Good Teachers….

Good teachers care about students and treat them with the same consideration and respect as they would their own children.
… do everything in their power to help students to achieve as much as they possibly can in all aspects of their lives.
… more often teach their students ‘how to think’ rather than ‘what to think’.
… have integrity and teach their subjects as truthfully as possible
… help their students to respect themselves and others – respect is a two-way street.
… encourage their students to realize their dreams.
… may forget a child’s name, but they know who those children are
… are proficient in their subject areas and are able apologists for the relevance of their subject in the curriculum
… teach for mastery rather than mystery
… are sensitive and positive, but also honest in their appraisal of students’ progress and potential
… make their students earn grades
… have high expectations of their students and work hard to help them to achieve those expectations.
… teach their students effective study skills designed to last a lifetime
… know how to pace themselves and conserve their energies throughout a school year
… realize that they will never be all things to everyone they teach
… never seem to be trying too hard.
… possess moral courage.
… have a solid work ethic and encourage their students to apply themselves
… treat their colleagues as equals and with respect
… are well organized and teach their students the importance of organizational skills.
… empower their students to reach their goals
… are team players who believe that Together Everyone Achieves More
… stretch their students without taking them too close to breaking-point
… alleviate stress as far as possible
… are sensitive to students’ problems and do whatever they can to resolve those problems.
… don’t sweat the small stuff
… take pride in every lesson they teach
… are able to discern and work around unhelpful changes/fads/gimmicks in educational policies and initiatives without causing major problems
… know what sorts of behaviors cannot be ignored and can handle them with minimum fuss
… know that they are the messengers not the message.
… offer guidance and support
… are prepared to mediate for their students
… are always prepared to apologize for mistakes made and to make reparation.
… realize that every class is a mixed-ability class, with all of its students having ‘special needs’
… are not afraid to be role-models and demand good standards of behavior in their students
… involve themselves in the life of the school.
… are attuned to the modus operandi/spirit of the school
… are not afraid to be unpopular
… are passionate and compassionate
… are quick to discipline and slow to punish
… refuse to punish the whole class for the inappropriate actions of the few.
… inspire trust in their students and colleagues alike
… are able to discern the difference between hearing their students’ speak and listening to their views.
… are always ready to learn from their students
… exude passion and enjoyment of their work
… use humor to good effect.
… maintain inviting and tidy classrooms
… are imaginative and innovative
… effectively manage their classes
… are ongoing learners – always looking to learn new tricks
… are resourceful individuals prepared to expend time and energy gathering effective resources
… are supportive of their colleagues and the ethos of their school
… are familiar with the school’s rules and regulations
… show a pride in their students’ work and constantly praise their students’ efforts
… see the good and bad in their students and are prepared to work with them as they strive to live up to the expectations placed upon them
… are understanding
… see the bigger picture
… acknowledge the efforts of their students and are prepared to reward them appropriately
… aren’t boastful, arrogant, or egotistical
… are humble, honest and courteous
… manage their time well
… make themselves available to help their students
… appreciate the value of sparking a child’s imagination
… consistently apply their rules and expectations.
… are entertaining and make learning enjoyable
… keep things as simple as possible KISS
… understand the world that they are preparing students for.
… are even tempered
… teach the curriculum and the person
… don’t take themselves too seriously
… know how to apply pressure and when to ease off
… are approachable and comfortable in relating to their students
… try to see their students as more than a name on the register
… are energetic and enthusiastic
… are sensitive to sudden mood changes in their classes and are able to switch gears smoothly
… know which parts of the curriculum students will find most challenging and have strategies to meet those difficulties
… are comfortable in awarding accurate grades
… believe in their students and help them to believe in themselves
… know when to give precedence to significant world/local events which provide moments for reflection and growth in their students’ lives.
… anticipate problems and learn how to cope with them
… learn to recognize good lessons in the planning and spend time and effort on them
… vary their teaching styles throughout the class/week/semester/term/year
… learn quickly from their mistakes
… work with parents/guardians as partners
… are prepared to take calculated risks
… develop a style of teaching that best suits their personality
… move with the times and adapt well to the changing demands placed upon them
… are prepared to go the extra mile when needed
… help students to identify their innate talents
… share resources and ideas with others
… teach their students life skills
… are proud of their students’ achievements
… make every effort to present their school in the best possible light in the community
… think outside the box
… tend to remain at one school and make their mark there rather than constantly changing schools
… can often sense problems in their students’ lives by noticing and being responsive to behavioral changes
… can concoct good lessons out of the barest ingredients
… understand that they can be no better than the material they teach allows – a comedian with poor jokes is not funny!
… know how to effectively use the school’s support systems to help resolve problems
… know their strengths and limitations.
… make the most of professional development opportunities.
… are able to transcend pettiness
… know the difference between negative criticism and a positive critique of a student’s efforts
… seek solutions not excuses
… plan ahead and, by anticipating lost study times, usually ensure that the curriculum is delivered in full
… challenge their students to discover their gifts and talents and help them to discern the destiny that they must choose for themselves
… direct learning at the hearts and minds of their students.
… aren’t forever scrutinizing the calendar for the next day off.
… love Monday mornings – or at least doesn’t dread them!

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                                                        Christmas Presence.

Christmas is not just about presents, it is also about the presence of the divine-child who bifurcated history (His story) into B.C. and A.D. It is my New Year wish that schoolchildren will once again be able to study, understand, and perhaps even appreciate God’s greatest gift to the world – Jesus Christ, whose global impact is impossible to measure or surpass.  Countless communities have fashioned a dynamic common unity around the Christian values learned at home, school, and church. Are we so “together” nowadays that we have no further need for such enduring values?  Hardly.

I have long lamented the ways in which religious education is being myopically marginalized in schools. As academies continue to multiply like loaves and fishes – I still can’t fathom why they not obliged to offer KS4 religious education – RE teachers look set to join bobbies on the beat as another dispensable national institution. While Christians celebrate the birth of Christ, so many politicians and schools are allowing God to die. Why?

In short, schools were asked to do too much theoretically with little expert guidance and so they attempted very little in practice. The multi-faith religious education programs served up in all but a few exceptional schools for the past forty years have been an unmitigated disaster. This is unsurprising. In five years of secondary education in Christian faith schools, specialist RE teachers barely scratch the surface of Christianity. With the lessons available, usually two-a-week or fewer (another disgrace), it is impossible to do justice to 2,000 years’ worth of sacred writings; church history; the lives of various saints, mystics, and scholars; and the ever changing ethical, doctrinal, and spiritual landscapes of hundreds of Christian denominations.

So, what was the game plan for accurately teaching six major faiths without seriously misrepresenting them?  Truthfully, there never was one that made much practical sense to classroom practitioners. Academics continually insist that pluralistic religious instruction is the only model fit for multicultural Britain. Sadly, what looks impressive on paper has never been successful in schools. The “experts” have failed to produce a nationally adaptable program of RE that students’ value. Contrariwise, most surveys since 2000 indicate high levels of disaffection or apathy towards religious studies in state schools. Are more studies needed? No. The results won’t change. Multi-faith RE curricula are overloaded, pallid, and aren’t engaging most teenagers who show little interest in practicing any faith. Students who do practice their faith often understand it far better than the teachers trying to teach them. Too heedful of offending local religious boards, RE has become a PR exercise churning out pinheaded platitudes about six vastly different religions that apparently are equally true. This amounts to religious obfuscation rather than education.

Here’s a few suggestions. Schools should once again be compelled to teach RE while also being granted the freedom to deliver a faith program that best suits the families they serve. Teaching one faith authentically is better than trying to teach six faiths superficially. In those schools where the majority of students are either Muslims, Hindus, or Jews the RE curriculum should reflect that. This would help to attract expert teachers to schools in need of their expertise. Whenever RE is taught within a broad singular religious framework with imagination, sensitivity, and expertise fewer families choose to opt out of a subject which fosters peace, respect, responsibility, compassion, altruism, and love. Religious studies must never be indoctrinating, and so long as critical thinking skills are valued across the curriculum – as they must – indoctrinating students ought to be extremely difficult. Without a religious education program the entire curriculum implicitly indoctrinates. Teachers of political history, for instance, routinely address human rights questions without acknowledging that the sole source of inalienable human rights MUST be God. If I gain particular rights from other human beings that makes them arbitrary doesn’t it?  Am I missing something? What man giveth man may take away. History confirms this truism. The intrinsic value and worth of human beings indelibly endowed with dignity is a gift from God, who made us in His image and likeness.  ‘If there is no God’ said Dostoyevsky, ‘then all things are permissible,’ including acid attacks, terrorism, attacks on pensioners, sexual violence, knife murders, and burning effigies of Grenfell Towers – the polar opposites of authentic freedom.

Jesus wasn’t born on December 25th, but we set aside this date to celebrate the life of One who came to eradicate man’s inhumanity to man by selflessly sacrificing Himself on the cross. Children will never receive the greatest gifts imaginable – lasting peace, happiness, and security – if they are taught to ignore the God of Love, the Creator of all that is good. May God grant us just one pure wish this new year: eternal happiness for everyone.

Discipline Policy…Some Thoughts.

                              “If I have not love…I gain nothing.” (1 Cor 13:1-4)

Regarding Catholic education we are blessed by a rich harvest of truth imbedded in the three pillars of our faith: scripture, tradition, and authority. The words and deeds of Jesus – the Way, the Truth, and Life – and his earliest followers must be acknowledged in all that we do in Catholic institutions. Since God is love, the primary driver of an authentically Catholic programme can only be love (agape).  When we speak of agape, we speak of the unconquerable goodwill that is extended to others because they belong to the Body of Christ. All that God created is intrinsically good and valued by Him who longs to bring humanity in its entirety to Salvation. Every person involved in Catholic education is made in God’s image and likeness, a son or daughter – a prince or princess – of the King of all Kings.  Under the influence of the Holy Spirit, St. Paul reminds us that ‘if I have not love then I am but a cymbal clashing or gong booming’ – I am merely making unholy noises.

 

Five Pillars of this discipline policy: Love, Praise, Affirmation, Challenge, and Accountability.

