January 10, 2014

Don’t Quit?

I am back to teaching in the university PTC program. After just over a year off I am once again guiding and encouraging baby teacher as they are about to begin their careers. They are such a great group to teach: excited, optimistic, apprehensive, inspired and encouraging. If you are a veteran teacher and you haven’t recently spent time with a newbie teacher, I strongly recommend it. They are hungry for all of your sage wisdom and advice. If the fire has gone out a little, then it will quickly reignite when you remember what originally brought you to teaching.

Unfortunately, it is reported that 40-50% of these teacher candidates will quit in their first five years. One of the students asked me the other night how to avoid quitting. While I can’t answer for everyone, I can share what has kept me going for the past 20 some years. I’m sure that there are more reasons to stay in the teaching profession, and other coping mechanisms that work for other teachers, but here are a few that work for me.

Consider your students. Somebody has to teach these kids, why not you? More than ever our young people need role models who want to be good examples of how to live successful lives. True, they may not act like it, but that is due largely to the culture we live in, and not the students themselves. Everybody wants to learn, even if they don’t behave that way. Trust that your efforts are worthwhile and that you are changing lives in positive ways. The proof may not be there at first, but it will emerge over time. Trust me.

Consider your self. Sleep, eat, exercise, work, relax, and repeat. Balance is so important to classroom success. The first year is always difficult. If you are staying a day ahead of your students, that is enough. But the more you prep, the more you plan, the more proactive and the less reactive you are in your approach to the classroom and your students, the better. Don’t be afraid to look for help wherever you can find it. Some veteran teachers will assume that the new teacher is prepared for the classroom and may not volunteer to help, so ask them. And spend time daily in reflection; learn from your success as well as your missteps.

Consider your source. A recent article claims that religious people are less anxious. You don’t necessarily need to believe that you have been called to teach; but it doesn’t hurt to believe that there is purpose to what you do in your classroom. Leaning on a higher power will make you feel more powerful, and that will make you more effective, and hopefully, less stressed out.

Gathering the courage to step into the classroom and face your students day after day, year after year, is a challenge that should be met with a positive attitude, daily. Know that you are making the world a better place.

October 05, 2013

Diminishing Returns?

Maybe it’s just that time of year. The sprint from the first day of school in August to the weeklong break at Thanksgiving in November is brutal. Add to that the five weeks I spent teaching summer school, then subtract the short 21 days off in between, and I am simply exhausted. Yea, I know, that’s way more time off than most other professionals get. But teaching isn’t most other professions; and the mental, emotional, and physical toll it takes on educators is best met with a balance of rest and relaxation. A break that right now I desperately need.

It is clear to me that after 20 years in the classroom, I have definitely found my niche. I have a dream assignment at an established and prestigious campus proud of its 800+ API. It’s hard for me to imagine doing anything else; but that time may have come. I started writing here, way back when, in an attempt to convince myself to stay in the teaching profession. It worked. Last year I was nominated for Teacher of the Year in my school district. Things are working very well, and I feel satisfied in my efforts, but not their returns.

It’s mostly my own fault. I have a large family, by choice. My wife works part time at home for a non-profit so that she can be a stay-at-home-mom and homeschool one of our daughters. We live in Southern California, also by choice, and up until now have figured out a way to make our lives work within our budget, happily making personal sacrifices for the benefit of our family. But it seems that is no longer enough. We are now so strapped financially that we may have to seriously consider leaving the state, or my leaving the classroom setting.

Previously, I supplemented our income working as an adjunct instructor for a local university. Unfortunately, it’s now been a year since my last assignment there. A change in policy means less work for the “working practitioners,” and more for the full-time professors. Instead, and at the challenge of good friend, I spent the year writing two film scripts. You can check out the loglines here: http://screenwriterbibo.blogspot.com. I am a good enough writer to recognize that my fiction, much like my reflection, is good enough to read, but not necessarily good enough to sell. So I am sprucing up my CV.

It’s recommendation letter writing season. The kids write me a very complimentary letter requesting that I write them a letter of recommendation for their portfolios and college applications. I always oblige them. Their request letters are packed full of very nice comments about their time in my classroom. Good for them. Call it my Walter White moment, but between the rising cost of health insurance, the pay-cut California teachers just received from Governor Brown’s raising of the minimum wage, or just my feeling completely empty, there’s got to be something more that I can do for my family and myself.

