Thursday, March 6, 2014

Old School, Middle School

Just as it is true of any profession or vocation, you have to work at the kind of teacher you want to be just as you have to work at the kind of person you want to be.

Sometimes we forget. At least I do.

After twenty years in education, I am finding that two of the most valuable commodities in any school building are teachers who are a) receptive to collaboration and b) willing to make the school experience pleasant for kids.

I am so mad at myself for forgetting that sometimes. I have not been that collaborative and willing guy every day of every year.

How lucky I feel to work closely with a few people who are so good at the positive energy and the reminders to do good things for kids! Just this week, I walked into a team meeting and one handed me a postcard and said, "Start off the meeting writing a positive note to a kid and their family." Another conscious effort we made this year...but again, I had forgotten to do one since Christmas. How lucky I am to have colleagues constantly working at raising all of us up too--not just the kids.

It becomes too easy to plug myself in behind my desk and fuss over "my" curriculum--I don't have time to collaborate. Too many papers to grade. Too much to plan.

And it becomes too easy to hide behind the mantras of discipline, accountability, and preparing kids for their future! Hey kids, do that worksheet, write that essay, get it done, get it done, get it done--I'm only preparing you for next year.

When I look back at myself in that chosen role, I ask myself, could I have been a student in my class? Can't I choose to be another way in the classroom?

I had gotten away from planning for enjoyment, planning for the kids' enjoyment, planning for aspects of a young person's development other than what their SAT scores might be in three or four years.

I had gotten away from making the conscious effort to be a mentor and not a judge. I think I have that one corrected...or at least better in recent years.

I am relearning that if we, the educators, do not take a step back and plan for the whole child, we end up being contributors to a lot of stress, anxiety, and out-of-joint relationships.

Well, the team of teachers I work with took an hour and planned today for a fun St. Patrick's Day:

  1. We agreed to dress the part (green hats, shamrocks, etc.)
  2. We agreed to create an ongoing challenge for the kids (count the shamrocks you find throughout your day; keep your eyes opened for gold chocolate coins throughout your classrooms, etc.)
  3. Each classroom teacher will build in a little St. Patrick's Day activity into whatever it is they would be doing in class anyway. Maybe the word problems are leprechaun-themed, maybe the poem I open class with is by an Irish poet...something...)
  4. Our culminating activity at the end of the day is to gather the kids by homerooms in the gym. Once there, the homerooms will participate in two activities:
    • a relay race running spoonfuls of the cereal across the gym and fill up the container
    • put together a puzzle of their homeroom teacher dressed as a leprechaun
We used an app called "Leprechaun Me" and transformed ourselves. Then we plugged those pictures into an online program  which turned our faces into puzzle pieces. 

We took screen shots of the puzzle pieces and the plan is to produce them on a large, color printer. Next week, we'll be cutting them out and preparing everything whenever we can steal some time in our work day or at home.

In the end, we know some kids will remember the experience more than the Irish poem I may share in class. When we went to great lengths to create an "Amazing Race" activity before the holidays, kids wrote and told us how much fun they had and how much more they enjoyed it than sitting and watching a movie (which we've done before the holidays or big field trips for years).

A colleague, who has been around much longer than me, pointed out how "old school" that Amazing Race activity was--that that was how much fun middle school used to be, and how much kids crave those kinds of experiences mixed into their educational experience. We used to take the kids camping overnight, and we would transform the middle school into a haunted house. We had sleepovers at the school with movies projected on large screens. 

We used to go way more out of our way to do fun things for kids. 

And I know my colleague loves this upcoming activity--that this is going to be great for so many kids.

But, these types of days and experiences don't just happen. They take a lot of work. And they require two major components which I will repeat: a) teachers who are receptive to (active) collaboration and b) teachers who are willing to make the school experience pleasant for kids. 

We all have it in us.

We just forget sometimes.


  1. I appreciate your honest reflection. Did you find that making school more fun for kids helped your energy and attitude?

  2. Perfect. Sounds like the day will be more fun for all of you!

  3. Sounds like you're working with a great group of teachers! Thanks for reminding me of the fun we can all have if we work together.