Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Suspended Reality for students

This past Monday, I found myself in one of those "made for tv moments" when I stepped between a group of boys that were amping themselves up for a bit of a throw-down. That's right.. on a Monday!

You see, I have a group of senior boys in that class that like to dabble in trouble making. And a junior in that same class, spent the weekend thinking that it isn't ok for them to act that way, and decided on this Monday to do something about it!

So, to make sure we're on the same page, this was a 3 to 1 fight this kid was ready to start in my classroom! Major cajones! Especially, when 1 of the boys is a 6+ft ripped football player, another is 6+ft with a major chip on his shoulder, and the third will fight anything that breaths (did I mention he's also completed basic training?). All up against a super nice theater type kid who simply had enough BS from these three.

Now, I own that this all is going down in MY classroom! I really pride myself on creating a safe and respectful classroom setting. AND I own the responsibility of managing my classroom without sending every behavior issue to the office.

There's two main reasons I do this (credit: THE Mr. Colling):

1) Every time a student is kicked out of class, that student misses out on the learning that is (should be?) taking place in that room. This is also a kid that probably has a history of issue causing that is totally preventing him or her from successfully navigating through the education system. The history we have as educators is to throw these kids out of school which doesn't help them at all, and perpetuates the cycle of acting out. So, I don't want these kids to leave my room! I'm responsible for their learning, and I can't do that if they're not in my room.

2) It's my room! If the kids in my room don't feel safe and respected, they're not going to learn anyway. So, if I can't own the shit that goes down in my space with these teenagers, then how can I expect them to trust or respect me as a teacher? Think about it. You had at least one teacher that sent kids to the office for everything. Nobody learned from that person! They couldn't manage the making of a sandwich, let alone a group of 4 disruptive kiddos!

So, I stepped between the group. Asked the junior to leave the room. Told the seniors to sit and shut it. Let the junior rant for a few in the hallway, and then reminded him that he just dropped to a level he didn't want to go. That we was better than what he was trying to do, and that I respected him too much to see him waste himself on starting a fight with those three. The kid hit a wall of reality, and we agreed that it wasn't in his best interest to throw down with those three. He apologized to me, and we went back into the room.

Then, I called my 3 seniors to the hall. They immediately jumped into cursing out and threatening the boy, but I shut that down pretty quick. And simply said, "You will leave him alone, and whatever crap you three are saying to him during my class is going to stop, now. You're not to sit near him, and you will avoid. But think about this. He spent all weekend fueling up for this, and you have to give him credit for sticking up for himself. You three would have done the same thing in his shoes, so back down, leave him alone, and if I hear that you three do anything to him this year, graduation will be difficult to attain. Clear?"

They nodded. Smiled. And agreed. The rest of the week was the most productive that class has been since the very beginning of the year. I even had one of the three stay after school on FRIDAY to get extra help. And the the junior, totally back to his normal jovial self. Why? Because I handled things, and I made sure they all knew I was in charge and that crap wasn't going to happen in my room.

Imagine what would have happened if I just sent them to the office. The anger between then would have grown. Each blaming the other for the trouble they were in. That class time before a test would have been totally wasted for them. And my classroom would be a petri dish of unease for them.

So, the moral? Own your classroom. Own your office space. Step in and take control of the environment, so that the task at hand can be met. There is going to be conflict in anything, but as long as it's managed properly, we can still have success. Don't punish kids by kicking them out of school. School needs to be a place that all kids, even the trouble makers, feel safe and respected. Kicking kids out for not understanding how to handle conflict won't solve anything.

Thanks for taking the time to read my post. Please use the comments section to share a story about a time a teacher owned or didn't own the classroom management. What happened? How did it feel having to go to that class each day?

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Saturday, October 17, 2015

Stress, Common Core, and young learners

I've recently found myself in several conversations about the strain that is falling onto elementary school teachers. Specifically, on the lower elementary teachers that have been handed a TON of content responsibility in meeting certain learning objectives as set by the new common core state standards (CCSS). 

Now, I've written about the CCSS several times on my blog (The "New" Math, Homework Issues, & It's Over Reaching). And I don't want this to be another "The CC sucks!" type post. Because, while it does have some glaring flaws, the idea of it I still stand by. I like the inquiry driven and real life content connections that are encouraged by the CCSS. I appreciate the idea that we should have a national set of academic standards, so that a kiddo in 3rd grade that moves across country won't be at a total loss when it comes to school. 

I instead want to talk about this strain that is suffocating many elementary schools. I've witnessed this strain first hand with the experience my oldest 2 kids had with kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd grades. As kids of a teacher, they both loved the idea of going to school while they were in preschool. But then K and 1st grade happened. Both witnessed extreme pressures from teachers and schools that were very standards focused. We heard phrases like "grade level expectation," "standards based assessment," and "compared to others in this grade." The focus was placed on where the kids "should be" based on these standards, and not on who my kids are as people or learners. I often left school meetings thinking that the CCSS were more important the my kids. As if there was a CCSS God that needed to be appeased at the expense of my own kids. 

And the results of this are extreme. I hear more and more about kids in elementary school having tutors, or parents spending hours after school each day teaching a kindergartener how to read. Seriously?! The pressure to have kids doing academic things at such a young age, before most are developmentally ready is just frustrating. 

