Some Blog Encouragement

  A few posts and comments have been sticking out in my mind lately: things that I wish had been told to me about a year ago when I first entered the arena of teaching. The first comes via Graham Wegner who pointed to a post entitled “Surviving Year One in the Classroom Without Sabotaging the Future? . This is one of those posts that every rookie teacher should get inside and walk around in. We need to hear words like this in order to survive emersion into the teaching establishment. Long records some invaluable advice given by his principal upon his first year of teaching:

Stop trying to figure out how to teach this year.  Your job this year is simply about showing up every day, no matter how hard it feels, and survive this first year.  That’s it.  Pretty simple, really. Sometime after next summer we’ll get down to the business of actually turning you into a teacher.  But stop trying to wrestle with that today.  It’s just not the right struggle. ( “Surviving Year One ) Long records his coming to finally understand his principal’s advice after a year of burnout to be “Something about being human first, a professional second? “Surviving Year One” ).

A big amen to both of these comments. I feel my ‘spring break’ brain is doing this post a huge dis-service…that near burnout recovery phase is upon me. I have to admit I hit pretty close to bottom a few weeks before spring break. I had taken too much on on top of teaching, and it was all getting to me. That and the gnawing feeling in your bones that you are skipping rocks across the proverbial educational curriculum pond. Reading this post has brought some light into that situation, and reaffirmed things that I think I instinctually believed in spite of the demands of curriculum:

If you love your students — truly love them, serve them, advocate for the, believe in their best selves, appreciate that they are the best kids their parents were capable of sharing with the world, and truly have gifts that can be inspired to great heights — and you trust this no matter how tough that first year is, then the teaching will follow. “Surviving Year One” )Add to this palimpsest of good reasoning the comments I received from April on my post entitled “ The Demise of the Red Pen? :

Add to this palimpsest of good reasoning the comments I received from April on my post entitled :

My advice to you, should you choose to accept it, is not to doubt the innovation. Don’t doubt the fire inside to do something new, even if it doesn’t work the first time or the last time. Don’t question what you know the students really need. The grammar, vocabulary, punctuation, terms, literary elements, stories, authors even writing jargon, they will pick up on the way with or without you. What they need from you is to see an adult who is passionate about what he does. That is what they will remember. Challenge them. Challenge their thinking. That is what they will remember. (April)

These are words that every rookie teacher needs to hear. Sometimes we get so caught up in the curriculum or in trying to meet those demands that we forget real teaching is just loving kids and modeling passion; that instinctual drive to “do what was right first and figure out the curriculum second? ( “Surviving Year One ).

The right thing to do is care for our students. The curriculum takes a distant second to this. I agree with April that students will remember our passion, or our lack thereof. They won’t necessarily remember concepts or how to avoid comma splices. This is a great comfort when I sometimes find myself wondering just what the heck we do in English class that is important. Sure, reading and writing literacy are important, but I sometimes wonder what we are doing in class. The answer: we are talking; we are communicating, and sometimes it is about the important things in life (as opposed to the strange references to Seinfeld that keep popping up…).

 I will close this post before I ramble on too much. I leave with a quote from ‘think-lab’ that I think sums it all up: 

 

 But when in doubt, when confused or angry, when lost, simply love the kids.  And remember you made an informed decision to teach.  And stop trying to figure it all out the first day.  Love will take you where you’re capable of going.  When you’re ready.  And truth of truths, if your ultimate goal is to see your kids learn and grow and achieve great things, this is where you’ll find them doing it, when you love them enough to believe they can accomplish anything no matter how hard the challenge   “Surviving Year One )  

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15 thoughts on “Some Blog Encouragement

  1. redux: about ten minutes later…

    My apologies for the many edits on this post. Once again, the html is causing royal problems.
    I also cut out a section that may appear in your bloglines account, thinking it was a little off topic.
    My gift to you if you get the unedited version…hope you enjoy it!
    By the way…is anyone else experience major problems using wordpress and posting? My class and I have run into huge html problems with linking and quoting….
    james

  2. Hey James, glad to see the link to Chrisian’s post was insightful. It had been sitting in my Bloglines account just waiting to be acknowledged – I just thought it was really well written, heaps of passion and reminded me of my early years teaching. I really believe that there is heaps more pressure on teachers starting out these days just as the pressure is greater on kids than ever before. No, my WordPress (albeit hosted at edublogs) has been fine although weren’t you using learnerblogs for your students? Cheers, mate.

