Sunday, September 1, 2013

Connections to Professional Life: Get Your Professional Sh*t Together

If there's one thing I appreciate, it's on the spot commentaries.  Spontaneous writing assigned in a collaborative setting where you have to share can produce the hidden voice, the one that tells the things you were thinking but never said out loud.  That's what happened at one of my district in-service trainings earlier this summer with my long-time teaching partner, Kate Jorgensen.  Our assignment was to write a commentary on a specific issue for a specific audience that ended with some kind of advice.  And we had 15 minutes to do it, which Kate wrote in 5.  Here's Kate's quick-write on a topic with real advice that has benefited new and developing teachers, from volunteers and tutors to practicum and student teachers.  Direct and straight-up, I laughed out loud as I reflected on aspects of my years as a beginning teacher . . . Enjoy this! 

As Ms. Naputi says, "It's not personal, it's just business."  Many teachers I know don't see students behavior this way because the truth is that it is personal.  It's personal when you see a new teacher crying in front of her students because an 11-year-old tells the teacher to f**k off, or the cute 13-year-old kid shows up 15 minutes tardy to your class, or a kid says, "This is boring."  It's personal because the developing teacher makes it so.

So how can middle school teachers demand respect and have students learn?  The key is high academic and behavioral expectations for adolescents.  The key is to stop being so afraid of your students: they are only kids!  Get your professional shit together and stop taking it personally!

My advice is to establish clear expectations with reasonable consequences and have consistent follow through.  Don't threaten something, then back down.  You are then weak and telling students you expect bad behavior.  Students in adolescent years need structure and they need to know that you say what you mean and you mean what you say.  True, there is a delicate balance in being strict, humorous, and loving.  But don't give up and just become friends with the students thinking this will soften the problems in your class.

The other key piece is academic engagement. Develop meaningful and rigorous curriculum and tell your students "learning is non-negotiable."  Every instructional thing you do should have a purpose and intent.  Otherwise, why are you doing it?  Engaging content can work wonders for solving behavioral problems.

Now, I'm in a unique position because the model at Sherman Middle School is one that loops 6-7th grade, is fully inclusive, and involves teaming.  This means that most educators have their students for 2 years and there are 3-person teams so you have adult support.  Many educators teach in a junior high model in which they have sections of math with 30 kids each.  That's unfortunate, but it doesn't mean the students should run wild.

Might I sound to be too controlling - like kids trapped in a Catholic school?

Maybe, but it's better than students telling you you're a fat, stupid bitch, isn't it?  March forward and start high expectations early.  Put your ego and need to be liked on the shelf and let students know it's important for them to learn.


Kate Jorgensen - Lover of family (especially her nieces), friends, running, outdoors, music, educating middle school students. and all things social and political.  Kate also wrote Seeding Professional Development for this blog - check it out. 

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