February 22, 2009

Teaching Patience?

To teach patience we must provide opportunities to BE patient. Kids today are so used to immediate gratification, that they struggle with waiting for anything (Ok, we all do.) Working time into our lessons forces students to work through their assignments, and by doing so learning to focus more keenly on each individual step required to reach their goals. I’ve already written about how I believe patience and respect are the keys to teaching. Here are three suggestions of how you can incorporate more time into your classroom schedule that will ultimately help teach the students how to be patient.

Teaching patience requires a patient teacher. Some people tell me that I am a patient person. I don’t feel patient. However I can say that I spend so much time around people (students) less patient than I am that it makes me appear very patient. I am blessed with a relatively long fuse, and I am continually given opportunities to practice patience; it seems like I have to wait for EVERYTHING. As we all know, practice makes perfect. So the first step is the teacher recognizing the importance of patience and being open to acting with patience in the classroom.

Teaching patience requires a patient presentation. Every classroom has a pace. For some, the pace is fast and furious, for others, the pace is slow and steady. Both are fine so long as the teacher and students are comfortable. Within the daily routine of all classes there are activities and assignments. These assignments are often complex and include a deadline. To help teach students patience, try breaking down the complex into smaller, perhaps daily doable chunks. Much like spoon feeding a baby, introduce the curriculum a little at a time. Smaller chunks of information are easier for students to digest.

Teaching patience requires a patient process. When setting deadlines for student work a set of staggered due dates can be useful to help encourage all students to turn in their assignments. Allowing for early submission helps to motivate the students who like to work more quickly without penalizing those who work more slowly. I offer additional extra credit for any student who, once their work is completed, assists another student to finish their work on time. I also allow for resubmission of work to students who meet the deadline, but may have overlooked a particular aspect of an assigned project.

Perhaps I am too patient, too liberal in my approach to teaching the pupils to be patient. I believe that high school should be a safe place to make mistakes. Therefore, it is important that the teachers, coaches, and administrators who work with students be willing to reach down and help up our kids when they stumble. In our world of “I want it all and I want it now” I feel that it is necessary that educators not only model patient behavior, but also act as the agents of patience in the lives of students. Teach them to wait.

February 13, 2009

The Importance of Being Mister?

Names are important. In the classroom I feel that it is important for students to refer to their teachers as Mr. or Mrs. So and So. I don’t feel that it is appropriate in any k12 setting for any student to use any teacher or administrators first names. There needs to be professional distance between student and teacher. It is equally important for teachers to quickly remember and regularly use the names of their students. The use of a student’s name in the classroom is a validation that recognizes that they exist, that they are unique, and they are important.

Almost no one calls me by my first name, Kevin; and even then it’s a shorter version like Kev, and sometimes Kevo. My dear mother who named me doesn’t call me Kevin because that’s not the name she picked out for me. My mother named me K.C. up until my (paternal) grandmother came to see me in the hospital and asked what my parents had named their first-born. My grandmother’s famous response was, “K.C.? Sound like the name for a dog.” So K.C. became Kevin Christian. However, most people who know me professionally, including my students, call me Bibo.

Leaving off the “Mr.” part used to bother me. But then I came to accept my namesake and go with it. Some students call me “Mr. Bibo” in class, but those are usually the newer, younger students with whom I have not yet made any sort of connection. About midway through the school year, and from that point on, the majority of high school students I teach refer to me simply as Bibo. And it’s not just them. My colleagues also refer to me as Bibo. That could have something to do with there being four other Kevins on campus.

I could be offended at this lack of formality. For me, the use of my last name alone has become endearing. Bibo is a very uncommon name after all (how many Bibos do you know?) One Bibo was actually a Governor at Acoma Pubelo in New Mexico during the late 1800’s. My sister and I recently ran into another Bibo working at a local restaurant. Just today a student shared with me that Bibos means an Asian wild ox. So as long as I feel respected by my students as the authority figure in the classroom, I don’t really mind.

So long as your students respect you as their teacher dropping the Mr. or Mrs. or Ms. can be acceptable. However, I still would not allow my students to use my first name because I feel that it crosses a line of professional distance that the kids themselves want to keep in place. Many adults will continue to refer to their childhood teachers as Mr. or Mrs. well into their adult lives. I have written under a pseudonym (Cal Teacher Blogger) for five years, but no more. From this point on it’s Mr. Bibo (but you can call me Bibo.)

February 10, 2009

Time for Change?

I will now write about a subject that is none of my business: retirement. I want to appeal to those who are close to the end of their teaching career, anyone with over 30 years experience, to strongly consider making this their last year of official public service. I also want to encourage those individuals who have lost interest in growing as educators to start a new chapter in their lives. In California, as in much of the country, the budget issues are humongous. In about a month my school district will start sending pink slip layoff notices to many of our employees both certificated and classified. Within this group could be many young nontenured teachers. We need these young people in education.

In general, a veteran teacher costs more than twice as much as a new teacher to keep employed at any school district. That doesn’t mean that for every one teacher who will retire this year, that two newer teachers will stayed employed, but for sure a retiring teacher will help save a young teachers job. Some teachers have lost their passion for teaching and are right now considering another profession. This is a good time to make that change. Of course the younger teachers will not have the experience or the expertise in the classroom of the veterans. However, the future of education lies squarely on the shoulders of the younger generation of teachers who have been thoroughly trained and prepared for the job.