  3. From a parent: do me a favor and teach my kids grammar and leave the caring and communicating and impact to me. There’s burnout in every career, and you must do what it takes to get through the toughest days, but if all you’re bringing to my child’s classroom is passion and concern, then you’ve failed them in the long run. This sounds harsh and you’re probably thinking that parents like me are the cause of your burnout, but my kid needs good curriculum taught by a good teacher (which is what you trained to be). I hope I missed something big in this, because it’s scary as a parent to think that principals are encouraging first year teachers to just show up and be, rather than come prepared to use your training to instruct a child who will never get that year back. When in doubt, love? No. When in doubt, return to the basics: times tables, penmanship practice, reading comprehension. Give them the skills needed to be successful in society. If you want to just love and be there for my kids, become the kids pastor at church.

  4. steve,

    thanks for your comments.

    I wouldn't worry about the grammar stuff. It is taught (although I would say not as much as it should be, as I get students in gr12 not knowing things that should have been covered.)
    I think you comments are very valid. There is a job to do, and I take it very seriously.
    I also agree that the most important role in a child's life is the parent in terms of caring and communicating. Statistically, this is the most impactful relationship on children.
    Your children, however, are in a teacher's care for 6 or 7 waking hours of the day, five days a week.
    I don't know about you, but I would rather have my children in the care of a caring and compassionate teacher who is filled with a passion for learning than with someone who is slamming your child over penmanship.
    "[I]f all you’re bringing to my child’s classroom is passion and concern, then you’ve failed them in the long run" (you). A huge portion of our job is that passion and concern. We have students entering our classrooms who will only find that concern there. I know it is a sad thing to say, but it happens. Some students see their teacher, the one who models concern and compassion for their students, as one of the only positive adult influences in their lives. Some students are struggling with life in general…Try telling what you said above to some of those students who come to a teacher to share their struggles and try to find support and guidance.

    "[R]eturn to the basics: times tables, penmanship practice, reading comprehension. Give them the skills needed to be successful in society" (you). I am fortunate to be in the place where my students should already have the basics nailed. I am dealing with high school students who frankly are more concerned about life outside of class time and what they are going to do with their lives than with penmanship.
    "Give them the skills needed to be successful in society" (you). Good point, but I think the answer depends on how you define success. Do you define it as a child being able to 'contribute' to society by getting a high paying job and making money, or do you define success as being a child who cares for others, who loves other people more than their money or their own career success, who wants to contribute to society in a meaningful way.

    I hear what you are saying, Steve, and I want you to know that my students last year were within about .5% of the provincial average on their final government exam. The fact that I am compassionate and more concerned about my students as people is also shown in my desire for them to go into that exam as ready as I can help them be.
    I teach the curriculum.
    I teach it well, but I also know that I couldn't tell you what my gr12 science teacher taught me, but I can tell you he believed in me as an individual. When I told him about my dreams, he went and got books for me from his personal collection about those things. He saw my interests, and he saw potential in me. My interests weren't in his 'specialty,' but he invested time and concern in me.
    I am happy to say that I teach alongside of this man.
    His (and other adult's) passion and belief in me as a person is partly why I have succeeded.
    By the way, I am also a parent. I want my son to learn his times tables and grammar and all the 'basics', but I also want to surround my son with role models who live their lives with passion and are excited about what they do; role models who care for him and love him even when he fails.
    I think this combination will help mentor him into a person of passion and love for others.
    Wouldn't you want that for your children as well?
    Thank you for your comments.

