The end is in sight

Well it’s that time of year again: June. Report cards, plays, sporting events, conferences, interruptions, bad behaviour, ants and vermin, no air conditioning etc. School is almost over.

Believe it or not, even experienced teachers get cranky at this time of year. It’s normal. We are at our wits end. We have done everything we can think of (and more) to be engaging and to facilitate learning. Unfortunately, students appear to have shut down. Getting work out of some is like getting water from a stone. Don’t give up. Choose your battles.

You can do this. Here are some tips on how to change it up and make it through.

Report card season is in full swing: Use that to your advantage. Remind them of what’s coming, pull out your fake marking clipboard and circulate. (they don’t need to know that your report cards are ready to go already).

Give them the opportunity to surprise you: Let students know their theoretical marks now. Also let them know what’s left to be done between now and the end of the year and what each piece of work is worth. You may be surprised in the change in work ethic.

Turn lessons on their head: Now is the time for them to show you. They have learned the lessons, and perfected the skills. Have them teach their peers. Be it a game of capture the flag, tennis or a dance; let them be the teacher. Show them how a class lesson would be organized and allow them to be the experts. It’s a great way to show leadership, innovation, creativity and well… it gives you the chance to assess without a million “miss!” being thrown your way.

Are bribes really that bad: Give the students an incentive. For some it may be as little as a Freezie (I am anti-candy and food because it reinforces the wrong message on health and well-being) or it could be a free period, a video, free play, tickets for a draw… the sky is the limit. Find out what they want (within reason) and use it to get that final test done!

Give yourself a break: The weather is fabulous, get outside. Go for walk. Cool off. This year, I organized a bike club at lunch. Mainly I did it so I could get on the paths and exercise in the sun but, as it turned out, I had almost as many staff join me and my merry band, as I did students. Even our administration got in on the rides. We all seem to come back smiling. The added benefit is that we are teaching physical literacy, bike safety and care all while applying it in the real world.

I hope these ideas help you make it through. If you have some more ideas on how to hold on, drop me a line. I’d love to learn more.

Be mindful of your privilege

Bias shapes our environment. It influences how we deal with different situations, how we teach our class and our ability to empathize with students, staff and parents alike. Our experiences shape who we are, for good or bad, and create a framework for us to view the world around us. Being cognizant of your bias, and your privilege, is key to making you a better educator and human being.

I am the child of privilege. At first glance, I am a fair skinned, blue-eyed Canadian born woman who can afford her own car and home. I live in a major cosmopolitan city, speak both English and French fluently, am married to a man and was raised Christian. As a child, I was even a blonde-haired!

Of course, there is more. I was born in a little southern Ontario town in the middle of farm country. I also lived up north in Owen Sound and North Bay, spent my summers in South Porcupine and settled in the Toronto area where I attended two well-known universities to get my degrees. I am now raising two amazing kids with my patient husband in the GTA and have access to the best medical and dental help my OHIP and insurance can cover. Wow am I lucky. On top of all of this, I am the child of both European and Caribbean immigrant parents. That’s right: Caribbean. I can locate some black and aboriginal ancestors in my family tree. I have played “Mass” in Port-of-Spain, I can tell the difference between different rums, I understand a fair amount of patois have a family member that is literally every colour of our glorious rainbow. Oh and did I mention my married name is Tang (as in the dynasty)?

Like everyone else, this is the “Coles Notes” version of my story. There is so much more to tell, but to an outside observer, I am sitting near the top of the food chain. There is very little that I cannot access. My experiences alone enable me to connect with various groups and take on the mantle of different cultures in our larger society. I can see glimpses into life as a member of a racialized group but I can also choose to take on a different story if I am uncomfortable with the narrative.

“When I am confused and frustrated by apparent student roadblocks, I take the time to do my mindful minute and take three deep breaths. It doesn’t solve all the problems but, it often works to help me see a different perspective.” – Brenda Tang

How can I then dare to understand the story of a single black mother with three children? How can I relate to her working three jobs to make ends meet (when it rarely does) and using the television or computer to babysit while she runs out and to catch up on groceries? Who am I to tell a family that they need to get their children to bed before 11 pm, when I don’t understand that dad works shift and never sees his kids until he gets home at 10:30 pm. Can I truly think it is appropriate to lecture a Muslim family about the need to have their children eat properly at lunch during Ramadan?  I can’t. – but I have.

These students come to us to learn and we often know nothing about them. We assume they come from similar beliefs and privileges as our own and, unfortunately, that is often farthest from the truth. Maslow before Bloom’s, as the saying goes, is barely scratching the surface.

