Four Ways to Be More Popular This Halloween

A Halloween pumpkin blow-upHalloween is a fun time of the year for young people. Heck, it’s also a fun time for adults. Or, it can be, if they allow themselves to have fun. As a teacher, Halloween is a great time to increase your overall popularity and connect with your students. After all, the best way to increase your popularity, and your overall success with your kids, is to share common interests. Read on to learn our four tips to have a popular Halloween with your students.

Tip One: Dress Up

At my former school, teachers were allowed to dress up. The students absolutely loved to see their teachers in a costume. I’m not sure why, but I think it humanized an authority figure. Seeing us in funny or scary costumes helped them connect with us on a more human level.

Yet, where I taught fewer than half of the teachers (and none of the administrators) dressed up. Perhaps they couldn’t be bothered or thought it made them less authoritative. That’s the wrong attitude. Students know you are an authority figure. Be a human being for a day. Also, putting a little effort in a costume can pay big dividends in terms of rapport building.

Tip Two: Candy!

I’m a health nut, but I also recognize that some days, especially holidays, it’s important to let go a little. So, even if it makes them a little hyper and is unhealthy, give out something sweet to your students. This is true even if they’re in high school. Believe it or not, a small gift from you could earn you a lot of respect and admiration from your students. Many of them have never received a gift from a teacher, especially as teens.

Tip Three: Decorate

If you have a classroom of your own, then decorate it for Halloween. You don’t have to go overboard, but put a few decorations around your room. If you can find something really cool and memorable, it’s even better. Cool Halloween decorations will get students talking about you and let them think you’re creative and unique. It’s always good, for both their respect and popularity, to stand out from the crowd.

Tip Four: Loosen Up

You don’t always have to be a strict disciplinarian. If you’re a little on the stricter side (which is OK), then maybe Halloween is a good time to relax yourself just a little bit. Once again, it allows the students to see a different and softer side of you. Keeping control of your classroom is essential. Being controlling isn’t. Let Halloween be a time to mellow out a little bit.

Here’s hoping you have a safe, fun, and popular Halloween!

Sports: A Simple Way To Bond With Your Students

Men playing college footballTeens love sports. OK, not all of them. But, when you take the number of teens who play some type of sport  at school or otherwise, combined with those who love a particular sports team, then you have an overwhelmingly clear majority.

Yet, I know many teachers who absolutely hate sports. They bash them around students and complain about their negative impact on the life of the school.

I think some teachers dislike sports for a few reasons. They:

  • Are “intellectuals” and feel that mindset is incompatible with sports
  • Think that athletics take precedence over academics
  • Have no personal interest in sports
  • Feel that sports are violent or a waste of time

Let me answer these particular objections briefly.

  • I have a Masters degree from a top university, studied Greek and Latin, and can tell you all you want to know about philosophy from Plato to Heidegger. I also never miss a chance to watch the Cleveland Browns or talk about them. Being intellectual and loving sports aren’t contradictory.
  • Athletics do take precedence over academics sometimes. It’s a sad fact. However, a kid’s interest in sports can actually be an asset, especially if they come from a family that lacks structure and accomplishments. Rather than being at war with sports, teachers should help students build on their sports successes to also find success in their schoolwork.
  • While everyone is allowed his or her own opinion, there are many different types of sports out there. The odds of having no interest in all of them is pretty slim.
  • Athletic contests can be violent and, for some kids, they are escapes. But, this doesn’t make all athletic activity bad or a waste of time. Sports mean a lot for many teens. It doesn’t matter what we think. It’s a reality.

I always enjoyed talking about sports with my students because it was a theme about which many of them had real passion. They were impressed that I knew a lot about the topic and cared about it. Also, by talking about it with them, it showed I cared, not just about the game, but about them!

Even if you don’t like sports, taking an interest is an easy way to bond with your students. If you enjoy sports, but don’t share that with the students, then maybe now is the time to bring up the topic. It’s an easy and effective way to build rapport with even the most troubled and “difficult” kids.

Want to Be A Popular Teacher? Then Be Excellent!

Man with water running

Image courtesy of Sura Nualpradid/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When I was in elementary school, I idolized my teachers and showed them respect simply because they were my teachers. However, as I became a teenager, simply being my teacher wouldn’t cut it for instant respect. In order for me to admire them, they had to actually be admirable to my teenage mind. I wanted them to be excellent in ways that meant something to me.