  5. You have to be a teacher to understand. Unfortunately, you’ve grossly misunderstood the last post and probably the entire teaching profession.

    Some kids, most kids, can not be taught without the caring and compassion. If they don’t feel like you are on thier side, they won’t learn. It’s very similar to coaching. If your team doesn’t believe in you and that you care about them – not just whether they win or lose – they won’t perform.

    I, too, am a parent and understand the sentiment of wanting to be the primary influence on my child emotionally; however, I am rational enough to realize that they are a part of the community and the community will influence them whether I like it or not. I’d much rather have a caring teacher who can instill hope in them than a by the book teacher whose only concern is subject verb agreement.

    No one is throwing out curriculum. It does need to be tempered with passion, creativity and enthusiasm. Until you’ve dealth with a room of 29 hormone riddled, insecure adolescents who don’t want to be there in the first place and your job is to teach them grammar, penmanship and reading comprehension, you won’t get it.

    Finally, I was at a conference this morning and there was a statistic buzzing around, (unfortunately, that is extent of the research I have to back it up – you can take my word for it or look it up if you don’t believe me) that the average teaching span for new teachers is five years. After that the majority of them leave the profession. Our teachers are molding the minds of our youth and in order to keep up with the global community we need creative, passionate teachers who can instill creativity and passion in students. That is what will make them successful in society – not penmanship.

  6. Steve said: “From a parent: do me a favor and teach my kids grammar and leave the caring and communicating and impact to me.”

    I echo comments from James and Ms. M: Caring and compassion should not be dropped from the classroom. A human teacher makes a classroom a desireable place to be in.

    Show me a classroom void of feeling, void of passion, void of love, a classroom that loves the book, loves the curriculum above all other things, and I’ll show you a classroom filled with uninspired students and a shriviled up teacher.

    As I said before, I think passion and effective curriculum delivery need not divorce. They should coexist. Powerful learning that sticks comes from passionate teachers who inspire by getting into influencing range. I, like James, can link my deepest life learnings from teachers who loved me, and were passionate about what they taught.

    I can see their faces. I can hear their voice in my head if I listen, and I can remember the lessons they passed onto me. I remember little to nothing, other than boredom, from the passionless ones who delivered a steady curriculum based diet.

    Back to the context of James’ post, I think his point is very valid. In many cases, teaching is like a marathon. If you don’t run it right, if you get off to a bad start, you screw yourself. You set yourself up for burnout.

    Passion and Love are good ways to prevent burnout. Remembering that your students are people, not grades or statistics, will also help you prevent burnout. Teachers must balance curriculum and high-touch. I really liked April’s advice:

    “Don’t doubt the fire inside to do something new, even if it doesn’t work the first time or the last time. Don’t question what you know the students really need. The grammar, vocabulary, punctuation, terms, literary elements, stories, authors even writing jargon, they will pick up on the way with or without you. What they need from you is to see an adult who is passionate about what he does. That is what they will remember. Challenge them. Challenge their thinking. That is what they will remember. (April)”

    Some ideas for further thought:
    People are the Curriculum
    Can You Hear me now…”

    My two cents worth

  7. Accidental re-discovery of your site, first of all, and a truly accidental discovery of the mash-up of my original ‘1st year survival advice’ for teachers post. Most impressive, however, was the comment-conversation that took place after the fact, a conversation that went well beyond what I originally tried to say.

    I am honored to be part of it, but even more so to hear such passion and absolute conviction. The Steve the parent was couraeous to say it knowing he’d receive challenges, but it was a fair thing to wonder as a parent. All of your responses took him seriously, honoring his spirit, but also redirected the question not to an ‘either/or’ scenario, but to a more elevated ‘no excuses — do it all’ response, with an eye on kids truly need this from all of you if any of it matters at all.

    I added a new post to “think:lab” heralding your ideas/responses. You can find it at:
    http://thinklab.typepad.com/think_lab/2006/04/just_teach_the_.html

    Great to have this community to learn from. Be well and teach with this same degree of passion and conviction until your last day in the room.