It is my belief that the vast majority of students in every school place a high premium on safety and security. They also want a stimulating programme of studies to follow that will enable them to achieve their goals. They will better accept challenges when they feel that teachers are supportive and respectful of their worth. We will always work harder and more cooperatively for those teachers who clearly have our best interests at heart.

This programme should be overseen by one senior teacher – a deputy-head/dean of students who has overall responsibility for the administration of the day-to-day implementation of the programme.  This person should have a ‘light’ (zero?) teaching load as they may be required at any time of the school day. The principle of first among equals should be adopted to avoid autocratic rule. One person doesn’t have all the answers to anything in relation to education.

Zero tolerance of harmful and disrespectful behavior must be implemented.  Teachers should be assured that they do not have to accept willful disruptive behavior in their classroom. Teachers who are routinely abused and disrespected by their students cannot be effective educators. When morale is low in the staffroom it is almost impossible to adhere to the five pillars of the programme.  Teachers need to be accountable and challenged to uphold professional standards, but they also need love, praise, and affirmation every bit as much as the children they teach.

We have to consider what the opposite of zero tolerance is and how that is perceived by students. What is “acceptable” in terms of disruptive behavior?  How rude are children allowed to be before action is taken?  We can tolerate laziness, boredom, and indifference as these acts usually have no great impact on other students in the classroom. However, arguing with a teacher or failing to do as requested is plainly unacceptable.

The Three R’s of student discipline: Remorse, Reparation, Reconciliation.

We cannot proceed with our students until they show some sense of remorse or regret for their regrettable behavior. Only then is it possible to make reparation (a sincere apology).  Finally, a reconciliation between teacher and student(s) can begin.  Respect is a two-way street.

The Magnificent Seven.  (Mix of genders/disciplines) This team should be made up of competent teachers who will take responsibility for one period of the day each. It would be their responsibility to be a presence around the school to assist and support teachers in the classroom. Students routinely wandering around the school should be challenged.  Students who persistently disrupt classes would become known to that supervisor who can then back that teacher in dealings with the child’s parents. If necessary all members of the team should be present when the parents/guardians of the most troublesome students in the school are being dealt with. Feedback can be sought from all members of the team to establish the number of classes the student is regularly disrupting.  It is to be hoped that a team such as this will develop a measure of collective “expertise” by regularly dealing with disciplinary issues. Some teachers may be excellent communicators but not strong in dealing with challenging behavior. If these teachers aren’t to be lost to other schools or to the profession itself they need support.  In my experience of twenty-six years of teaching, most teachers are not particularly good at dealing with poor behavior – no shame there, it just needs to be recognized and addressed as well as possible for the good of the school.

There should also be additional teachers who can accommodate disruptive students in their classroom when they have been excluded from another lesson. Ideally, a Year 7 student could be sent to work in a Year 11 classroom where s/he doesn’t know the students in the class. That way there is less likelihood of this student being troublesome. Instead of a one-day exclusion spent at home a student could serve a day in a senior teacher’s classroom.

Identify worst classes and students. Some classes and students are for whatever reason more disruptive and harder to deal with than others. Senior teachers should regularly monitor classes and perhaps move students who do not work well together to other classes. We must avoid “profiling” but at the same time recognize that some students and classes are more difficult to handle. There is nothing wrong in paying careful attention to those who regularly exhibit seriously disruptive behavior.  Ask teachers to identify the students they have particular problems with.  It should be a cause for serious concern when students appear on most teachers list. If John Smith or Mary Jones appears on most lists then action must be taken until s/he is no longer a concern.  Problems don’t take care of themselves, they are more like rolling stones that gather greater momentum the longer they are left unchecked.

*“Profiling” has become a “boo word” that is frequently misused.  When we pay particular attention to a poorly behaved student or class we are NOT guilty of profiling. Profiling is found in acts of prejudice when we pre-judge someone from a certain race, family, or ethnic group etc. Discrimination can be defended because it is based on something we do know about our target i.e. that the student is far too often causing problems for the school. It is plain negligence not to act when students are a cause for concern.

Discipline v Punishment. The fault that that most children never lose is the one that they were most punished for. Discipline is primarily concerned with teaching a child why something is wrong and why other actions are better. Just meting out punishments for poor behavior doesn’t teach children anything and teaching is the business of schools in all that they do. Even when punishments are deserved they are generally resented unless the child can see something good has resulted from the punishment such as better grades or a better relationship with a teacher.

When students are excluded from class for any period of time they should be set appropriate work. A bank of useful articles that can be read and summarized by students.

Documentation. Behavior reports should be as simple as possible for teachers to complete. Anecdotal observations are not enough should a student need to be given a sanction (detention), suspended or excluded. Students on report should be assessed 1-5 on their behavior in every class. These reports must be signed at the end of every day by the senior teacher responsible for school discipline. A failure to get a report signed can only be permitted when parents have assured the school that a good reason can be cited e.g. medical appointment etc. Teachers must not be coerced to put positive remarks on the card when such comments have not been earned. This only serves to show the student the dishonesty of the system. Generally, students may not admit to poor behavior, but they know when they behaved poorly. Students on behavior reports for a month should be meeting with a senior teacher and parents to discuss ways forwards.

Teaching teachers. Special attention must be given to passing on the best practices of the school’s most effective teachers. Top priority must be given (especially to less experienced teachers) to classroom management skills. Senior management must supportively teach the teachers how to adopt strategies that bring about the best results. Teachers should be encouraged to develop Master Teacher skills in whatever ways possible – attending workshops, reading academic books, watching videos on YouTube, observing senior colleagues etc., produced by established teachers. Which teachers in the school are effective disciplinarians?  What are they doing to engender respect from students?  Good practice and strategies must be shared.

Accept Simple Correction.   Senior management must play a key role in teaching students how to accept simple correction. Most of the problems teachers experience in classrooms stem from students’ inability or refusal to accept simple corrections, this has a snowball effect

Prefects.  Prefects should be chosen from Years 12 & 13 when a school has a sixth-form intake. If not, then Year 11 students should be taking on this role until exam time when they would be replaced by Year 10 students.  Their job should be to supervise activities around the school and to alert teachers if unacceptable behavior is seen. Their role is to encourage good behavior rather than to punish poor behavior. Class monitors may also be useful throughout the school.

 

Articles for Various Magazines.

                                                        Killing Eve.

Eve is an erudite, attractive, personable, and passionate young lady who earned a first-class bachelor’s degree and a Master’s in English from the University of Kent at Canterbury, plus a PGCE from London aged 24. She adores Shakespeare and effortlessly suffixes many of her impassioned utterances with judicious one-liners from the Bard, Wilde, Proust, and Beyoncé. Her joie de vivre is highly infectious. The classroom was clearly Eve’s natural habitat and so many of her students grew to love her artful “craziness”.  It never bothered her that many of her university peers chose less stressful, better paid jobs. Eve felt privileged to spend her life doing what she loved most – sharing her love of literacy and learning with teenagers. She could inject colour into the greyest morsel of grammatical gruel. The smartest children knew they were blessed to be taught by her.

Four years passed before Eve started to show discernible signs of wear and tear. Sure, she had difficult students – every teacher does – and she made a few mistakes that line managers grimly castigated her for, but she took it all her stride. Eve was undaunted and convinced that she would one day be a great teacher because she wasn’t afraid to take the kind of risks that engage students but worry headteachers. Pffffff! Everyone make mistakes. Despite the occasional hiccup, for five years Eve was regularly given added responsibilities: Head-of-Year-9, coordinator of supply teachers, supervisor of student-teachers and NQTs, assistant head of dept, and a member of the curriculum development team. She rarely left work before 7:00 pm. No wonder she refused to direct the school’s plays – much to the irritation of her deputy-head.

It was this same deputy-head who five years ago refused to discipline a Year-8 boy, Adam, who had groped her from behind in the cafeteria. It didn’t matter that at least ten other students had witnessed the incident – though they wouldn’t snitch on Adam – or that her abuser proudly recounted his act to peers. He would also give her single-digit gestures and exaggerated pelvic thrusts when he passed her in the hallways for months after the incident. To cut short a long and familiar story, Eve was unable to prove that the assault had ever taken place. Did she make it all up? It was even suggested that her skirt that day might have been a touch too short and tight and that her innocent assailant may have been “unfairly tempted”. It was best for everyone to move on with the minimum of fuss – everyone?

The one thing that became clear to Eve from this incident is that whenever problems emerge in education, administrators invariably find it easiest to blame teachers. Do the maths. If there are twenty students in 10C that might be “challenging” i.e. rude, disruptive, indolent, aggressive, and ill-mannered (and some children are) then senior management can either discipline the students and deal with their parents and guardians or find softer targets – teachers. Eve didn’t work all of this out on her own, her predicament was understood by the students of 11A who adored her – kids know you’re powerless, Miss, we all do. 11A never doubted for a second that Eve was responsible for so many their brilliant test scores and their choice of English as an A’ Level.

As for Adam, he spent five fruitless years at the school brandishing his “deprived childhood” label like a magic wand which exempted him from responsibility for his actions. He demoralized every teacher. If he didn’t like particular teachers he frequently swore at them and stormed out of class. Cafeteria staff were told not to challenge him when he regularly stole his daily apple. He would walk into other classrooms to visit friends. When he was tired of school and tried to escape, the office called a cab for him to ensure that he reached home safely. Adam frequently harassed girls and bullied other boys and rarely completed assignments. That didn’t stop his mum from demanding he be entered for GCSEs. Mum deftly pointed out, ‘My Adam has never failed a class since he’s been here’. True enough.

Clueless Adam duly turned up for his first exam, scrawled an obscenity on his paper, left the gym and set-off the fire alarms. Adam’s greatest disability is a lack of discipline and direction in his life. He may well spend much of his life helping the police with their enquiries – perhaps sitting beside a lawyer intoning his ‘no comment’ litany. If that is indeed the case, Eve refuses to accept any blame. Last July, she grew weary of trying to discipline an ever-growing army of Adams and left the profession she once loved. Where Eve is now and how many teachers will soon join the teacher-exodus will be addressed next month.

*Names have been changed. 

                                                            Killing Eve II.

