the meeting

The Meeting: How to End It

“This shouldn’t take too long.” Perhaps the most foreboding words ever uttered at the beginning of a school meeting.

Everybody knows it’s not true. Calling it a lie seems harsh as if the meeting leader (henceforth referred to as Satan) gets paid by the syllable and second.

I’m just kidding…about the Satan part.

However, every single meeting ever held has lasted longer than it needed to. Part of the blame goes on the meeting leader and the rest on the attendees.

In the spirit of my criticism, I will keep this short (however, at least 300 words because that’s how long it needs to be for Google to even recognize it).

Is a Meeting Necessary?

Short answer: no, it’s not. 99.2% of all information I’ve ever received at a meeting could have easily been disseminated by email. And do you know what we teachers could have been doing instead? Any of the countless accountability tasks flowing like grape-flavored motor oil from your state and national capitols.

This inflo should help:

Are you mostly sure the meeting info could be explained by email? Then email.

Are you kinda sure the meeting info could be explained by email? Then email.

Are you sorta sure the info could be explained by email? Then email.

Are you pretty sure the info could not be explained by email? Then email.

Are you confident the info could not be explained by email? Still, email.

Do You Need to Speak at the Meeting?

The above section should send meetings into extinction faster than Netflix did in Blockbuster. However, if you find yourself sitting in a brontosaurus of a get-together, don’t say anything.

You think you have a question, but you don’t.

“There are no stupid questions. If you have the question, others in here probably do as well, so ask.” You know you’ve said that, teachers. I have.

And it’s stupid. Don’t ask. Email. You know why? Because after facilitator answers the question, meeting attendees will ask, “Can you just email that?”

Yes. Yes, they can.

Here’s some more help for you:

If you’re only going to query to point out your self-proclaimed pedagogical genius, don’t.

If you’re only going to query to grind the same ax for the 300th time, don’t.

If you’re only going to query to point out how great your kid is, or your kid’s school is, don’t.

Seriously, nobody cares. And we all have way too much to do…especially the first few days before the kids arrive.

Meeting to Build Community

“But what about building community by getting us all together?” an administrator may ask.

Meetings build resentment. If your administrators want to build community, tell them to get the staff pizza for lunch some random Friday, or let the staff dress down more often. 

The most important commodity is time. Plain and simple.

Your Turn!

Mr. Middlesworth wants to hear from you. Please let us know what you think down below. And why don’t you share this with one of your teacher friends?

3 Simple Ways to Force Student Ownership

I love yogurt. Especially the varieties that have a lid full of stuff to dump in and mix around. The healthy crunch that almonds or granola or M&Ms provide…so good.

Recently, I was shopping for said yogurts as the clerk was restocking the very same yogurts. I thought he would yield to me as we reached simultaneously, and he did, but not without releasing a nose full of annoyed and affronted air.

As I filled my arms, I thought of tons of stuff I wouldn’t end up saying, which included, “I’m sorry that my shopping is getting in the way of your shelving, but did you realize you wouldn’t have anything to shelve without customers?”

In other words, grocery store workers are there for the shoppers, not the other way around.

Funny, but a lot of teachers have this confused as well. I know I used to be. 

Many teachers don’t understand why students don’t take ownership of their learning or their education. Perhaps it’s because teachers act as if students have to earn the knowledge educators are charged with placing on the low shelves for their children.

Or maybe it’s because many teachers spend so much time creating boundaries and erecting walls with rules that, in many cases, require students to bow at their feet simply to enter the classroom.

Hate to tell you, teachers (no I don’t, I love it), but students aren’t here for us, we’re here for them. If it weren’t for the children, we would be out of a job.

At long last, here are three ways to force students to take ownership of their education:

 

1. Call It “Our Room,” Not “My Room.”

And beyond that, treat it as though it is your student’s room as much as yours. Because it is. (And, by the way, if another teacher uses your room at some point during the day, it’s their room as well. Make shelf space, desk space, and do whatever else you can to make them comfortable. I mean, c’mon, get over yourself. It’s not YOUR room).

This doesn’t mean that students gain access to your personal belongings, your desk, or even your supplies. They can respect your things and space.

But you must do the same. Don’t go digging through your students’ stuff without their permission. Ask politely if they mind if you move their books to the counter to make more room.

Once they feel like the classroom is as much theirs as it is yours, they will treat it as such and take ownership of its care.

 

2. Respect Their Physical Needs

Look folks, if a kid asks to go to the bathroom, let them go. Do you really want to say to a parent, “I know Richard will be made fun of for the rest of his life for pooping his pants in my class, but we were about to go over the homework”? Err on the side of humane, teachers. Please.