    Cheers,
    Christian

  8. The grammar, vocabulary, punctuation, terms, literary elements, stories, authors even writing jargon, they will pick up on the way with or without you.

    Maybe, eventually their bosses and workmates will have to teach them if you don’t. If your kids get a job in the first place.

    I’m with Steve on this. I agree that passion and caring is all very important, but passion and caring isn’t enough, some actual content has to be fit in there too.

    And I don’t know about you guys, but I remember quite a lot of content from school. I remember when my teachers were passionate about things, but it was my basic arithmetic I used to calculate that a “pension” fund’s fees were so high that it would have to earn a 6.5% return simply so my money would retain the same value as if I’d stored it under my mattress.

    This is not at all a first year’s teacher fault. Schools shouldn’t be setting things up so first year teachers simply have to struggle through the year and drop their worries about teaching kids anything. That year is a whole chunk of the kid’s life, and what happens if next year they have another first year teacher?

    Just to repeat myself, I’m not arguing that teachers needn’t be passionate and caring. What I’m arguing is that teachers should be passionate and caring and English teachers should worry about teaching their students grammar, vocabulary, terms, literary elements, etc.

  9. I can’t speak for Steve, but I’ll bet he is concerned with statements like “The grammar, vocabulary, punctuation, terms, literary elements, stories, authors even writing jargon, they will pick up on the way with or without you.”

    Sorry, but as a college professor, it is my experience that a large swath of students are NOT picking this up on their own. I have encountered too many students who are making elementary school level mistakes in spelling and grammar (among other things). How does it show them love to allow them get to college so ill-prepared?

    I’d have to disagree with Christian about how seriously Steve was taken in the comments. A couple of responders implied or outright stated that Steve couldn’t understand because he wasn’t in the classroom.

    James’ choice of a passionate and caring teacher versus a martinet who “slams” students for bad penmanship is a faulty dilemma. There’s no reason you can’t teach the content in a caring, loving way, but most of the responses came across as somewhat dismissive of (or at best engaging in hand-waving towards) the content in favor of passion and love.

  10. Pingback: Ticklish Ears » Love and Passion in the Classroom

  11. Thank you, everyone, for your comments. I feel as though I am eavesdropping on a conversation and I just wanted to chime in.
    First of all, I want to apologize for the errors in the original post. I was encountering some bugs with wordpress at the time of posting.
    Second…I am finding it interesting hearing what people are having to say on this…and went back to reread my initial post.
    I want to be clear on one thing: teaching grammar and critical reading/thinking skills are important in teaching English.
    A few points from the original post that I would like to revisit:
    “Sometimes we get so caught up in the curriculum or in trying to meet those demands that we forget real teaching is just loving kids and modeling passion” (me). While I agree with the sentiment behind these words (knowing that it is I who wrote them), I believe it is important to get caught up in that curriculum and trying to meet those demands. I think it is a big part of our job as educators to get inside the curriculum and know it; it is our job to sift through it and spend time wrestling with how we will deliver that curriculum in the classroom.
    What I can tell you about the curriculum, however, is that it had absolutely nothing to do with my desire to become a teacher.
    “The right thing to do is care for our students. The curriculum takes a distant second to this.” (me). I still stand by this statement, but would add to it that caring for our students means that we teach the curriculum. If we really care for our students, if we really want to see them succeed and help them do so, then we will teach the curriculum. I teach senior high English, a topic that has a government exam at the end of the course worth %40 of the grade. It would be a terrible disservice to my students to not prepare them for success in that exam by not teaching or covering the curriculum. If I care for my students, then I will do my best to equip them with the skills they need to face that exam and the outside world. Having said that, I find it ironic to note that the BC Ministry of Education has seen fit to remove the grammar and editing skills portion of the final exam, a move which clearly hints at their collective hand in terms of where their values are and seems to suggest to teachers that grammar is not all that important to the Ministry of Ed.
    I’d like to borrow from Tracy W’s comment, “passion and caring is all very important, but passion and caring isn’t enough, some actual content has to be fit in there too.” Let me take the liberty of adding that passion and caring without content is misdirected and ineffective. While I am typing this, however, something about Maslow’s Hierarchy is sticking in my brain…something about not expecting people to move on to other needs when their basic needs for love and safety are not met…
    I am also grateful for David’s comments:

    Sorry, but as a college professor, it is my experience that a large swath of students are NOT picking this up on their own. I have encountered too many students who are making elementary school level mistakes in spelling and grammar (among other things). How does it show them love to allow them get to college so ill-prepared?

