4 Tricks to Help Struggling Students

By Meghan Belnap

Whether you are a teacher, a parent, or a tutor, it is difficult to watch a student struggle to grasp the same concepts as other children. Each child learns differently depending on his or her personality. Reaching these kids means developing new tactics for learning. Here are four ways parents and educators can address learning complications. 

Use hands-on projects to supplement learning

Some children need to interact physically with new concepts. Taking time to work on a science project that teaches gravity, or using real-world objects during math lessons can help. History maps, graphs, videos, and other items can help these students connect the terminology in the brain. 

Provide a quiet space to learn where there are fewer distractions

Some children just need a quieter space to work. Providing a desk or table away from the main area can be helpful. The key is to make sure these students do not feel alienated from the rest of the class. Giving the child a time limit or allowing a few students to take part in the side activity may help. 

Suggest tutoring sessions for one-on-one activities

Many children need specific guidance to overcome learning problems. Regular visits with a tutor can give a child a platform to ask questions. Some children are shy in front of others, and a smaller group setting can help. Tutors can determine the type of learning personality for each child and develop a plan to give these children the best chance for success. High performance tutoring determines the child’s strengths and weaknesses allowing them to learn at their pace. 

Offer recap homework

Sometimes, all a child needs to grasp a difficult concept is a little reiteration. Giving homework that goes over the primary lessons for the day can help hard lessons stick. Children need regular exposure to the same lessons to help them learn them for life. For example, a difficult math concept like factoring can take more than one day or lesson to grasp. For many students, a week-long course is necessary to get all the fine points of this lesson down pat. Giving homework that covers the major concepts each day is important for memory retention. 

Helping your students do better in class takes a little extra work. The effort is usually well-rewarded with better grades, a more positive attitude, and improved performance in class. Teachers can also point out other ways to help students get involved in the class.

How a Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum Ruined Teaching

I sat in a meeting recently where an administrator reiterated the importance of having a “guaranteed and viable curriculum.” He shared this quote:

It’s one of those things teachers have heard a thousand times, and we all just nod our heads and say to ourselves that of course schools should know what students ought to learn and kids growing up in Minnesota should know some of the same, big, basic things as kids in Georgia. It’s uncontroversial to say that kids will learn more when they’re given the time and opportunity to do so.

But a question that isn’t asked is how our desire to provide students with a guaranteed and viable curriculum affects teachers, and whether or not we should care.

First, let’s define some terms. Kathleen Dempsey at McREL writes:

A “guaranteed’ curriculum is often defined as a mechanism through which all students have an equal opportunity (time and access) to learn rigorous content. This requires a school-wide (or district-wide) agreement and common understanding of the essential content that all students need to know, understand, and be able to do.

So far, so good. But the devil is in the implementation. Dempsey continues:

The word “all’ needs emphasis; a guaranteed curriculum promotes equity, giving all children equal opportunity to learn essential content, and to provide this opportunity, curricular materials and instructional approaches must be grounded in research, implemented with fidelity, and must include vertical as well as horizontal alignment.

Ah, there’s that damn word, fidelity. As a teacher, fidelity means my district leaders trust a program more than they trust me, and it means I should suppress whatever creative instincts I might have and just open the program they’ve purchased and teach the way it says to.

Dempsey adds:

However, schools (through teachers) implement the curriculum, and, if implementation varies significantly from teacher to teacher, then student outcomes will also likely vary significantly from classroom to classroom.

Translation: If we could just get all teachers to teach the same stuff in exactly the same ways, then all kids would learn the same things at the same level. And if you believe that, well, there’s this bridge I know of…

Finally, Dempsey warns us about the dangers of teachers having choices:

These days, teachers have access to a variety of curriculum resources, such as open educational resources, playlists, digital textbooks, and teacher-developed curriculum. Having access to options is a good thing, but having many choices does not ensure all choices are well aligned to the school’s GVC.

Left unsaid: We probably shouldn’t allow teachers to decide what to use because they might choose unaligned resources. The logical solution then is for district leaders to choose so every teacher uses the same stuff, which allows the district to claim they have a guaranteed curriculum.