Now, if they are going to miss something fun or something that you think the student will really be upset about missing, it’s certainly appropriate to ask them if they could wait a couple minutes because “you’re going to want to see this.” But the fact that you “started the lesson” is no reason to cause your students physical discomfort.

(Chew on this:  if you think all those kids who are “going to the bathroom” are really just taking a walk, you’re probably right. But what does that say about what’s going on in your classroom?)

Additionally, let them get up to sharpen their pencil or grab a tissue without asking. This doesn’t mean they can terrorize everybody between the trash can and their seat, but sometimes a little stroll across the room is just what the doctor ordered.

Some students like to stand at their desk instead of sit. Why not let them? As long as they aren’t bothering other students, what’s the issue?

Trust me, it doesn’t bother you. You’re an adult, remember? You can handle it. And giving your students ownership of their bodies will encourage them to take ownership in other areas.

 

Please share this article with a teacher colleague or a parent friend of yours. Or ten.

 

3. Don’t Play the Adult Card

I drink coffee in class all the time. All day. All year. Students would always say, “Why can’t we have drinks in class?” and I would respond “become a teacher someday and you can have a latte in your classroom.”

That’s what I was referring to in the last paragraph of the previous section. Often times, we play the adult card when we teachers have something to gain.

I snack throughout the day as well because I get hungry. I’m a grown man. These kids get hungry as well. They’re children.

I know this is all subject to school rules, but why not allow your students some of the same creature comforts you desire for yourself?

Again, students should clean up after themselves, and they don’t need a dozen donuts. We should encourage them to make good choices. And if they already have a sense of ownership in the classroom, your students just might lead the charge on classroom sanitation for you.

Some Final Thoughts

There are always growing pains when encouraging your students to take ownership of their classroom environment. If they are not used to some of the freedom you are offering, they will try to take advantage of it. It’s inevitable. Don’t let this be an excuse to drop the iron fist on them. Revel in the notion that you are doing the right thing, teaching kids with respect, and encouraging them to take ownership of their lives and their education.

What Do You Think?

Do you agree? Disagree? Do you allow and encourage students to take ownership of their education and their school day? Or do you think this is a terrible idea? Mr. Middlesworth wants to hear from you! Sound off below!!

Further Reading on Ownership

Here’s an article by the fantastic Ira Socol about the user experience (UX) of children in the school setting. Must read.

 

Children Today, Am I Right?

Children today don’t know how to communicate face-to-face. They never read. All you ever see is the tops of their heads. Thumbs gliding across phone screens.

Add to the list. You know you want to.

Sprinkle on some “when I was in school” for good measure.

Teaching like a teacher means not imbibing on this faculty-room toxic brew. All of the above comments —and anything you might have added in— are code for “I just want more control of my students so they’ll sit there, smile, shut up and listen.”

Here’s a fact: when you were in school, your teachers said the same things about you “children today.” Replace text messages or snapchats with notes written on paper, and i’s dotted with little hearts.

Another fact: when these children today become adults, they’ll also complain about children today. And so on, and so on…

Something else I remind myself of from time to time…Children haven’t changed over time. That is, the kids who will sit in front of me in a couple of weeks are not the same human beings who sat there 20 years ago. While this is a “no duh” kind of comment, it’s important to recognize this.

When children today walk into a classroom, they’re not thinking, “Nobody had cell phones 25 years ago, but I’m going to snap my friends in class today because I’m not well-behaved like those students of yesteryear.” No, they are just living life as they have always known it. Living in the world that adults today have presented to them.

Chew on that for a minute.

Then wash it down with this: By the very nature of their use of screens, children today read and write more than we ever did. Way more.

Further, I don’t understand the attack on their critical thinking skills, especially with regards to their access to technology. Don’t confuse memorizing stuff with critical thinking. Critical thinking is ripping apart an idea, topic or notion and forming a judgment. Think of all the information that is available to children today at the swipe of a finger. They rip stuff apart with their BFFs and debate constantly. It just happens to be about mascara instead of mitochondria.

So, dear reader, teach like a teacher this year by empathizing with your students in all ways, but specific to this article, by understanding that their world doesn’t seep into their brains through boxy televisions or landline telephones. Instead, it flashes in through HD screens that fit in the palms of their hands.

And, fitting neatly with the previous Teach Like a Teacher article, how will you both create a classroom environment that allows children today to feel comfortable by focusing on their strengths and interests and prepares them to succeed in a world that looks less and less like it did when we were kids?

