Why Teachers Need Coffee – The Health Benefits of Coffee

Maybe you think that this is a slow day here on our site, or that I am mixing business and pleasure. Not so! I plan to regularly talk about health issues here. Nobody can be an effective teacher without being in reasonably good health.

While my title may be a stretch, the truth is that modern research is showing that coffee is actually good for you in a variety of ways. So, next time you are deciding whether to brew a pot in the teacher’s lounge, think of the health benefits  of coffee.

Coffee increases focus. Coffee is a stimulant, like Ritalin. A cup of coffee will give you some mental and physical focus. This is one reason why I tend to support allowing high school students to drink it, if they can do it without being too messy.

In addition to helping with focus, coffee, according to research:

– lowers the risk of Parkinson’s disease
– lowers the risk of asthma
– lowers the risk of getting headaches.

Coffee drinkers are at a 20% lower risk of having a stroke. Drinking that delicious brew also helps prevent Alzheimer’s disease and Type-2 Diabetes.

Got Gallstones? Coffee reduces the chance of getting those by 50%. Liver Cirrhosis?

And what about coffee and colon cancer? Coffee drinkers have a 25% reduced risk of developing this deadly form of cancer.

Finally, coffee has been shown to help prevent depression, and regular coffee drinkers such as myself have lower rates of suicide. Just don’t take my coffee, and the homicide rate may rise.

Teaching Soft Skills

friends on a pathMany of my teaching colleagues were amazed at how easily I interacted with students. Since they related to me, they liked me as a teacher and learned more. I often heard comments about how my attitude and outlook made them better students. The reason I had such success with my teenage students was because of my “soft skills.”

Soft skills are those characteristics such as hard work, communication, time management, positive attitude, and other intangible skills that help a person function effectively in employment and social settings. They are contrasted with “hard skills” such as adding numbers, conducting scientific experiments, welding, etc.

Since our educational system is geared mainly toward “hard skills,” employers often lament the lack of soft skills among their employees. When was the last time any school offered a class on having the right attitude, flexibility, or any other soft skill? It’s a shame because with the generally lousy job market, soft skills could really make a difference to our students and give them a big edge.

The question of why they aren’t learning soft skills isn’t a hard one. I think it can be chalked up to the calcified nature of the educational system. We’ve gotten so used to teaching certain subjects (and their variants) that we refuse (on an institutional level anyway) to consider teaching other subjects, especially ones considered “fluff.” And, now the state has stepped in and mandated content, effectively leaving no room for the teaching of soft skills even if a school wanted it. Some schools are even starting to focus more on soft skills (often labeled as social skills) since studies are showing their importance in future success.

Fortunately, educators can teach soft skills without having an actual class dedicated to them. How? Through modeling them. By being good communicators, keeping a positive attitude, and showing students how to use soft skills in the real world experience of a classroom, teachers are educating students on how to effectively use soft skills on a regular basis.

After all, when I hear from former students about how my teaching impacted them, they rarely talk about the subject matter I taught them. They talk about how I taught them about life and how to be successful.

Granted, as a religion teacher, I could focus more on modeling these skills, but I still consider myself a huge success in this regard. Even my work on this website and its companions (The Popular Teen and The Popular Man) are dedicated to soft skills.

So, if you are a teacher, try to integrate some soft skills into your lessons. The best way to do it is to model them.

What Is Model-Netics and Why You Should Take It – A Review

Gold FairwayIn late 2010, I was on a local golf course, when a representative from Main Event Management returned my call to discuss the possibility of taking Model-Netics, since a friend suggested I take it. My golf game is almost always bad (but fun), so it wasn’t like I was in any sort of groove. Fortunately, nobody was behind me, because I sat on hole 17 chatting with Randy for about twenty minutes about this great class.

Model-Netics is a management course consisting of 151 “models,” which are grouped into a variety of areas, including change, evaluation, and delegation.

These models explain a reality or issue in management, and provide a way to understand each issue, as well as providing solutions to problems involved. This way of “modeling” problems and solutions, is reminiscent of NLP, “neurolinguistic programming. Each model contains an image that goes along with it, to serve as a visual reminder, to learn it easier, and to recall it later. Thus, there “triangles,” “diamonds” and even a “pentagon” if a particular model has three, four, and five aspects to it, respectively.

