Dear Dr. Louis,
“You came to our campus [June 2017] and demonstrated the Jane Schaffer Writing Program by teaching our students as we teachers observed on the periphery of the classroom. You taught my eighth grade students. I know these students well. With you, they behaved differently. They were engaged, curious, and enthusiastic. They were, in fact, model students. You mesmerized them! How do I get that from them every day?”
Thank you for your kind words. You are correct. Your eighth graders were wonderful.Don’t be disheartened, though. I was a new face, a novelty. And leading up to my arrival, you probably, in your best, firm teacher voice, threatened any misbehavior when the guest was presenting in your classroom (just kidding). I imagine that behavior, my friend, is more about their respect for you than for me. But it’s an interesting question, and it allows me to talk to my colleagues, especially new teachers, about giving and gaining respect in the classroom.
I spent years as a young teacher, learning from my mentors. Jane was a kind, generous, and encouraging mentor. “Trial and Error” was definitely a generous one but not so kind at times! I learned different skills from each. From Jane, I learned that her writing method works for all types of students by removing the mystery from writing in an academic environment. From “Trial and Error,” — well, I learned a lot more than can be written in this one blog. However, to your point, I learned that students feel safe when they know someone is in charge who 1) is credible; 2) has their best interests at heart; and 3) sets expectations. We can have fun — we do have fun — but boundaries exist for optimum learning.
If I want engaged, curious, and enthusiastic learners, I must demonstrate those qualities as a teacher.
So, here are the sixteen rules I said to myself each day as I set my intention for the day: I call it “SWEET SIXTEEN: GIVING AND GAINING RESPECT IN THE CLASSROOM.
- DRESS PROFESSIONALLY. Every day is a first impression when your children walk in the door. Something about business attire sends the message: “I respect you, and we’re here to work and develop as productive global citizens.” On major test days, I would even ask my students to dress up. We complain about what the kids wear to school, but look in the mirror. Save the jeans for Fridays, and make sure that the jean you select make you look competent and classy! Every day, look like a professional. That impression goes a long way with students, because they pay attention to what you wear. Clothing, shoes, hairdos, and jewelry do not have to be expensive to be impressive. You are a professional. Dress the part.
- USE PROPER ENGLISH or whatever proper language your students and you speak. Sure, make them laugh on occasion by using their vernacular, but make it a rarity. Talking like them puts you on their level. You are their teacher. You have at least two degrees, and many of you have several degrees.
- Absolutely no profanity or even an inkling of profanity. I’m even talking about saying phrases, such as “that sucks,” “pissed off,” “crap,” or “damn.” Tempting on many days, but inappropriate. Whatever you say aloud to students is fair game for them to repeat. You are a teacher of behavior and etiquette whether you want to be or not. You took the job, and teaching youngsters about when and where certain phrases are appropriate or not will help them in their future.
- And for goodness sake, do not start a sentence with “me and Jennie” or “her and Alex” or “him and Alicia.”
- BE PREPARED AND ENTHUSIASTIC about your lesson. If you’re unprepared and/or bored, the students will be unprepared and/or bored. Trust me on this! They mirror you. They really do. With regard to creating engaging lessons, brainstorm with colleagues about approaches to a lesson that could make it more relevant to the students. Collegial coaching is one of the most important professional development activity you can do! Also, when teaching, don’t be the one asking all the questions. Teach the students to ask Level One, Level Two, and Level Three Questions. That skill will remove some of the apathy you sometimes witness. Yes, some days, I didn’t want to be at school. We are all human! But every morning I meditated and set my intention for the day. Be prepared. Be excited. You are their Merlyn.
- MODEL BEHAVIOR you desire to see in your students. RESPECT THE STUDENTS AND DEMAND THEIR RESPECT — The way you listen, act, and speak will set the tone every day. I have an entire blog on not letting students call their female teachers “Miss.” You are not a waitress at a diner. I say, “Yes, m’am” and “No, m’am” and “Yes, sir” and “No, sir” to my students. “Please” and “Thank you.” Decorum! Set the bar. Demand that STUDENTS ARE KIND TO AND RESPECT EACH OTHER — The redundancy of good manners is very important in providing a safe environment for asking questions and taking risks when answering questions posed by the teacher. At the beginning of the year, one of my norms is “We do not make fun of each other in this class. We are a team. We care for and about each other. I will not tolerate your being unkind to each other. The punishment is severe for cruelty of any kind in this classroom.” ADDRESS STUDENTS BY NAME when you speak to and with them — they love to hear their names. I am amazed when a teacher cannot remember a student’s name in November. I had 150-200 students every day. I don’t remember their names now, but I knew them within the first two weeks of school when they were mine. In high school, I called my students by their last names in the classroom (e.g., Mr. Ricci, Ms. Monda). In the halls and at extracurricular events, I called them by their first names (e.g., Caesar, Valerie). I was teaching how one must adjust one’s attitude and language in different situations. In other words, protocol and decorum rule in the classroom.
