What Teachers Can Learn From Michael Phelps

A little more than nine years ago, Michael Phelps stood ready to break his own world record in the 200m Butterfly Final at the Beijing Olympics. He had no idea what was about to happen to him. That didn’t stop him from being prepared for it.

Already the winner of nine Olympic gold medals, Phelps was the heavy favorite to win his tenth when he hit the water in his strongest event. He struggled early, but had pulled away by the halfway point. As he started his final lap, the only drama that remained was whether Phelps would set a new world record. He reached for the wall and touched just ahead of the superimposed green line that represented the record for television viewers. Phelps turned to the board, and seeing his time, offered no smile. Obviously annoyed, he tossed his cap and goggles and began wiping at his eyes. The viewers had no way of knowing that Phelps had swum the final 75 meters with water-filled goggles.

But you couldn’t exactly call it swimming blind. Phelps had already seen the race, more than once, in his head the night before.

Phelps first started visualizing his swims when he was 12 years old. Lying in bed at night, he would relax each part of his body until he achieved a meditative state. Then, he followed his coach’s instruction to “play the tape.” The tape was detailed and shot from many angles. Phelps watched himself swim the entire race, every stroke, from both his own perspective and from the vantage point of those in the stands. He visualized the best and worst-case scenarios, deciding ahead of time what he would do if his suit ripped or his goggles failed. It was this rigorous nightly routine to which Phelps gave credit for the new world record he set that day in Beijing, saying, “If I didn’t prepare for everything that happens, when my goggles started filling up I’d have probably flipped out.”

As Good As the Real Thing?

The powers of visualization have been known for a long time. In 1967, Australian psychologist Alan Richardson gathered a group of students together in a gym and had each shoot 100 foul shots. He then split them into three groups. Group A practiced free throws for 20 minutes, five days a week, for four weeks. Group B was told to do nothing basketball related. Group C wasn’t allowed to touch a ball, but were instead guided by a professional in visualizing foul shots for the same duration as those in Group A. After four weeks, the students all shot another 100 free throws. Group A, those who had practiced, improved by 24%. Group B stayed the same. And Group C, the students who hadn’t laid hands on a basketball in four weeks and only shot free throws in the minds, improved by 23%.

Visualization in the Classroom

Teachers can also benefit from visualization.

Perhaps the best use of visualization is seeing yourself respond to the predictable conflicts  you have in your classroom. Take a moment before school to think about what’s likely to set you off. If you can’t abide blurting, picture a student continually disrupting your lesson with ludicrous remarks that turn your class into a circus. If defiance is a problem, visualize yourself handling the defiant student with calm confidence and cool composure.

To get the best results, do as Phelps did. See yourself handling the situation from both a first- and third-person perspective.  Imagine as much of the environment as you can. Richardson wrote that the most effective visualizers include multiple senses. So see yourself responding to the problem behavior, but also feel yourself gaining control over your emotions. Picture yourself calmly approaching the offending student, and also hear yourself speaking in a controlled voice. Make the scene in your head as vivid as you can.

A Gift For Your Students

Teach the technique to your students, too. When I introduced my problem-of-the-day routine last week, I taught it and modeled it. But before I asked my students to demonstrate, I had them close their eyes and picture themselves executing each step of the routine as I described it. Only after they’d visualized themselves performing the procedure did I have them practice. You can use this to teach any routine in your classroom, from when and how to sharpen pencils to how to respond during an emergency drill. You might also have students take a minute to visualize themselves following the directions you just gave before they do it for real.

Visualization is a technique that works and one teachers should add to their bag of tricks. Anyone can do it. It takes no special training. It doesn’t cost a thing. And it can be done in a just a few minutes. Give it a try and let me know how it goes.

