Movie break. This one of my favorite scenes from the movie Tommy Boy. Give it a quick watch and then read. I promise, there is a point.
“Why did I just watch this?”
I will be honest, when I went to write, I had this idea of writing about Monday being “Go Time” for teachers and I went looking for the scene when it was said in this movie. However, watching the clip brought a message to mind for me that I need to hear (even if it is hearing it from myself). This clip has a lot to do with teaching.
So often we feel like things are going well in a class or all of our classes. We have done all of the right things, as far as we know. We are using the best strategies. We are integrating. We are differentiating. We are rigorizing (yes, I just made up a word). We are doing everything a teacher should be doing…then…
Something hits us out of left field and destroys the classroom peace and joy that we thought we had. It could be a student meltdown. It could be a parent issue. I could be an administration situation. It could be a number of things that suddenly send us in a tailspin and weave us all over our little teaching road.
Before we know it we are in a fight for our teaching lives.
Then the chaos dies down.
The dust settles.
Blame gets assigned.
Usually, the fight is with ourselves. What did we do wrong? What could we have done different? Why did we not think of the issue that happened? So on and so on and so on.
Sometimes the fight is with others. A power struggle with students. A disagreement with parents. An accusation from administration or other teachers.
Who ever the fight is with, it usually starts at the blame game.
The part of the scene that hits me the most is when Tommy said, “I am trying my best. I am not my dad.”
How often do we feel that way? Okay, probably not the “dad” part, but we do compare ourselves to others, especially to the teachers that seem to make being a great teacher look easy.
When we get to that point where we feel like we can’t do better than we are because we are trying “our best” is when we need to pause, take a deep breath, and think before we act.
This is where we are most defensive. Because of that, we are also at the point when we can be the most stupid. In this movie scene there was a literal fight. But in teaching we can make bad choices when we feel this way…choices we may regret later.
Our “go time” needs to be different.
We need to make choices that will help and not hurt the situation. Choices that we can learn from. Choices that our students will see and learn from. Choices that will help us not get to this point in the future.
Sorry for the vagueness here, but every has different situations and triggers that get us to this point in teaching on any given day.
Luckily, the solutions are pretty much the same for most scenarios.
There are some steps to take to help us get in the right state of mind.
- Like I said, pause and breathe. Most of the time, reacting immediately leads to those poor choices mentioned.
- Remind yourself that it is not as bad as it feels. In the moment, things are blown out of proportion. You need to keep them in perspective…even if the other person/people isn’t/aren’t. When everything is sorted out in the end, you never regret having kept thing in perspective…but you almost always regret not doing this.
- Remember why you teach. When the going gets tough, it is easy to forget that you actually love teaching. Look for the silver lining or just remember that teaching is your passion…the little hiccups to teaching are always short and small in the long run.
- Take as much time as you can. Delay making a decision or action on the situation as long as you can. Be like the Ents in Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. The Ents are tree-based characters and they are known for the lack of moving quickly. They try to never be hasty. One of their leaders, Treebeard, said in the book The Two Towers, “But I spoke hastily. We must not be hasty. I have become too hot. I must cool myself and think; for it is easier to shout stop! than to do it.” When you move to quickly, your choices lead to more. Stop and stay stopped before you move. It really is much easier to say stop than actually do it once you are moving.
- Put the students and their needs first. When you come to decision time, focus on the student/students. What do they need most from the situation. How can you turn a negative into a positive for them.
If you try to take these steps, your “go time” will be well thought out and meaningful in the end for all that are involved.
Teacher, things come up. We face hard times. Never forget that you love teaching, and the hard times never last forever. The tough things will pass eventually. Keep on teaching your teaching best, even in spite of the difficulties sometimes.
You are so awesome! I know that the challenges don’t keep you down long. I know that with every “go time” you have you get better and better at doing them well. I sincerely hope that you have the best day ever! Never give up and always keep on teaching, Teacher!
We all have good days. We all have bad days. Most of the time the days are somewhere in between.
The worst, though, are the days that are great…until…that one student. That one attitude. That one event. And the apple cart is overturned.
We don’t like to talk about it, but we all know that it happens. One student, one administrator, one parent, or one situation…and our day turns south quickly.
Good days become bad days. Mediocre days become awful days. And bad days become the worst day ever.
