A lot has been said about the importance of building relationships with students. Most of the educational focused research has been focused on the importance of authentic relationships with at-risk students. I have lived in this world and I can tell you that this research based practice works. Students who lead lives that are less certain than others cling to caring teachers. They yearn for acceptance, love, and someone to talk to. They strive for the best they can give and will take pride in the knowledge that they’ve earned your respect and deserve it. Now, what about all the other students sitting in our classrooms? What about those children that come from intact homes with helicopter parents, all the food they can eat, all the support they will ever need or want? What about them? Those students also present some interesting challenges in the classroom. Those students become bored very easily, they too have ADHD, and they love a challenge whether it’s an enrichment assignment or finding ways to get rid of a sub they don’t like. Those students have a way of making teachers’ lives just a difficult as the most at-risk student, but very little research has been done on the importance of relationship building with these students. How interesting….

I thrive on a discipline issue. I know most administrators shy away from these because either they feel uncomfortable with the discipline policy in place at a school, or they don’t want to deal with a parent that doesn’t quite see things the way they do, or they don’t want to be the bad guy. All of these reasons are justifiable, but I look at discipline as an opportunity to get to know and connect with a kid. It’s as easy as that. It’s a lot of hard work, trying to figure out the true sequence of events, to identify misinterpretations of an event, and to listen to adults weigh in without the child’s best interests in mind. Yep, it’s hard work and frankly takes up a lot of time during an already hectic school day, but the leg work is worth it and I’ll tell you why.

  1. As an administrator, you don’t have the opportunities to get to know the kids like you did as a teacher. You don’t have all those hours together, riddling over arithmetic and writing prompts. Discipline issues give you a reason to meet with a student one-on-one, to listen, and to reason with them. You get to know where the kid is coming from and why she makes the choices she does.
  2. I keep the basic tenants of the discipline policy in mind, but I tailor each situation to the needs of the children involved. I read every infraction notice that is given. I am aware of the students with repeated offences, those that miss assignments regularly, and whose parents just will not take the side of the teacher and will make excuses no matter the infraction. (I see all the parent responses too.) Once I determine that it’s time to see a student in my office, I listen to the student and make the judgment call based on the history and needs of the student.
  3. I research the infraction. If a teacher or another adult sends a student to my office or requests that I meet with a student, I wait to talk not only to the student, but to any other students that may be involved if there is a behavioral event that brought them to my office. By getting all sides of a story, I not only get a chance to meet other students and talk with them, but I also know I have all the facts in front of me to make a fair decision.
  4. Once I make a decision of who is guilty and why, I talk it out with that student. I explain why I believe what I do and the punishment  that is the result of the choice he made. Invariably at this point the student accepts and agrees with my decision and is ready to face the consequence.
  5. Before I put anything in writing, I always call the parents involved to discuss and to reason. Because I have taken all the steps I needed to in order to ensure that I had all the facts, parents generally agree with my decision and grudgingly accept their child’s guilt.

It’s important to note that at this point all the students I talked to along the way now know me. It is so important for me to say hi to them in the hallways, classrooms, and in the cafeteria. I need to take time if they want to talk about unrelated issues, and most of all, I have to find time to laugh with them.

Through this lengthy process, I am making a ton of connections. I am talking with teachers and staff, students, and parents. This gets me in the door. I begin to prove to these students that I am fair, that I will listen to them, and that I think what they have to say is important. This is authentic relationship building and when this is done right, the positive long-term benefits far outweigh any negatives of the time it took to solve the issue.

Kids today are very different, or rather the way they look at school is very different. In order to motivate a student in a classroom during a lesson, you have to connect with them. In most of the schools I have visited, there is always this common theme among the staff…..they want the kids to be motivated in class to do the work and to achieve. They want the kids to be self-motivated. I believe that the only way to truly achieve this is through authentic relationship building. By building relationships with any kid, you get to know them. You know what they like, what drives them, what annoys them, and what makes them happy. You know who they work well with, who they play with, who distracts them and who keeps them on target. A teacher can then use all this knowledge to develop lessons and projects directly tailored to the students in their classrooms. They can predict distractions before they happen, can eliminate drama by separating students, can laugh away embarrassment caused by presentations and simple mess ups. Self-motivation in students will only happen when they truly like and respect their teacher no matter their background.

A quick point I just need to make…..It is not the job of a teacher to become a student’s buddy. This is not proper “relationship building”. Like a parent, a teacher has to remain the authority figure. There always has to be a line so the students knows what is appropriate and what isn’t in a classroom setting. It is the teacher’s job to draw that line clearly so that proper roles are maintained and that the classroom continues to be a professional learning experience for the students. If a teacher is a student’s “friend” or “buddy” then the student will not work for that teacher because she will think she doesn’t have to because lines have blurred.