Think now about your own upbringing. What cards do you bring to the table? What experiences, genes, traditions and privileges influence your teaching? What do your students see when they look at you at the front of the class? What do their parents see? Do they recognize themselves in you and in their learning or do they see only the same privilege and division between those who have and those who have not. How can you change the narrative?

I tell you all this in the hopes that it will make you aware of how lucky we really are. I want you to recognize how much privilege you have coming into the classroom and the advantages you take for granted from the very beginning. I ask you to be cognizant of your actions and to try at every turn to learn from your charges, their parents and your school community. I implore you to look past what you have experienced and to learn the differences that make each human being unique. Learn from your mistakes. Please take the time to be mindful in your practice and to teach that mindfulness to your charges. Educate others to embrace difference, to be tolerant and empathetic and to never read a book by it’s cover.

Mindful Minute:

“I must learn to walk in their shoes; I must listen to their stories, hear their voices and opinions and constantly strive to learn about the world around me. I cannot be complacent and teach in a single comfortable style. I MUST evolve. I must become uncomfortable. I must listen, see and hear. I must be mindful of the privilege I bring with me.”

My top 10 Classroom Management tricks

As a teacher, the most important thing to have is classroom management. You cannot hope to teach a class effectively if you don’t have their respect and their attention. In the PHE classroom this becomes even more important because of the added dynamic of active moving people. Handling the chaos of the gym or outdoor field can be trying for even the veteran educator. Here are my top 10 tips to classroom management:

  1. Make Respect your number one priority – in my class, I drill the importance of RESPECT. For self, others and the teacher. Even before we talk learning goals, this goal is paramount. That means, we discuss feelings, we have our sharing circle and we are clear on what that looks, sounds and feels like.
  2. Co-create your rules and post them proudly- Make them short, clear and concise. Generally, I do the number of rules equaled to the grade level i.e.: seven rules for grade 7s etc. Think pretty picture and poster paper. If it’s clear and out there, it is tangible. (Laminated and dry erase is usually best so that you can update or change as the year goes on) Same goes for your Learning Goals and Success Criteria
  3. Make squads- have set squads for your class and a set location for where they sit when they entre your class. I prefer 4 squads, regardless of the number of students, so that I can start team activities quickly.
  4. Create and stick to a routine– Sit in your squads as you walk in the gym, explain the warm up and the activities of the day and go. Finish with a stretch and chat. Try to make it similar every time so everyone knows what’s coming.
  5. Lay out consequences and rewards– I have a thing for baseball in my class. We always go with the “three strike” rule. I’m a firm believer that everyone makes mistakes and because of this, I allow for 3 strikes. At one, I make eye contact, clearly state “one”, and then continue teaching. Two is the same. At three, students know that they sit out of the game for five minutes. At the end of that, we have “the talk”. Discuss what had them sit out, what I expect and that there is no fourth strike in baseball. Instead, it’s next step up the chain of discipline such as a call or note home or a visit to the office. I also make a point of reminding the class that I’m old and will forget about strikes by tomorrow. That way everyone starts fresh.
  6. Communicate with parents, staff and school – Use programs like Remind, email, agendas, create posters etc. so that everyone is aware of what is going on in your class
  7. Get their attention– Use different ways to get attention back when instruction or activity hasn’t go according to plan. There are lots of different ways to do this. Here are just a few:
Clap out a rhythm and have them clap it back Ex : Clap, clap, pause, clap-clap-clap
Use a song or a rhyme with actions to match: “These are grandma’s spectacle and here is grandma’s cap, and this is the way I told my hands and put them in my lap.”

« Les mains sur la tête, ça veut dire arrête. Les mains sur la bouche, ça veut dire écoute »

Call and respond: “peanut butter” and they respond “Jelly” or “pepperoni”  response is “pizza”
Hand in the air Simple group response where everyone mirrors the action
Drip, drip, drop Use your voice to get their attention. Use a loud voice, using your diaphragm and not your nose, to project your voice. First 2 words are loud, next one is soft.

N.B. always use firm language here such as “ I want your attention”

Speak softly and have them respond Instead of going loud, you go soft.

“if you can hear me clap once, if you can hear me clap twice…” you get the idea.

Use music. Turning music on or off is a great hint that something is going on.

Superhero music to signal the last minute or  “Ride of the Valkyries” is always a good choice.

  1. Practice Personal Positive Praise– No one wants to only hear the negative. Take the time to quietly let them know one-on-one that they did a great job. There are so many ways to demonstrate praise, if they see you care (and don’t make a scene) it goes a long way to winning their respect.
  2. It’s okay to be funny– Make a joke, wear that crazy pair of socks, laugh at yourself.
  3. Get it wrong and own it- If you make a mistake; be courageous enough to admit it. Apologize. If we are vulnerable, they will respect you that much more.

Do you have some other great ideas? Please share in the comments below.