One of my favorite models is “slot machine management,” because I see it happen so often in work settings. This model speaks to the trend among some managers to constantly change things when an idea doesn’t immediately work. It creates an inconsistent and ineffective environment.

The Model-Netics course reminds us (referring back to another model, “The Change Curve”) that often it takes time to see results from changes, and sometimes productivity goes down before going up after a change. So, managers that keep changing things up aren’t ever going to see results from their constant changes. “Slot machine” managers keep pulling the lever and nothing seems to work, rendering employees ineffective in the process.

I was one of the first people to take the course online. I took it on Friday afternoons, during my free period and lunchtime at school. As part of the course, I received a binder, a memory jogger (which summarizes the models, with images), and a headset with microphone. Every week, we would meet online, via Cisco’s webex.

The class was archived for later access, to go over the material or make up a missed class. The style was relaxed and engaging, and allowed for interactive discussion even though we were from all over the country. At the end of a few weeks, we would be given an online test. The only drawback was that the microphone headset they sent was pretty cheap. I ended up using my more expensive one.

Some critics have suggested that Model-netics is a way for managers to speak in “code,” and to form a kind of cult that uses language that employees can’t understand. This is not even close to being true.

Model-netics is ultimately about improving communication from “A” (manager) to “B” (employee), and helping each meet the other’s needs. Even though I expected to find some “anti-employee” attitude based on online posts, I didn’t find it at all. One of the principles of this blog (and our others, including The Popular Man) is to be cool to others. I would not be recommending this course if it somehow was uncool to employees (and students).

So why would I, a teacher, need to take this course? What, if anything, is a teacher? We are managers! We are managers of hundreds of clients, many which are not motivated to even be in our classes. We are genuine managers, yet we aren’t trained to manage people the way business majors are.

Model-Netics taught me a lot about how to manage my classroom, and manage the people I deal with. One model that is particularly helpful regarding students is “Define To Delegate.” This means that you must clearly state what you need someone to do when you delegate a task. Often, we tell students to “just do” something, but that student may not be clear on what we actually expect. It opened my eyes to how I assumed most kids just knew what I expected when I was less-than-clear (at least from their perspective).

The course ran a little over $800 in 2010, but I am not sure of the current price (order it here), but I really enjoyed it and benefited from it. This is not a “paid” recommendation in any way. I genuinely benefited from this course and wanted to provide a good review, because information about Model-Netics is sparse online. I am often a critic of continuing education in the field of education. I think a lot of it is too theoretical and glosses over real skills that help teachers and students.

I can safely say that what I learned in Model-Netics was more practically applicable than 80% of what I learned in college and graduate school. Overall, Model-Netics is a great course that has helped me both as a teacher and small business owner.

Reboot For The New School Year

Image of shining sunWe haven’t updated this site much, simply because our other projects (especially The Popular Man) are keeping us busy. Nonetheless, many teachers are entering into the 2013-2014 school year with some trepidation. Some teachers are just starting and wondering how their “styles” will work themselves out in this new school year. Others have already established themselves in student minds. We advocate being a popular teacher, i.e. a teacher that is excellent with high standards, but that also relates to the students using things like rapport-building, humor, etc. Some teachers just haven’t quite established good relationships with students.

This is the year to start becoming the popular teacher.

My first year of teaching I replaced a pretty popular guy. I came in with guns blazing, ready to “show them who was boss.” I pretty much lost every student that year. Sure, they learned things. I tested them, etc. However, I doubt I impacted them. The next year was a little better, but my philosophy centered around the material changing them (which it can – and should) but I forgot a key fact any student knows: the teacher as a person has to impact students.

Before I entered my fourth year of teaching, I decided it was time for a change. I decided to reboot. My real personality – outgoing, funny, confident, etc – was going to be on full display. While I am not going to go into all the changes I made here (read this site, as well as The Popular Man), the result was that students started loving me, and learning more of what I was teaching.