Last year, Eve, whose story we covered recently, quit the dream job she was convinced would engage her for life. “It was unsettling and sad”, she said “to wake up the morning after I had closed the gates on my teaching career. I can’t remember ever not wanting to teach.” As a teacher myself for twenty-six years I empathized. It’s difficult to be an effective teacher, doctor, police officer, politician, a journalist or a nurse (add countless other professions here) unless the job is attached to your soul. Teaching was Eve’s ‘fight song’: her ‘being and somethingness’. For months after her resignation, she slept fitfully as she agonized over unrealized ideals. Eve is still evangelical about teaching, but she could no longer ignore the boorish demeanor of students, parents, and senior managers she felt betrayed by: education must do better.

Eve’s colleague, Peter, was accused of fondling fifteen-year-old Jezza in a classroom full of students – none of whom witnessed the alleged incident. Peter taught history for 24 years and had never before been accused of ‘inappropriate touching’. The girl in question made two similar claims at previous schools. However, Jezza’s parents insisted that she had been violated and so Peter was sacrificially fired. Another teacher friend of Eve’s was punched in the face and sustained a double fracture to her leg after being pushed down a concrete stairwell. DFE statistics on teacher assaults make frightening reading: assaulting a teacher doesn’t necessarily lead to expulsion – why not? Should Eve have ditched tai chi and mastered Jiu Jitsu instead?

What most frustrated Eve was the casual, low-level disruption and apathy she encountered, mostly from lower-level students. “Too many children seem to have no discernible direction, a wretched work ethic, and refuse to accept simple correction or the word no. Having your every word and instruction habitually challenged is demoralizing. Learning so often takes second place to strident resistance or mass insouciance” – we don’t need no education!

In her final year of teaching, Eve was called in to see the principal five times because parents complained that she didn’t allow children to use the bathroom while she was whole-class teaching. On the fifth occasion she was given a formal warning for unprofessional conduct. When she left his office, Eve went straight to her lower-level Year 10 class and announced, ‘I have an important topic to teach today so if anyone desperately needs to use the bathroom please do so before we proceed.’ 24 of her 31 students got up and casually strolled out of the classroom, most of them with mobiles in their hands – Eve was obliged to forbid their use but not allowed to discipline students for using them. (When students break rules en masse, they cease to be rules). The deputy-head castigated Eve for creating mayhem in the hallway. So, in one day she received two formal warnings: one for not allowing students to use the bathroom and another for granting every student the said privilege. ‘Appeasement’ prevails in so many of our schools. Everyone bar the teachers is entitled to be appeased… the Chamberlains seem to heavily outnumber the Churchills in school management.

Routine indiscipline, poor attitudes, aggression, and disrespect from students aren’t the only reasons that so many teachers like Eve are quitting the profession. Eve grew tired of excessive reporting, “Once a year is enough, ” says Eve “as parents can contact teachers whenever they like.” She also questions the value of ‘positive comments only’ reports. Eve grew weary of writing, Jason is a delightful, energetic and creative boy with immense potential who has it in him to achieve a great deal. Fake reports are often matched with inflated grades. Jason won’t achieve anything until someone calls him out on his laziness, belligerence, and intermittent attendance. Eve once caught fourteen students plagiarizing an essay and when she reported it to her head of dept she was asked, “Did you make it clear that plagiarism wasn’t allowed?”

Eve sympathized with the new teachers she mentored. “One of them had 23 lesson plans to prepare every week. How’s the poor guy supposed to have a social life? He’s a terrific young teacher and so desperate to please and appease that he’ll soon be burned out.” Eve is convinced that there are solutions to most problems, but nobody is listening to teachers. Eve resigned and many others will surely follow. Dedicated teachers have always accepted low wages, long hours, excessive paperwork, challenging behavior, and the pressure to produce excellent results with limited resources, but in return they expect to be genuinely valued, respected, and supported and when that doesn’t happen teachers quit. Eve now enjoys working as a copy-editor where her skills are valued and appreciated, and she earns twice as much as she did from teaching. The private pension and private health care benefits of the corporate world are an added bonus.

                                                             Anyone for LGBT?

The 1988 staffroom ‘hot potato’ was Section 28, which outlawed the promotion of gay sexuality in schools; this year’s spud will be a new RSE program which aims to teach children to accept members of the LGBT community as different but equal. Teachers in many primary schools last spring saw how angry some parents are about what is currently taught in classrooms under the banner of Relationships and Sex Education (RSE). Those responsible for dismantling Section 28 in 2003 are no longer angry protestors, many are now respectable, intelligent, and sincere educators who insist that ‘it is okay to be gay’. Most of us are happy enough to accept that and we are alarmed when we see LGBT people being attacked for holding hands in public. However, like everyone else, the LGBT community has its proselytizers and that is a legitimate cause for parental concern because primary school children are so malleable. Come September, thousands of children may be withdrawn from their schools in protest. That must not be allowed to happen.

The protestors predominantly espouse traditional religious beliefs which regard LGBT lifestyles as wholly unacceptable. The posters reveal the understandable angst of caring parents, Let our kids be kids, Don’t confuse our children. And, My child, my choice. The innocence of childhood is a priceless state that should be protected for as long as possible. However, children will be confused when what is taught in the classroom is the opposite to what is taught in their homes, temples, churches, and synagogues?  2+2 cannot be 4 in school and 5 everywhere else or vice-versa. The discrepancy must be addressed, but when and how? Few parents want intimate sexual issues dealt with in primary school. Detailed lessons on sexuality, as opposed to orientation, are best directed to young adults with a sexual identity of their own? We must ensure that what we teach is truly age-sensitive and appropriate. LGBT rights have come a long way since 1988 and I thank God for that, but let’s not push too far too soon. LGBT lifestyles are not faddish and so we have to learn ways of creating social harmony and unity out of diversity.

When a clearer picture emerges showing how schools deal with the concerns of parents and religious leaders over the implementation of the new RSE program, we will revisit this issue. In the meantime, I pray that all religious participants in this “conflict” will pray for, and listen to, each other. Listening is a dying artform. When we prayerfully listen to God and to each other we dramatically increase our chances of success and harmony.

First of all, it is a given that we entrust the DFE to formulate schools’ curricula. Whatever faults we might find with the DFE we would find as many in any body of legislators. We also know that the new RSE program will have flaws – every program does – and these should be fixed quickly. The DFE must listen and respond to the concerns of teachers and parents. Don’t send in the police to disperse parent protestors, send in the civil servants to listen to their concerns. Government departments too often defend their programs as if they are divine writ – they’re far from that! The guardians of justice, not so long ago hung Derek Bentley and castrated Alan Turing. Try explaining those reprehensible injustices to your children. Intelligent, highly qualified “experts” have always got things monumentally wrong and the DFE is no exception.

The best school programs are adaptable – often belatedly – because of the sage input of parents and teachers who see first-hand how children respond to particular lessons. If you want to understand any problem, speak to those closest to the action. DFE mandarins need to show the public that they are sensitive and responsive to the concerns of education’s first responders. If they do that, then five years from now we may have a far better RSE program.

What do I want primary school children to be taught about sexuality? Not a great deal, to be honest. I think that detailed sex education is best dealt with when children are young adults. I do, however, want children to be taught the virtues of tolerance, compassion, and acceptance towards everybody – on what grounds could one possibly exclude the LGBT community? God certainly doesn’t. If children want to know why some of their peers have two mommies or two daddies then it is our duty to respond in ways that respect the love these parents have for each other. There isn’t a living expert who can unequivocally explain why some people are L, G, B, or T and that ignorance alone is enough to demand that teachers do not condemn such lifestyles. In primary schools, we should teach children that sexual orientation isn’t a choice and therefore cannot be sinful. Sexual orientation clearly didn’t trouble Jesus who never addressed the issue, and it was hardly a major concern of the early Church Fathers. We should also teach children that the mysterious entity called the mind doesn’t always match the physical entity that is the body. So, there is nothing wrong with men who project a feminine persona or women who project a masculine persona. When they are old enough to sign-up for a PhD, our children can explore these challenging issues in greater depth.

I pray that the new RSE program will say loud and clear that ‘to love another person is to see the face of God’ (Jean Valjean) – love sees beyond orientation. We must patiently teach our children not to hate, hurt, or fear those who are different – there can be no compromise here. Religious and political doctrines so often divide us, but love will cross any faith or social barriers that may be erected in the challenging months ahead. May we love the truth and make it our primary aim for primary school children. Our children must be taught that God’s love is directed at us all in equal measure – regardless of sexual orientation.

Twenty-five Tips for Today’s Teachers.

Twenty-five Tips for Today’s Teachers.

A day spent with a great teacher is worth a thousand days of diligent study.                                  (Japanese proverb)

1) Teach as you can and not as you cannot. From the outset try to develop a distinct style and voice. It won’t happen overnight, but a unique teaching persona usually emerges. The best way to catch fish, pitch a baseball, or to fry eggs is the way that works best for you – ditto for teaching. There is no one way to teach. Within certain parameters we all have to discover our own way. Think of teaching styles as dinner suits: tailor-made will always look and be more comfortable and stylish than something off the peg.

Try not to fret over perceived deficiencies – they are often hidden strengths. Henry is a native Spanish speaker who worries that his English sometimes isn’t good enough. His students, however, admire his humility as he so often asks them, “Did I say that correctly?” Henry’s “weakness” reveals his respect for language and his humility. Kathy is a tender romantic ideally suited to teaching poetry and occasionally some of her students take advantage of her kindly nature, but nobody should try to fashion an iron fist from Kathy’s soft hands – it simply wouldn’t work. Kathy would have found something loveable in Atilla the Hun, so seeing the good in her most challenging students is her natural disposition – every school should treasure such teachers. Henry and Kathy are fine teachers much loved by many of their students and you will be, too, if you genuinely care for children and remain true to yourself.

I love these lyrics from Billy Joel as they say so much about all relationships:

I don’t want clever conversation
I never want to work that hard
I just want someone that I can talk to
I want you just the way you are.

I need to know that you will always be
The same old someone that I knew
What will it take till you believe in me
The way that I believe in you?

In all that you do your love must shine through, so if you simply cannot teach without a whip in one hand and a chair in the other you might want to consider lion taming. 

