VIP’s: Very Involved Parents, Part 2

VIP’s: Very Involved Parents, Part 2: Young teachers try proving their worth.

Oh dear, the return of the VIP’s. They came back, as we knew they would. So before we lock our classroom door, turn out the lights, and pretend we’re not here, let’s recap a few things:

  1. VIP’s simply need to be convinced that you want as much for their student as they do.
  2. Communication is vital – take time to email parents, update your class website, or call parents to keep those lines open.
  3. For young teachers, parents may act surprised at your age and question your ability. This may chafe you like a 16-year-old being told they can’t drive. But unlike that teenager, you won’t get offended, because you know you actually are inexperienced. Right? So refer to numbers 1 and 2.

Okay, the parent is gone and you can relax now. In this sequel, we’ll talk about how young teachers are trying to prove their worth, how parents are “watching” you, and how to see a VIP in a different light.

teacher-out-of-school

Young teachers can be defensive about their choices for their classroom, especially if they are different from the previous teacher’s approach. All teachers have a reason for every choice they make, but since it takes time to get to know the students, the school, and the expectations they are required to conform to, the choice may not be the most popular at the time. A young teacher (or maybe every teacher) still gets a quiver in their stomach when they get called to the principal’s office. Luckily, we quickly realize that an effective principal is on our side – but the VIP that just called the principal may not be, yet! How can we learn to apply the Golden Rule to VIPs, and collaborate with parents as we wish they would collaborate with us?

Here is another real story for you, from my very first year of teaching. I call it the Baseball Cap Example, and it helps me remember how closely some parents are actually watching. Big Brother style, for sure! In this instance, I believe the parent was dedicated to helping me succeed as a young teacher – though of course, I did not think of that at the time, being a bit unnerved. The Baseball Cap Example is simple: I was at one of the school’s sporting events, I was wearing my high school mascot baseball cap, and I forgot to take it off during the national anthem. The next day, a parent approached me and reminded me that not removing hats during the national anthem would offend some members of the community. I said something along the lines of, “Oh, I’m sorry! I was thinking of other things and forgot!” Thereafter I was a bit more aware of Big Brother, whether at a school event or buying orange juice at the grocery store.

seeing-teacher-outside-of-school

 

Orwell references aside, a VIP is a regular person, somewhere around your age or a few years older. So the advice for this VIP sequel?

  1. Before defending your teaching methods, get to know the parent a bit. After all, they have their own personality and interests that exist outside of their student.
  2. Learn to see the world through rose-colored glasses. I think the “kill them with kindness” approach actually works way better on community members than your students.
  3. Collaboration can be extremely helpful. When talking to a parent; it may be useful to plan one thing that you will do, such as taking a moment to ensure that the student understands the homework assignment; with one thing the parent will do, such as checking your classroom website once a week to see the current homework assignment.

Hopefully, you found this post amusing and true, rather than blunt and annoying. But either way, share your advice and stories about VIP’s by leaving a comment below or emailing teachingismadhard@gmail.com.

Interesting Reading:

Parents and Teachers:

  1. http://www.educationworld.com/a_curr/profdev/profdev103.shtml
  2. http://teaching.monster.com/benefits/articles/9861-what-do-parents-really-want-from-teachers

Next week: Discipline is not Bipolar…

Week 3.1: Blowing off Steam & Teacher Dropouts

Week 3.1: Blowing off Steam & Teacher Dropouts

Happy New Year all! Back to school with all our goals for the spring semester. May they last at least one month…

To start the New Year, we’re getting a leg-up on how we’re all going to feel in March. Blowing off steam! This is a tricky subject, and one of the posts taking me the longest to write. How do teachers let off steam caused by work issues? If we go out and drink with our fellow teacher friends, might not a parent see us and decide we are too irresponsible to teach their kid? If we bottle up frustration, we risk leaving the profession through sheer unhappiness. If we have hobbies, all well and good, but building a model sailboat doesn’t really help us deal with our job.