As a teacher, I encountered this all the time. Students didn’t really care a whole lot about the topic I taught. And, unless you’re teaching video games, sports, texting, or listening to music, it’s likely your students aren’t terribly interested in your subject matter either. Don’t kid yourself! However, my students did like me personally. And, they did it because I was excellent in ways they cared about.

If you want to be popular and respected by your students, you’ll have to be excellent in ways they admire too. Most teens today really do want to connect with their teachers. But, if your only interests are outside of their experience, they won’t be able to relate to you. It also may be why you may feel you can’t relate to teens at times.

To appear excellent to your students, then you’ll have to either emphasize elements of your personality and talents that appeal to teens or find universally appealing ones. Fortunately, teens are fairly predictable in their interests. The most popular ones are music, sports, and humor. Unfortunately, teens typically don’t care about typical “education” accomplishments like awards for curriculum and classroom management.

One way to find out what your teens find excellent is to actually focus on what they are talking about. Find out their interests. While you don’t have to modify your personality based on their preferences, you can easily emphasize your accomplishments in those areas they care about. If you have nothing in common whatsoever with your students, then perhaps it’s time to develop some or find another career.

Let me give you a personal example of earning respect through excellence. I run extreme races like the Warrior Dash and the Tough Mudder. Whenever my students find out about this, they are amazed and talk about how cool it is. These races are genuine accomplishments and my students respond accordingly with admiration and respect.

Find ways to be excellent and they will love and respect you too.

The Inflexibility of Modern Education

From: http://www.flickr.com/people/13521837@N00

A few weeks ago I saw a stunning image of a spider stuck in amber (see image to the left). Amber, for the unfamiliar, is fossilized tree resin. Tree resin itself is very sticky and can trap an insect easily. And, over countless years, the amber hardens, permanently encasing whatever object remains inside.

The insect in amber is a good analogy to ideas in the educational system. They take hold, get entrenched, and then seem to be permanently encased as unquestioned conventional wisdom – even when it’s clearly time for a change.

I am not one for radical change. When I went into teaching, I was no revolutionary. However, as I taught, I developed a keen sense of what worked and what didn’t. All I really wanted in my classroom was the freedom to pursue what worked with my teens and ditch, at least temporarily, what didn’t. I would’ve been happy to revisit those ideas later, in a different context.

However, where I taught, flexibility wasn’t encouraged. We had an educational philosophy handed to us from the top down and, any deviation, however small, even for the benefit of the students, was a no-no. This, of course, was in addition to the state mandates which were far more onerous and inflexible.

I strongly believe that education is failing a large number of students today because the system itself is extremely inflexible. And, it becomes more so each year as state mandated testing and a pre-planned curriculum further handcuff actual student learning.

Ultimately, it’s not the state legislators or elected (or appointed) leaders that interact with students on a regular basis. It’s not the principals or directors of curriculum either. The teachers see the students each day and are most attuned to their needs and issues (or should be). Yet, which group has the least input in educational philosophy and curriculum? Yep, the teachers.

If we truly want our children to be productive members of society and stop the intellectual freefall of our youth, then our leaders – from federal bureaucrats to school administrators – need to give more input (and flexibility) where it belongs: to the classroom teacher. We are best equipped to try out new ideas, ones that actually work, rather than adhering to theories and mandates that fail, but are nonetheless as entrenched as spiders stuck in amber.

Smile Before Christmas – And Do It Often

Christmas Scene with tree and presentsIt’s almost time for Halloween. Christmas is a good two and a half months away. Given the traditional advice about classroom management there must be a lot of frowning teachers. I’m talking, of course, about the advice given to so many young educators: “never smile before Christmas.”

I first heard this alleged wisdom when I was a new teacher back in 2006. Thinking I received some sage advice, I proceeded to tell it to another colleague at the lunch table. He just laughed and said, “that’s horrible advice!” As I grew and matured as a teacher, I realized my colleague was correct.

The “never smile before Christmas” axiom expresses the classroom discipline model that a teacher needs to come down hard for the first few months and then only let up once the students are properly trained (and scared).

The reason this phrase (and general model of discipline) fails, I believe, is because it doesn’t account for the situation of young people today. The vast majority of students come from troubled environments. With divorce common, at least half of the children come from broken families. Even those families still together are struggling economically with unemployment, reduced wages, and underwater mortgages. Many other kids know the pain of abuse, whether sexual, physical, or otherwise.