I’ve met many great teachers and they come in all ages, shapes, and sizes. What is safe to say about them all is that their success and sanity lies in discerning and accepting their strengths and weaknesses. The key to satisfaction and happiness in life itself is to assert with justifiable pride I am who I am, the key to your wellbeing as a teacher is the same. It’s far too exhausting wearing an ill-fitting mask every day or pretending to be someone that you are not, so ponder the wise words of Oscar Wilde, be yourself, everyone is taken. What children usually value in their teachers’ is sincerity and individuality. If you aren’t comfortable with you, your students aren’t likely to relax in your company. Focus on what you do best. If you consistently deliver the goods when it matters you will make far more friends and admirers than enemies.

You may not be old enough to remember the Band Aid Concert of 1984 or its later American equivalent for which the song We are the World was written; no matter, check out the videos of these songs on YouTube. As good as the songs are, look beyond them and focus instead on the gathering of some of the world’s greatest rock and pop stars working together, burying their differences and their egos, and giving of their best in an attempt to rid the world of poverty – at least for a while. These concerts became life defining moments for so many musicians, especially Sir Bob Geldof the brains and inspiration behind Band Aid. Geldof realized as he watched poor children dying from hunger in Africa on the TV news that there is nothing more precious on God’s earth than a human being. He learned an age old lesson: it is in giving that we truly receive. Teachers can learn so much from these concerts. We, too, are uniquely talented individuals with an important mission in life who can, when we work together, make a difference in the lives of our students. There is room in teaching for you and so many other uniquely different individuals. We just have to see where we fit into the larger picture. Are you a Tony Bennett, a Barbara Streisand, a Black-eyed Pea, or a Michael Jackson? Will you write the songs, bang a drum, or blow your own trumpet? If you choose the trumpet then let someone else blow it for you, it will sound twice as sweet. If you want to make a difference, strive to find your own distinct “noises” and learn how to harmonize them with the distinctive voices of your colleagues, safe in the knowledge that the quality of your baritone contribution to the ensemble piece that is teaching, isn’t in any way diminished by the ethereal beauty of an Enya or the rasping power of a Tina Turner.

  1. Loco parentis. Treat your students as if they were your own children. I don’t mean you should occasionally wrestle them to the ground, nibble their ears, and tickle their bellies – you won’t enjoy prison food! When it comes to grading assignments, correcting behavior, and generally interacting with students grant them the same dignity and respect you would accord your own child. Parents are generally supportive of your right to discipline their children if you do so with their best interests at heart. Before you give biting feedback on someone’s work, ask yourself if you would write similar comments to your child or to a favorite student. Would your child receive a detention for being five seconds tardy or for chewing gum? If you saw your child heading down the ‘wrong path’ or needing words of encouragement you would surely do everything in your power to help them. Do the same for your students. And if you really can’t help a child, at least try not to hurt them. Some children are more easily “bruised” than they ever let on.

However, never excuse or mask unacceptable behavior. Be wary of that fine line between affirmation and false reporting. If a student’s behavior in class includes offensive language, verbal or physical attacks on other students, and an aggressive refusal to work it is disingenuous to describe this behavior as “improving.” When you encounter behavior that is downright unacceptable, say so! Otherwise you risk being unfair to everyone, most especially to those whose wellbeing and learning is frequently disrupted by unruly peers who refuse to cooperate with reasonable disciplinary guidelines. I am all for accentuating the positive, but not with outright lies. If John or Mary are having a hard time at home it doesn’t grant them a right to destroy the learning of others.

3.Work ethic. There are few success stories in any profession without the work ethic chapter. I’ve lost countless hours of sleep and leisure time in search of engaging lesson plans and teaching strategies, and without that part of my story I would never have enjoyed so much of my career. If you skip the hard work (the agony) you will rarely enjoy the immense rewards and satisfactions that often arise out of the toil (the ecstasy). If we worked twenty hours a day in search of perfection we still wouldn’t find it, but it’s amazing how often those who strive for perfection rise to the top and are consistently successful. What hard work doesn’t accomplish laziness certainly won’t.  Be sure to pay this message forward to your students by making them earn their grades.

Students are particularly appreciative of teachers who go the extra mile and take the time to support their extra-curricular activities.  If you show up on the touchline to cheer your students on at a weekend soccer game it tells them that you are interested in their lives – since you can’t claim overtime money you must be there because you care. Many parents will also appreciate your efforts and they will in turn support your classroom endeavors.

  1. Teach for mastery not mystery. When delivering lessons make sure that your goals are clearly explained, stimulating, realistic, and achievable. Engaging lessons should raise more smiles and hands than frowns. There are complex matters every teacher must impart, but effective teachers usually find ways of making them palatable and comprehensible. Mastering any subject is a challenging endeavor, as a teacher you are called upon to support your students’ efforts as they try to tame their demons rather than sitting comfortably at your desk. When students are struggling in class, whether it’s fair or not, you are the prime suspect. How strong is your defence?

The most effective lessons have clear and manageable aims and objectives delivered by engaging and skilled teachers. The aim of the lesson is the overall message e.g. to teach students the damaging effects of prejudice, discrimination, stereotyping, labeling, and reductionism in society. If the aim of the lesson answers the ‘what’ question, then the objectives address the ‘how do I teach this’ question. So, for our lessons on prejudice we should define key terms, distinguish between positive and negative discrimination, and give examples of stereotyping, labeling, and reductionism. Clarity gets more difficult to achieve when lessons are overloaded. It takes time and experience to get the balance right, but teachers should be able to teach at least five new points per lesson. Think of objectives as tennis balls. Holding five balls in two hands isn’t that tricky; when you ask students to hold on to twelve, most will drop the lot, get frustrated and quit. If Lesson Two with the group is meant to build on Lesson One you have a major problem. Even if they didn’t get much from the prior lesson, students rarely tolerate a repeat performance. The best you can do in this circumstance is a quick review of the previous lesson.

  1. Be a team player. A couple of useful adages for you to ponder – ‘Play as a team and achieve the dream’ and T.E.A.M. ‘Together Everyone Achieves More.’ Schools cannot create pedagogical unity out of subject diversity without a supportive framework. We must accept that all subjects and teachers are of equal worth.

I once had a colleague who told a student to skip my class so that he could complete a make-up test for her. The teacher concerned wrongly presumed that her subject (math) was far more important than mine (theology). It is both arrogant and discourteous to demean our colleagues’ subjects in this way. When I e-mailed my colleague for an explanation, what I got in reply was a dismissive retort which amounted to, ‘What’s the big deal, it’s just one class?’  When I politely suggested that her student could have missed ‘just one math test’ or made up the test in her time she burst into tears and reported me to HR for harassment. That is not my idea of team play. If you keep a child out of another teacher’s class you will need an excellent reason for doing so. Since many peoples’ lives are negatively impacted through ignorance about health and nutrition matters, domestic science (aka cookery) – so often cast as a Cinderella subject – may be a far more important discipline to most students than trigonometry or quantum physics.

We have all seen sports teams achieve far more than the “experts” believed possible, and we’ve also seen teams glittering with individual talents that rarely pick up the silverware. Likewise, successful schools are built around talented individuals who respect each other and work as members of a team.

You should support the school’s ethos. It’s not usually necessary to be a devout Christian to work in a Christian school, but your lifestyle cannot be at total variance with the moral values Christian schools espouse. If you grow cannabis rather than tomatoes at your allotment or you work as a part-time “hostess” or bouncer in a local night club, then I hope you can appreciate why a faith school might not be the best fit for you.

  1. Be friendly teacher, but not a friend. Once you cross this boundary line, almost everything else you do will be terminally undermined. Be as friendly and approachable as possible, but never allow your relationship with students to trespass into the forbidden territory of friendship. Most children have enough friends in school so you aren’t needed for that role. Stick to being a friendly, dependable, and supportive teacher. The friendship hurdle is unforgiving and it continually claims far too many promising teachers – don’t be its next hapless victim.
  2. Anger management. There is nothing that will more quickly alienate you from your students, colleagues, and administrators alike than a hair-trigger temper. Anger projects hatred and who wants to be taught by a hateful person? A hot-tempered teacher will frighten many students and when children are afraid they aren’t likely to ask questions or to seek help from someone who lacks self-control. Anger is the bodyguard of three demons – fear, insecurity, and self-righteousness – and those demons are unwonted and too easily provoked.

America is the most litigious society in the world and so the loose cannon on the faculty generates sleepless nights for administrators. Thirty years ago, some principals might have tolerated occasional outbursts from a competent teacher; nowadays, the combustible teacher is regarded as a legal liability. Most principals the world over would rather hire a dull and competent teacher over a genius with a questionable temperament.

  1. Good teachers are good learners. Never assume that you are the finished article. Euripides once said that we cannot set foot in the same river twice, so it is with classrooms. Children constantly change their ways of thinking and learning and so we should be adaptable. Young teachers are often more ready and able than us older hands to embrace newer technologies and ideas that will speak to future generations. Even though I have ample material to get me through my timetable I never stop reading the latest books in my subject area. I have twelve superb movies that I could show in my class – I can only show four. Nonetheless, I am still looking for a movie that might be even better than my ‘Top Four’. Students are often far quicker than their teachers to know when lesson plans need refreshing. Think of your subject matter as a plant that needs constant attention.

Students are often impressed by teachers who demonstrate a sound knowledge of other academic disciplines. I often had students stay after class to enquire about a book, a poem, or painting that I had mentioned in class. A student I taught fifteen years ago recently contacted me through Linkedin to tell me that she still has the class project she made for me on her desk at an international bank in New York – she is now a senior executive. She made a piggy bank with one of my quotes on it, “If you want to better understand the world ask yourself a simple question – who is making money out of this?” She insists that it is still the wisest one-liner she ever heard and it helped her to understand so many work situations. She also puts her loose change in that piggy bank, as we did in class, and at Christmas she cashes in the proceeds to donate about $150 a year to a worthy charity. Those coins are the ‘mustard seeds’ that Jesus spoke of in His Kingdom parables.