None of this sounds great from the perspective of a teacher. We’re going to be told what to teach. Because we can’t be trusted, we’re going to be told what to use to teach those things. Dempsey, no dummy, anticipates teachers’ objections:

Does this mean that a GVC is a scripted, rigid curriculum? No! Does this mean that students and teachers are confined to a lockstep process of teaching and learning? Absolutely not! Teachers must have the flexibility to meet student needs through different methods of content delivery, helping students dive deeper into their passions.

Which is a load of bull.

In practice, GVC all too often does mean a scripted, rigid curriculum. In fact, guaranteeing a curriculum all but demands a scripted, rigid curriculum. If your primary goal is for all students to have the opportunity to learn the same things, then you’re going to control to the greatest extent possible how instruction is delivered. You’re going to choose the curriculum teachers are to use and you’re going to demand they teach it with fidelity. You are going to confine your teachers to a lockstep process of teaching. And you most certainly will not encourage flexibility because as soon as teachers start deviating from your chosen curriculum, you open the door to the very thing you were trying to avoid in the first place, different teachers doing different things. The idea that teachers who work in a district that stresses a GVC are going to “help students dive deeper into their passions” is ludicrous unless those passions happen to align with the guaranteed curriculum.

Should We Care?

We know that students learn more by having guaranteed and viable curriculums in their schools, at least theoretically. But what do we lose? We pretend, as we so often do in education, that there are no trade-offs. We should at least ask if what we gain is worth more than what we lose. And what we lose is teachers’ motivation for the job, which is no small thing.

Make no mistake, guaranteed and viable curriculums have led to the standardization of classrooms. That is, in fact, their aim. While in a perfect world, our guarantees would be limited and teachers would retain autonomy around the delivery of the content, in the real world, school districts, in their desire for guaranteed curriculums, have stripped away teacher autonomy. They’ve taken teacher creativity out of the classroom, and by doing so, they’ve destroyed teachers’ motivation.

No teacher signed up to be a worker drone. When the curriculum tells them, “Teach this stuff,” and their employers tell them, “Teach it just like this,” then it’s small wonder lots and lots of teachers show up to school with declining enthusiasm for the work.

Once upon a time, teachers were more restauranteurs than delivery drivers. At the very least, they were chefs. Classrooms, like pizza parlors, were different, not just in how the content was delivered, but sometimes in the content itself. Teachers would invest more time, energy, and passion into topics they found interesting. I still remember a fair amount about the Alaskan dogsled race, the Itidarod, because I had a fifth-grade teacher who created a multidisciplinary unit on it. I doubt much of it was aligned to the standards.

Guaranteed and viable curriculums ruined that. Common Core amplified the effect because now we’ve got thousands of teachers across the country teaching the same exact stuff from a handful of uninspiring programs. The sheer number of standards guarantees that teachers will never have time to go off script and indulge their passions or follow their students down a bird walk, or six.

School leaders took it a step further when they demanded fidelity to the standards-aligned programs their boards adopted in their quest to offer a guaranteed curriculum. They didn’t want to leave their districts’ reputations in the hands of teachers! Better to trust the so-called research-based programs. At least then, when things fell apart, they could blame some faceless publishing company, pick a new program by a different faceless publishing company, explain away their error by uttering some tripe like, “When we know better, we do better,” make new promises, and start the cycle over again.

In the meantime, teachers, no longer trusted to decide what or how to teach, stripped of their autonomy and bereft of motivation, keep walking out the door. Some of them stay away for good. Others return week after week, serving up uninspired instruction that they have no say in.

A guaranteed and viable curriculum guarantees that students will have a better chance of passing a standards-aligned test, but it also guarantees that teachers will continue to be disillusioned with what has become of their job.

6 Ways for Teachers to Earn Additional Money

The following is a guest post by Peter Hill, a famous writer that can involve in every sphere and professionally write about any topic. He has been working in California SMM agency as a journalist for more than 6 years. Contact him on Google+, Facebook and Twitter.