My point is that with a purposeful attitude change (as well as using the tools we provide), rebooting your image as a teacher is possible. Maybe you are too timid. Maybe you have no sense of humor. Maybe they don’t listen to you or respect you. Whatever it is, rebooting is possible. Unfortunately, the things you learned in education school (or got from the recent in-service) probably isn’t too helpful, so you may not really know how to change. Like I said, check out this site.

Teaching can – and should – be worth doing. While the state and other bureaucracies love to drain the life out of teaching, we can still do what we do best: impact students. Here’s to a great 2013-2014 school year.

 

Questioning Standardized Testing

A mechanical pencil sitting on a piece of paperState and federal governments seem to be focusing on standardized tests. In fact, it has almost become an obsession, and teachers, to keep their jobs, “teach to the test.”

As I was in a meeting about this the other day, a lot of people were asking questions about improving scores, getting into college, etc, but nobody asked the big question: is this the way we should be moving forward at all? Do standardized tests predict any kind of future success after college?

By the way, no standardized test ever taught me to think that critically! At any rate, when I went looking, I found all sorts of data about standardized tests and college performance. But that is not what I am interested in. I want to know this: do kids that do well on standardized tests have more job satisfaction, and do they earn more money than their peers? I am sure the answer may be “yes” simply because the kids that do well on the tests are likely more intelligent and come from “better families,” and they will likely end up with a college degree.

Measuring learning is a tricky thing. We can’t measure it very well, so in an effort to please bureaucrats and number-crunchers we come up with our best options. So, what should be more of a guide becomes a standard we use to evaluate every student, no matter their personalities, interests, or future plans. So, if you are a bad test-taker or were stressed out the day of the test, your entire future could rest on a score that doesn’t even reflect what you know, or your potential for future success. And, schools that try to create well-rounded and successful students are starting to scrap that and focus entirely on getting students to take a two hour test each year.

I have no issue with standardized tests, and I tend to do well on them. My GRE scores were great, as were my ACT scores. While that guaranteed me money for college and graduate school, neither made me a great teacher or an innovative small business owner. I learned those things other ways, and a lot of it was from teachers who took a break from “teaching to the test” and modeled excellence in other ways (by coaching, focusing on running clubs, showing me flexibility, reaching out through humor, etc). It would be a shame if in an effort to bring the average ACT up to 26 we lost out on time to teach and model other things that matter. I doubt Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, MJ DeMarco, and other highly successful people got where they are today by focusing so much on standardized test scores. Heck, who knows what could have been invented had teens not gotten stressed out about a number on a paper. Imagine if Bill Gates spent his waking hours trying to get a 35 on his ACTs. I might be typing this on a typewriter.

Why Everyone Needs a Long Christmas Break

A Donder reindeer Christmas ornament I have pretty much had a long Christmas break my entire life. I went from elementary school all the way up to graduate school, and immediately went into teaching. I value my Christmas break, as do all teachers that I know.

There is always a push to get rid of long breaks for teachers. Every once in awhile, a state lawmaker or angry parent complains that teachers get too much time off.

My thought is that teachers don’t get too much time off…everybody else gets too little time off. I have another week of break left, but my friends and relatives are heading back to work today. To a person, none is ready. They are all complaining and a little cranky that they have to go back today. For some it even affected their Christmas, as the anxiety of going to work the next day impacted Christmas day activities.

Our society has trouble slowing down and resting. We have trouble putting work in its proper perspective. We cannot slow down. My cynical take is that we overwork so we can buy cheap crap we will never have time to enjoy anyway.

What if everybody had a long Christmas break? What if most factories and businesses were closed an extra day or two? Would the world fall apart? Or would we learn a few values that we desperately need to cultivate?

Think about it.

And Merry Christmas from all of us at The Popular Teacher!

Four Ways Every Single Day Can Be Like Christmas

When I was in school as a child, the holidays were magical. I think I still learned things during that time of the year, but I was definitely in the holiday spirit. I remember looking forward to the annual “Santa breakfast,” which included a local Santa and elf, usually played by a bored high school student. Somewhere near the beginning of December teachers would break out their Christmas decorations, and we would be carted to the “Santa Shop” to buy cheap gifts for our relatives. I am sure my dad cherished that “world’s greatest dad” bookmark!