I’ve tried many things – tequila Thursday with friends, movie marathons with junk food, driving to the next town over every weekend to hang out where I was unlikely to run into students and parents, etc. The only thing that really keeps me clear-headed is exercise; something I’m pretty bad at remembering to do. But for some reason, running, hiking, or doing any kind of solitary exercise helps me stay centered. So, first of all, you can look for the activity that keeps you clear-headed – and I can tell you that venting with fellow teachers is not that thing.

yoga-stress-relief

Second of all, I have to bring up an old story. The story of when I was talking to a first-year teacher a while ago and we bonded over how we are “teacher zombies” during the week and on the weekend we remember that we are living, vibrant, people with great personalities. The mental switch from “teacher self” to “myself” can be extreme. So, I suggest that each week, you find a way to bring who you are into your classroom. Share a story from your college days, share one book that you enjoyed, plan a lesson around something you remember from growing up – anything to combine your disparate selves. In the long run, it will help you remember who you were, who you are, and who your students are, something that we forget is so important when demonstrating that we are on the students’ side.

Besides bringing your unique personality into your classroom, I think the best thing is to change the game completely – don’t even use words like “stress” or “letting off steam” or “it was a tough week and I need a DRINK.” All of these phrases only emphasize the problem and keep you living in your stress for longer than you need to. So on Friday afternoon, right before you leave, I recommend doing three weirdly psychological things:

  1. Make a quick list of things to deal with next week. (5 minutes on this, max.)
  2. Read CNN headlines for 2 minutes and remember how good you have it.
  3. Name three things that went well in your classroom this week and make a note to thank your students for them on Monday morning.

Now proceed to your weekend, stress-free! Or thereabouts.

I would like to propose that the extremely high number of teachers who leave the profession in the first five years all encounter something they are not expecting in their first teaching jobs. They are trying to resolve their disparate selves – they are trying to develop a teacher personality while remembering their favorite teachers, while dealing with parents who only see how young they are, and while realizing that staying enthusiastic while surrounded by teenagers is just plain hard work and involves an element of acting. There is no room to have a “bad day” in teaching, because it is work that is up-close and personal every day, for much longer than 8 hours a day. There are plenty of stressful jobs out there, but most of them depend on you, rather than you and 25 teenagers.

The sources below offer a few more ideas explaining teacher-dropout rates, as well as giving the dropout statistics. Have your own idea, based on the new teachers you have observed or your own experience? Have you discovered an effective way to blow off steam? Please share by leaving a comment or emailing teachingismadhard@gmail.com. We would love to learn from your experience!

Interesting Reading:

NCES: https://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2015337

http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2014/07/18/332343240/the-teacher-dropout-crisis

https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2015/jan/27/workload-new-teachers-work-life-balance

http://www.teachhub.com/professional-development-why-do-teachers-quit

 

Next week, those VIP’s are back: it’s VIP’s: Very Involved Parents, part 2.

Classroom Holiday Party?

This is a short post because of all the gift-wrapping, cookie-baking, and home-cleaning we all need to do. And all that besides trying to keep students on task when there is snow outside to play with and every classroom and their mom has plopped them down in front of the Grinch movie?

So, I only have one recommendation for your classroom at holiday time. Use the time, no matter what short class schedule, hectic all-school celebration, or other drama you have at your school, to do an activity that emphasizes the good things people do at this time of the year. It could be connecting a Trans-Siberian Orchestra winter show video with how music is used to raise funds and awareness of a global issue, as they did for Sarajevo. It could be promoting knowledge of other cultures by playing a game about the different holiday traditions around the world. It could be an Apples-to-Apples type game that matches the gift with the student who plans to give it to their family member (or the fictional gift the student would like to give if you don’t want to be so personal).