Kids are natural learners. They will pick up on the things that they find interesting or necessary. But if we are forcing the issue on things like reading or math at a young age, before they are ready, we will turn them away from the love of learning. And, if you talk to an early elementary teacher, they know that. Most want to go back to a more relaxed way of teaching, but the CCSS loom. Especially in buildings or districts with administrators that force the pressure. There are places out there that look at the CCSS, smile, and remain focused on a fun, relaxed, and student centered way of learning. Some schools have embraced the CCSS with a relaxed approach remembering that kids will learn to read when they are ready. 

These schools are the ones that are still performing well on standards based assessments, because the kids aren't stressed about them. A test is a test is a test. The teachers aren't made to feel like their jobs are on the line if a few kids don't meet "grade level expectation." Life goes on knowing that the kids will eventually learn to read or do math when they are ready to. And as my wife says, "kids learn to walk and talk when they are ready too." You don't hear about families hiring tutors for those things, and if you do, you think they're crazy! 

So the point of this? Don't stress about your kiddo's reading level at grade 1 or even 2. Pull the stress off your kids, and let them know that they can and will learn. Let them know that all you ask is that they try, that they work hard, and that they not give up. And more than anything, tell the school to back down. If your kid is coming home feeling stupid, talk to the school. That's not right. All kids learn differently, and at a different pace. If the school doesn't know that.. then find a different school! I have a post (here) for that too! 

Ultimately, the CCSS put a lot of pressure on the elementary schools. There is a ton of emphasis on getting kids to learn things before most are developmentally ready. The good schools take that pressure off the kids and themselves by focusing on what learning should be. Others let the pressure slide right down to the kids and their parents. It's not ok. And, if you're feeling that stress from teachers, or parental peers, remember that you're not alone. That there are plenty of kids out there that are reluctant readers, or that struggle with math. And that's ok, because your kiddo will get it when he's ready to. Don't force the issue at home by stressing about it further. Let the school hold onto that stress. Your family doesn't need it. There are plenty of successful people that didn't ace every grade in elementary, middle, or even high school. Help your kiddo become the excellent person he is going to become by supporting his strengths and not stressing over the weaknesses.  

Thanks for taking the time to read my post! Please take a moment to follow me on facebook, and on twitter @Ken_TeacherDad.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Inspire and protect through kindness and love

My oldest loves history and reading. So, naturally when he recently came across a book from the I Survived series about the a Nazi Invasion he was all in. If you're not familiar with the books, they are mostly historical fiction set through the eyes of a kid that lived through the experience. There are several in the series and he loves them.

Being that he just finished this book, I found myself in a car ride being grilled about what I knew about World War II and the Holocaust. I could tell that his head was spinning trying to understand how such terrible things could happen. <who's head and heart wouldn't hurt after reading such a book?> Our discussion quickly turned into his second passion which is engineering, and I started hearing about the inventions he's going to create one day that will protect us all from this evil from ever happening again. His creations will be the most powerful weapons, and will keep all people safe.

Normally, I just sit, nod, ask questions, and mostly just listen. But on this day, I had just read about Pope Francis' speech at congress in which he spoke of Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King, Jr (among others). I had also watched a video on Facebook of Pope Francis stopping his motorcade, so he could bless a child in a wheelchair <yes I got choked-up watching the reaction of the child's family>. I thought of this man that lives his life for peace and faith, and I suddenly found myself overwhelmed with a sense of responsibility to speak to my son's fears differently. I wanted to inspire him to think about protecting us in a different way. What follows is a summed up version of what came out that day:

Do you know that the Pope is in the United States right now? And that he recently spoke to the members of our government? And in the speech he talked about 2 other wonderful men that you've heard of: Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. He spoke about them in such high esteem not because they built powerful weapons, not because they fought the violent wars, but because they stood up for the freedoms and rights of others. They were proud men that fought for what they believed was right for all people. These men fought to protect the rights of others not through violence, but with reason and words. There are others too. Others that are famous for how they cared for the people around them. Mahatma Ghandi and our Mother Teresa fought to care for so many. They were leaders without having to create violent weapons. So, while I'm proud of you for wanting to protect our family, just continue being the kind and honest boy you are. Don't worry about creating machines to protect us. Instead, take care of us by loving us the best you can. Take care of us, by being the best version of yourself in as many moments each day as possible. And remember that there are men and women out there everyday working to protect us, so you can live the free life you have. We are blessed to be together. And when you're older, please go be the engineer you dream of becoming. Invent all you want, but always remember to fight for peace, love, laughter, and freedom for all. 

I have to admit that I was surprised at all that came out during my little speech in the car. And I think my son was, too. I hope that all of what I was trying to say was clear to him, and for the most part I think it was.

I admire true leaders and people who stand for what is right for all. The Pope's visit has inspired me to be more to my own family, to my friends, and to the school community I belong to. I find myself wondering how I can best inspire, support, and care for those around me better than I already do. Do I show kindness to all? Do my silent moments still inspire and encourage? Do yours?

Thanks for taking the time read, share, and follow my posts on The Teacher Dad. Use the comment section below to tell me about a time you were inspired by the actions or words of another person. What happened? What did you do?