On average, teachers work 54 hours per week. They spend 43 hours at school, but they usually have 11 more hours of work to do at home. This job brings administrative responsibilities that are being covered outside working hours.

But there’s a problem: these extra hours of work are not being paid. In April 2018, thousands of U.S. teachers protested, demanding higher wages for themselves and more resources for the students. They are not addressing that overtime work because it’s hard to get it measured, but it’s no wonder why they require fair payment. The average annual salary for teachers in the U.S. is $45,890. The median wage for all U.S. workers is $44,564, but we’re talking about a 40-hour workweek in that case.

The conclusion is clear: teachers are not making enough money.

But they absolutely love what they do. So instead of quitting their jobs, they could use some tips on how to earn additional money while they keep doing what they love. For example, some teachers start blogs to offer their best essay tips, and eventually start generating income that way. Others work as guest bloggers for an academic essay writing service.

So where will you start? We’ll list 6 ways for teachers to make extra income without investing too much time in those activities.

  • Sell Your Lesson Plans

Teachers are so busy that they would gladly get part of their work done by someone else. And if you already have great lesson plans, teachers will be willing to pay for them. How can you make this happen? Easy: register at TeachersPayTeachers.com and start selling your original educational resources.

  • Join a Team of Professional Essay Writers

Did you know you could monetize your skills as a college essay writer, too? Of course you don’t support your students when they want to hire professional essay writers and present the work as their own. But that’s not what really happens on these platforms. When you become part of the best writing service, you’ll connect with students who really struggle with academic writing.

You’ll act as their tutor, providing tips as you help them complete the paper. It’s exactly what you do for your students. But when you work for a paper writing service, you’ll be able to expand your reach and earn actual money.

Don’t underestimate this industry; it has a lot to offer.

  • Sell Photos Online

This tip works only for teachers with great photography skills and decent equipment. If you belong to that category, you can start earning passive income if you start selling your photos online. Here are few of the platforms you can explore:

  • Start Your Own Blog

You have lots of knowledge and experience to share. Your personal blog doesn’t have to be about teaching or education. That’s a great niche, but it’s okay to focus on something else if you don’t want your entire life to be related to it. You can start a blog about parenting, beauty, fitness, cars, history, or whatever else you’re really interested in.

A successful blog can be another great source of passive income. It will require a lot of work for you to make it good and popular. But, when you choose a niche you’re passionate about, you won’t feel like working when blogging. It will be a relaxing activity for you.

  • Get a Summer Job

You get a couple of months off in summer, right? You don’t have any teaching obligations during that period, so it’s the perfect opportunity for you to get a part-time job. You can work as an insurance agent, for example. You can also start freelancing. Platforms like Freelancer offer tons of opportunities for people with different skills.

Tutoring can also be a great summer job. If there are students in your area who could use extra classes during the summer, they can turn to you.

  • Pursue a Graduate Degree

If you want to start making more money as a teacher, you should encourage yourself to pursue your MA degree. Teaching is a career that offers opportunities for progress. You shouldn’t neglect them. If you gain a graduate degree, you’ll be able to teach at higher grades or move into administration.

Staff members, principals, and superintendents earn higher salaries than the average teacher. And if you earn a PhD and become a college professor, you can hit the $100K.

Don’t be overwhelmed by that goal. Believe in yourself! When you work hard to make progress in this career, it will happen.

It’s Okay to Have Bigger Goals!

Some people judge teachers for not being happy with the average salary. They say that you should teach because you love teaching; not because you want to earn money. They are very, very wrong! You love teaching, so that’s exactly why you want to make more money. You love this profession and in order to do it, you have to be able to make ends meet.

There’s nothing wrong with your aspirations. Fortunately, you have options.   

Why Schools Still Need Libraries

A guest post by Frankie Wallace

For kids, today, living in the digital age might seem like a lot of fun with the endless learning opportunities technology provides them with. Devices like cell phones, tablets, laptops and desktop computers all give students the ability to access an endless amount of information on the web. Even though the digital age gives students the ability to learn new things, kids are still missing out on a wide range of sources of learning, social interactions, physical activities, and most importantly, emotional intelligence.

