Just about the time I’m about to grumble over something seemingly foolish my students are doing, I feel an overwhelming sense of conviction. “Are you really any different?” my conscience asks. I am convinced that we teachers are more like our students than we are different. Accepting this humbling truth can help us reframe and approach challenges with a positive attitude.
1. We like candy.
You can curtail backlash for a mandatory STAAR training by providing sweets. I’ve seen schools ration it out day by day during the first week of August in-service. If they leave the bag out, people pick out the Almond Joys like spoiled trick-or-treaters. Or they hoard it by the fistful like manna in the desert.
2. We talk at inappropriate times.
Anyone who has been within 10 feet of me knows that I am always talking. I’m a verbal processor. I even talk in my head, which causes me to laugh at seemingly random and inappropriate moments.
Teachers are notorious for talking during faculty meetings and professional developments. I need to talk about what I’ve just learned. I need to explore how to apply a new idea. I need to hear others’ ideas.
I’m certain that I have a verbal pressure valve. If I can’t let it out during a structured time, I just start blurting. Teachers can give students structured opportunities to process information verbally. This is part of the application of Vygotsky’s social learning theory. I plan turn-and-talk into instruction. Some kids (especially gifted students) might benefit from sticky notes for a “parking lot” or a learning journal. I know you’re thinking they’re just going to draw in it. Make expectations clear and suspend the privilege if students abuse it.
3. We don’t always pay attention to directions.
At the beginning of every school year, I find myself sweetly asking our accommodating secretary, Mrs. Penny, “Remind me about the attendance again. Do I do it on paper or online? Or both? What if they don’t come tomorrow?” I will inevitably be back the next day to clarify for my newly enrolled student. I know she explains it during in-service. I just can’t ever seem to remember what she says.
“Where do I turn this in? What page did you say? When is lunch?” Kids may not retain information if they are not ready. I know you just said it. I know you said it a million times (literally). But perhaps their brains were not ready to file the information.
I find it helpful to create visual reminders, such as writing the page number on the board. I use an “Ask Three Before Me” strategy to eliminate the small stuff. And though I’m not always successful, I try to remember to be patient when they ask me things for the billionth time (literally).
4. We resent being forced to do things we think are useless.
We’ve all spent countless hours in faculty meetings hearing information that could’ve been addressed in an email. We hold a strong grudge against our captors who torment us with redundant material. (Unless, of course, there’s candy.) I ask myself, “Is this worth their time?” If the information is only applicable to a few students, I plan small-group instruction. If there’s an unavoidable task (like progress monitoring), I explain the why. Students may not completely understand or agree, but they will appreciate that I took the time to address their concerns.
5. We crave immediate and positive feedback.
Have you ever had an administrator or curriculum coach come through your room without leaving you any feedback? It’s distressing. Especially if you witnessed them typing on a tablet while they were observing. I always imagine they’ve documented something to the effect of, “This woman is dreadfully disturbing. She should be terminated immediately, and her certification should be revoked.”
Our students need to know how they’re doing, as well as what they’re doing well. If all my walk-throughs delivered a list of the things I didn’t do well, I would probably quit reading them or just stop going to work. I certainly wouldn’t put forth my best effort because it would feel like it didn’t matter.
I want to hear what I’m doing well. If I trust and respect you, I’m willing to hear one or two things within my zone of proximal development that I can start implementing. Tell kids what they’re doing well. Praise their courage. When you know they can handle it, stretch them with a manageable teaching point.
6. We get angry when people cut in line.
I have seen some real tantrums at school. And I’m talking about in the copy room. Especially when someone sends a print job from their computer while others have been waiting in line to use the copy machine. Double especially if the person waiting had colored cardstock in there. Adults and kids both feel slighted when people cut.
It’s tempting to tell kids that “it doesn’t matter because we’re already late” and “we’re all going to the same place.” But that can leave kids feeling like they don’t matter. I try to help kids understand why it really bothers them. We feel disrespected when others step in front of us. That is frustrating because you feel like people think you are unimportant.
In a world of flaring tempers and extreme road rage, students need to understand what they feel, why they feel it, and how to process it. I realize it seems like a distraction from the standards, but this is arguably the most integral of all “other duties as assigned.” Addressing children’s social emotional needs may not always show up in the scores, but it makes them much less likely to show up on America’s Most Wanted.
Accepting that we are just like our students may be humbling, but it can transform our perspective. We can better understand our students and more accurately address their needs. When we focus on our similarities, we find patience and perseverance we didn’t know we had. Perhaps, then, we will begin to see our strengths mirrored back.
Laura Gallaway is an instructional coach in Bryan ISD. She has been a teacher and an ATPE member since 2007.