Looking back, for many kids the holiday time was probably one of the few bright spots, since for many students, school was hardly pleasant.

As a teacher, Christmas still has magic. Something changes this time a year. People seem a little more decent and hopeful. I often wonder why we can’t take that “Christmas feeling” (and the actions that follow), and use it for the benefit of ourselves and our students all year long. Below are some traits that we allow ourselves to have at Christmas, but sometimes forget the rest of the year.

Generosity

Most people become a little more generous at Christmas. I remember teachers giving a few extra points at Christmas, or even allowing students to plan a little Christmas party in class. Some even took a break from the all-knowing, divine, curriculum and showed movies that taught us values. Sure, we students liked these parties and movies so we could “get out of class,” but I guarantee students across the world probably remember the parties and movies more than what you taught them yesterday.

I also remember teachers genuinely helping students with their material needs. For one month a year the needs of less fortunate students were fully considered.

Of course, we can be generous to our students and peers all year long. Students, teachers, and administrators are under a lot of pressure. A little extra credit in March won’t hurt anything, nor will being extra generous when giving to the coffee fund. Students that are less fortunate in December probably won’t get more steady income just because January rolls around. I believe in abundance. If you give, you will get back. Being stingy is never a good idea. Be generous all year long!

View Others in the Best Light

At Christmas, I tend to see people as a little more human. When I think of that student that won’t shut up, I recall his rough home life, or maybe that he is trying desperately hard to impress his girlfriend. Or that kid that constantly flunks my tests; I know she tries as hard as possible. The days when some of my peers drive me nuts? Well, they are under pressure too. Basically, at Christmas we naturally have permission to increase our empathy. How many times have I heard “it’s Christmas, so I’ll (fill in the blank with some sort of act of mercy).” If it’s good enough for Christmas time, it’s good enough for all year. I am not saying we go “easy” on people if it means making them less excellent. However, I am saying that sometimes people just need to be viewed not as monsters, idiots, or troublemakers, but as human beings just trying to get by in the (largely unhelpful) way they know how.

Seeing Friends and Family

One way to relieve stress and simply have a great life is to have friends and see them often. Many times we get into the daily grind, eking out a basic existence, and we forget that what really matters in life is the time we spend with those we love.

At Christmas, this seems to change, as we make time to see others. We host parties, and so do our friends. I have always found it depressing that during December we are super-social, to the extent that many of us can’t even attend all the parties we are invited to, and then January comes…and nothing is happening! One year a good friend of mine scheduled a party on January 31st because his roommate was out of town. I looked forward to that party all month. It was because everybody else was “done” with socializing until summer, but I had something social to look forward to. There is nothing, except self-imposed limitations, that prevent us from getting together with friends all year long.

Lights and Decorations

Christmas lights, with gingerbread and othersI have a forty minute drive to work right now, until I close on my new house. I will say that the morning darkness can be depressing, but fortunately the many lights and decorations on the way to work keep me cheery. I look forward to seeing the multitude of dazzling colors and Christmas inflatables. I typically decorate my classroom for Christmas. My lights and decorations are buried in a storage unit at the moment, so I can’t this year, but normally I do. As the students walk in, they are taken aback by the soft glow of colors. They constantly request to turn the overhead lights down so they can just enjoy the ambiance of the holiday lights.

I am not saying I should keep lights up all year, but then again, maybe I should. Many teachers make their rooms cheery and more inviting at Christmas, which relaxes everyone. Before I moved, my wife and I kept our Christmas tree up until March. We dutifully switched the lights and bulbs out based on the month’s theme. January was white and blue (winter), February was pink and red (Valentine’s) and March was green and white (St. Patrick’s). We didn’t do April, but we easily could have done pastel green, pink, and yellow for the spring. I didn’t ask people, but I can imagine that as people saw our tree on their way to work, it made them happy and brought back thoughts of the holidays If you can make your room more fun and inviting at Christmas, why not all year round?

In conclusion, we allow ourselves to be excellent at Christmas. We do the things that we know are good and right. There is no reason we can ‘t do these things year round, save our own mental limitations. I challenge everyone reading this to take that Christmas feeling, and the actions that follow from it, and remember it in January, and February, and March…and all the way until next Christmas.