Since technology has taken over, the question of whether or not libraries are dying in the world — a common misconception — has been a hot topic. While technology is an amazing tool to have, even the best devices are afflicted with fake news, spam, and other dangers of online life.

It’s true: School libraries aren’t what they use to be. But they still help provide education to students about what’s going on and what’s worth reading and knowing. In theory, libraries help bridge the digital divide by providing students with the same access to different books and databases. Despite what students might hear about the death of print and the lack of interest in libraries, they’re still important. Here’s how:

Libraries Get Students College and Career Ready: K-12 students today will one day compete for future jobs in our growing global economy. The most interesting part, however, is that most of the jobs students will one day compete for haven’t even been conceived of yet. In order for students to have a fighting chance in the job market, they’ll need to be good readers and lifelong learners as well. They’ll need to gather, analyze, evaluate, and find ways to use new information to their advantage, which can be taught to students through the use of school libraries.

School librarians can use set standards and educational tools to help students learn these valuable lessons. They can also design programs to educate students on the importance of growth, research, and proper use of resources. Libraries located on K-12 campuses can also provide students with critical information about colleges, universities, and career opportunities. For instance, most librarians are familiar with their school’s layout and can find useful information to help students locate what they’re interested in and help them determine what career might be best for them.

Helps Students Become Lifelong Learners: Picture a place where all students feel the desire to learn and feel welcome when they come to school. Well, that place actually exists — it’s in the school library. For most instructors, trying to teach students how to improve their working memory can be a difficult process, especially if students aren’t cooperating.

Luckily, school libraries can help by providing students with more than just books, computers, and internet access. They also provide students with safety, security, and opportunities to think, create, explore, and grow to new heights. This means that libraries, like classrooms, can turn out to be students’ favorite spot and expose them to an endless amount of knowledge. In order for this to happen, students need to be willing to practice.

What do students need to be willing to practice? The fundamentals of learning — things like reading and writing. Simply put: Reading is the window to the world. Students who want to improve their education can benefit from reading about communities like the ones they live in or read about people like them. They can even seek information about people who aren’t like them, exposing them to new perspectives.

For some educators, the hard part is motivating students to read. Social media could be to blame for children not wanting to read books as much as they used to. Even though social media use among teens is a controversial issue, it’s being used in positive ways by student athletes and coaches in schools. Students, for example, can write collaboratively and get feedback from their classmates just as fast. In other words, if used correctly, social media platforms can be used to help improve students knowledge rather than minimize it. This means that the media can be a useful reading source for students and help them learn the core values needed to improve their reading and understanding.

Increases Student Success: According to the American Library Association, research suggests that school library programs staffed with qualified faculty members have a positive impact on students’ academic success. This research shows education officials that librarians can, in fact, help students do better academically. English as a Second Language students can perhaps benefit the most, since books and other resources can be used for them to get familiar with the American English language.

That being said, qualified school librarians can impact their schools in a number of ways that normally includes the following:

  • They’re essential partners for teachers and can help students discover topics that interest them.
  • They can help faculty members find current trends and resources to bring to their classrooms.
  • Librarians can provide students with the information needed to improve their reading, writing, and academic growth as well.

Districts of all sizes have reached a crisis point. In cities like Los Angeles, for example, over 600 elementary and middle schools are currently without librarians. To make matters worse, budget cuts are making it even more difficult to hire qualified faculty members to help students improve their skills and have a chance to land jobs.

Libraries have always played an essential role in our society, especially when it comes to preserving important information. Because of this, it’s our duty as educators, leaders, and parents to teach children the value of knowledge. What better place is there to start than the library?

5 Tips to Boost Your Child’s Working Memory

A guest post by Danish Wadhwa

Does your kid face any difficulty remembering a topic while he is doing something else?

For example, if he is helping you make soup and suddenly the doorbell rings, does he forget to go back and stir the soup? There is no problem if he forgets sometimes, but if these incidences happen on a daily basis, then he might have a working memory problem.

