator observations.

A principal is given a huge checklist of “best practices,” and is supposed to assess the teacher in real-time on each of them. They might do this a couple of times each year. Of the more than 1,000 hours that teachers do their jobs in a year, their evaluation may rest on just 80 minutes of observed teaching. In other words, a teacher’s entire year is judged on about one-tenth of one percent of her efforts.

That’s not the worst of it. Because in the case of observations, it’s not what districts are doing that proves teacher evaluations are meaningless. It’s what districts are not doing.

What Districts Won’t and Never Will Do

See if you can imagine your district doing the following:

On a day in May, say a week or two before you are to receive your end-of-year evaluation, the entire staff is invited to a one-hour professional development session. The topic is “Why Your Teacher Evaluation is Credible.” You all gather inside the high school auditorium. A huge screen is hung over the stage. In the front row sits every administrator the district employs.

The Superintendent walks to the microphone and says, “Valued educators, we know that many teachers feel stress over their evaluations. Today, we are going to alleviate some of that stress. We want you to know that the tool we use to evaluate you produces consistent results, no matter who uses it.

To prove it to you, we are all going to watch a 40-minute video of a lesson. In this case, you’ll be seeing a sixth grade social studies class. Each administrator will complete an observation–just like they do for all of you–while they watch the video. When the lesson ends, I will collect each principal’s observation and I will show them to you. That way, you will see that no matter who uses the tool it produces very similar results. You’ll know that your teacher evaluation is a true reflection of your abilities as an educator, and not the subjective result of an unproven process that encourages you to employ different strategies based solely on the whims and preferences of the person who happens to be your supervisor this year.”

At which point the video starts and the principals start tapping things on their iPads.

The fact that none of the above happens in any district I know of (and never will) tells teachers everything they need to know about the objectivity of the observations they’re forced to endure and are asked to believe in.

If you have a system that relies on the opinions and values of the individuals doing the scoring then you have a system that can’t be trusted.

Treat Teachers Like Gymnasts

Gymnastics recognizes this. Gymnastics, like teaching, is more art than science. Two people watching the same routine can honestly disagree about which was better. That’s why gymnasts are scored by multiple judges who have deep knowledge of the sport and receive rigorous training on how to evaluate routines. They’re given strict guidelines and add points for required elements and difficulty, while deducting for execution and artistry.*

And still they don’t agree. That’s why the high and low scores are thrown out and the rest are averaged. FIG recognizes that relying on the judgment of one person ruins the credibility of their sport. No viewer would trust the results of a gymnastics competition that was judged by a single person. The gymnasts wouldn’t trust those results, either.

Neither should teachers. It says something that we care more about getting it right for gymnasts than for teachers. It says something that school districts will never allow its teachers to see how subjective their administrators’ observations truly are. It says something that American teachers’ jobs are in the hands of one judge, who bases his or her evaluation on one-tenth of one percent of a teachers’ working hours.

One judge.

Better hope it’s not the Russian.**

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* I simplified Olympic gymnastics’ scoring for ease of reading.

** I’ve got nothing against Russians, except that they cheat in the Olympics.

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I wrote more about teacher evaluations here:

Why You Shouldn’t Care About Your Teacher Evaluation

 

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6 Ways to Prepare for Next Year Before Students Leave

Because summer vacation should actually feel like a vacation, add these six items to your end-of-the-year to-do list and check them off before students leave. Getting them done will make your summer more enjoyable, and they’ll make the transition to a new year in the fall less stressful.

Get Rid of Stuff

Things accumulate. My stuff tends to pile up in three places: my teacher cabinet, my closet, and my filing cabinets. The hustle and bustle of our busy days means things don’t always get put where they belong. After a materials-intensive project, we might shove things into the closet just to get them out of sight. Worthless worksheets get dropped back into a file folder instead of in the trash where they belong. Dried out highlighters take up residence in our cabinets.

There are three reasons to get rid of stuff while students are still around. First, it cuts down on waste. Students will take just about anything home. A teacher’s detritus in the hands of a student can become a creative craft project. Let them have the empty stapler boxes and orphaned marker caps. Second, students are a source of free labor. Give them the tub of markers and have them test and throw out the duds. You’ll save time and they’ll enjoy doing it. Third, they’re done listening to you anyway. This will give them something productive to do.

Organize Your Files

I have Google Classroom and most of the documents I create throughout the year end up in a big mess. I make sure to find time during the last two weeks to open unnamed files and see if they’re worth keeping (and naming). I put every worthy file into a relevantly-named folder. This helps me find things much quicker next year when the search function fails because I named the file something stupid.