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Sources:

The Telegraph

Day in the Life: Michael Phelps

The Expectation of Free Work

free work

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I have a neighbor who’s a math teacher. He’s also the owner of a landscaping business. I figured the guy must really love taking care of people’s lawns to do it after teaching all day and on the weekends. Lawn care must be his passion to sacrifice like that. His calling in life, even. So I phoned him and asked if he could mow my grass once a week. He said sure. Then he quoted me a price. “Oh, you misunderstand, I’m not going to pay you,” I explained. “I figured, since you obviously love it so much, you’d just do it for free.”

My daughter’s pediatrician’s office left a message on my voicemail the other day. She was due for a checkup. I scanned my calendar to find a convenient time to take her in. I had to work all week, so after five or over the weekend looked good. I told them that when I called. They said they closed at five and weren’t open on weekends. I waited. “We can get you in at 11:00 am on Thursday,” the lady said. “I’ll be at work then”, I told her. “Listen, I can get there by quarter after five. We’ll just meet with the doctor then.” She didn’t seem to understand. I think I’m going to change doctors. This one’s obviously not very dedicated. Doesn’t she know she’s supposed to be there for the kids?

My mom had to stay overnight at the hospital a couple months back following a surgery and she had this great nurse. Rachel was kind, patient, funny, and explained everything she was doing to everyone in the room. She was very attentive. Mom loved her. But then, around 8 o’clock, a new nurse popped in. “What happened to Rachel?” mom asked. “Oh, her shift ended at eight.” We couldn’t understand. Rachel seemed so dedicated. She obviously loved her patients. How come she wasn’t doing everything she could for them?

I was in a golf tournament last summer to raise money for the local school’s athletic program. After our round, we were served an excellent dinner catered by a local restaurant. They had a number of staff there. There were a few waitresses going around refilling drinks, a couple of others tending to the buffet line, and one of those meat carving guys. I was really impressed. As he was slicing off a slab of prime rib for me, I told him, “Wow, this is really great of all you guys to give up your Saturday to do this. Thanks for helping out the kids of our community.” He smiled and said thank you. But I learned later that he was paid to be there. Here I thought he was carving that meat out of the goodness of his heart.

When we expect people to work for free, to bend over backwards to meet our needs, or even to donate their time in the interest of a worthy cause, it makes us, not them, look bad. It’s insulting to suggest others work for free. It shows exactly how much we value their time, their work, and their lives outside of work.

If teachers choose to donate their labor that’s their business, but they should never be asked or expected to.

Lawyers charge, doctors keep office hours, cops get paid overtime. Taking advantage of a teacher’s passion, dedication, generosity, or sense of obligation is wrong.

If a committee is important enough to create, then it’s important enough to pay teachers to be on it. If meeting with parents is a necessary part of the job, then those meetings should take place during paid hours. If teacher attendance at an after-school event is critical for the success of the night, then pay teachers to attend. The fact that teachers are “there for the kids” doesn’t excuse mistreatment, it makes it worse. If the work teachers do is so important, they should be paid to perform it.

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Dear Teachers, Please Go Home

go home

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There is one thing every teacher can and should do if they want to be less tired and use their time at work more efficiently:

Quit working shortly after the kids have left. Go home.

There are many reasons teachers stay late at school. Some feel a sense of pride at being one of the last to leave. They believe their late nights reflect greater dedication to their students. They enjoy their reputation as a hard worker. Others feel guilty when they leave quickly. They keep working out of a misguided sense of obligation. They worry what others will think of them, fearing they’ll be thought of as lazy and apathetic. Many teachers act as if they have no choice in the matter. They’re on committees, run after-school clubs, or just have so much to do that they have to stay after work to get it done.

No matter the reason, all believe that staying late after school makes them a better teacher. But they are wrong.

Quitting, for lack of a better word, is good.

Quit for Your Health

I was jogging the other day when my back started to hurt. I tried to keep going, but it got worse. So I quit running and my back instantly felt better.

Restaurants have gone crazy with the size of their nachos.

I mean, will you look at this thing?