The term ”working memory” is utilized conversely with short-term memory. In other words the manipulation of information which the short-term memory stores is called working memory. It is a skill that is used by kids to solve mathematical problems or with the tasks following multi-step directions.

Here are the five tips to boost your child’s working memory”

Encourage active reading

Have you ever wondered why sticky notes and highlighters are so important?

Well, one of the reasons is that highlighting, underlining the text, or writing brief notes will help your kid keep relevant information in his mind long enough to answer questions about it. In addition to this, asking questions aloud about the reading material can benefit your kid. Active reading helps improve long-term memory.

Make it multisensory

To help your kid with both his working memory as well as long-term memory, processing the information in as many ways as possible is the key. Try to write down each and every task so your kid can have a look at it. You can also help your kid with tasks that are needed to be completed by tossing a ball back and forth while discussing. Implementing these multisensory strategies can help your kid keep information in mind long enough to use it.

Use visual charts and graphic organizers

One way to encourage your kid is by using visuals at the beginning of assignments. You can either make your own or get help from the internet. Visual supports can help kids reach their goals. Teachers provide successive levels of temporary support to students so they reach high levels of skill acquisition and comprehension that otherwise can’t be achieved without assistance. As soon as those strategies are no longer needed, they are discontinued.

It should be kept in mind that the more your kid practices, the better the results for him. It should also be understood that the working memory is a skill used throughout life and not only when we are children. In simple words, you should let your kid have fun while studying. Even if you think your kid is receiving the Best Tuition Assignments, if it is overburdening, then it they should be reduced. 

Play cards

Playing simple card games such as go fish,  crazy eights, war, Uno, and Old Maid can help kids improve their working memories.  If they are new to the game, then start by playing open-handed, where everyone shows all their cards. To make it more complicated, prompt them by saying, “Use the eye in your mind to take a pretend image of the card and remember it.”

Let your kid teach you

It can be fun to reverse roles and let the kid teach you a skill. Kids love to play the role of a teacher or elder. You should further encourage them to draw pictures, write on boards, and demonstrate concepts to you. Teaching something is often the best way to learn it. 

Final thoughts

The best method is to take a metacognitive approach in which considering how best to remember something is the first step. Apply any of the above techniques to get your kid to improve his or her working memory. 

Proof Your Teacher Evaluation is Meaningless

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 you don’t get the Russian.**

____________________________

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

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

____________________________

I wrote more about teacher evaluations here:

Why You Shouldn’t Care About Your Teacher Evaluation

Hard Work vs. Smart Work – A Debate

The following is a guest post by Anish Passi, Director at Neostencil, an ed-tech startup funded by the Times Group. He previously founded Testcafe – also in the ed-tech space. He has extensive experience in the education industry, with past exposure to investment banking, technology, real estate, and retail consulting.

Hard work and smart work go hand in hand. There is no denying that people need to work hard to create a foundation for great achievements. However, if students work smart, they can do the same amount of work faster and efficiently. Teachers need to understand the thin line between making students work relentlessly hard and enabling them to learn smart work.

There is a preconceived notion among students that to succeed one must put in effort and work hard for it. Some people also think that one should give up everything else and focus all their energies on the final goal. While this is somewhat true, they can do the same amount of work in a shorter time by simply working smarter.

Merging Hard Work & Smart Work Together

To help students succeed in life, teachers should push students to practice both hard work and smart work simultaneously.  It is essential to work hard first because only then will students understand the depth of exactly what they are doing and then devise a smarter plan accordingly. The unfortunate truth is that in this fast-paced world, people want to switch to smart work but don’t put in any effort first. This could lead to a downfall. Like during preparation for competitive exams such as the UPSC, CAT, GMAT etc. people put in very little time to get the concepts right and jump to problem solving. Instead, they should focus more on concepts which would be hard work at the start but will make the process a lot simpler and easier.

Students must understand the project thoroughly, plan, and build a process around it. When they do this, they’ve framed all the possibilities, and only then can they undertake an easier way of completing the task. With teacher’s input, working smart won’t be much of an issue, and students will be able to work efficiently using fewer resources and time. The trick is to combine hard work and smart work.

