Archive for December, 2009

I once worked for a landscaping company.  I spent lots of time outside so I usually had a good tan but smelled like compost. The work was hard but enjoyable and, in spite of the amount of time I spent digging holes, presented me with some unique experiences.

One of those involved finding our way to a job site. As navigator of the small dump truck, I held the map in my lap and barked out directions to the driver. I spent the entire trip looking down at the large creased paper saying things like “turn left on Poplar” and such. We zigged and zagged through neighborhoods, up hills, and around curves and arrived safely at our destination. I still had no idea where we were.

A few weeks later, I visited a friend at his dad’s office. On the wall was an incredibly large aerial photo of our city. I stood many minutes just staring at it, astounded at the complexity of our simple little town. Suddenly, “Poplar St.” caught my eye. “Hey I was right here not long ago,” I blurted out. I began to trace the trip I had made that day. I could see the streets we took, the houses we passed, I could even see our landscaping office and nursery. I could see so many things on this mural that I had missed on the drive that day that I could only stand in amazement. I finally reached out and touched the photo and  heard myself whisper “I never knew all this was here.” I looked at my friend and said “I never knew it was like this.”

As teachers we spend a LOT of time looking down–at our particular subject, grade books, assignments, lesson plans, test scores, EOC’s, SAT’s, etc. It’s hard sometimes to see how we fit into the big picture. It’s even harder for a student to see it. Ask students about their other subjects from time to time. Talk about how your subject fits into the scheme of things.

Sometimes, look up.


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Several years ago, while in a local grocery store, I ran into a former English teacher,  just a few years after graduation. She sized me up, took an auspicious breath and said, “I know you were one of my students, but I just cannot remember your name!” I felt my heart sink. I thought that I, as one of her prized pupils (I lettered in English after all!) would be immediately recognizable to any someone who had taught me so diligently day after day.

Oh yeah, I forgot that in the intervening years she had taught about six or seven hundred other kids.

Another teacher, by contrast, not only remembered me, but would make her way over to see me if she was at a performance or lecture of mine. She always asked questions and wanted answers and showed genuine interest in what had become of me after I left school. She took real pride in any accomplishment of mine long after the teacher/student relationship had ended.

It would be impossible to show that type of interest in each person we teach, but it is imperative that we be at least minimally cognizant of what happens to our students after they leave us.  It’s one thing to say “I graduated x-number of kids this year,” but quite another to later say “And these went on to succeed in college, these now own their own business, these are teachers,” (or leaders, or politicians, or any number of success stories.)

If I am in some way preparing these young people for life, I need all of the spiritual sensitivity, spiritual generosity, and spiritual transparency I can muster now.

The proof comes later.

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Years ago I had a High School Ed Methods instructor by the name of Dr. James Mintz. We would discuss classroom management, lesson pacing, planning, and student interaction. He was also quite the educational psychologist. In addition to having Bloom’s taxonomy down to every jot and tittle, he was full of handy aphorisms. For instance:

I tell them they are what I want them to be before they actually are. – Dr. James Mintz

He encouraged his students by training them to see themselves as successful even before they actually were. He encouraged me to do the same and so I did, and so it became a habit. He told me once that Mary Kay told her sales-girls to imagine that each one of their customers had a sign on their forehead that reads “Make me feel important.”  When class was over he would pat my shoulder and say “You’re already a good teacher–I can tell it.”

That small reinforcement each day had me believing that I was a good teacher–even before I was. I didn’t realize at the time he was using his technique on me as well. And upon reflection I was amazed at how well it worked.

Each day you must take your students one step closer to what you want them to become.

Start by telling them they’re already there.

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Years ago when times were harder, we did most of our Christmas shopping at one of those $1 stores so at least it would at least look like the kids were getting a few things as presents. A lot of little things was more exciting to them than one large expensive gift. To make it even more exciting, my wife came up with a great idea: a night or two before Christmas, we would have “The Parade of Toys.”

We turned on a recording of Tchaikovsky’s Marche from his Nutcracker Suite and one by one brought the gifts into the room. As each gift was brought in we loudly announced the name of who the gift was for. The response was wild cheers from little kids who were so excited to see something placed under the tree for them.

Did it make the presents any more expensive? No, but they were infinitely more valuable. Did it make the gifts better quality? No, but it did make them more desirable. Did it make the holidays last longer? No, but it made them more memorable. My oldest is 28 now and do you think we can get away with not having the parade? Not on your life.

All we did was make them feel better; about themselves, their home, the holidays, their life as kids. Remember the sticker on my lawn mower:

If motor is running blade is turning.

If your students are conscious, they are receptive to being made feel better. Maybe they didn’t do well today. I’ll still find something positive in it because I know they can never feel bad enough to do better, only good enough. I consider it an investment in their spiritual tomorrow. I consider it spiritual generosity.

And it doesn’t really cost me anything.

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