I get full about halfway through. So I quit eating them.

Smart people quit when their body tells them to. No one feels bad about it. But when it comes to work, we suddenly start believing we’re Superman and that no matter how tired we are we can and should just keep going.

Teaching is a unique job. One of the reasons it’s so exhausting is that we have to be on all day. To do the job properly, you need to be well-rested. You need to be enthusiastic and observant. Going home will help.

No matter when I get home, I want to maximize the time I have for myself.  On nights when I’m home by five o’clock, I’ve got six hours to do whatever I want. That’s a nice balance. Ten hours for preparing for work, commuting, and working, six for my personal life, and eight hours of sleep. Because I value my personal time, any day I get home late leads to a late night and a lack of sleep.

Getting home earlier also means you can eat earlier. Your body will have longer to digest dinner before you go to bed, and eating early gives the food enough time to settle so you can exercise without discomfort.

Quit to Be a Better Teacher

A lot of teachers stay after school because they have work to do, but they’ve chosen the worst possible time to get it done. By the end of the day your willpower is exhausted. Willpower is limited, and once it’s gone only eating and sleep can restore it. Willpower is what you need to make yourself check papers, read essays, plan lessons, and respond tactfully to emails. A lack of willpower means your after-school efforts are going to be inefficient. You’ll be more easily distracted, more tempted to check Facebook or gossip with colleagues, and more likely to head to the lounge to eat whatever you can find because your body needs fuel.

Parkinson’s Law is also working against you. It states that work will expand to fill the available time. I wrote and published my first two books, The Teacher’s Guide to Weight Loss and Happy Teacher in two months each. I was able to do that because that’s how long I gave myself to complete them. Because of the topic of my next book, I planned an October release. I started working on it in May. The book is taking me longer because I gave myself more time to do it, so many days I don’t write much and on some days I don’t work on it at all (I write long blog posts like this one instead).

This is Parkinson’s Law at work, and it will strike you as you sit at your desk after school. Instead of working until you complete a certain amount of work, give yourself 30 minutes. You’ll be more focused, your work will be of better quality, you’ll cut out any distractions or cute but unnecessary extras, and you’ll get it finished. Give yourself less time, and you’ll get more done.

Quit to Be a Better Person

Psychologists discovered something they call the morning morality effect. Basically, you’re a better person in the morning. Your body needs glucose for pretty much everything, including willpower and decision-making. Since teachers expend a lot of willpower and make a ton of decisions, we burn through glucose pretty fast. When it runs out we’re tired, cranky, impatient, have stronger cravings for sweets and other junk food, and we experience stronger emotions. All of which lead to bad decisions. The morning morality effect explains why you’re more likely to ruin your diet at night than in the morning, and why people are more likely to commit immoral acts like lying, cheating, and stealing in the afternoon. School is not a place you want to be when you’re more likely to make bad decisions. Go home.

Quit Because Science Says To

Many teachers reading this will still stay after school because they believe it’s the only way to be effective at their jobs. They’ve fallen victim to the culture of overwork. So a fair question to ask is:  Do longer hours make you more productive?

The research is clear. More work doesn’t equal more output. In one study, managers couldn’t tell the difference between employees who worked 80-hour weeks and those who just pretended to (which actually sounds worse). Numerous studies have shown that overwork leads to stress that causes health issues, sleep deprivation, depression, heart disease, memory loss, and greater alcoholic intake. Researchers have also found that working too much impairs your abilities to communicate, make judgments, read others’ nonverbal language, and modulate your emotions.

Also, your cat will miss you.

So go home. Eat dinner. Hit the gym. Kiss your spouse. Watch Netflix. Play Uno with your kids. Leave work at work. Detach. Live your life. And when you’re tempted to choose more work over all those things, remember this Arianna Huffington quote:

“Have you noticed that when we die, our eulogies celebrate our lives very differently from the way society defines success?”