The options for sharing stories of kindness are endless! Don’t show Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, not agaaaaiiin…

Happy Holidays! Wishing you the best for a Happy New Year.

holiday-cartoon

Week 2.4: The Great Communicator

Week 2.4: The Great Communicator

Why does communication keep popping up? It appears in the previous seven posts in some form or other – being a well-rounded person, talking to your administrator and co-workers without fear, etc. Communication may be the most important part of your teaching job – a happy fact for some, a not-so-thrilling fact for others.

At work, I was recently part of a discussion on super-powers! If you could have one super-power, what would it be? I invariably go for being able to fly (think how much money you could save on plane tickets!) but the majority of the group voted for a more communicative power – being able to read minds, for example. The most double-edged sword of super-powers! Can you imagine being able to read your students’ minds? I shiver just thinking about it.

spock-mind-meld

But the point is that communication is difficult in every career and relationship. Pretty much everything we do relies on others. So here are some no-holds-barred recommendations for communication in teaching:

  1. Send at least 10 parents an email update on their student’s progress every week. You can write generic and short notes and use them to save time; as long as you don’t forget to change the names. You can proceed alphabetically through your roster, if that is easiest, or develop your own system. Parents appreciate the recognition even more than the students do!
  1. Before parent-teacher conferences, send a personal email asking parents to attend. Keep it enthusiastic – you can’t wait to meet them and tell them about everything that is going on in class. It is well-known that the 15% of parents that show up to conferences are generally the parents of the straight-A students. Parents, we miss you. Come talk to us.
  1. Choose a day about a month into the school year and invite parents to attend your class with their students on that day – this isn’t just for elementary and music classes!
  1. Send your administrator an update on your classroom progress and on your teaching ideas every month. Also let him/her know all this communication with parents you have been doing.
  1. Have a classroom blog, website, announcement page, Facebook page, anything. Be that person at your school who the other teachers come to for communication advice.
  1. Actually DO these things.

Seem overwhelming? But by taking an hour a week to do these six things, think how much time you will save explaining yourself later. Remember how your students will not be able to fudge to their parents about your classroom assignments and goals. (Students are trustworthy, but that doesn’t mean they take the time to communicate.) Consider that you are creating a positive foundation before any misunderstandings take place, as they are bound to do. (Remember how much time you will save with a super-power like flying.)

And please share your communication stories/recommendation stories in a comment below or email them to teachingismadhard@gmail.com!

professor-x-mind-read

Enjoy these resources about communication:

http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/article/five-keys-successful-parent-teacher-communication

https://www.edutopia.org/blog/20-tips-developing-positive-relationships-parents-elena-aguilar

http://theparentacademy.dadeschools.net/pdfs/Effective_Communication.pdf

 

Next week, we’ll talk about “Blowing off Steam” with some statistics of teacher-dropout rates. Hey, students aren’t the only ones with dropout rates! And for those of you who only have one week until school is out for the holiday season, Happy Holidays to you!

Week 2.3: Why Discipline is Dangerous, Part 2

Week 2.3: Why Discipline is Dangerous, Part 2

Three weeks ago, we featured “Why Discipline is Dangerous, Part 1.” The main take-away from that post is that every student needs to constantly be treated with respect and kindness. Almost all the students will “come around” eventually if respect and kindness are there. Now that we have done away with “because I said so’s” and “Wait until I call your parents” moments, it’s time to move to the next level of discipline. Master these, earn your blue belt! For Part 2, we’ll discuss a couple things: how discipline issues in the classroom affect the “other” students, and whether humor and discipline mix.

behave

So in Part 1, the “silent teacher” reaction was recommended. This works partly because the misbehaving student realizes that it is time to pay attention, and partly because all the other students in the class realize what type of behavior is getting the silent treatment. Classroom discipline is a seesaw. On one end are the students who are unlikely to cause a disruption of class, and on the other, students who have more trouble concentrating. A teacher’s job is to tip the seesaw towards the happy, hard-working side. The difficulty of this task changes whenever a new student joins the class, when a disruptive student is also a popular student, or of course, on any weeks that include a holiday, half-day, school sports event, school dance, or a Friday.