Teaching is hard work for a cost of living wage. I am afraid that if young people who have worked so hard and made so many sacrifices to become teachers leave education because of these budget cuts they may not come back. Teaching requires an expertise in a variety of disciplines (subject area, classroom management, public speaking) that are highly attractive to employers. These young teachers will find other jobs that pay more and that might even satisfy some of their personal needs to serve. Good for them; bad for education. We need these people to stay in the service of our students.

We all remember what it was like at the beginning of our teaching careers. The excitement of the classroom, the joy of learning, the satisfaction of knowing that we made a difference to somebody. Do you still feel that way? Because there are other things to do in the world to help contribute to our society regardless of how long you've been teaching. The universities are always in need of adjunct faculty; how better to share your teaching experiences? You could also write a book on teaching or finish that novel. And for the die-hard teacher, some districts might even hire you back at their base salary.

Again, this is none of my business. I would personally be greatly offended if I was in my 31st year of teaching and some complete stranger wrote to me asking me to retire. I would be equally offended if someone who had never stepped foot into my classroom suggested that I consider another line of work. I will retire when I’m good and ready thanks. For those whom I have offended I apologize (write your comments below). Just please realize that I am trying to see the bigger picture and look down the road a little. I’m not saying that your services are no longer needed or that you are a lousy teacher, but that change can be a good thing for everyone.

**Revised on 2-11-2009 (Thank you Doyle).

February 06, 2009

In The Middle?

I am approaching the middle of my teaching career. I am also in the middle of the teacher generations. I am no longer the “new guy,” nor am I a part of the “old guard.” I find myself being placed into leadership positions both on campus, in the district, and even here on the web. I am embracing the opportunities that come my way and doing my best to serve when and where asked. I am also trying to mentor as many young teachers as I can. This is an interested and somewhat daunting place to be, in the middle.

Many of the teachers who mentored me in my early years of teaching have either retired recently, or are close. Some of them have worked hard through their tenure to keep up with the latest teaching trends and held tight to the swing of the educational reform pendulum. Other veteran teachers found what worked for them early on and have stuck to a winning game plan. It’s sad to see these folks move on; they take with them volumes of experience ALL teachers could benefit from learning. If you are in the twilight of your career please share your wisdom.

As I look around at my peer group of teachers I am impressed. Most of us are Generation Xers who enthusiastically jumped into teaching because we saw a need and felt a call. Now in our teenage teaching years we have learned a little, experienced a little, and are starting to refine our game. We’ve been though the onslaught of standards and lived through almost a decade of NCLB. Thankfully many of us missed out on BITSA, but we’re all pretty good teachers anyway. We now answer the call of campus leadership and are ready to lead the way.

This newest generation of teachers is a truly impressive group. They have endured a ridiculously difficult process in their pursuit of teaching. But, for all of the hoops, and test, and essays, and lesson plans, these young teachers are dynamic, exciting, and just plain fun to be around. Their ideas are fresh and innovative, their integration of technology is impressive, and their love of teaching and learning is clear. I am excited for my own children to be taught by this amazing young generation of committed, encouraging, and enthusiastic young teachers. It is true, the future of teaching is bright.

Education evolves with every new generation of educators. True some of the themes and ideas get recycled, but the teaching of students is a process that improves every year. Each successive cohort of teachers stands upon the shoulders of the giants who came before them as they reach higher and higher to raise up the next generation of learners. But the ultimate goal remains: teach the students well. I’m so thankful to be included in an alliance of individuals who commit themselves to the improvement of our planet through the education of all people and the growth of our culture.

February 02, 2009

Three Must Follow Blogs?

Awhile back I included a list of my favorite blogs, websites, and authors. Since then I have discovered three more that I must share. Perhaps this will be something that I will do now on a more regular basis, but since I just wrote that, probably not. We’ll see. I am not the only blogger who writes not just to be read, and because I want to share, but because I can’t help it. I am like a pitcher of water: if I don’t pour some of the liquid out, I am going to overflow. As it is I gush.

Adventures in Super Teaching by TeachEnEspanol is a relatively new blog worth visiting regularly. I have to admit that I feel a kindred spirit with this bilingual resource teacher from Chicago. Every other post I read feels like I could have written it myself even though I have never taught EL, or worked anywhere other than Southern California. Still, it’s so comforting to share another teacher’s thoughts and relate to their experiences, observations, and conclusions. Check out this blog, follow it, and leave MANY comments. The author will appreciate even the shortest contribution. You can read her complete story here.

John Spencer
writes in a variety of blogs and often. He is a BIG thinker who is ready and willing to share his ideas with any and all willing participants. Each day of the week he has a different theme, and everyday he explores the theme deeply. John is also on Twitter and sends out regular daily updates. You can also join his Ning social network. John reminds me of another John who was in another desert pointing a different generation towards their futures. John has a clear vision of the use of technology in education that we all need.

I am very impressed with the post college (mid to late 20’s) generation of teachers and thinkers popping up on the Internet. Perhaps most impressive to me are the Three Old Farts who are not old, and I hope, not farts. Chris Allison, Josh Lake, and Nate Evans are three graduates from Texas A.M. who have started a public discussion on the web. And guess what? You can join in. Their topics range from education reform to marketing each contributing independently but commenting as a trio. I love this format so I have started my own conversation on another blog.

There is so much valuable content on the web today. I am overwhelmed. No matter your niche, there seems to be a group or groups ready to invite you into their fray. Teacher resources via blogs, Twitter, and teacher-specific web sites have really blossomed. It’s important that we all contribute to the discussions through our comments wherever we spend time reading and learning. Unfortunately, I cannot keep up with everything that is written about teaching and teachers, but having looked around a bit, I can confidently recommend that you follow these three web sites and check back with them regularly.