You can read more here: Stop Working More Than 40 Hours a Week.

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Related Content:

Why American Teachers Should Work Less

Stop Complaining About Your Teacher Salary If You’re Working for Free

Why Teachers Are So Tired

 

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Teacher Exam Prep – 3 Tips to Pass the First Time

 

 

 

A guest post by Scott Rozell, Director of 240Tutoring, Inc.

In 2015, the state of Florida reported that on average, thirty percent of first-time exam takers failed their certification test. For some tests, the fail rate was as high as 48 percent. Many of these scores were from veteran teachers and administrators who with years of experience, still struggled to reach a passing score.

Texas educators are facing similar struggles. According to a KXAN investigative report, in 2015 there were over 200 Central Texas educators who had failed their certification exams at least five times. This is a big problem since many states, including Texas, have now put limits on exam retakes. Retaking exams can be not only costly, but also life changing. For some teachers, being unable to pass an exam means that after years invested in education both college and career wise, they will have to give up their teaching dreams and pursue other lines of work.

With so much at stake, it is very important to pass your exam the first time and preparation is the key. Following the three prep tips below will greatly raise your chances of snagging the score you need on your upcoming exam.

1. Never “Wing it”

Just wing it. Life, eyeliner, everything. Everything except your teaching exam. Contrary to popular belief, most of the questions on professional exams aren’t common sense questions that can be gained from experience in the field. Trying to pass an exam without review is a big mistake.
For example, most of the K-6 elementary education general certification exams include questions about phonemes and diphthongs. Kindergarten and first grade teachers might breeze through these questions while teachers of upper grades who teach students to “read to learn”, not phonics, might be stumped.

Thankfully, most testing companies will provide students with a list of the focus areas/skills assessed on the test, as well as example questions. You can use this guide to plan out a study schedule and hone in on the most important information to review. Even if you can’t study all the concepts covered by the exam, some planned studying is better than none.

2. Considering Cramming? -Don’t

No preparation at all is the worst test prep mistake you can make, but cramming comes in a close second. For decades, research has shown that cramming simply doesn’t work. Although you might be able to recognize some of the information after a cram session, this type of studying won’t help you on a teacher exam. This is because most teacher prep exams don’t assess recall skills. Instead, they ask you to solve problems, explain a concept in your own words, or give examples of what you would do in a specific scenario or situation.

It will take more than an all-nighter to familiarize yourself with the many types of questions that will be included on your test and feel confident enough to answer higher-order questions. So instead of cramming, pace yourself! If you have three hours’ worth of studying to do, it is better to sit down for three separate one-hour sessions than to study for three hours straight. Taking breaks in between will help you commit the information to memory.

3. Use Study Materials

Because taking a teacher exam can be expensive, many test takers don’t want to spend extra money on test prep materials. But taking the test without going over useful materials beforehand greatly increases your chance of having to pay for the test again. Useful is a key word here, because all prep materials are not the same. Many test takers erroneously believe that they can research the material themselves using the test breakdown, but this is a time-consuming and error-prone method.

Professionally developed test preparation materials are worth the initial cost because they include not only content, but test questions that are crafted after the ones that will be on your exam. For example, the EC-12 Pedagogy and Professional responsibilities is a 100-question exam that covers four different domains and thirteen competencies. A comprehensive EC-12 study-guide makes studying much easier because it breaks down each section and provides practice questions for each skill.

No matter what test you’re planning to take, passing the first time is as easy as one, two, three. Prepare a study plan, schedule your study time, and get professional help, or at least a study guide.

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Author Bio
Scott Rozell is the Director of 240Tutoring, Inc. 240Tutoring.com is the premiere provider of teacher study guides and has helped over ten thousand teachers pass their certification exam and get into the classroom.Nationwide, teachers are failing their certification exams at alarming rates. That may sound ironic since helping children pass assessments is a big part of teaching. But having to retake a teacher certification test is more common than one might think.