Look at the way you interact with your students. Are you giving them the attention the crave in order to get the best out of them? Are you creating lessons with them in mind that will attract them, motivate them, and push them to their limits? Are you interesting new ways of presenting a lesson and varying assessment ideas? Are you working to connect with them so that you truly know what they need? Develop those relationships no matter where you are teaching and no matter what types of students you have. If you do, your days will be easier and your work will be far more interesting.

 


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This past month the West Virginia teachers decided to walk out. The teachers were disheartened because they were to receive a 1% raise but would be required to pay more for health care. The legislators drug their feet and argued over the details, wondering why on Earth the teachers were so upset. WV ranks 48th in the country in teacher pay. Many teachers took the job knowing their salaries were not going to be high, but they were assured that their insurance benefits would make up the difference, so they settled, oh, I mean accepted that fact.

Now, I grew up in WV and have a niece who teaches in WV currently. When I graduated from college in the 80’s I searched for months for a teaching job. So, did many of my friends. Not one of us found one in WV. We all relocated to find jobs elsewhere. We did find jobs in Ohio, New Jersey, Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina, and elsewhere. We built our lives in these new states and made homes for ourselves and our families.

We have returned to WV to visit family, but we have seen sadness there. Businesses closed, buildings in disarray, unemployment high, underemployment the norm, and people looked tired and worn down by life. My son once asked me why everyone in my hometown looked so sad. I was shocked that a young boy would notice this. I wanted to say because they are worked to death and unvalued, that the leaders in WV do not seem to have a vision for their citizens, but I said that there were just a lot of elderly people and they sometimes look sad.

I have endured WV jokes. (yes, we wore shoes), my close friend lives in New York City, she has endured WV jokes. However, when all her “big city” friends got to know what a hardworking, ambitious, articulate, amazing person she was, their opinions of WV changed. The stigma of being from WV and being ignorant should not exist.

Every state, every city, and every school need great teachers. These are the people who make change. Education has long been the key to getting out of generational stagnation and poverty. Education is hope. Education is the light that should pull children toward a better life.

Teachers do way more than just stand in front of a classroom and lecture. (Even this image is old school in today’s classroom.) Here are just a few things I have either done or witnessed, do you still agree that teachers really deserve just a 1% raise or even a 5%?

  • Brought in snacks for students who had none
  • Provided shampoo, soap, toothpaste, deodorant in bathrooms for students so they would not feel self-conscious and could focus on learning instead
  • Created a closet of dresses, belts, and suit coats for students who had nothing to wear for formal occasions.
  • Brought in a washer/dryer to the school so students could have clean clothes
  • Took students’ clothes home to wash so they were not embarrassed by stains or smells
  • Bought school supplies, binders, markers, colored pencils, stickers, etc…
  • Drove students to local college campuses to open their world to higher education
  • Sat for hours filling out college applications with students
  • Provided translators during parent/teacher conferences for parents with limited English
  • Held parent/teacher conferences late into the night or at various times during school hours, so even parents with 2 jobs had the opportunity to come and talk to the teachers
  • Brought in shoes for students, cleats are expensive, dress shoes are a luxury
  • Hired a beautician to come to the school and wash & cut student’s hair because they were traumatized by an abusive situation during their last haircut
  • Sat with students during suicidal episodes, anxiety attacks, bi-polar explosions, abuse accusations, and police questioning
  • Took students to district competitions who would have missed it and their chance to show their academic prowess because of no means of transportation
  • Tutored students for free during lunch or afterschool so they could succeed
  • Attended funerals in the middle of the summer for a former student’s family member
  • Found scholarship money or donations for students who wanted to take band but could not afford an instrument
  • Started an all school free breakfast program for any student
  • Advocated to high school for students so they would be accepted to private high schools because they deserved the opportunity
  • Attended soccer games, track meets, choir concerts, band recitals, plays, basketball, baseball, and softball games

Believe me, teachers do these things and much more daily. Let’s respect teachers and education. It is time!

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.                           

Nelson Mandela


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Right now it feels as if the world is spiraling out of control. Everyone has an opinion about everything, whether they have accurate knowledge on the subject or not. I have been trying to understand some of the reasons for this discourse, maybe you will disagree, but here are my thoughts.

When I grew up, we were expected to work hard, listen to our parents and teachers, treat others how we wanted to be treated, and be respectful. Unfortunately, our current society’s pendulum has swung to the side of, what’s in it for me? Now, I am not saying that some self care isn’t important, but it seems to have gotten out of hand.

My mother never got a break, a day off, a relaxing day at a spa or a girls’ vacation, ever. Of course she could have used a reprieve from the monotony of raising 6 kids with little financial resources. My father never went on golf outings or fishing trips with the guys for the weekend either. It just wasn’t common in our home or even in our city where we were. We worked hard, loved America, loved our families, loved God, and put others needs in front of ours.