    I wholeheartedly agree with these thoughts, and would add that, as a senior English teacher, I am seeing similar things. Some students (more than some) are coming into my classroom ill prepared and are lacking in essential, foundational grammar and composition skills.
    A friend of mine who recently defended her Master’s thesis related a story to me that I feel is appropriate. She was going to meet her sponsor prof (not sure if that is the proper term, my apologies), but the prof, one we had both taken undergrad courses from and really respected and admired, was on the phone at the time, telling off someone’s high school English teacher for passing them and allowing them to sail through without equipping them.
    I say right on to that one! Again, I think if we are passionate and caring, then we will teach the curriculum and do our best to teach it!
    I want to thank everyone for their comments. I also want you to know that I spend a lot of time in the curriculum. I wade through it on a regular basis to refresh my memory and tie assignments directly to it, sometimes quoting learning outcomes verbatim from it so that students see my reasoning for assignments. Walk into my office at certain times and it may seem like a paper bomb went off, as I have curriculum spread out on the floor around my chair with a laptop on my desk and books filling in any places where carpet is showing. My apologies if the ‘passion’ in my post led you to believe otherwise.

  12. The controversy starting quote,”The grammar, vocabulary, punctuation, terms, literary elements, stories, authors even writing jargon, they will pick up on the way with or without you,” was never intended to be interpreted as a teacher advocating to another teacher to throw curriculum out the window. In defense of the statement, I was wandering around this blog and James (whom I do not know) seemed to be in a place that wanted for encouragement. I have been in that place as an educator very often. I judged from his class’s blog and other entries posted that he seemed to be doing fine as far as actual teaching. I felt that what was needed was a bit of a emotional boost so, that’s what I tried to give him – just as I would do with my students. I judged from the postings that James seemed to be a pretty intelligent and mature person and would not miscontrue the encouragement for an opportunity to lay off the curriculum – which he did not. I certainly did not mean to send the message that touchy-feely teachers are doing nothing curriculum-wise and spending all thier time caring. James stated it nicely, “I think if we are passionate and caring, then we will teach the curriculum and do our best to teach it!” This is all that I meant in my comments

    As a teacher, I know that most teachers don’t just do nothing – a popular misconception among the public. This is why I was so hard on Steve-parent. I may seem a little defensive but, I know Steve-parent misunderstood my statements. I must say that the principal who said “When in doubt, love”, I’m sure didn’t mean to imply that any teacher should “just show up and be, rather than come prepared to use your training to instruct a child who will never get that year back”(Steve-parent). This sounds as ridiculous to me as my statements probably did to him. This prinpal probably, too, meant to remember why you became a teacher and the answers (concerning curriculum and instruction) will come to you.

    Most teachers do not become teachers because we have a unquenching desire to correct papers and spend all day talking about splint-infinitives. Most teachers become teachers because they are caring people who want to help. That’s all I was doing – trying to help a fellow teacher through, what I percieved to be, a stale time. Anyone, especially fellow-educators, who percieved my comments to state or imply that we should all throw curriculum to the wayside or to let someone else deal with it, has misunderstood my intentions – surprisingly to me.

    To David-college professor and to professor chewing out high-school English teacher, I’d like to say that I have my students for five months of thier high school career. This is not enough time to correct all the problems in that child’s education.

    I’m amazed that so many of you saw the statements as so black or white.

    I certainly didn’t mean to offend anyone.

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