Example: Every talented artist trains and gets mentored to perfect their skills. They spend years practicing without taking any breaks or shortcuts to make themselves the best. Once they reach the peak of success, they tend to make fewer errors and are more experienced. This results in better time management and less use of energy and effort. They have now become smart, but they started by working hard. This rule applies to every sphere of life.

Differences Between the Two

Let’s take a look at some of the differences between working hard vs working smart.

Meaning

Hard work means putting in a lot of time and effort doing a certain amount of work. Whereas, smart work means spending less amount of time performing the same amount of work.

Aim

Hard work aims at the quantity and may become monotonous and boring after a certain period. Smart work aims at achieving goals with quality.

Process of Working

Working hard involves a lot of tedious work which is carried out traditionally. But, if people work smartly, they can achieve more output by working in an unconventional and modern way which could include attending webinars, classes, and coaching.

Conceptualization

Hard work utilizes the traditional format of working, and there aren’t many changes involved. On the other hand, smart work involves using old ideas and transforming them to yield better results.

End Goal

People who work hard sometimes feel that they weren’t able to achieve their set goal. Smart workers attain their goals faster through proper time management.

A simple way to turn hard work into smart work is by understanding the aftermath of the process. If students keep on working continuously without any reliable results, then they should consider working smartly. Rather than focusing all the attention on just the work, think about all the alternatives that can be undertaken to do the same amount of work in less time. Set deadlines and goals that they should achieve in a set timeframe and prioritize the important tasks first. This way you will not waste a lot of time on unimportant things.

Contrary to this, some people believe that there is no replacement for hard work. Working smart is a shortcut that doesn’t work at all stages of life. Still, smart work has no doubt worked for many. If one can achieve the same quantity of work at the same time, that is not exactly a shortcut; it is just a better alternative.

Conclusion

If you can incorporate working hard and smart together, you will achieve great heights and lead yourself to a better life. One who works hard and smart will in due course of time procure all the benefits and rake in the golden opportunity to probably not work at all.

What’s Wrong With “Doing What’s Best For Kids”

There’s a YouTube video called, “The Most Unsatisfying Video in the World ever made.” It lives up to its name. It shows people cutting tomatoes wrong, mixing M&Ms and Skittles, scraping utensils against the bottom of an empty bowl, and other cringe-worthy crimes against humanity. Each example in the video makes me reflexively recoil. It’s the visual equivalent of the many phrases in education that induce the same reaction:

“Teach with strict fidelity.”
“College and career ready.”
“Unpacking the standards.”
“Jigsaw this article.”
“Let’s put that idea in the parking lot.”

And also, “Doing What’s Best For Kids.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone — usually an administrator trying to make teachers feel guilty for self-advocating — say that we all just need to Do What’s Best For Kids. The phrase tends to show up during contentious contract negotiations with regularity. That’s no accident, because all too often it means, “Do what we want you to do, and if you question it, then you’re looking out for yourself instead of your students.”

Some teachers are guilty of using it, too. Questioned about why they made a certain choice, they will hide behind, “It’s What’s Best For Kids” without actually explaining why or how they know that to be true. It’s a way for anyone — teacher, parent, principal — to claim an morally superior position and send the message that their actions, unlike yours, have selfless motives. They’re doing things for the right reasons, while you may be not.

It’s almost always nonsense.

The Problem

The problem with the phrase, “Doing What’s Best For Kids” is that it can be used to justify damn near anything.

“I’m spanking my kids to teach them right from wrong.”

“I allow my son to eat whatever he wants because I want him to learn he’s responsible for his own choices.”

“We’re taking away recess because students need more time on task.”

“I’m not vaccinating my child because I don’t want her to get autism.”

The phrase, then, is meaningless. But that doesn’t mean it’s powerless. It’s an ace up the sleeve, a flag planted firmly in the high ground, and it’s intended to be a conversation stopper. People on the phrase’s receiving end are supposed to look introspectively and question their motives. They’re supposed to think: I should sacrifice more.