Our attitudes are soured. Our teaching becomes less effective. We stop wanting to deal with people altogether. And it only takes one thing to cause this.
Admit it, you know what I am talking about.
It is human nature. It happens. We deal with it. We struggle to get better at not letting it happen the next time. We do get better the longer we teach…but it still happens sometimes.
I don’t have a solution here…but I want to use this as a jumping off point. One negative thing can turn our days negative.
Our students are people just like us. And, like us, sometimes it only takes one thing to change their day.
Sometimes it only takes one…
- smile to make a bad day into a better day.
- kind word to make a mediocre day a good day
- little time and attention to make a good day a great day.
One bad thing can make a day worse, but sometimes it only takes a good thing to make a day better.
We have no idea what our students experience from day to day. We don’t really know what is going on at home. We don’t know what happened on the bus. We don’t know what they are always feeling. We can’t control this.
However, we can control the experience we give our kids from us.
I am not talking about every thing in our classroom right now, I am just talking about trying to do one thing. One positive for every student you can get one to. Who knows if that one thing can be a catalyst to brightening up their day!
If you are elementary, try to reach each student in you class with a few positives today. If you are middle or high school, try to reach each student with a couple of positives over a few days…and then start to cycle again.
It is hard some days…but you can do it. I can do it. We can be those “ones” that turn a day around (in a good way).
I know you can do it! Are you willing to take the challenge?
You are so awesome! I know that you try to be positive every day…so keep going. Try to give as many “ones” as you can today. The more seed that you plant, the more is likely to grow. Keep up those positives and keep on teaching, Teacher!
I do not know the timing of school where you are from, but for me and my American teacher friends, it is pretty close to the first day of school. That first day is for me today. When is/was it for you?
We have so much to think about to get ready for the first days and weeks of school. Sometimes it gets hard to manage all of the minutia of what needs to happen and get put together. We juggle responsibilities. We rearrange our rooms 17,000 times. We work. We sweat. And we continue this up until the minute we get our fresh crop of students to help nurture and grow.
You may or may not be still in those preparation stages, but great job! It is all worth it. Never forget that the work you put in does pay dividends later as you work with your students. All of the little things that seem important as you get ready really are important. And you own them like a boss! Great job! Keep going if you haven’t had your first day yet!
Sometimes the mountain of “stuff” we need to do cause us to lose focus…especially the closer that the day comes that those new faces will be grace the threshold of your classroom. We can often get so bogged down by the things that we just have to get done that we forget who we are doing those things for. I know that I get caught up in doing that almost every year.
This year I am making a concerted effort not to do that…and it is hard. I still have things to do and the students are coming today!
This is why I am writing instead of working on any of those things here in the wee hours of the morning.
I want to remind myself of what is most important.
Two things: My students and today.
I am here for my students. That is it. Yes, I have stuff to teach them. But I need to teach them because it is important for them to learn for success in the future. My focus should always be framed by them. My students. They are what matters most. And what matters most is that I connect with them and get to know them. If I focus on that then they may just remember what it is that I have to teach them.
I must connect and built relationships with my students, especially here in the beginning of the year. This is key. This is what matters. This is what is important.
And the other thing I have to remember is that I only have today to do. Everyday all that I have is today. I need to work on building those relationships every day and day by day. That is what matters most.
I can’t waste a day. I can’t waste a minute. I must always be working on focusing on the students as I teach them and connecting with them as I do.
It is cliche, but it is really true that “students do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.” I need to care for my kiddos, get to know them, and always focus on what is best for them inside my classroom.
This is vital. This is key. This is what matters most!
How are you doing with this, Teacher? Are you struggling to maintain focus on what matters, like me? Don’t give up! You are awesome! I know that in the end your focus is on your students and what they need most from you.
I mean it when I say you are awesome, Teacher. You truly, truly are! You know your students are the most important part of what you do…and that you only have today to work on what is important. Keep on doing what you do and keep on teaching, Teacher! Have a great start to your year!
PS…Sorry about the editing issues. I can’t figure them out, and I do have other things to do today. :)
Yesterday’s post, Tugging on the Common Thread, had more response that I have received in a long time. The frustration over the ever-changing landscape struck a chord with a lot of people. The idea that great teaching is great teaching and connecting with students and growth seemed to one thing that teachers can agree on. I decided to follow-up and expand on this just a bit.