People said that it was okay to think of yourselfokay to put yourself first, okay to ask for what you needed. Of course this concept was more than okay, everyone needed a little re-setting of the mind and soul. The problem was that society took this idea and became self-absorbed. People craved attention and posessions. Technology and social media helped to self promote and angrily voice opinions. The original theory was a good one, but what has come of it, not so much.

As an educator, my hands are tied in many situations. I see parents bullying teachers and the system, Yes, I said it, bullying. They complain about everything. They believe that their child is never wrong, and they do not allow their child to be held responsible for their actions. Hello, welcome to life people! Believe me, I let a lot go in my classroom, but if you forget your homework and get a “missing” it is just a reminder to be more conscientious next time. It is to teach you responsibility, that’s it!

What do parents do instead? They say, you can’t do this to my child, they couldn’t help it, they had practice or forgot their book at school, etc. so the dreaded “missing” is unfair. They say things like, this is hurting my childthis is causing harm to my child. No, sorry to say, you are hurting your child. Allow them to take ownership and learn, allow them to grow from each experience, please.

Educators spend a lot of time and money getting their degrees. They continue their education, paying for it out of their own pockets, and participate in professional development during the school year. Educators plan exciting lessons, grade tests, spend hours on report card comments about each child, and use their own money for supplies. They are not in this field to write up your child and get him/her in trouble. (Okaythere are some of “those” teachers who have a fixed mindset, I know).

The point, accountability, responsibility, and respect for others are missing. We have to stop blaming others and reconnect with each other as human beings. Parents, please talk to your children, listen and pay attention to them, don’t overindulge them. Instead, empower them to advocate for themselves. We need to build character, not tear down each other. 


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I have a lot of students who worked below grade level in the elementary and middle school grades. Students would come into my classrooms with various roadblocks in attaining instant success in education. Many of the babies had language barriers that made it difficult for them to score high test scores on proficiency/achievement/standardized/high-stakes tests in English speaking schools. Although I never once blamed my students for the English language deficiency, I knew that having English as a second language negatively impacted their scores on these yearly exams.

Let me explain something…..I believed then and I believe now that all of my students were and are BRILLIANT! To have the bravery and fortitude to walk into a classroom day after day and not truly understand what is being said, is mind boggling to me. I can’t even imagine sitting in a room, watching a teacher write words (not in the language I speak at home) in cursive, saying these crazy, insane words known as content vocabulary words day after day and then be expected to complete assignments independently with no cues, expected to write paragraphs in this alien language, and solve complex mathematical problems written with the sole purpose of confusing or tricking the reader, see and recognize words like “text”, “paragraph”, “selection”, and “passage”, while realizing that they all mean the same thing. No wonder so many of our children would break down weeping or shut down after ten minutes. What an incredible JOKE! Hey, but don’t worry, these students who speak English at school…with their teachers….only….are allowed to have a dictionary and extended time. (Sarcasm) Yep, that will make the situation equal for these children. (Sarcasm) Yep, these test scores from these biased, ridiculously written tests by these companies making huge money are capable of determining which students are “at level” with a group of same aged peers.(Sarcasm) These test scores, which are not, in any way, a true measure of a child’s intelligence should determine which teacher deserves her position or a wonderful evaluation? WHAT A JOKE!!!! Yet, here we are, in 2018, still listening to these people telling educators and parents that these test scores are what matters. And I have to admit, that there have been moments when I have been sucked into the craziness. I worried about my kids’ test scores. I bragged about the students who did well, and I searched, worried and lost sleep trying to figure out what I was doing wrong. But do the test scores even matter one bit????? NO they do not.

Those students, the ones who struggled, cried, quit, and bolted from the room, those same students who were turned down by high schools because their scores weren’t good enough….well they are doing GREAT! They are excelling at other high schools by working hard, studying for tests, and listening to the words their dedicated teachers taught them. They finally realized that a number on a standardized report means absolutely nothing. They have 3.0 and much better grade point averages, they are deeply involved in their schools, they are being accepted into colleges and are excelling, they are receiving scholarships to numerous schools, and they are standing straight with pride and confidence. I am so proud of each and every single one of the students I have taught, because they are beating the system. Even when others were telling them they couldn’t do it, that they weren’t good enough, they are proving those people wrong every single day.

Those stupid, useless tests mean nothing. What matters is the love, acceptance, beliefs that teachers have in their students. What matters is a hug, a shoulder to cry on, the ability to break down concepts, the ability to create connections for understanding, and a belief that speaking another language isn’t a curse, but a truly great gift that we should foster and build. The celebrations of a student’s home culture is incredibly important because when you find joy in what they believe and how they are raised, then you, as an educator, are telling them that they are important, vital, and should be proud of where they come from. You are telling them that even though differences make school hard sometimes, they don’t make school impossible.

If only educators could focus solely on true education and the educational needs of their students. Just think of all the wasted time, tears, and frustration that could be replaced with experiences that build scheme, educational opportunities, artistic activities, and joy….Just think….


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