Most kids spend 12 years or more of their life on a school schedule. They know what is expected of them. They know exactly the problem a teacher is reacting to when a fellow student talks in class, asks to go to the restroom every day, doesn’t turn in their homework, or a myriad of other little things that happen regularly. In fact, the fellow students probably know more about what is going on in the disruptive student’s life than the teacher, whether they are BFF’s with that student or not. Their reactions are a powerful tool for classroom discipline, if it seems right for the teacher to use it. For example, a student who is commonly a hard worker will “hush” the disruptive student while the teacher is doing the silent stare. It might work. It might cause more anger. In my experience, it does not work when a teacher is active in the relationship between classmates, for example, if the teacher says “Could someone please remind ZaZa of our classroom rules?” Totally annoying. It works slightly better when the teacher gives a compliment to a student who is acting the preferred way: “ZaZa, thank you for sitting so silently and waiting patiently for the next task.” Still kind of passive-aggressive though. Or, the teacher could study methods used with learning disorder students: “ZaZa, your chair really would like to stand firmly on the floor.” (Everything is related to an inanimate object that cannot talk back.) However, when you think through these methods in your mind, they all have a chance of not working. Which brings us back to our Part 1 rule: Respect and kindness. “ZaZa, will you please join us in the next part of the lesson? You are a valuable member of this class.” Now, you as a teacher have done nothing to show favoritism, or to elicit a further reaction from other students.

The main thing to remember is that discipline becomes dangerous when it stops being a regular expectation and begins being punishment. When that happens, you stop being a teacher who expects excellence and you start being evil in the minds of students and parents. Would you rather be Dumbledore or Snape?

Now for humor! Humor is a necessity, especially in middle school classrooms. But do discipline and humor mix? I think it depends on the severity of the student’s disruption. For example, when a student is chatty in class, this is a good time for humor. Try to avoid sarcasm, but when a teacher walks over to a student having a conversation at the wrong time in class, and joins in the conversation as if they were best friends, that can be pretty funny. So pattern your humor based on the teacher who sees a student sleeping, turns off all the lights and has the class quietly leave the classroom; rather than the teacher who makes a loud noise by dropping a textbook on the desk in front of the sleeping student. On the other hand, when a student has a low grade because they are not turning in homework, don’t shrug it off with humor. Their future success is important. So have fun and make as many silly jokes during your lecture as you want – humans need to laugh.

high-school-musical

The process of building classroom discipline is a marathon, not a sprint. There may be students who simply want to push your buttons, and the ONLY way to get them to stop is to not react. Not reacting, or reacting only with silence followed by encouragement, may be the only way to stay positive for 30 years in a difficult job. Focusing only on student successes may seem ridiculous at times, but is a good way to break a bad discipline habit in the classroom.

Comment or email with your own discipline success stories, or failure stories (we all have them) and enjoy the following resources:

Humor in the Classroom: http://www.nea.org/tools/52165.htm

Classroom Interaction: http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/certop/imp_ssi.html

Next Week! “The Great Communicator”

Week 2.2: VIP’s Very Involved Parents (part 1)

Week 2.2: VIP’s Very Involved Parents (part 1)

The influencers of child development are family, friends, and teachers. It would be a beautiful world if these three groups could work together, and occasionally, that does happen. But as any teacher could tell you, there are some parents out there who are SCARY. Parents that blame teachers for every low grade and moment of out-of-control behavior. Parents that call weekly, and if given your cell phone number, call on weekends too. Parents that KNOW WHERE YOU LIVE and WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER. These are VIP’s – Very Involved Parents.

Now, many teachers are parents themselves. They know both sides – unconditional love for their kid and the challenges that teachers face. It is often said that parents make better teachers and vice versa, and because of this, a teacher’s kid is generally the most well-behaved student in your classroom. Hey – expectations really do matter.