This is one of those times that I am writing more than to talk to myself than to you…but feel free to listen in on my personal self conversation.
It is one thing to say that students and student growth matters most, despite what is common in education at any given time. But what does that mean. How do I cut to the core of this for me, my students, my classroom, my school, and my community?
Standards matter. We are paid to teach students what they say. The test at the end matters. Developing students to the point that they understand the standards to the level of my test is our job.
How do we focus on student growth and this at the same time? We all know that most of our students need growth and instruction that falls outside of the standards and the test.
I think the biggest key is simple in theory but difficult in practice.
Teachers, know thine students.
You have to know those little rascals in your classroom. You have to have a rapport. You have to understand what makes them tick. You have to have some knowledge of how and why they think they way that they do.
I think it is that simple. This is only way to grow student understanding and create life-long learners.
When you know students, you know their interests and deficits. You know their strengths and weaknesses. You know what they need before they know they need it. You are able to see growth where other people would see a stagnate learner.
When you know what growth looks like in a student, you can foster that growth. You can differentiate. You can push them to deeper understanding. You can scaffold. You can remove scaffolding. You can see smart and intelligence where even the student and his/her family doesn’t, and you can bring it out for everyone else to see.
This is the core of it. Knowing those young people in your room. Getting to know and understand even the ones that drive you insane. You have to know and want to know the students!
Does this mean that they will love you and students will all appreciate the work you put into this? Goodness no! But you will know what is best for them and give them what they need…even if they don’t want it!
Will this make you teacher of the year?
Maybe, but probably not. This is not being your students’ best friend. It is taking the time to get to know them, though. It is hard work, but it is worth it in the end.
Will your students see your awesome all of the time? Nope.
But will your awesome shine through in the end, no matter what the educational system is like at any given time? Yes!
This is the core. This is the common thread. Know your students and you will make them grow!
Grow those students, Teacher! I know you will! You are awesome! Keep on getting to know those kiddos and keep on teaching, Teacher!
So…this week I have been a part of writing curriculum for my district. It has been fun. Yes, I am a nerd. However, more than fun it has been a challenge and quite enlightening.
We all come from different states (and possibly countries), and every area has their own set of standards and fight with or against new standards. I don’t know how it is where you are, but the state I am from is in constant flux.
One thing is clear: nothing is clear.
We are “for” things one minute. We are “against” things the next minute. We have a plan for testing in one breath. No clear plan in the next one.
I have been in education long enough to see that the only thing you can count on is change. The change can last a while or be quick, but you can always know that things will change sooner or later.
There will be buzz words. There will be “current” research. There will be best practices. There will be education trends and fads.
There will be change.
There will be unclear goals.
There will be a test at the end.
This is clearly the only clarity we get as teachers.
And that is okay. I think.
Yes. It is okay. I know it.
You know why I know it? Because there are teachers who teach well NO MATTER WHAT IS GOING ON AROUND THEM.
True. It is not every teacher. However, we all know at least one or two of them that are spectacular no matter what the trends and legislation going on. They are consistent. They are constant. They are uncanny.
They are the great teachers.
What makes them great?
They found the common thread of teaching before it got cored. They focus on what is always, not what is now. The set their eyes on one goal. Students. Students and what it takes to help them grow.
Will the latest research and methods help them do this? Of course. Are these teachers life-long educational learners? You bet. Do they keep up with new ideas and strategies? Most certainly. Do they change and move from one generation to the next that comes through their classroom? Yes, yes, and yes!
One thing remains the same throughout the change for them. The students.
This is how you keep your sanity. This is how you stay a great teacher. This is how you stay the course even when the waters are choppy. You keep your eyes on the point of teaching…students, growth, and creating learners.
Can you do this if your state is Common Core? Yes. Can you do this if your state rejects the common? Yes. Can you do this if the test changes every year? Yes. Can you do this no matter what? YES YOU CAN!
So what does focusing on students mean to you? How can you make this your goal despite the ebb and flow of current educational mandates in your area? What changes can you make to be more and more consistent in this focus?
You are awesome, and I know that you already have this focus! You will grow every year in make student growth your goal. Think more about this as the school year looms ever closer! Keep on teaching, Teacher, and keep on focusing on what is most important!
You can do it!