  1. Teachers are the messengers not the message. Your primary role in the lives of your students is that of a subject teacher. That may seem a rather obvious statement to make, but I’ve seen so many teachers lose sight of this that I feel drawn to re-emphasize here. Lesson time is teaching time and as much of that lesson as possible should be spent on the subject matter rather than on you. Some students might think you are “really cool” when you regale them with your witty yarns of derring-do or you allow them to have an easy class, but their parents will not. Parents prefer their children to be proficient in world history rather than your history. There is nothing wrong with taking five or ten-minutes out occasionally to circulate around the classroom and sharing a little down time while students are working, but make sure that the lion’s share of class time is spent on the aims and objectives of the lesson.

I’m sure we aren’t far from the day when all lessons will be filmed and I have spent my entire career preparing for this change. Whenever I decided to share a story with students about my own life I imagined this being replayed in the principal’s office. Was there a valid point to my sharing or was I being self-indulgent? We must also sidestep party politics, especially at election times. If you aren’t a huge fan of a particular politician, celebrity, or athlete tread carefully when you express such sentiments in the classroom. I once completely alienated myself from a Britney Spears devotee who never forgave me for saying that Britney wasn’t the smartest lady to speak to about abortion. The previous night I had been annoyed that half of a radio broadcast about challenging the 1973 Roe v Wade verdict was taken up with an interview with Britney Spears, while not a word was heard from the many articulate pro-life advocates I know who are longing for airtime. Looking back, I should have made my pro-life pitch without disparaging Britney’s viewpoint.

10) Discipline, Punishment, and Correction. Cesare Beccaria once remarked that ‘the fault no child ever loses is the one he was most punished for.’ Fredrich Nietzsche meanwhile distrusted ‘all men in whom the impulse to punish is strong.’ These observations may not be universal truisms, but there is a lot of truth in them. Unfortunately, we haven’t yet reached a stage of human development that enables us to dispense with punishment altogether.

When students are deliberately abusive towards other students and show little remorse for doing so, then we are duty-bound to protect the innocent and challenge the guilty. I prefer to think in terms of correcting behavior rather than simple punishment because punishment too often is plain and simple, thus ineffective. The effectiveness of punishment needs to be carefully measured and monitored.

If students are habitually late to school and we routinely issue detentions then chances are that the tardiness will simply continue. I once had a student who stoically served fifty detentions before anyone realized that he had to drop-off his younger sister at school five miles away. His sister was being bullied at school and therefore she dragged her feet every morning so that she didn’t have to hang around the playground surrounded by the bullies. How did I find this out?  I asked. Like most other aspects of teaching it’s not rocket-science, we must aim for whatever is best for everyone. When love and concern for your students becomes the staff and rod upon which you depend, it’s amazing how quickly the monochrome cast that inhabits your classroom acquire interesting colors and definition.

 ‘Discipline hurts most those it touches the least.’’ (Me)

When we habitually harangue our students, we reduce our chances of educating them. When we lose our temper, we always lose far more than our tempers. Students have rights and one of those rights is not to live in fear and trembling of teachers. If we want children to learn, then our first step must be to make them feel as welcome and valued as possible in our classrooms. If we aren’t working towards that end then we should discipline ourselves. I went to a grammar school in the 60’s where corporal punishment was liberally dispensed by many teachers throughout the day, and I instinctively understood that when an adult beats child it is the surest sign that the adult is beaten. Punishment must never be separated from our overall teaching aims and if all we’ve taught a punished student is that we have power over them then we haven’t taught anything worthwhile. We may even unwittingly teach students that might is right; and that, my friend, can never be right!

To me the worst thing seems to be for a school principally to work with methods of fear, force and artificial authority. Such treatment destroys the sound sentiments, the sincerity, and the self-confidence of the pupil. It produces the submissive subject. (Albert Einstein)

11) Praise on the other hand can be a powerful way of affirming all that is good in your students. My pastor, Fr. Foudy, is the past master of praising all that he surveys. Every week as he begins Mass, he tells the congregation how proud he is to be their pastor. He thanks lectors for reading so eloquently, Eucharistic ministers for their dignified manner in distributing communion, servers are thanked and complimented by name, and our musicians receive praise for their ‘beautiful singing and playing.’ As we leave the church he never tires of telling us how good each of us are. Praise – even when it occasionally seems effusive – never gets old when it’s sincerely offered. I chaperone many school trips and I tell my passengers that thanks to my close friendship with the principal I’m lucky enough to be assigned to the best group of students. And 90% of the time it turns out to be true. It is so often the case that we encounter the behavior that we expect and plan for. I accept that you can’t praise every wayward child into sainthood; I also believe, however, that praise and encouragement are usually more productive than punishments and threats.

I am a firm advocate of a zero-tolerance/no excuses stance on school discipline. However, these approaches are less effective when there is a poor balance between the carrots and sticks. The vast majority of students in most schools are reasonably well-behaved and willing to learn, and these children should be nurtured, praised, encouraged, and should be frequently lauded and rewarded. In that way the majority will never take seriously the gripes of the malcontents who forever bemoan their inability to get away with destructive behaviour. Anarchy and rebellion occur when the majority sense the negative weight of authority too often outweighing the positives.

Try to depersonalize some of your commands so that they are heard as reasonable requests rather than oppressive and demeaning orders. Which of the following sounds better to you?

  1. Would one of you cretins close that damn door! Or
  2. Could one of you close the door please? Thank you.

 

  1. Who wrote that stupid comment on the board?
  2. Can somebody clean the board please?

Don’t overuse the iron first when velvet gloves might be more effective.

12) Short and long-term planning. We should obviously plan for the week ahead and for the short and longer term future. Our weekly lesson plans should take account of all that will follow until the course is completed at the end of the semester/year. The longer you spend teaching a course, the greater chance you have of creating a harmony out of the various parts that make up the whole.

When I first starting teaching church history I didn’t realize that I couldn’t possibly cover the church’s entire history in five months. Therefore, we ended the course rather unsatisfactorily at the Reformation; it was like finishing Macbeth at the murder of Duncan or completing only two-thirds of a jigsaw puzzle. Had I consulted more experienced colleagues teaching the same course, the less interesting parts – over which I had dutifully labored – could have been either condensed or dispensed altogether. Better planning often enables us to cut out the boring bits. For most of the semester my students enjoyed my laidback approach and my lively sense of humor; by the time they had all bombed in the Christmas exams because they knew nothing about the modern church (one-third of the exam), they came to regard me as a joke and a jerk – they had a point! I lacked the foresight to check the exam paper they would have to take. Most students would rather have an easy ‘A’ with a tedious teacher than risk a ‘C’ with someone funner – I know because I have asked them.

My shortcomings also created problems for my former students’ next teacher who was hoping that they would at least be familiar with the Renaissance and the First and Second Vatican Councils. These problems could have been avoided. When I began the next semester with new classes it was immediately clear that the word was out on the hallways that I was incompetent – and that came from the nicer students!  I was guilty as charged, but as with other aspects of my teaching I worked extraordinarily hard not to repeat major mistakes and eventually I earned the respect of most students. I enjoyed many excellent years of teaching and that didn’t happen by chance – I became a meticulous planner and put in the hours. Do likewise. We all need an occasional slice of luck, but lasting success is rarely accidental.

Failing to plan is planning to fail. (Alan Laken)

13) Professional Development. We should all create a professional development plan. There are too many facets of teaching to master all at once so don’t even try. I view these challenges as bricks in a wall that I take down one at a time. Creating a master plan made it easier for me to master teaching. At the end of every school year I made time to reflect on the past year. I paid attention to areas where I had vastly improved and understood why that had made such a difference. I also addressed my shortcomings. From these reflections I devised a game plan for the next school year. I focused on one specialism per semester.

One major problem that I needed to address was assessment. Over the summer break I read some excellent books on assessment that gave me new ideas that I was excited to try. I had gained the reputation for being a tough cookie who rarely gave A’s. There is nothing wrong with raising the bar, but I eventually realized that I was setting the bar far too high and that caused many students to give up and settle for mid-b’s and C+s. Out of thirty students, only two or three received A’s. Even if my grading was spot-on it still gave me a lot of disgruntled students and parents to contend with every semester. So, I started adding an extra 7% across the board and that would give a dozen students A’s and more C’s turned into B’s etc. Although I initially feared that I was compromising my standards, I couldn’t deny that students were now working harder because they believed higher grades were possible. I’d got the carrot and stick mixture about right. The minor grade inflation was such an incentive that it tackled students’ self-doubt and transformed it into self-belief with some spectacular successes. My months of studying assessment strategies meant the end of my reign as Grinch of the gradebook and everyone was happy about that. Take it as a truism of classroom life, youthful minds need incentives to draw out their full potential. When students maximize their potential, they won’t need inflated grades – you will have empowered them to produce better work and to achieve better grades.

I have spent highly productive years studying classroom management, assessment, technology, child-centered learning, coping with disabilities and other learning difficulties, lesson planning, study and testing techniques, fun activities, the art of debate in the classroom, how students learn, academic coaching, the importance of a variety of teaching styles and learning strategies, how to plan for projects, teachers as team players, approaches to positive discipline, teens and drugs and medications, how to be a better listener, running a homework club, getting organized, building classroom resources, teaching through role-plays and skits, using movies as teaching tools, counseling troubled teens, and cross-curricular initiatives. There are so many useful topics to cover that will keep you learning until the day you retire. In the early years of teaching place classroom management and assessment near the top of your list.

Throughout my career I read at least four books a year on the craft of teaching. I also paid attention to every talk on teaching I ever attended. Although there are some speakers on the circuit who aren’t as charismatic as others, I have learned at least one useful tip from 95% of the talks I have listened to, and that in my estimation makes those hours well spent. We would all be better teachers if we learned to listen more acutely to what our fellow pros are trying to convey. Are you keeping up at the back?