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How to Make a Good First Impression On Your Students

The first day of school will soon be upon many teachers. We’ll spend the night before tossing and turning, our brains sparking with anticipation, excitement, and anxiety. We know how important it is to get the first day right. We’re setting a tone, establishing a culture, and sending messages with everything we say and do.  At the very least, we want to make a good impression on our students. They’re going to be spending more time with us than with their parents over the next ten months, and it’s important they like us enough to want to come back each day.

About a month ago, a teacher who had just been hired for her first job wrote me and asked what I do to make a good first impression on students. Here’s what I told her:

Dress Professionally

I always wear a tie on the first day, even if it’s 95 degrees and we’re going outside for an icebreaker. People judge others based on their appearances. We don’t have to like this fact to know that it’s true. Kids are people, and they are especially harsh and honest critics. Don’t look like a slob. If you want to be treated like a professional, dress like one. If you want authority (and you should), wear the uniform.

Know Your Students’ Names

When I was a kid I was a huge baseball fan. I knew stats, the value of almost every rookie card I owned, and the jersey numbers of every player on the Detroit Tigers. It’s easy to memorize stuff that’s important to you. Knowing your students names on the first day is important. To the extent possible, know your students’ names before they walk in on day one. Get hold of a yearbook, highlight the kids on your roster, and study their names and faces. You’ll be able to call on them by name that first day, and your continual use of their names will make it easier for classmates to learn them. It will also prevent you from needing to play that horrible name game that wastes time and makes students uncomfortable.

Note: If you’re looking for good icebreakers, check out this article from Cult of Pedagogy

Project Confidence and Authority

Confidence and authority come from experience, but lacking that, fake it if you must. Preparation will give you confidence and confidence lends you authority, so over-prepare. Speak assertively, even if you don’t feel assertive. Leave no doubt that you believe 100 percent in what you’re saying, even if you suspect you might be full of shit. Students want to feel like they’re being led by someone who knows what they’re doing. They also want to feel safe, and having a confident, assertive teacher that sets limits sends the message that their learning will be protected.

Smile

Part of the confidence you display can be in how relaxed you are in front of your students. Smiling breaks down barriers and conveys the message that you’re comfortable and nothing will ruffle your feathers. Smiling makes people more likable. It also makes you seem more intelligent. And you can be assertive without being a grump. When a kid asks you if they’re allowed to [fill-in-the-blank], tell them assertively, “Nope.” Then smile.

Use Your Hands When You Speak

Research shows that people like speakers who use their hands. They find them more charismatic. A study of TED Talks found a correlation between the number of hand gestures and the number of views. A cardinal sin is putting your hands in your pockets. Even if you don’t gesture, keep your hands visible. It makes you seem more open and approachable.

Make Eye Contact

A problem I had early in my career was not looking at my students. I’d look over them, but not actually at them. Good speakers make a personal connection to listeners by looking them in the eyes as they talk. Try to make eye contact for three seconds with a student before moving on to another one. Looking at your students sends two important messages:

  1. You’re talking for their benefit, not just to hear yourself.
  2. You’re “with it.” Students will realize you’ll notice if they’re not paying attention.

Show Vulnerability

One way to quickly connect with others is to share something personal. Showing vulnerability makes you authentic. You’ll immediately humanize yourself. Nobody likes people who act like they’re perfect. Be willing to tell your students something that embarrasses you a little. You might start by telling them how nervous you are. Since they are nervous too, this will help them relate to you and begin to erode walls that exist between teachers and students.

What else do you do to establish rapport, build relationships, and make a great first impression on your students? Let us know in the comments or on Facebook.

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Other First Day Advice:

3 Common First Day Mistakes from Smart Classroom Management

Overcoming the Back-to-School Teacher Jitters… by Angela Watson

Classroom Management: 4 Keys to Starting the Year Off Right from Cult of Pedagogy with a heavy assist from Michael Linsin