 

The Misuse of Screens

As today’s students gain more and more access to technology in the classroom, the issue of misuse of “screens” increases as well.

To illustrate, a story. Not from my classroom but my summer job. I drive for Uber. Recently, Uber introduced Uber Eats in my area. If you’re not familiar, Uber Eats is a ride for your dinner. Or lunch.

My first Uber Eats experience took me to McDonald’s. I would be delivering lunch to a bank teller working about a mile and a half away from the restaurant. After I accepted the delivery on my phone, the app flashed directions to McDonald’s on to my screen, and then instructions on how to obtain the order once I got there.

I pulled into a parking spot, removed my phone from the cradle suction-cupped to the windshield and headed in. I guess I hadn’t been inside a McDonalds for a while, because I was surprised at what I found. Patrons weren’t queued up at the registers. Instead, they entered their orders at a series of poster-sized tablets on stilts. Why have the employees enter the order on their register screen second-hand when the diner can do it for themselves on an interactive menu?

(Sidenote: traditional face-to-face ordering is still available)

The cashier asked me for the order number, which I read off my phone, and she typed into her screen. A moment later, I was walking back to my car, the bank teller’s lunch in my hands.

Before I could drive to the bank, I had to press a few buttons to confirm that the order pick up went well. Then the first of the directions to the bank showed up. Two rights, a left, and another right later, I was in the bank parking lot. I delivered the food in the lobby, confirmed by hitting the check mark on my phone screen, and hit the road in hopes of scoring another customer.

To complete the story, remember that the bank teller used his phone to access the Uber app, tapped his screen a bunch of times to both order his lunch and give me a five-star rating.

The misuse of technology and screens I referred to at the beginning of this post falls at the hands of the teachers, not the students. We can’t ignore that fact that screens and technology and a world of information are in our students’ hands at all times. It’s fine to allow students to use smartphones as electronic dictionaries, but it’s not enough to replace something made of paper with a device.

“But they’ll just look up the answer in, like, two seconds on their phone,” you might say. Then why are we making them memorize it?

“Screens are everywhere, all the time. But my room is going to be a break from that.” Um, ok, but, what are we preparing them for?

In times of change learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equiped to deal with a world that no longer exists — Eric Hoffer

This year I vow to learn alongside my students. From my students. I’m not only going to corporate technology in lessons. I’m going to encourage students to lead the way through their screens. To do anything different is to prepare students for a world that no longer exists.

Throw away those numbered phone-collection pouches and join me. Harnessing the power of technology is crucial to teaching like a teacher in 2018. 

It’s your turn…

What do you think? Do you agree with Mr Middlesworth or not? Let us know below in the comment section.

Teacher? No Superhero

I had a student once who hated math. That is, 12 of the 13 years of his schooling, he hated math.

He loved it the year he had me for Algebra. I know because he told me so. He told me then. He came back the next school year to tell. And after he graduated.

His mother emailed me endlessly, thanking me. Praising me. At one point, she called me “some sort of superhero.”

There’s a narrative that exists on social media and the web: teacher as superhero.

Scan any teacher in-service and you’ll find this on a t-shirt, “I’m a teacher, what’s your superpower?” Fictional superheroes are fueled by things like the sun, nuclear accidents, spinach, and “I don’t know how you do it’s.”

I get that last one a lot. “You teach middle school? I don’t know how you do it.”

Wait a second, does that mean I included Teacherman in the fictional category of superhero?

Yes.

I was a superhero to the student I told you about above. Probably a few more over my nearly-quarter century of teaching.

But not all of them. Not even close.

Supergirl saves everybody. Always. I don’t think I’ve ever watched an episode in which she didn’t eventually save the day. Now that’s a superhero.

Was I a superhero to all the students who passed through my class and have no recollection of it? To those who were bored to sleep? To those who struggled with their homework every night?

Or what about the student with the overbearing father I once taught. The student was a selective mute, and a selective worker as well. The accepted strategy with her was to not force her to do any work. Just allow her to work when she wanted to, and not when she wasn’t comfortable.

One day, I encouraged her to try a worksheet. I knew she could do the work, and I thought it would give her some confidence. I was right.

I told this story in a subsequent meeting with the father. He launched a wagging finger across the table at me. “I told you not to push her. She can’t handle that!”

I apologized. I said it wouldn’t happen again.

And it didn’t. I left her alone with regards to her work. Even in the wake of the small connection we made over the worksheet that day, I still backed off.

Was I a superhero to her? Clearly, she was controlling when she talked and when she did school work because her father had control of everything else at home.

I didn’t see it at the time. I should have. I should have acted on it.

“But Mr. Middlesworth,” you say, “don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re only human.”