14) The more you tolerate, the more you will have to tolerate.  From the moment you enter the classroom your students are testing you out in numerous ways. How savvy or malleable are you? Are you kind and gentle? A bear or a mouse? Are you funny or dull? A laid-back dude or a control freak? The more comfortable you are in your own skin the more relaxed students will feel in your presence. If you are calm, friendly, and fair in your imposition of classroom rules most students will calmly accept them. If you aim for humiliation or issue too many threats then, of course, your students will justifiably feel threatened. When you have established that your rules for lessons are fair and conducive to effective teaching and learning, resolutely defend them. Once you concede ground, pressure to yield further increases and it often doesn’t stop until you throw in the towel or re-establish boundary lines, which is not always possible. Zero-tolerance isn’t always possible to achieve for various reasons, but when you stop aiming for something close to it you’ll create far too many problems for yourself. Again, in pursuit of zero-tolerance/no excuses you don’t have to play the drill sergeant. The most effective way to command respect is to issue polite commands rather than requests. Stand tall and expect compliance. When you see book bags on the desk just say, ‘Bags on the floor, please’ and then walk away. Don’t single out individual students as that easily creates antagonism. As I said earlier, be friendly but commanding. Avoid pleading, hectoring, or bartering – you will look weak. No PE kit when I was a lad meant running around the track in your underwear for half-hour – no exceptions. We only ever forgot our kit once. As degrading as this practice was we never considered that challenging the rule was an option. Students of today haven’t changed that much. If what you ask children to do is reasonable, sensible, and you refuse to compromise most will comply.

15) Organization. If you blithely dismiss a lack of organizational skills as a charming quirk, it’s time to wise up. Too many teachers fall short of their potential because they stubbornly refuse to transform organizational deficiencies into proficiencies. Managing time and tasks effectively isn’t a tack-on bonus that will earn you extra brownie points along the way, if you remain disorganized you will never be a stellar teacher. Far too often you’ll be mistaken for a circus clown rather than the ringmaster.

Establish routines and delegate as many routine tasks as possible. Most beginning teachers are caught unawares by the sheer volume of paperwork that must be dealt with. Teachers are legally obliged to take attendance in every lesson but that doesn’t mean that students can’t help you with it, especially with new classes.

Find a secure place for confidential reports or student work. (Confidential reports should be locked away. If those reports get into the wrong hands you will have a sizable problem to contend with. John doesn’t want the whole school to know about his personal problems. When a student’s work goes missing you not only waste valuable time searching for it, you also have no proof of the grade awarded and that might lead to creating another test paper for just one student. Good luck if a student refuses to do an assignment again because you have mislaid the original.

When anything takes you far longer than it should have done, make changes. I went through a stage of losing my lesson plans on my desk and so now they go in the middle drawer of my desk.  There’s nothing wrong with starting out being disorganized, but if remain that way you’ll constantly waste valuable teaching time. I spend at least two or three days per semester working solely on organizing an ever growing collection of handouts, forms, reports, essays, and fliers etc., that land on my desk in search of a proper home. Even so, I still spend too much time looking for a mislaid grade book, important letters or documents etc. It took me far too long before I realized that I needed a special tray for anything that I needed throughout the day.

16) Never set busy work. If you want to quickly lose the respect of your charges then set them tasks that won’t be assessed or have no obvious value. Students are adept at picking out nugatory tasks. If there are no points awarded for a task, your students will naturally think of them as pointless exercises. Always be the prime mover in the classroom, if you aren’t excited to read the “riveting” information on pages 39-46 then why should your students be stirred? If you can’t sell a task or an activity to your students they obviously won’t buy it. Teenagers don’t just listen to your words they read your facial expressions and your body language as well.  I’ve seen every documentary and movie I show in class at least twenty times, but I know that if I don’t watch it with them in class they’ll even regard 5-star movies as 2-star busy work that Sir shows when he’s tired of teaching.

17) Teach by example. St Francis of Assisi’s most famous line advises, “Preach the Gospel always and if necessary use words.” This a medieval version of walk your talk and lead from the front.  It came to mind again recently when I passed the gym during lesson time and saw five boys using their cellphones rather than playing ball with their peers. When I walked into the gym the boys immediately stashed the phones away wherever they could.  “Where’s your teacher?” I asked “Dunno, Sir” they shrugged.  Once I’d got them back to playing ball, I headed to the far door and as I walked out I found the sub teacher sat on a chair enjoying the sunshine and updating his Facebook page. If we don’t invest in our lessons then all the seats in our classrooms will be cheap ones. We have no right to ask students to do what we wouldn’t do ourselves.

18) Variety is the spice of Classroom life. In 1983 an American professor, Howard Gardner, published Frames of Mind: the theory of multiple intelligences. Gardner highlights eight specific abilities or types of intelligence that you might discern in your students: spatial, linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic. Gardner’s critics challenge a lack of empirical evidence for his theory. However, his basic insight that ‘we all vary in the ways we best learn’ is surely worth considering.

Whether we can describe artistic or musical ability as “intelligence” is a semantic issue that ought not deflect us from a reality that some students express themselves better through an art form rather than in a purely academic manner. Was Pablo Picasso a genius?  Most subjects allow for artistic expression and teachers should look for ways of incorporating such talents into their courses. Then the students who write the best essays or answer the most multiple-choice questions correctly might not be top of the class for a change. The powerful I am a Man placards from the civil rights era spoke far more eloquently in four short words than many long forgotten speeches on racism and segregation. Edvard Munch’s painting the Scream is still widely used by satirists to express the horror of so many modern ills. A picture is often worth far more than a thousand words.

One of my students recently did an extra-credit assignment for me in which he made an amazing animated screensaver for his computer out of the 84 new words he had learned from my course. He spent hours on that assignment and he was proud of his accomplishment so I was happy to give him an A+. There are times when simply engaging students and getting them to strive for perfection is enough in itself.  In an English class, I would rather a student write a profile on his favourite football player than a dreary essay on Wordsworth’s poetry that bored him rigid.
Einstein’s once observed that, “if you judged a fish by its ability to climb trees, you’d think of fish as stupid creatures.”  If most of our lessons follow the same pattern and rely almost exclusively of one particular skill then those of our students who are uncomfortable with this mode of learning will always feel inadequate. We must vary our lessons because it makes sound pedagogical sense to do so, and also because teens enjoy as many unexpected twists and turns to classes as we can devise. Learning can’t just be fun – but it must be fun and varied to keep energetic teenagers energized. Teach students to expect the unexpected. We must also show our students that we value their unique gifts. Education cannot be predicated on intellectual intelligence alone.

19) Teach like a rock star and make your lessons rock around the clock and then your students won’t be watching the clock. Everything that happens in the classroom begins and ends with you the conductor. How “sexy” can you make your subject? If you accept George Bernard Shaw’s sneering sentiment – ‘Those who can do, those who can’t teach’ – then your chances of being happy or successful as a teacher are zero. See through this pompous nonsense. Adopt instead the Taylor Mali mantra and realize that what you do in classrooms every day changes precious lives for the better – effective teachers make an enormous difference. If we don’t believe in ourselves and what we do, then we can’t expect others to do so. We all should be fired up about sharing our passion for our subject. A rock star believes that every song is a belter that will spark up the audience, if we put enough energy and creativity into our work we should have some terrific lesson plans in the store cupboard that we enjoy teaching. When we look forward to teaching our lessons, students will enjoy learning from them. Rock stars are jealous gods, they command our undivided attention – do likewise.

Tell me and I will forget, show me and I will remember, involve me and I will understand.  (Confucious)

 20) RepetitionRepetition.  Repetition. The oldest and most reliable teaching adage I know comes in three parts: 1) Tell them what you are going to teach them; 2) teach them; 3) tell them what you’ve just taught them.  While it’s important not to be carelessly repetitive, it’s vital that when you have a rare gem to share then reinforce it often. One of my favourite lines from Mother Teresa states, “We can do not great things; only small things with great love.” By the time I have quoted it three times I expect the students to be able to finish the quote for me. It’s amazing how much students love to finish off a line for you – it engages them and makes them feel clever. The students who can mimic me well invariably use my line, “Jesus Christ is the greatest man who ever walked the face of the earth.”

I am deeply indebted to Fr. John ‘Jacko’ Hughes s.j. who taught me Latin and ancient history many years ago. Barely a day would pass without Jacko reminding us not to overdo our studies. “Little and often, gentlemen. little and often wins the day.” Such advice is music to most students’ ears and I was no different. To this day I still share this tip with my students and use it myself. Many parts of this book have been written in a spare 20 minutes here and there. To save myself from endlessly repeating a vital piece of information I often write it up on the board and keep it there until I have another gem to replace it. We can also make handouts of twenty or so quotes or truisms about our subject that every student should know.

21). First impressions count. Make sure that your first class is first-class – you will use it often. Your first lesson needn’t be curriculum specific; it should be about your subject and – to an extent – about you and what you love about your subject. When you do this, you have an opening lesson that can be adapted to suit all year groups.

You should spend as much time as it takes to get this first lesson as perfect as it can be – I’m talking master-class level here. If the impact you have in this first class is truly dazzling then you will be able to bask in its brilliance for the first few weeks of the school year. For the last fifteen years, my first lesson convinced my students that I was the funniest, kindest, and smartest teacher on the planet.  By the time I had given that opening talk twenty times, my timing was immaculate and I had some excellent witticisms scattered throughout the presentation to keep their attention. The payoff for you is that you and your students can enjoy the first day and they will take away an impression of you as a confident, entertaining, and passionate teacher with something worth teaching. Students want to know why studying your discipline is important and relevant. It isn’t always obvious to a teenager that studying quadratic equations, the periodic table, or the Battle of Hastings is worthy of the required labor. It’s all very well saying that ‘those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat its failures,’ but you should find memorable examples that will drive the point home and make is stick.

22) Never take any issue more seriously than the administration. If the administration don’t seem unduly bothered by the enforcement of a particular rule then you shouldn’t be too vexed over it either. If a minor infraction doesn’t trouble your bosses then they are hardly likely to give you much backing should you decide to rigorously enforce the rule. Likewise, if there is an issue that is guaranteed to stress out the principal then be sure to deal with that. If the principal categorically states that all children must wear their uniform correctly then be diligent in addressing uniform infractions.

