Happy Thanksgiving From Popular Teacher

A table all set for thanksgiving dinner

Today is Thanksgiving, a day when most Americans are taking a break from the rat race and taking time to relax with family and friends. I have been fortunate that I have been either a student or teacher for most of my life, and have never had to worry about working on Thanksgiving.

I have great memories of Thanksgiving, and it has an almost magical quality because of this. I am very thankful that I have a long weekend to focus on what matters in my life: family, friends, and God.

It is easy to focus on the negative things in life: problem students, increasing state regulations, pay freezes, etc. These are unfortunate things, but nonetheless, we all have many good things in life. Take this Thanksgiving and relax. Mindfully enjoy the food, friends, and family, and live today to its fullest. While you are at it, live every day the exact same way.


Five Ways To Get Students To Like You Without Lowering Standards

Girl giving a thumb's up

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.Net and “imagerymajestic”

Recently our school handed out surveys to various stakeholders in the school. One group that received it was students. Many of us questioned the usefulness of asking students their views of the school. Obviously, a student will have a different perspective of what constitutes a good school. I remember when I was in high school, I had different goals and needs from my school experience than the teachers did. While I did care about learning, they never asked me “is this school a great environment to get a date?” Now that was feedback I cared about.

Nonetheless, I think it is important to care about student satisfaction. Education is supposed to be about the students. While we are certainly guiding them, which means there will be moments when we have to do things in their best interest that they may not appreciate until later, we nonetheless have to consider student satisfaction. I find that it is pretty easy to keep students satisfied, even when you challenge them, if you keep a few key points in mind. Sure there will be students that will never want to learn and will resist any goodwill efforts on your part, but for the most part, you can win over students by using the following tips:

Establish a Relationship (Appropriate) With Students.

Students are humans. They want to have meaningful interactions with people around them. Some teachers purposefully set themselves up as distant authority figures. I believe you will find the most success if you are an authority figure, but one that they like. Students are more likely to accept your criticism and discipline if they like you. Don’t be inappropriate (you aren’t their buddy), but nonetheless you have to be likable.

When I first started teaching, I believed I had to be a hard-ass, which is to say “no smiling to Christmas.” It backfired horribly. I lost pretty much an entire grade of students because I acted hard first, and and then tried (and failed) to build rapport later.

Show Them You Want Them to Succeed

In college, I had a professor that tore my papers to shreds (not literally; figuratively. See, he taught me that!). It made me the writer I am today. I appreciated every single blot of red ink he put on my papers. Why? I knew he wanted me to succeed. His style, words, and actions told me he was caring, friendly, and knew what he was talking about. Even though he was difficult, he worked with students in class and outside of it to help students understand more clearly. I managed an “A” for that quarter, and I am still thankful for his constructive criticism. Had he been an uncaring, distant jerk, I likely would have resented any positive criticism, and I would still be talking about how that red ink scarred me for life.

Be Fair and Don’t “Trick Them”

One of my high school teachers (we’ll call her Mrs. Q.) was a great instructor in terms of content knowledge, but her personal style caused many students to resent her. I tried to like Mrs. Q., but it would be a stretch to say I did. Even now, I respect certain aspects of her teaching, but haven’t “come to appreciate” other ones. One time we got out of an assembly with literally one minute to go in 6th period. A few of my friends went ahead to 7th period class. The 7th period teachers in question had no problem with it, but Mrs. Q. did, and gave the students that went to 7th period, “skipping” her class for less than 60 seconds, a detention. In another instance, Mrs. Q. was subbing for a study hall, and a lot of us were talking, and apparently we weren’t supposed to. Instead of saying “hey guys, please be quiet,” we saw Mrs. Q. sneakily taking down names, as if to say “gotcha!” Maybe she relaxed with age, since she was a young teacher. I sure hope she did!

Also, I highly suggest you avoid tricking your students on assignments. Avoid “gotcha” moments that penalize students. If you want them to discover something above and beyond what is expected, make sure they aren’t being penalized for such enquiry. Instead of a moment of discovery it becomes a moment of resentment.

Move On Quickly From Discipline and Incidents

I have a friend who dated a girl that he later regretted dating. During the peak of the relationship, he and this girlfriend posed for a photo together, wearing matching flannel shirts. It was definitely worthy of Epic Fail. One time when I ran into him, I said “hey man, do you remember when you and Jennifer took that photo together?” He replied “how can I forget when you keep reminding me every time we meet??” He was joking, as was I, but it brings up a real point, which is that after you get punished, you don’t want to wallow in it.