April 06, 2012

Creating Capacity?

I can multitask really well. The number of items on my “to do” list is usually quite high, and I love it that way. I thrive in demanding work environments that require a fast pace, and lots of action. That’s why I love production work; that’s why I love teaching school. Observant students sometimes ask me how I am able to juggle all of my responsibilities. I answer, “time management.” I have a robust work ethic to be sure. I also believe that there is a deeper and stronger source of my energy and enthusiasm for life at all levels.

I’ve seen the demonstration more than once. A glass container is set on a counter. First, it is filled with stones. The speaker asks if the container is full. Everyone nods. Then, the speaker fills the empty spaces left by the stones in the container with pebbles. Again, the question if the container is now full. Everyone nods again. Then the empty space in the container is filled with sand. Full? Nods. Then the speaker pours water into the container (now it really is full.) This demonstration has always stuck with me as an excellent example of one’s real capacity.

We are all containers just like the example. The question is how full are you? Are you simply full of stones and pebbles, or have you reached the sand yet. Can you even imagine the water? Of course we are all over scheduled and over whelmed by our lives. But does that mean we can’t handle just a little more? What if we practiced better time management? What if we began to say no to the things that really don’t matter, and freed up more time for the things that really do matter? What if we actually took time off?

One of the keys to my capacity as an individual is rest. One of my favorite lyrics from one of my favorite artists is,

My habit is to get in bed every night by 9:30. Impossible, I know. But getting regular sleep is a huge benefit to my ability to get things done. Exercise is important too. I am no fanatic, but I do exercise regularly and choose my meals carefully. No one can be effective if they are exhausted. Sometimes you just have to chillax.

Maybe I am unique. Clearly I am blessed with an innate enthusiasm for life, and teaching specifically, that I cannot take credit for because I cannot identify where it originates within me. What I can do is share what I have learned in the successful (and not so successful) areas of my life. That’s one reason I love teaching: sharing what I know works for me. So fill up your containers to the maximum capacity, then rest. Discharge the stone, pebbles, sand, and water as efficiently as you can, then repeat the process. Always enjoy the benefits of your efforts.

April 03, 2012

Defining Details?

Details matter. Greatness exists in the details. While it is important to keep the big picture in mind, and not get stuck in the minutia, getting the most important details right is worthy of the required investment of time and energy. Regardless of the realm, whether it is academics, sports, or the Arts, the difference is made by the way the student, athlete, and artist works out the finer issues of their endeavors; even the ones nobody else can see. The extra time spent in study and review, training and practice, reworking and editing defines the excellence of one’s efforts.

In academics, teachers guide their students through the learning process. An effective instructor provides a series of steps for their pupils to follow that allow them to address the most important finer details along the way, and not push them off to the end. The teacher needs to be well prepared for the facilitation of the lesson or project, having worked out as many different scenarios and potential problems as possible to help anticipate what the students will encounter at every step. Experience helps, but is not a requirement for successful instruction.

In athletics, coaches motivate their athletes as they prepare for competition. It is the job of the coach to understand and address the athlete’s needs in order to efficiently progress in their sport. Everything from nutrition to sleep patterns can positively or negatively effect performance, and it is up to the coach to make sure that the athlete is aware and focused on all significant areas at all times. Athletes who are best prepared both on and off the field have the best opportunity to be successful on the field of play. The details of training will give athletes the competitive edge.

In the Arts, students want freedom to express themselves on a variety of levels. That is a good thing. It is the duty of the art teacher to provide structure and process to that creativity. Of course there are always some students who establish their own process and need little guidance, but they are the exception. Most artists need constant feedback and direction as they apply their invention to paper, canvas, or computer screen. Pointing out specific areas for improvement, polish, and modification as well as knowing when to push, and when to pull, is part of the art of teaching Art class.

All teachers and coaches want their students to succeed. Teaching students to recognize that it is the details of what they do that make the difference is key. It is our job to not only raise awareness of the value of excellence when working through the details of their work, but also to show and guide our students through the process of addressing the finer details of what they do. We must teach them how to develop their critical eye and to make appropriate and meaningful changes that will improve their efforts and their results. Defining the details with students will equal success!