23) Accurately identifying problems. You can’t own and resolve problems until they are accurately identified. You have a problem class, but what exactly is the problem?  In what ways is the class disruptive? Where is the battery and engine room of this menace that is taxing your energies. If disruption always occurs when you are trying to teach the whole class then maybe you are talking for too long, can everybody in class hear you, are you difficult to comprehend, could you perhaps involve the students more when you are “lecturing?” Sometimes you just have to cut the ‘chalk ‘n’ talk’ part of your lesson because, for whatever reason, it is not working out with a particular class. Every class is unique and they have their own way of learning. I have been surprised at times when I have analyzed a problem and realized that it is just one or two students who are causing a lot of trouble. When I was training to be a teacher in London, my supervisor had to keep reminding me to use a simplified vocabulary that teens could understand.

24) There are two things most students won’t forgive you for. First, for not knowing everything one can reasonably expect you to know about your subject. Secondly, for acting like a know-it-all or as a superior being. You may be a smart person, but that doesn’t make you a better person than anybody else. The more you know about your subject the more you will inspire confidence in your authority. It’s fine to say, ‘I’m not sure I know the best answer to that question, but I’ll find out.’  When you do that you are acknowledging that students have revealed questions worth answering.  If you simply get defensive how should I know or indifferent who cares, it’s tantamount to giving students permission not to care. If you don’t care to know about the Battle of Hastings or the Reformation then why should a student care about such matters?

25) Assessment matters. Just as you give your students deadlines to hand in their work, so do students set deadlines for you to hand their work back. Try to be as reasonable and consistent as possible. If you set quizzes that are easily graded return them as soon as possible, so when you need more time to assess essays or projects students are more likely to be forgiving. If you can, give students a rough idea when they are likely to get their work back. I set myself a target of grading fifty papers a week or ten a day. If other matters prevented me from keeping my targets, I would usually sacrifice some time over the weekend to get me back on track. If you do this, your students shouldn’t have to wait more than two weeks to get an essay or project back.

You should also have a grading scheme and a criterion. For written work these are my guiding lights: content, understanding, knowledge, and evaluation. My grading scheme is created from my lesson notes. I print off my typed lesson notes and I make written comments on them so that I know exactly how the points were covered. If there was a fire-drill during one class I can make note of that and remember that I might have had to rush through my analysis of X, Y, or Z with Period 1. All of this matters a great deal when I am trying to grade fairly and accurately.

You may be a stellar teacher, but if your students mostly get B’s and C’s you may not even be regarded as the best teacher in your own classroom. If grades are consistently low every year you have to be constantly trying to accurately establish where the problem lies. It may well be that the course you teach is notoriously difficult, though you shouldn’t too easily assume this to be the case. I was never brilliant at mathematics, but I never struggled with ‘tricky trig’ and I think that was because my math teacher never let on that there was anything particularly difficult about it.

Try to be sensitive, constructive, and positive when commenting on students’ work. Never make hurtful criticisms and don’t grade to degrade. I had zero respect for my university board when I missed out on a first-class classification for my Degree by 1%. I had completed twelve three-hour exams in six weeks and half of those were in sick bay as I suffered food poisoning for two weeks. They didn’t agree that this might have affected by performance by 1%. Hmmmmmm.  My two word reply to the board was never sent because some might have thought I was being slightly rude. 😊

Bonus Quotes on teaching. 

My dear children…Bear in mind that the wonderful things that you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, and add to it, and one day faithfully hand it on to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common. If you always keep that in mind you will find meaning in life and work and acquire the right attitude towards other nations and ages. (Albert Einstein talking to a group of school children. 1934)

Tell me and I will forget, show me and I will remember, involve me and I will understand.  (Confucious)

 Dear Teacher,

I am a survivor of a concentration camp.  My eyes saw what no man should witness.  Gas chambers built by learned engineers; children poisoned by educated physicians; infants killed by trained nurses; women and babies shot and burned by high school and college graduates.  So, I am suspicious of education.  My request to you is this: help your students become human.  Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths, educated Eichmanns.   Reading, writing, and arithmetic are only important if they serve to make our children more human.   

‘The only place where success comes before work is in a dictionary.’ (Vidal Sassoon 1928 -)

A person without a sense of humor is like a wagon without springs. It’s jolted by every pebble on the road.  (Henry Ward Beecher)

‘Shout at me and I will hear you: speak to me and I will listen.’ (Anon)

 It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: “And this, too, shall pass away.” How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction!  (Abraham Lincoln quoting from the story of King Solomon). 

 

What on Earth is an Academic Coach?

What on earth is an academic coach?  Before I answer that apposite question, let me explain how a student introduced me to this concept. Throughout my seventeen-year tenure at St. Thomas Aquinas H.S. in Fort Lauderdale, students submitted end-of-semester ‘Teacher Evaluations’, which would attest to their teachers’ [in] effectiveness. I was on a one-year probationary gig doing something so novel that I needed evidence for the superintendent of the Archdiocese of Miami schools, Msgr. Kelly, to establish that the ‘sexy theology’ I promised wasn’t an outlandish gimmick of a Machiavellian maverick. (Msgr Kelly remains my advocate, friend, and mentor). One of my students, Michelle, submitted an eloquent 4,456 words for her evaluation in which she wrote, “I hope you will allow me to address you as Coach L rather than Mr. Lawson, because you aren’t just my theology teacher, you are my life coach. You not only fulfilled your promise to improve all my grades, you also boosted my self-confidence, I have improved tremendously in cross-country, I now believe that God loves me and I go to church more often, and thanks to your SOH, motivational talks, spiritual insights, and amazingly simple study skills you somehow managed to exceed my insanely high expectations of you. THANK YOU SO MUCH!” Michelle is now a dynamic student chaplain at Miami University who remains in touch through Linkedin.

So back to the question. Teachers and tutors typically teach a specific subject, my landscape is polychromatic and holistic. Working with students aged 14+ for a week, I merge academic truisms and strategies with lifestyle coaching, primarily focusing on how to study, think, and behave. Students work better when they enjoy their studies. My way is the way of winners: if students truly want to be successful, are prepared to work for it, and refuse to quit they are well placed to find success without undue stress. Emotional wellbeing and happiness are vital: unhappy teenagers are easily discouraged. Encouraging students to take their faith seriously without being ultra-serious is also crucial. I am the messenger rather than the message and so everything I say and do as a coach must demonstrate a fidelity to the will of our Divine Coach – The Holy Spirit. In my first lesson I unpack the following:

  • Put God first in your life and everything else will fall into place.
  • Find something that you are passionate about and you will never work another day; your work will become a labor of love.
  • Enjoy life and live it to the full because that is God’s plan for you. (John 10:10; Jer 29:11).
  • A God of love can only love you, He cannot harm you.
  • I have never met an ungifted teenage and you are NOT the exception. Help me to help you to find the destiny that you must forge for yourself.
  • You have no choice, you must choose what to do with your life. God will help, but He refuses to choose for you.
  • You are not bored with God, you are bored with the ways that God is presented to you.
  • We end the session by pledging in silence our new school year to Jesus and Mary, asking them to guide us throughout the year ahead.

This is far richer than giving out tedious rules on the first day of school. I rarely try to teach more than seven teaching points in one period – that’s plenty and the chances are my audience will remember the lesson. As a lifelong Catholic I want to be open about my faith, hence I prefer teaching in Christian schools.

Three qualities guide my work: passion, motivation, and mindset. From the moment I began teaching in 1993 until now I have given everything to my work. I was never attracted to being ‘average’ at anything. Putting in a purposeful seventy-hour week was par for me. Once we invite students to take the least travelled road to excellence, they want to see that in their teachers. We cannot lead from the cheap seats at the back. My students saw in me a skilled and assured teacher doing what he loved and many in turn wanted to find their ‘pearl of great price’. (Mt 13:45-46).

At the beginning of my lessons I show a motivational video that is designed to spark and keep alight a desire to succeed. These are shown in a thematic way e.g. ‘Turning stumbling blocks into stepping stones’, ‘if you’re good enough, you’re old enough’, and ‘turning talents into skills’ etc. I also invite students to lead prayers in class and to share motivational videos of their own. Motivation is a replenishing exercise that empowers students.

Jesus Christ is the greatest teacher who ever walked the face of the earth and He didn’t give us new laws or Commandments – the bible already contains 613 Commandments. In Matthew Ch. 5, Jesus teaches the Beatitudes or BE-attitudes. A bad attitude is the greatest impediment anyone can have; if we don’t change students’ negative attitudes everything else we do is pointless. A poor attitude is like a flat tyre on a vehicle – you’re going nowhere until you fix it.

The most important question we are asked in life is, ‘can you deliver the goods’? I have consistently done this throughout my career and I welcome an opportunity to explore in greater detail ways in which together we can work to make your students among the finest in the land.

Victoria’s Essay.

              As well as studying sections of the ‘Successful Student’ book, my students have to write an essay in which they are challenged to evaluate the ten rules and principles that most caught their attention.  I hope you will enjoy reading Victoria’s essay as much as I did.  It may not be perfect but in terms of effort and enthusiasm I was happy to give Victoria an A+ for her stirling effort, which perfectly shows what students can learn from a few hours of reading and five lessons.  The longest essay I received this year was 8,560 words from a student who said in his first essay on “Class Expectations” that he would settle for a ‘B’ – thankfully he assiduously set his sights ever higher and ended the semester with a 99.  

                 My Ten Rules and Principles for Academic Success.  (Victoria)

“You can’t climb the ladder of success with your hands in your pockets.” (Arnie Schwarzenegger).  

1.The first rule of success – show up.  When you told us in class that we would have to guess this first rule of academic success I initially thought we would get it easily. Ultimately, it took us about twenty minutes before someone came up with the right answer and that was after you had given us so many clues. When you explained why that was the right answer it seemed so obvious that I am still a little baffled at how we took so long to get it right.  By the way it was a fun way of learning something important – you seem pretty good at finding ways of making your class entertaining or “sexy” as you call it.  (I never thought I would use that word in school let alone in a theology class – that’s not a complaint btw 🙂 Bottom line: you are so right!  You cannot win anything in life if you don’t show up for the competition. If I want a good SAT score then I have to haul myself out of bed on a Saturday morning and go through over four hours of testing.  So, if it is okay with you my first rule for success is the same as yours: show up every day – both physically and mentally.  If we turn up and tune-in to every class, every day for four years of high-school then we give ourselves every chance of being successful in our lives. It is difficult to be a success without some measure of education or training. I think I now understand your quote about ‘everything that is good about life has come about through some form of education’ – not your exact words but hopefully this is what you meant.     