How can anyone argue that educators shouldn’t do what’s best for kids?

Because it’s just not that simple. In addition to the fact that Doing What’s Best For Kids can be used to justify anything, there are three other problems.

Kids Are Different

This should go without saying, but since the phrase keeps getting used, someone ought to point out that kids are different. What’s best for one is often not what’s best for another. My daughter, always a reader, needed only to be given time and books to improve as a reader as she went through school. Other students — reluctant to read and lacking basic skills — needed much more direct instruction. Examples abound:

  • Recess is great for some kids, but it’s a source of anxiety and a daily reminder of their lack of friends for others.
  • Inquiry-based science is more authentic and engaging, but some students don’t learn the content they’re supposed to.
  • Group work teaches kids to collaborate, but it also means some students do much more work (and therefore learn more) than others.

Additionally, what’s best for an individual might not be best for large groups. Ryan is continually distracting the class and making it impossible to teach. It’s certainly not best for Ryan to be kicked out of the room, but it might be best for everyone not named Ryan. Spending one-on-one time with a student will benefit her, but what about the rest of the class?

Of course, a solution to this problem is to differentiate because giving kids what they need is what’s Best For Kids. But differentiation leads to a second problem:

Beliefs Are Different

Not everyone agrees about What’s Best For Kids. That’s why we have standards. Teachers, once mostly left alone, taught whatever they thought was important. I learned about dinosaurs every year from age six to age nine (fat lot of good it did me, too). I know a former teacher who took time out of every day to have her students sing her favorite college’s fight song. Some teachers still waste class time teaching the dead art of cursive writing. All of these teachers tell themselves they’re doing What’s Best For Kids.

Many educators have diametrically oppositional philosophies about what school should even be. Should it be a place of rigorous work with the aim of producing young people who know things and can demonstrate their knowledge on tests? Should it be a place of wonder and discovery, where failure is encouraged? Should it reflect society or prepare students to shape a new, better world? Which philosophy is Best For Kids, and is that philosophy best for all kids?

Sometimes, determining what’s best is actually choosing between two benefits, in which case the determining factor is almost always something other than What’s Best for Kids. Field trips are great for kids. So is time on task in the classroom. But if you do one, you sacrifice the other. And since field trips cost money, guess which one administrators think is Best for Kids.

The Biggest Problem

But here’s my main objection to being reminded to Do What’s Best for Kids: It suggests sacrifice and that sacrifice, almost always, is supposed to come from one group of people: teachers.

Teachers, the people doing the hard work of actually educating kids, may have the only legitimate claim on the moral high ground, and yet they are often the ones accused of looking out for their own interests above those of their students. Politicians blame teachers’ unions for ignoring What’s Best For Kids, while turning a blind eye to a myriad of other problems. Administrators — people who have intentionally left the one place where they had the most direct influence on students — have the temerity to suggest to teachers — the people whose job is literally all about the kids and who have chosen to remain in that job despite stagnant pay, deteriorating working conditions, greater expectations, less autonomy, scapegoating, and being reminded to Do What’s Best For Kids — that they ought to sacrifice even more. And sanctimonious teachers wield the tired phrase to feel better about themselves, oblivious to the meaninglessness of their words but comfortable in their own moral superiority.

“Doing What’s Best For Kids” is a weapon. It’s the language of teacher-shaming. It’s manipulative. And when you hear it from an administrator, parent, policy-maker, or even a fellow teacher, prepare to be exploited. Because the insinuation behind this phrase is clear: Teaching is not your job; it’s your calling. And that calling requires you to sacrifice. It requires you to agree to whatever thing someone with more power believes is What’s Best for Kids. So sit down, shut up, sign the contract, and get back in your classroom. Go Do What’s Best For Kids. And if you can’t figure out what that is, don’t worry, someone will let you know.