When I taught, I had many students who, although they came from higher socio-economic backgrounds and functional families, had little emotional contact with their parents. They were busy working long hours to provide for their children who largely saw friends, nannies, and babysitters more than parents.

So, for many children, a teacher may be the only adult who gives them genuine attention on a daily basis. For the teacher to go out of his or her way to be negative and scary is extremely counter-productive. Lots of kids know scary beyond what many teachers can even imagine.

Such an approach is also lazy. There’s no reason why a teacher can’t be both firm and loving. It’s possible to smile and be upbeat and still enforce classroom discipline. In fact, I was able to tell the truth to my students about their behavior because I actually had a relationship with them. They knew that even if I was angry with their actions, I still loved them as people.

So, if you are a teacher trying to stifle those smiles for another few months, give it a rest at last! Smile, be happy, and get to know your students. They get enough negativity. Be a positive, joyful (but firm) influence in their lives and they’ll love you for life! Seriously. I still hear from students I haven’t seen for years, telling me how much my teaching meant to them. And, I smiled the first minute they saw me.

Politics And Teachers

Carter Reagan DebateBack in 2009 a student approached me and explained how a teacher had called President Bush “stupid” in class. My student, who was upset, told me that it wasn’t even a history or political science class. Honestly, even if it were either of those classes, the teacher’s actions would still have been ridiculous and offensive.

Politics has a place in the classroom. Teachers have a duty to teach children the importance of the electoral process and should model and encourage participation in it. Yet, extreme partisanship and its nastiness have no place in schools.

A teacher is, by his or her very nature, the leader of the classroom. Failure to follow the teacher’s dictates can result in punishment. Students learn that very early. Whether justified or not, outspoken teachers can intimidate students that disagree with them.

The student who approached me that day was from a Republican family and felt like he just had to sit and take the insults to Bush and those who voted for him (his family members). He worried that if he stood up and confronted the teacher, he would end up in trouble or have his grade reduced. Sadly, many students feel that way. Even more sadly, I’m sure some teachers have actually retaliated based on a political position.

I would never tell teachers to stifle their opinions or their speech. However, if they are going to speak about politics, they’d better have a great relationship with all of their students as well as a reputation for fairness and objectivity. Even if they openly embrace partisan causes they must also do so in a way that examines the issues neutrally. This, I might add is almost impossible since a teacher has so much power over a classroom. I will say this: calling President Bush (or any President) “stupid” is not only inappropriate for a classroom, it’s also a lazy, cheap shot.

My policy on politics was to let the students discuss it (when it related to my curriculum) and to challenge both sides to think more critically. I would occasionally tell the students where I personally stood, after reminding them that I respected all sides in a political debate, so long as the speech was well-reasoned and civil.

As the election season nears its end, I challenge all teachers to teach their students about the political process in a way that lets them see the value in the political process and helps them develop their own beliefs without fear of intimidation.

Better Discipline Through Ignoring Students?


kids studying
I was reading a book called “Christian Education” by a man named Basil Moreau from the Catholic religious order the Congregation of Holy Cross. It was an old book, so I foolishly didn’t think I’d get much from it. However, I learned a valuable lesson about teaching, discipline, and classroom management perhaps one of the most valuable of all my “education” education. Moreau recommended that sometimes it was best to actually– gasp– ignore misbehaving students.

Many entrenched teachers get in a very controlling mindset. They forget that students are people and somewhat willful ones at that. So, they try to control every aspect of a classroom, right down to a student’s thoughts (yes, some teachers sadly punish “wrong” opinions). However, such a position leads to pushback. For more unruly kids, it practically begs them to defy. Such constant monitoring, for an attention starved child, is a great way to increase their mad comedy skills or an opportunity to prove how cool they are.

Sometimes it really is best to turn a blind eye to certain behavior simply because it will stop it rather than escalate it. If a kid is goofing off and you ignore him and he stops, it’s much better than constantly calling him on it and pushing him to even worse behavior. Sometimes those little annoyances kids create in class are tests. If you notice and escalate, you fail. If you ignore it, you “pass” and they stop.

Obviously, this technique has its limits. You can’t ignore terrible or bullying behavior or just completely turn a blind eye. And, for some students, ignoring them will lead to even more disruptive behavior. However, I’ve found that, especially for the allegedly difficult kids, letting a few things go actually helps in the long run.

So, if you want to be successful at classroom management, don’t try to address every example of misbehavior. Use common sense and know when to let it pass.