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!

Five Ways To Get Your Students and Fellow Teachers To Like and Respect You

Image courtesy of

Over the last ten years, I have taught full-time at two schools, and part-time at two as a sub. At every school, some teacher almost always remarked “you are the only person here that gets along with everybody.” And it was true. I have always transcended cliques. Even in high school I did it. And, I have done it without being passive and getting walked on.

Over the years I have wondered why this is the case. I have come up with five reasons why this is the case, so you can use these same tools.

1: Don’t Pre-Judge Others

I am a naturally non-judgmental person. I have pretty strong opinions about certain things. However, I recognize that people are at different places in their lives. My natural “default setting” is to recognize that most people are just trying to get by. I don’t dismiss people unless they give me reason to, and even then, people are always redeemable. In other words, I highly respect people’s autonomy and rights whether I like them or not.

You won’t earn the respect of a peer if you have already judged her to be lazy. That student with a nose ring won’t learn in your class if you have already pegged her as a reject. Personally I don’t care for lots of piercings or tattoos, but I am not going to judge someone because of them. The same holds true for people that dress and act more uptight than I expect.

As a teacher, you have the responsibility to teach every student, period. If you can’t stand half of your students (or all of them!), then that is like a salesman hating every customer. I have two questions for that salesman, “why are you still in that business” and “will you ever make any sales that way?” If you find yourself judging most of your students, or giving up on them, you may need to “re-boot” your way of approaching them.

At my former school I was best friends with the athletic director. I am into running, and played football and baseball in high school. However, since graduating, I haven’t coached or been involved in formal athletics, and that hasn’t been my “crowd” at school. Nonetheless, because of being open to friendship with this fellow teacher, I ended up announcing some football games, and even was the assistant athletic director for two years! Had I pre-judged my potential to be friends with this guy, I would have missed out big time.

I also find that “problem students” often do fine for me. They aren’t perfect, but they try hard and will seek me out when they have issues. Other teachers are mystified as to why these “problems” aren’t problems with me. It is no secret why: I naturally use these tips.

2. Take An Interest In Everybody

The quickest way to earn the love and respect of students and peers (and anybody really) is very simple, and it is to take an interest in them. It can be as simple as asking how someone is doing, and genuinely meaning it. I try to always talk to each student at least once a month on this level. Just stop them during some down time, etc, and check up on them. Most people don’t get much attention. They go through life craving attention. Many kids today have a horrible home life and don’t get much attention from their mom or (if there is one) dad. By giving everyone a little attention, even if you think they may not want it or deserve it, you will get the respect and admiration of everybody.

This is a very, very, important step. If you want to earn everyone’s respect, this is how you do it. You can’t leave out certain people. You have got to make every student and fellow teacher (and administrator) believe they are very important to you. If they feel like they are important to you, then *you* will become important to *them*.

I should note that this has to be genuine. You have to really take an interest and want to do it. If you don’t, then why bother at all? A short, slightly angry, “how are ya?” isn’t going to cut it. If you feel the need to exclude certain people, including many of your students, then go back to “number one.”

3. Pay Attention

Taking an interest is how it starts, but to do so properly, you have to listen and pay attention. If you pay attention to what your peers and students are “into” you can always build rapport with them. This will turn a simple “how are you” from a pleasant exchange to something more meaningful. People volunteer information all the time. They will tell you about themselves and what they value. To connect with them, you need to pay attention to, and recall, this information.

On Fridays some teachers hang out at a local restaurant. I was invited and went. I had fun and got to know some of the teachers better. It was easy because I paid attention to the previous information they volunteered at meetings, and in previous conversations. I knew their interests, etc, which provided me some good conversation starters. Another example is an interaction I had with a student. At the beginning of the year I ask students to tell me some of their interests. One girl mentioned she loves the band Walk The Moon.

Their song “Anna Sun” is one of my favorites. A month later I mentioned I heard the song on the radio going to work. She instantly lit up. Nobody in the school even knows who “Walk the Moon” is, yet I remembered she liked them. Ever since then, the girl has been more eager to contribute in class.

4. Become Familiar With Different Interests

So, you don’t judge, take an interest, and pay attention. But, you can’t bond with somebody if you have no way to carry on a conversation about somebody’s interest.

I find that staying informed is the best way to have a repository of material to discuss. Read the news, watch some TV (not too much), listen to the radio, read blogs, get on Twitter, read Facebook, etc. Stay informed and updated. I go to Yahoo News and read about science, sports, business, etc. I do this because I am genuinely interested in a lot of things. If you aren’t, try to branch out and expand your horizons. I have had great conversations with students and teachers about string theory (physics), The Imagine Dragons (an alternative band), vitamins, music theory, the Cleveland Browns, HTML, and many other topics. I know enough about each topic to carry on an intelligent conversation. Remember, don’t fake knowledge. If you don’t know much about a topic, or reach a point in the discussion where you are over your head, just admit it. It is better to do this than to pretend, and look like an idiot.

5. Just Say It

As a teacher, you are expected to initiate conversations with students. The most outgoing ones will talk to you on their own accord, but most view you are too much of an authority figure to have a conversation with. This means *you* have to initiate conversations.
With fellow teachers, you will often have to take the lead. Many people are naturally shy or reserved. If you want to build rapport, you may have to take the lead.

You just have to “say it.” Granted, you don’t want to talk too much, but most people enjoy short conversations that interest them and provide them with attention

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.

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.