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How to Feel Like Less of a Failure

I have a few students who are very challenging this year. I’ve been unable to get through to them. The old tricks aren’t working. My principal has been supportive. The parents aren’t blaming me or the school; they’re doing what they can. But for these students, it has not been a successful year. In fact, it’s been disastrous. And it leaves me feeling like a failure at the end of many days, which makes it difficult to get up and beat my head into that wall again the next day. I’ve been looking for ways to feel like less of a failure, and here is what I’ve tried so far with moderate success:

Taking Inventory

When I think of my class, most of my thoughts drift to those students who are struggling behaviorally. This is expected. In order to hold things together, I spend most of my day focusing on them, so it’s not surprising that when I lie in bed at night or prepare for work in the morning I think of them. The thoughts are almost always negative, which is a really bad mindset to have. So one strategy I’ve used is taking inventory. I go through my class list and assess how each student is doing in school. It’s a subjective exercise, but I try to be as honest as I can. Most are having a good year. A few perform inconsistently. Only three are having big problems. Looking at things this way makes me feel like less of a failure.

Forcing Myself to Focus on Positives

The reality is that most of each day is conflict-free and most students have very few problems. Most do their work. Most have positive attitudes. Most treat others respectfully. The incidents that cause me to feel like a failure are rare, but because they’re disruptive, stressful, and often emotional, they are sometimes the only parts of the day I remember.

So instead of thinking about only those students who don’t seem to be improving, I think of some that obviously have. Like the student who started the year not willing to try, but makes an attempt now. Or the kid who couldn’t control his temper, but hasn’t had an explosion in weeks. There are success stories, and acknowledging them is a good way to counter self-doubt.

In my book Exhausted, I discuss one strategy teachers can employ to use less willpower, and therefore conserve energy lost because of the body’s stress response. Walter Mischel’s famous marshmallow experiment is well known in education circles. It’s often cited as evidence of the importance of self-control. But Mischel was interested in how students distracted themselves from temptation. And the lessons he learned from the kids apply here. When we focus our attention on negatives, we feel stress. We can reduce this stress by distracting ourselves. The kids in the marshmallow experiment covered their faces, turned to the wall, sang to themselves, and looked at their shoes. They did what they could to ignore the marshmallow.

I’ve tried doing this with my challenging students. Sometimes, their actions are cries for attention. I play into their hands by giving it to them when they make poor choices. And I also stress myself out and feel like a failure. Instead of noticing and reacting to their every misdeed, I focus elsewhere, calling attention to students doing the right thing.

Not Accepting Responsibility For Others’ Choices

My job is to make expectations clear, to be consistent with consequences, to build relationships, and to try to make my classroom a place where kids want to be. If I’ve done those things, students will make better choices. At least, that’s the theory. In reality, some poor student choices have nothing to do with me. This year, I’ve had to remind myself that once I’ve done my job, it’s on them. Each student is responsible for her choices.  If they make bad ones, they alone should suffer the consequences.

I wrote more about this here: The Best and Worst Lie Teachers Tell Themselves

Embracing the Challenge

I made a huge mistake at the start of this year. I had a fantastic class last year. I left work with plenty of energy, enough that I started this blog and published two books. I started to feel like I really knew what I was doing, that the success I felt at school was because I was a more skilled teacher than I had previously been. I thought I’d finally figured this thing out, and that from here on out things would be clear sailing.

I forgot a really important truth about teaching: It’s damn hard.

And what makes it hard are students who don’t show up to school with everything they need. You know, the ones who actually need me.

I also need them. My challenging students are there to stretch me as a professional. They provide me with the opportunity to try new things. They force me to adapt, to leave my comfort zone, and try new things. And although most of what I’ve tried this year with those students hasn’t worked, I will show up tomorrow and try something else. I’ll look for incremental improvement, any sign that I’m making an impact. It is those moments, few and far between as they may be, that will help me feel like less of a failure.

Remembering the Past

These are not the only challenging students I’ve had the last 18 years. Far from it. It helps to recall former students who made me feel like a failure. There have been a fair number. I survived every one of them, and I became a stronger teacher because of the experiences. These students and their challenges will not be the last of my career. When I think about going back to work tomorrow or returning day after day for the next twelve or more years, I recall a favorite quote by Marcus Aurelius: “Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.”

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.

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 teacherhabits@gmail.com

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

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