Most students are embarrassed from punishment and negative incidents, and just want to move on. They want to see that you have moved on as well. Unfortunately, many teachers view punishment as punitive as opposed to rehabilitative, so emotionally “freezing out” a student for a week could be part of the “punishment” for a student talking out of turn. In other words, many teachers hold grudges and never move on. Instead of this, I prefer to assertively communicate my displeasure with student actions, and if that doesn’t work, I provide discipline, and then I move on. Embarrassment, guilt, and emotional games don’t help students learn and they certainly aren’t going to make students want to learn from you.

Give Students Choice (or at Least Perceived Choice)

One of the best ways to increase satisfaction with anything is to increase decision latitude. Decision latitude is your ability to be in control of choices that affect your life (or, a lack of ability). Teachers have a lot of latitude. We get paid to come to school. We can drink coffee at our desks, leave the room to use the restroom if we have to go, glance at an incoming text message from our buddies, and even arrive to class late occasionally, without penalty. If we are feeling tired or loaded with work, we pass out worksheets and catch up on work. This means we have a lot of decision latitude.

Now, let’s switch it. Students can’t drink coffee or pop if they are dragging that morning. They may, with embarrassment, have to explain in front of the class why their request to go to the bathroom really is “an emergency.” If they arrive late to class, they get punished. If they are loaded with work and have a huge test coming up, they still may have to work from bell-to-bell in the class before their big test. They can’t check their phone to get that emotional boost from their friends. In a word, they lack decision latitude.

I am not saying kids should have as much control as teachers. What I am saying is that they deserve some control. An easy way to give them some decision latitude even as you are struggling to cover every single new standard the state is throwing at you is to give them perceived choice. For example, you could say “do you want to read this passage together aloud, or quietly at your desks?” Notice they have no choice as to the day’s task (reading) or the content, but you are offering them some choice in the matter. Believe me, even little choices matter.

Sure, not every student will be satisfied no matter what you do, but there are ways to improve student satisfaction and keep high standards.

The Health Benefits of Friends

friends walking on a pathThis is a good post to write on a Friday. According to Real Age, studies have shown that having friends can keep you healthy. Regularly interacting and having fun with others keeps you young and healthy. This is no surprise, because first-and-foremost, we are social animals.

Despite pretty much everybody (from many religions to public education) telling us that reality is about knowing things, I would argue that our human reality is about relating to people. Knowing things is great, and my college degrees (and student loans) remind me regularly that I do value knowledge, but we can’t forget relationships either.

This research isn’t really a surprise, but it is something teachers can easily take for granted. We are told “don’t be friends with students” and “it is inappropriate to be friends with your colleagues.” I understand the merits of each statement, and can partially agree. However, part of our modern jumpy, regulation-crazy, society is that we immediately sterilize all relationships and exclude the dreaded “f” word from our vocabulary. We are asked to objectively and stiffly relate to all kinds of people.

In our modern world it is very easy to be friendless, or to have 2000 friends on Facebook but to be very lonely in reality. In the future, I will post some ways to make friends easily. Until then, consider the possibility that friends are pretty much the most important thing you can have. If work, curriculum, etc, is overtaking your time to relate to others, has your life gone totally off course?

I highly suggest stopping by our sister site The Popular Man, to get some ideas about how to make friends. Everybody wants friends, and if you can be that cool, fun, and empathetic person everybody is looking for, you will have more friends than you know what to do with.

Nine (Unconventional) Truths I Have Learned About Teaching

Front of school building with flagpole and American flag

I have almost 10 years of teaching experience. I started as a sub for three years, and now I am on my 7th year of full-time teaching. I have learned a few things along the way, a lot of it considered unconventional and unorthodox by many.

Ignore Some Things

Sometimes it is just better to “unsee” and “unhear” things students do and say. My job is to be a teacher, not a human surveillance system. Most of us never would have left the detention room in school had our teachers busted us for everything we did. I always thought my teachers were too old and just missed all of my nonsense. Now I realize they were just smart.

Give Kids Breaks

One day I forgot my work keys. Another teacher opened the door for me. I didn’t get detention. Another day I was slow to turn in a report because I was freaking busy. I didn’t get yelled at; I was just asked to turn it in a few days later. We all need some slack sometimes, so why not apply this to our students too? You’re not weak if you give kids breaks.

Give Your Peers a Break

Your principal? Yeh, she’s under some stress too. That fellow teacher that drives you crazy? He could be under the same stresses you are. If you are sick of people always assuming the worst about your motivations, then stop assuming the worst about other people’s.

It’s All Small Stuff

Most of the day-to-day “hassles” are minor compared to the real tragedies in life. A former student of mine was shot and killed by her husband a few weeks ago. That is important. Most of my “stresses” aren’t. In the long run, who cares if Blake talks too much or Ashley is chewing gum. I am not saying discipline isn’t sometimes called for; I am just reminding us that these are small things indeed.