Go through the filing cabinets, too. My rule is simple. If I haven’t used it in two years, it goes in the trash. I’ve gotten rid of entire cabinets with this rule. Again, have students assist. I have file folders with multiple copies of worksheets. The extras are taking up space. Have students pull the extra papers and put them in a box. That becomes scratch paper for next year, while your files stay nice and slim and easy to flip through.

Organize the Classroom Library

I used to come in a week before school started to organize my classroom library. Now I have my students do it before they leave. Assign five or six responsible students to return books to their proper baskets. Have them put books they’re not sure about on a back table. Those will be the only ones you have to organize. If labels have torn, students can make new ones. In fact, your classroom library might be ready for a total makeover. Pass out blank index cards, a tub of markers, some glitter glue, stickers, and whatever else you have around and let students design and affix the new labels.

Make Copies for Next Year

When’s the worst time to use the copy machine? When everyone else is using it. Most teachers don’t get organized for the start of next year until just before the start of next year. By getting a jump on the competition, you’ll save yourself the frustration of waiting for Joyce to figure out how to run a collated set of “Getting to Know You” worksheets. Since copy machines are often in less demand at the end of the year due to less student work and more teachers getting the hell of there because it’s gorgeous outside, it’s the perfect time to make copies for the beginning of next year.

I try to get two sets of copies done before I leave for the summer. I always want my open house packet finished. My district is notorious for running computer updates and having technical problems the week before school starts and that usually messes with the printing and copying capabilities. Having my open house handouts done and in a filing cabinet eases my peace of mind. I also copy anything I’ll need during the first week of school. That way, while other teachers are swearing at a paper jam and wasting their planning time waiting for their colleagues, I can focus on other things (and during the first week, there are a lot of other things).

Survey your students

Before students leave, you should survey them and get their honest opinions about your class. Information from surveys almost always makes me question my practice. For example, I learned that this year’s students really liked being able to work with partners. I also learned they liked reading or listening to e-books much more than traditional books. Their favorite activities were ones where they got to create something, even something as simple as a slideshow for their vocabulary words. As a result, I’m thinking of ways to incorporate more partner work next year and brainstorming procedures to teach to make that work productive. I’m also curious to see what research says about the effectiveness of listening to e-books. I’ll also want to find more ways for students to make things.

Do a Procedures Audit

Procedures will make or break you. They’re what separates a well-run classroom from a zoo. List every procedure that happens in your class, whether you wanted it to or not. This can be hard to do because it makes you take an honest look about what really goes on in your classroom. If students leave their seats when they finish their work, write that down. If some students continually come up to you or blurt your name across the room when they need your help, record that. Those are procedures, whether you wanted them to be or not.

 

Once you have your list, assess each procedure. I type mine up and then color code them. Procedures that worked the way I wanted them to are turned blue. I’ll be teaching them just like I did this year. Procedures that are in place but could be better I turn yellow. That’s usually an indication that the procedure wasn’t modeled, practiced, or enforced well enough. Procedures that drive me nuts become red. These are usually the result of not teaching the procedure in the first place. For next year, I’ll find time during the first two weeks to model how I want it done.

The benefit of doing this audit while you still have this year’s students is you can ask them why a procedure didn’t work. I teach in a portable, so we don’t have lockers. We have hooks on one wall. My procedure for this year was that students who entered the classroom first had to put their backpacks on the back hooks, while later students would use the front hooks. But students wouldn’t do it no matter how many times I modeled and stressed its importance. Every day I ended up with backpacks on the front hooks and on the floor. Nobody used the back hooks. It wasn’t until I asked that I found out why. No one wanted the back hooks because they couldn’t access their backpacks during the day. If they needed gloves at recess, the front hook backpacks were in the way. If they forgot their library book and had to get it, they had to duck under other backpacks, wiggle their way behind them, and then try to get their backpack open. To them, it made more sense to leave their backpacks on the floor where they had easy access to them.

Doing the procedures audit at the end of the year also means you’ll be more likely to remember what happened in your room and assess the procedures honestly. Once summer starts we tend to forget how annoying it was that Jill walked across the room to personally tell us every time she needed a Kleenex.

Get it done now. Enlist students’ help. Then enjoy your summer and hit the ground running when you return in the fall.

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Thanks for reading. Please take the time to leave any end-of-the-year tips in the comments or on Facebook. If you’d like more articles sent to your inbox, you can subscribe here. It’s free!

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