However, reaching a common ground with VIP’s can be extremely difficult, regardless of how much the parent knows about teacher life. Parents see every moment of their child’s frustration and sadness at home, and the protective instinct can kick in immediately and ferociously. Then the protective instinct can be taken out on teachers, and since teachers are human, they can react by only seeing a scary confrontation instead of where the VIP is coming from.

The first thing that teachers need to remember is that the love parents have for their children is an unreasonable one. There is no talking a VIP out of their belief that their child is in the right, and the teacher is in the wrong. You will save yourself heartache and sleepless nights if you do not worry about VIP behavior. Suggestions:

  1. Take a step back, give it a day or two, and then communicate briefly and politely with the parent.
  2. Let the parent talk it out first without interruption.
  3. Ask questions to clarify the parent’s concerns.
  4. BEFORE you explain that the student has not turned in their homework, or that the student was pestering a fellow classmate, tell the parent that you want their child to succeed.

The goal is to establish the open-mindedness and forgiveness that everyone needs in order to move past worry or anger. If the behavior of the student or parent is dramatic enough to require a conference, make sure the student is in the conference. This way everyone knows what is going on – the student will be less inclined to over-exaggerate the unfairness of the teacher; the parent will be less inclined to overreact in front of their student, and the teacher can let the student know that they are on their side despite the problem.

There are no two ways around it – your behavior when dealing with VIP’s has to be above reproach. The teacher has to take the high road. Because again, a parent’s love for their child is bat-eyed blind. Here are some examples to let you know you’re not alone:

  1. When I was a first-year teacher, parents would challenge my knowledge on a regular basis. I was “too young” to teach. In a way they were right – but in a way, they were wrong too. It’s not your knowledge base that is the issue after 4 years of teacher school – it’s your behavior. See Week 1: Taking the “Student” out of Student Teacher.
  2. A parent never responded to emails or phone messages until March, when they called the principal to express their unhappiness with the lack of special attention their student was receiving in the class.
  3. A parent who was also a teacher at the same school would “stop in” to my classroom during my plan hour every week to check on their student’s progress in my class.

conferences-in-time

Got your own VIP story? Please share! Please also share your preferred method of talking with VIP’s. (Not “dealing with,” “talking with.”)

And here are some great resources:

This blog has many useful posts: http://4u2nomore.blogspot.com/2014_09_01_archive.html

And more help on using technology to communicate with parents: http://www.learnnc.org/lp/pages/6639

Don’t forget other wonderful teacher blogs on scholastic.com and teachhub.com!

Week 2.1: Introducing Me

Week 2.1: Introducing Me

I am a teacher (obviously). I don’t consider myself a particularly old teacher, although the first year of teaching counts as 10 years of experience in my opinion! In my career so far, I have taught Grades 5-12, taught multiple subjects, and taught in both public and private schools. I have also taught overseas in an American international school.

Now, you can see my main purpose in writing this blog on the “What’s It All About” page, accessed by the links at the top right of your screen. But personally, I write this blog as a way to reflect, to consolidate and learn from my experiences, and to not forget the way that a teacher develops throughout their career. So basically, this blog is therapy (Fish are friends, not food).

I also write this blog because I want to be your Dear Abby, should you ever need one. Send teachingismadhard@gmail.com an anonymous email without specifics about where you teach, and I will respond with empathy, suggestions, or resources. Email a blog post about a teaching issue that is important to you, and I will share it. Write your own blog, and I will share the link and like your page. Teaching is MAD hard, but everyone has the power to reach students in a profound way, and I am here to help in any way that I can. Put your frustration out there where it will do some good – by helping another teacher not get into the same situation you found yourself in.

I have felt sad and alone at many times in my teaching, and if you simply need a fellow teacher’s recognition for what you are trying to do, I am here for that too.

So use this blog as your own, and use the information in any way you like!

Next week, we’ll start a very involved two-parter: VIP’s: Very Involved Parents!

Extra resources? It may be that the only extra resources you need this week are your amazing coworkers. Or your diary. Or your therapist.

one-does-not-simply