2.If it is to be it is up to me. It is neat how you created the Luigi character to make this point. In your book, you say that when we point the finger of blame at someone else then we always find three fingers pointing back at ourselves. I honestly have done that in the past and it is something that I am still working on. Sometimes I think that I am not doing well in a subject because the teacher doesn’t like me or that he isn’t a good teacher, but that is just me looking for excuses.  The fingers of blame quote is a powerful mind-sticker. If I want to be successful in life then I should also adopt the line from the Rudy movie, “No excuses, get the work done!”  Nobody wants to come to my pity parties, so instead of whining about how tough life is for me I am going to get myself a helmet, suck it up, and show as much grit as possible. Like every other successful person in life, I have to believe that fortune does favor the brave and ‘Just do it!’

3.Application is far more important than Zip codes or Social Class. While I think it is easier to be successful if your family is wealthy because you can afford private tutors and the best equipment etc., nothing beats hard work – hard work always beat talent when a talented person doesn’t work. So many people that you have showed us in the motivational videos from YouTube have said that success is often down to sheer hard work and determination.  In fact, I think every video we have watched has stressed the importance of having a strong work ethic. Twenty hours a week on top of the time we spend at school sounds a lot, though I also know kids here at STA who do twice that amount and, of course, most are ultra-successful – especially at sports.  Other schools may be envious of our successes, but they don’t see the hours of practice that we put in after school and at weekends. The girls’ volleyball team is now one of the finest in Florida since they started to work so much harder.  To quote you, “There has never been a sport called the Comfort Zone.”  If you want to achieve anything in life, you gotta work hard!  

  1. Turn stumbling blocks into Stepping Stones. My favorite video was the one on AGT about the young guy, Drew Lynch, who went to sleep on a concussion when he was at high-school and now has a permanent stutter. I teared up when he explained how it happened and how he had struggled with the problem. But when he told those jokes and made fun out of his stutter I thought that was about the coolest story ever!  I’m so glad that he got the Golden Buzzer from Howie – that part made me cry tears of joy.  His joke about being the voice of GPS was amazingly funny and it showed how he had turned his stumbling block into the gift of humor. You also explained how as a student you couldn’t memorize anything and so you studied extra hard to summarize the books you had to read for your Degree into 500-word handouts. I will definitely adopt this strategy as I don’t have the best memory either. Everybody has their weaknesses, so we must work on our “bouncebackability” scores or we get left behind in life. 

5.Get Organized. Like most students I need to work much harder at getting myself properly organized. I probably waste at least an hour a week – maybe more – on finding things that I need e.g. flashcards, calculator, pencils, and White-out etc.  I have taken your advice and bought myself a pencil case to keep all my bits and bobs in and now I’m less often discombobulated.  I have also made a separate folder for all of my classes and now I can easily find my class notes for every subject.  

6.Take notes.  Again, this is so simple. We can get far more out of our classes when we pay attention and take notes on what is being taught.  This may not make classes any more interesting but – as you said – taking notes means that we usually know what teachers expect us to know. I can’t stop the class from being boring but I can at least get a decent grade out of the class.  I have also started to see that the more boring a teacher is the more they set busy work which is at least easy.  So many students complain when they get bad grades and yet when they are in class they are always playing with their phones or Chromebooks or just talking all the way through the lesson – get real guys!  If you don’t take good notes in class when a subject is being taught then you are making it harder for yourself to learn the material for tests. You can get the notes from a friend in the class though usually the notes make little sense when the class itself was missed. 

7.Little and Often.  2 x 15 is better than 1 x 60 is hands down the best study tip that any teacher has ever shown me.  I thought it was brilliant how you took us for a walk around the track to prove your point – just like an actual science experiment.  Although we are only three weeks into the semester, using this technique has improved my comprehension and work-rate because I don’t have to spend long hours on anything without taking a break.  At first, I didn’t believe that it was possible to reduce my work time and get better results, but that is exactly what has happened.  In the past I would have tried to do this essay on one night without a break and that usually meant that I would rush the end just to get the paper finished.  However, now when my mind starts to wander I take a short break and then I come back refreshed. Talking of which, I am going to take a break now! See you soon. J  

  1. “If your attitude sucks then so do you.” As you admitted in class this may not sound pretty, but it is true and everyone knew what you meant. If we walk into our classes expecting them to be boring or too difficult then, of course, that is exactly what happens. There isn’t much teachers can do for kids who have a badass attitude to school. If we at least try to do our best in class and also be ‘kind and courteous’ to our teachers then school isn’t so bad. Incidentally, I think this principle applies to faculty as well.  Some teachers clearly have a poor opinion of students and seem to spend more of their time looking for the worst in us rather than the good. There are some difficult kids here but most of us are pretty easy going; even when kids are difficult it usually doesn’t help when teachers yell at them. I like the poster by your desk: “Shout at me and I will hear you. Talk to me and I will listen.”  I also like your traffic sign by the door which says that “Respect is a two-way street.”  When we all show respect for each other then everyone gets more out of school.

9.Keep the Dream Alive. My favorite quote so far is from the Dead Poet’s Society movie when Mr. Keating says, “Only in his dreams can man be truly free – it was always thus and always thus will be.” You made an intriguing point when you said that everyone dies twice in this life. The first time we die is when our dreams die. Dreams play a huge part in my life and they have for as long as I can remember. When I was younger I think I had a new dream every week and most of my friends did as well.  I can’t imagine what life would be like if I didn’t dream of being successful.  For now, I dream of going to a good college and getting a good Degree and, of course, I want to meet my handsome prince who is also successful at what he does.  None of this will happen if I don’t work hard now and make the most of the opportunities that I am lucky enough to have every day here at STA. 

  1. Put the Phone Away. I absolutely agree with your views on cellphones. Our generation are obsessed with them! We are so focused on our phones that we don’t learn properly. I am ashamed to say that I have asked to go to the restroom (not in your class) when all I wanted to do was to check on messages.  You may remember that when we walked around the track I told you how my girlfriends and I wasted our entire Labor Day off taking selfies and constantly responding to our phones. It was maddening to me that we had so many broken conversations because we were all responding to various cellphone messages – none of which were in any way urgent! When we finished our day at the beach we had hundreds of pics though we hadn’t really enjoyed the day – so the camera actually does lie.   We may be smiling in the snaps we took but we did NOT have a great day. We have now agreed that when we go to lunch – the only time all five of us are together – we will switch our phones off – period!  I think that any kids who think they can learn when their phones are switched on are in denial. You have shown us that technology can be both good and bad for us, and it is up to us to be self-disciplined enough to use technology to help us rather than to harm us.  I have discovered some great apps that help my studies, but I take your point that kids are wasting entire days playing video games etc., instead of studying. 

These are my ten rules for success and happiness in my life. Thank you for introducing us to so many cool new ideas about being successful. Although I didn’t think to begin with that I would be able to find ten rules, when I checked my notes from your class over the last week I realized that you have given us enough material to write twenty, or even more, rules. I didn’t get to include discipline which I now realize ‘is a gift rather than a curse’ and nor have I acknowledged how you have helped me to increase my vocabulary quite easily by teaching me the five new words a day rule.  I am excited to see what the rest of the semester brings.  Thank you.  (2120 words)

 

More student Testimonies!

I enjoyed learning what Coach L had to say on successful students and important study habits; I think that most of the information was applicable to me as a student and I know that I will use these tips for many years to come. Be honest about your work and it will pay off on your journey to becoming successful. I can tell this will help other students in the future as well to be able to prepare for their time in high school and in college as well.  Coach L’s Law, as he calls it, is so simple and yet profound: Look, Listen, and Learn. I think the “law” is self-explanatory, if you pay attention, you’ll understand a lot more than if you weren’t.                    (Clare M)

Today was my first day with Coach L. I have already learned so many new things, and it’s only the first day in class. I have a good feeling that I will get a lot out of this class. The first thing I learned was to “Put God first in your life and everything else will fall into place.” We made a list of the people that are on our team in life. I listed my first person as Jesus, followed by my parents, siblings, and some of my best friends. Another great thing I learned today was to “Find something you have a passion for and you will never work a day in your life.” This little bit of information motivates and inspires me to chase my dreams. I want to become an actress and I sometimes doubt how realistic my dream is and try and convince myself to do something more “practical”. But I know that acting is my passion and it is something I would want to do for the rest of my life. This profession would truly feel like I am not even working a day in my life because I love it that much. It will take “Passion, Patience, and Practice” in order to make these dreams come true and I am determined to do just that.  (Ashley-Marie)

As a whole Ethics has really exceeded my expectations in that it touched upon many aspects of life in which are essential in preparing all of us for our lives. I knew that this class was going to do so but not in the quantity that it has. The best part of this was that everything that I learned was in a fun way either through superb YouTube videos, notes, or fantastic movies. This course should be a core class because schools sometimes forget to touch upon the things that really matter in life and this course certainly does so in a fun way. Thank you very much for a superb quarter, Coach L.   (Juan).

Ethics class, specifically our class, is not what I imagined it to be. Coach L’s class made this subject interesting for all of us to learn. Every day, we look forward to something new, something to learn about.  My class expectations weren’t only fulfilled they were exceeded.  This class is not the typical class anyone could imagine it to be. Every student has something to share, it is an open class. I learned a lot more than I thought I ever could.  It made me become more open minded into things. Coach L has a different way of teaching Ethics class, the way that students wouldn’t be bored because it is interesting and everything applies in our lives. Truthfully, I liked his way of teaching more than of reading a text book driven course. In every essay and every discussion we have, I do put my heart and soul into it. For this might be the only class I get to tell my perspective into certain things, the class where I get to share what I believe in. (Hennessy)

This class is interesting because you can view things in so many different perspectives. Taking this class has changed my point of view of things in many ways. This class has expanded my learning skills. The quotes that he would explain to us I loved. My favorite quote from Coach L is, “there is no such thing as an intelligent racist.” I have never agreed more.   (Kristen L)