Don’t Wait To Laugh It Off

NLP co-founder Richard Bandler reminds us that if you say “someday we’ll look back on this and laugh,” why not start laughing about it immediately? There is no need to look at something in the worst possible light now, only to put it into its proper perspective later. Put it in its proper perspective right now. Laugh. It feels good.

Stop Bitching

Our perspective determines our outlook. If we see past the 20 good things in front of us to focus on the one bad thing out there, that primes us to have bad days (and a bad life).

It’s Okay To End Class a Little Early

We teachers always shout for joy when our boring meetings and training end early. Well…to most of our students, our classes are “boring training” and ending a few minutes early gives them a little break to mentally gear up for the next classes.

Students Learn More From Me Than From My Content

When I think back to what I learned in high school (I promise you these words are not the opening lyrics to “Kodachrome”), I remember teachers and their personalities far more than content. Yeah, I remember content, but a curriculum never changed my life; people did. If you want to impact your students, change you for the better, and bring the content along with it.

Sports Aren’t Everything – But They Matter

People can get way too obsessed with sports, and since most students aren’t going to play in the NFL or NBA, every student needs to take academics seriously. However, sports provide students with important values too: learning how to stay in shape, discipline, teamwork, etc. We shouldn’t place physical activity over against academic learning. The ancient Greeks knew the importance of both.

Being A Student For A Period – Seeing It From Their Side

A classroom in a schoolI have some student teachers from a local school coming in to observe and teach once a week. One day, so I could see the student-teachers a little better, I decided to move from my desk (in the front left side of the room) to an empty student desk.

Not only was I surrounded by my students (which they found amusing), but I was literally one of them, since I was sitting there taking in a lecture by a teacher. The student-teachers were interesting and dynamic guys, so I was looking forward to the lesson.

First, I became tired. Even though I was interested in the topic at hand (I teach it!), I still found myself zoning out. I was tired, experiencing some post-lunch low, and needed coffee. I “woke up” and suddenly realized I hadn’t paid attention to the last five minutes of lecture. Then, as the teacher was calling on students, I thought “man, I hope he doesn’t call on me!”

It really allowed me to empathize with students. Here I am, a smart and functional adult, who knows and likes the subject being taught, and I still couldn’t pay attention. We sometimes hold crazy standards for our students. We expect them to pay attention for eight 40-minute periods, and we believe it is important to squeeze more and more learning into an average day. Even when teacher such as myself protest, bureaucracies like the state insist this is the best way to go. Yet, how many of us would ever want to go back to learning like that? How many state bureaucrats would spend their days like this?

I didn’t post this just to suggest we need to rethink how we promote learning. This reminded me of why we need to show our students a little empathy and give them some slack. When I became one for about 30 minutes, I have to tell you…I was very thankful I was in charge of the class and not back there as a student!

Five Ways To Experience The Benefits of Gratitude

A view of fall trees through a gate

The autumn – Something I am thankful for

In my last post I focused on the benefits of gratitude: a more positive worldview and a happier life. In this post, I want to explain some ways to get these benefits.

Keep A Gratitude Journal/Record

Studies show that listing a few people and things you are grateful for each day improves mood. One way to do this is to keep some type of gratitude journal, although as you will see below, it doesn’t have to be that fancy.

You can make it fancy by going out and buying a journal (or making one), and writing down everything you are grateful for. However, it doesn’t have to be this involved. I created a Google Doc file that I update with five new things every day. It looks like this:


F – (I’ll explain this later)

See, it’s very simple. Because I want to update it whenever I want, and I have Google Docs on my phone and laptop. Even what I do may be too involved for some people. Your gratitude “journal” could simply be listing a few things you are grateful for to yourself on the way home from work, or when you get up in the morning.

List Your Gratitude for the Difficult Cases

It is easy to be grateful for people and things that make us immediately happy. However, if we really want to shift our perspective, we have to look at people and things we don’t like very much in a fresh way. One great way to do this is to list something you are thankful for about each and every difficult person, organization, or situation. As a teacher there is no better place to start than listing something you are thankful for about every student. It may be hard at first, but eventually you will find that the disruptive student becomes “energetic” or the non-participator becomes “reflective.” I was at an extra-school event recently, and a table of boys was driving me nuts. I shifted into gratitude mode, because I was getting frustrated. I was grateful that these students were extroverted and even funny, and they were interacting with the speaker in their own way. It definitely put the situation into perspective.

I tried this exercise with students, and they invariably mentioned certain teachers and administrators. Initially they used it as a bitch-fest about them. I reminded them they had to come up with something they were grateful for about these individuals, not just tell me why they were on their “don’t like” list! I saw a shift after a few minutes. Suddenly, the students saw the principal and teachers in a new light. “Umm, yeah they really do care about us” came out of one particularly rebellious, I mean, “independent-minded” student.