- Pose questions in such a way to ENGAGE EVERYONE. Pose a question to the entire class; have all students write down their answers; wait; then accept volunteers and select non-volunteers to share their answers; everyone must speak and/or participate somehow every day (even in a class of 40). At some campuses I’ve visited, the lesson cycle (class period) is only forty-two minutes. Unbelievable, but true. In that situation, place your seating chart on a clipboard, and give a quick checkmark to students who spoke aloud during the class. Then, on the next day, make sure those other students speak before you start the cycle again. Adjustments must be made for different circumstances. When teachers expect everyone to participate, then the students realize that their teacher values everyone’s opinion. Respect comes from this subtle method of engagement.
- BE CURIOUS when students give an answer you did not anticipate or one which does not match the answer in your head. Especially in literature, if a student’s interpretation is different from yours but can be traced back to evidence in the text, that’s a magical moment. If you shut down answers, then don’t be surprised when students do not volunteer. Find a way to praise their taking a risk among their peers. If you ask a question, and the student says, “I don’t know,” do not let that go! That response is a ploy by students. Jane used to respond: “Well, what would you say if you did know?” Be curious and participate in the learning!
- DIFFERENTIATE by posing questions that fit certain students. Anticipate which student you will select to answer certain questions you have prepared — everyone can be successful. For example, tell all the students to jot down their answers to a question; then, after all students have written their answers, select a non-volunteer, and say, “David, what did you write down?” See how I did that? When teaching to a whole group, always pose a question to the whole class. In other words, don’t say, “David, what does the whirlpool symbolize in Moby Dick? Everyone else thinks, “That’s David’s question; I don’t have to think about it.” When everyone writes down an answer before you call on students, you will be more successful when calling on non-volunteers.
- How are your desks or tables arranged — U-shape, in the round, pairs, triads, quads, rows? CHANGE UP YOUR SEATING ARRANGEMENT once a month or quarter or as needed for an activity so that the classroom as a whole remains cohesive and so that cliques cannot splinter off. If you have students in rows, on the first of each month, walk in and say, “Everyone in the last seat of the row, move to the front and everyone else move back one seat.” In quads, I’ll have a base group, then frequently, I’ll move one student from each quad to the next table. The key is to shake things up a little. Routine and structure are imperative. But when students become too comfortable, they get a little lazy. Provide any guest or sub with an ACCURATE SEATING CHART, and make sure the students know that the sub or guest has the seating chart — whether you are there or not!
- COMPLIMENT YOUR STUDENTS, OTHER TEACHERS, AND ADMINISTRATORS and make sure your students see and hear you do that. We are in this together! We might not agree at times, but the stakes are too high for pettiness and gossip. Do not say, “Forget everything you were taught last year!” Such quips are disrespectful to your colleagues and to our profession. How would you like it if someone said that in reference to your hard work? Rather, say, “Last year, your teacher was was laying the groundwork for us. Now that you are older and wiser, we’re going to take what you have learned and adjust it for your older self. Send notes to teachers and administrators once a semester, thanking them for their collegiality. We need each other. Kindness will pay off!
- VARY ACTIVITIES FREQUENTLY to keep students on their toes, engaged, and guessing about what you might do next. Shift your middle school students’ attention every 12-15 minutes and your high school students’ attention every 15 – 20 minutes. Give the students brain breaks. I love gonoodle.com.
- Alert them to the fact that EVERYTHING YOU ASK THEM TO DO IS FAIR GAME FOR A GRADE, from note-taking to homework to annotating a text, or decoding a prompt — with or without notice. Keep them on their toes!
- SMILE! It goes a long way and has a positive influence on everyone—the giver and the receiver!
- Make EYE-TO-EYE CONTACT when you are talking or listening to students. Depending on the student and the particular interaction, moving toward a student who is answering a question helps to make the student feel like s/he is talking directly to you rather than presenting to the entire class of peers. Your eyes make a greater impact than you realize.
- ASSIGN ROLES TO STUDENTS in a cooperative learning group: scribe, spokesperson, counselor, timekeeper, dictionary detective, thesaurus sleuth, materials manager, proofreader, comma cop, etc. Each student has a role that benefits the group and the end result. (Remember, group work does not work without individual accountability and positive interdependence) Also, set a social behavior objective for cooperative learning situations: encouragement; using each other’s names; “please” and “thank you”; listening intently to each other; eye-to-eye contact when someone is talking. Cooperative learning and social skills practiced in the classroom will create a fun and mature environment and prepare the students for the work force.
- BE PREDICTABLE, RELIABLE, FAIR, AND CONSISTENT in the manner in which you respond to your students.
- APOLOGIZE to the whole class when you know you were a human and said something that was less than your spectacular self! Even if you said something you regret to one student, apologize to that student in front of the entire class. Teach them humility and mutual respect!
In her workshops, Jane said, “I can’t make you a good teacher.” What I realized years later is that she was talking about not only in a teacher’s pedagogical approach, but also in a teacher’s behavioral approach. If you want model students, be a model teacher!
Have a great school year!