Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Survival Kit In A Sandwich Bag

I'm taking a little break here from talking about teaching.  It's June. Who wants to think about school right now?

I'm thinking about summer and all the fun I had with my own kids when they were little.  We live in a great area for people who love the outdoors.  When the kids were little, hardly a week passed between camping trips.  We tried to be gone more than we were home during the summer months. I still can't go outside without noticing something and thinking "That would be such a cool thing for a lesson about..."  Hmmm.  Can't turn off that teacher brain.  And I'm not sure I ever want to.

Today, thinking about camping, I thought about a little boy who was lost in the mountains just east of me.  He was at a lake with his dad, and just went back to camp for "a minute" because he got his clothes wet and wanted to change.  I think he was about 10 years old and their camp was a very short walk away.  That was several years ago.  He's never been found.  Nor has any trace of him.  I think about his parents every summer. One minute your kid is by your side having fun at a mountain lake.  The next minute he's vanished into thin air.  I can't imagine that nightmare.  But I've been on the "lost" end of it, very briefly.  I was an adult, and it was terrifying to me.  I was 'lost' and alone for less than an hour before being found.  But I learned a lifelong lesson in that time.  I realized how unprepared I was.  I never go camping or hiking anymore without carrying on my person what I would need to stay safe for a night - or two.

Here are simple FREE instructions for making your own Survival Kit In A Sandwich Bag.  It's made with easily available inexpensive materials and - most importantly - a kid can use it without help.

Survival Kit In A Sandwich Bag

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Secrets to Classroom Management #1.2

Back to names again.  Seriously, the topic needs two posts.  Names really are the #1 secret to classroom management.

In my last post I mentioned that it would be a good idea to take your class roster and go find a veteran teacher in the grade previous to the one you're teaching, to help you learn to pronounce your new students' names. Or maybe take your roster into the faculty room on your first day at work and use it to break the ice and start a conversation with your new colleagues. Asking for help is a pretty good way to get people to start talking to you.

There are a couple of reasons why you should ask a veteran for help.  First, the veteran knows the kid.  If the student's legal name is not the name they go by, the veteran will tell you what to call the kid.  Believe me, some kids start every school year dreading that first calling of attendance, because they really don't want everybody to hear that horrible humiliating name.  The veteran teacher will give you the gift of calling that kid the nickname he or she wants to be called, and the student will appreciate you for knowing that name.  And obviously the veteran teacher can also tell you how to pronounce the difficult or unusual names.

But the veteran will tell you more.  Maybe you've always heard that you should avoid asking or listening to what other teachers think about students.  Most of us heard that in college.  We heard how much it affects us to believe that a student is difficult or brilliant or anything else.  The assumption is that we are too stupid to avoid believing everything we hear.  But we're not stupid.  We know enough to make up our own minds about kids.  And what you can hear from a veteran may be critical to your success (or failure) with that child. How can it be a bad thing to know that a child's parents went through an ugly divorce two years ago and now he's living with his grandmother? Might that explain some of his behaviors? How could it be a bad thing to know that a student has a lisp and hates being called on in class? How could it be a good thing to ask her in front of all her peers, how to pronounce her name, if her name is Sareecia?  That kind of thing can be avoided. Talk to those veteran teachers. They'll tell you stuff you need to know about the name, and about the human being who carries that name.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Secrets to Classroom Management - #1.1

"What's in a name?  That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."
Romeo and Juliet (II,ii,1-2) by William Shakespeare.

I didn't title this post "What's In A Name?" because my father, a professor of languages, would have rolled over in his grave had I resorted to such a cliched use of a quote from Shakespeare.  But it's a good question.  What's in a name?  The best classroom management tool ever.

Memorizing your students' names quickly is respectful.  And using their names to redirect their off-task behavior ( e.g. "Joan, sit down please") is much more effective than giving directions to 'everyone' (e.g. "Everyone sit down.  Everyone sit down please.  Please have a seat. JOAN!  Sit down!")  You should have just started with "Joan, sit down please"

I don't care how bad you are with names, because you are going to have to remember 3,000 of them or more, in a 30 year career.  And twenty years from now, when that former student of yours runs into you at the grocery store you'll be expected to answer the question "Remember me?"

The real reason to remember names of course, is that our names are music to our ears, and they can't be said aloud without us hearing them.  If someone says your name, you're all ears.  And if someone remembers your name quickly, you like it.  There is nothing quite so effective as using a student's name, no matter the occasion.  And there is nothing worse than not remembering it because that sends a message too:  You are not special and you don't matter to me.

So here's a tip:  Get last year's yearbook, and start memorizing names to go with faces. That way, when a student who is six inches taller than you are, with a swagger that would make Idris Elba look like a wimp, walks in the door on the first day of class, you can say, "Good morning, Robert." It's hard to over-estimate the effect of that simple statement.  You just told Robert that you know him better than he knows you. And you have told him that you care enough to have learned his name before school starts.  And you've told him that you know things....that he didn't expect you to know. He might decide to give you a day or two of his best behavior.

If, on the other hand, you say, "Good morning, See-Oh-Bahn", because you practiced sounding out "Siobhan" from the class roster you got the day before - you're toast.  Because it's pronounced "Sha VAWN". And Siobhan (did you really just read SeeOhBahn?) is not likely to forgive you, or to feel good when the rest of the class laughs at your massacring of her name, which everybody (except the hopelessly clueless teacher) knows how to pronounce.  I know this, because I was one of those kids who knew the teacher would mispronounce my name.  It wasn't an easy name and I knew that.  It is mispronounced more often than pronounced correctly.  I now go by my middle name.  A teacher who could pronounce my first name had my instant gratitude.  That's a good thing for a teacher to start off with.

So, if you have no yearbook, but do have a roster, take a few minutes to go find a couple of veteran teachers in the grade before yours and get them to tell you how to say the students' names correctly. I'll write a different post about why it should be a veteran teacher you talk to.

Knowing kids names and saying them correctly on the first day, can make or break your introduction of yourself to your new students, and potentially give you a respectful foundation on which to build your relationships.