Say Your Gratitude When You Get Upset

When something happens that rattles you, one great tip is to say five things you are grateful for right away. Mouthy student? Denied a raise? Your kids driving you nuts? Immediately list five things you are grateful for. This is a great way to immediately change your perspective in a positive way and prevent a spiral into anger, sadness, or depression. If you need a little more positive “boost,” then name five more things.

List Your Future Gratitude

One of my favorite books is Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself by Joe Dispenza. While he gets into some speculative science that I am not really going to critique or defend here, I will say the book got me thinking about expressing my gratitude for events that haven’t happened yet (or may not happen).

One way to shift our perspective is to express our gratitude for events that haven’t happened yet. While Dispenza argues belief like this shifts realty at the quantum level, you don’t have to believe this to see its benefits. Being grateful for something that you want to happen is a great way to set your brain up to make it happen.

For example, on my Google document, I add an extra line with an “f” on it. You may have wondered why it was there earlier. This is where I list some type of future gratitude. For example, I may list “that the school day goes great” or “for getting a raise.” It is an interesting exercise and it has the effect of “priming” my brain to have a good day and make a little extra effort to get that raise.

Learn How to Express Your Gratitude

Feeling gratitude is the first step, and likely what makes you feel happier. However, expressing gratitude is important. Borrowing from non-violent communication principles, I suggest expressing your gratitude in the following manner. Express that you are grateful (you can use words like “appreciative,” “thankful,” etc) and be sure to add what the person did that you are thankful for. Even if you think the person “knows already,” express it anyway. For example, let’s say you are thanking a sub. Instead of saying “thanks for coming in for me” you could instead say “thanks for covering my class! You always do a great job explaining my lesson plans.” Most substitutes already feel like “less-than-teachers” and pointing out how great they are at teaching will make them feel great.

Gratitude is truly life-changing. Cultivating gratitude can change the way you view reality. Start today, and remember we are grateful that you are reading this article!

The Importance of Gratitude For Teachers

A thanksgiving table settingNovember is apparently the month of gratitude, if status updates on Facebook are an authority. The connection with the American celebration of Thanksgiving is likely the connection. I think it is great, although gratitude can become an important part of every day of your life, as opposed to something you focus on in November. Gratitude has been a big part of changing my life!

There are many good reasons why a teacher – or anybody – should embrace gratitude. In this post, I want to list a few of the reasons why you should explore the concept of gratitude, i.e. the “benefits of gratitude.” In an upcoming post, I intend to list a few ways you can be more grateful and express your gratitude.

Gratitude Makes Your Perspective More Positive

Your perspective is your map of the world, i.e. how you experience reality. Everybody experiences reality differently. Let’s look at two teachers. They both have the same kids (during different periods). One is mean, hates kids, and never wants to get up in the morning. The other is cool, loves kids, and views every day as an exciting opportunity. Same kids. Very different perspective.

Some people believe that the world around us determines our outlook. So, they say, if it rains or the stock market crashes, your day must be bad. However, this is not true. Rain and market crashes are neutral stimuli. Farmers love rain in the middle of a drought, and people pay good money to get wet at water parks. Also, people that sell short love market declines, as do bond holders, because they are typically inversely related. Can you see my point? Our perspective determines our reality.

Gratitude is a major perspective changer. One of my favorite phrases is “you can’t hate what you are grateful for.” When I was at a recent extra-school event I was required to attend, I admit I wasn’t too thrilled. Giving extra time for no extra pay is not something that thrills me (I strongly believe if people do extra work, they deserve extra pay). Plus, some of the students were not being cooperative. A particular group of guys was being extra boisterous. Rather than get mad, I decided to find something to be thankful for in these individuals. I suddenly realized they were being kind of funny, and I wish I had their energy at that late hour of the evening. Suddenly I went from being angry and bothered to relaxed and in a good mood. Gratitude acts as a powerful perspective changer, and it shifts your perspective to the positive side of life.

Gratitude Makes You Happier

At that recent extra-school event, we were at a conference center. There were a few staff members that were extra mean and bitter. Anytime a kid did anything even remotely unexpected (like moving a piece of furniture), I heard about it as a chaperone. And, they didn’t express their concerns nicely. I was amazed how anybody could have such a horrible perspective in life and other people. These staff members saw a bunch of hyper teens that loved breaking the rules. I saw a group of teens giving up their evening time (not many teens would do this) to learn something valuable that were full of energy. My perspective was much, much different, and gratitude shaped that perspective.

Studies have shown that simply listing a few things you are grateful for each day can make you happier. In fact, being grateful can “reset” the happiness point in your life. Many teachers end up cynical, unhappy, and even hating the very students they are supposed to care for. Can you imagine how gratitude can change your perspective on these students and make you happier? The truth is that it can! In my next post, I am going to explain ways you can take advantage of the power of gratitude, so stay tuned!