EXACTLY.

And how about the kid who didn’t fit the mold of school and now has a manual labor job? How do you think he feels when he hears that teachers are superheroes? Forgotten? Left out? Villified?

We’re not superheroes. We’re teachers. We work with children. We make connections that last a lifetime (some of those connections may be negative). But not with every kid. Not even close.

When you don’t feel like a superhero, don’t beat yourself up. It’s fine. The best we can do is do our best.
Want to do something heroic? Treat every single kid with kindness. No matter what. You don’t even need to wear a cape to do it.

Summer: the Ultimate Educational Argument

From September to May, Facebook feeds are littered with discussions and arguments between teachers and non-teachers on countless topics like:

  • Common Core
  • Accountability
  • Differentiation
  • Grit
  • Homework
  • Teaching to the Test

But one topic— more than any other— inspires angry emojis, melts keyboards, and conjures unfriendings…

Summer. More to the point: summers off. “Teachers are overpaid! They get the whole summer off.”

I used to spar these dragons with my pool-noodle sword:

“We take a lot of continuing education classes” and “It’s actually only, like, two-and-a-half months” or “I’ve hiked Route 66 in search of the perfect lesson plan.”

But just like I knew what I was getting into when I became a teacher, others knew what they weren’t getting into. Every other job goes year round. And most pay better than education. Much better.

Of course, I think teachers should make more money, but that’s a topic for a different day. For now, I’ll have to make due with 89 consecutive days off…oh and, of course, coffers-full of payment in angel tears and children’s smiles (also fodder for another discussion, this notion of payment in heavenly reward and how it has affected teacher salaries).

Teachers, the point is this: Enjoy your summer. If you want to take classes or read books in your discipline, go ahead. If you need to take on a side hustle to make ends meet, do that too.

But if you want to lie on the couch or on a raft in your pool or on a giant lily pad in a pond in eastern West Africa, do it! And don’t feel a second of guilt about it.

We all made our career choices. This is what ours gets us.

(DId you miss what Teach Like a Teacher and Mr Middlesworth are all about? Click here to find out )

Teach Like a Teacher

Brace yourself: My favorite teacher of all time was not a pirate.

Nor was he a champion or ninja or hacker.

He taught social studies, and he taught me about the laws of the United States of America. The curriculum was straightforward: Supreme Court cases whose decisions had a significant effect on the laws of the US.

The pedagogy was simple as well: present the case, explain the existing laws and constitutional significance, ask what we thought.

Then he listened.

I know he listened because he made everybody feel good about their responses and how they analyzed the situation. Nobody hesitated to share in “You and the Law,” because Minge (short for Mr. Mingeone, rhymes with hinge) always supported his students’ opinions. Always made us feel like we had made an excellent point.

Then with one comment, one point, one query, he would cause us to question our most fundamental beliefs. It was incredible.

I’m no Minge (I don’t even teach social studies), but that style informs my pedagogy to this day. It wasn’t about word walls or tickets in or tickets out or strategies or best practices or assessment anchors.

It was about getting to know his students and letting his students get to know him. In short, one-word short, in fact, it was about respect.

And that’s what Teach Like a Teacher is all about: respect. Teachers respecting their students. Teachers respecting each other. And yes, teachers respecting themselves.

I always thought I was a good teacher. Students like to be in my class. Some would choose to talk to me when they could be doing other things. I was even nominated for Who’s Who in American Education a few times back in the late 90s and early 2000s.

But now I’m judged by whether or not I posted the essential question for the lesson. Or if my students show growth on a standardized test they likely don’t care about. Or if one of my students yawns while an administrator is in my room for a 5×5 observation.

I used to feel good about what I did. Now I feel terrible. I feel guilty if I’m not planning or grading until the sun goes down. I feel like a failure if I’m not drilling down all summer to find the specific deficiencies in my students’ collective test scores.

Correct that. I felt terrible. I felt guilty. I felt like a failure.

From this moment forward, I’m going to feel great about working with kids, getting to know them, letting them get to know me, and showing them that I love each and every one of them just the way they are.

I’m going to delight in one simple result: allowing students to leave my classroom feeling better about themselves than they did when they walked in. And, hopefully, teach them a little something along the way.

That’s respectThat’s what Teach Like a Teacher is all about. Nobody needs a book to give them the 17 steps to being respectful. This isn’t a revolutionary idea. You don’t need to hack anything or innovate anything either. 

No in-service necessary either.

And if you need words of encouragement, a laugh, or a spritz of motivation, Mr Middlesworth is here for you at Teach Like a Teacher.