4 min read

Be the force in that classroom.

For my writing I do most of my edits using Notational Velocity, which is a great little OSS plain text editor for OSX. It's a really simple application and allows me to quickly manage dozens of short and long files. Coming back from the holiday break, it opened up to the last edit I made. It's some comments I made for a post to a student teacher on Stephanie's blog. At least I think it was, November and December of 2011 just kind of ran into one.

They're pretty simple thoughts really, but thought I'd post them, because it's useful to have the big picture positive to hold onto as I head into a new year. It's the same as always really, but I do forget to believe in myself at times.

I don't recall much from my post-grad year of teacher training. But one comment from a lecturer still stands true.

"Be the force in that classroom"

Each day - you hold the power.
Not to determine the future, nor for the fates of your students. Don't burden yourself with Mr Holland's opus, or Sidney Poitier's legacy.
But hold to the simple truth, that you have the power to make that room a place - where you affect change.
In little ways, in big ways, in simple and complex ways.
Your moods, your energy, your being is the key factor to what that room is like.
That's not you as a teacher - that's you as a person. That is your power.
The teacher bit is just the label.

That power has nothing to do with your ability to deconstruct the curriculum or analyse test and cohort data, or moderate a piece of nationally standardised pie chart. That's the label.

The power comes from explaining a math strategy, or providing a smile for a kid who never gets one from an adult. It might be reading them a story, with expression and vigour and hyperactive actions that suck them into a world they've never been before. It might be helping them edit their writing, so that it makes sense and allows them to express themselves for the first time ever.

A great teacher is one who's constantly trying to figure out young people - pushing and prodding to get them to see the value and beauty in their lives. We cover that process up in curriculum and paperwork, but that is, in my humble opinion, at the core of our role. To give students the chance to see a glimmer of what they could be. And helping them find ways and means to chase that glimmer.

Don't stress about being the best.
Be honest. Be open. Be constantly adjusting.
Be OK with having shit days. Make sure you come back after a shit day and give it another go.
Be OK with not coming back and giving your students a break from you.

Know that Michelle Pfieffer is an actor, and no ex-Marine looks like her - so why should teachers?
Know that we can't all riff like Robin Williams in "Dead Poets Society".
Know that Mr Miyagi is who you should be for your students.
Spend a day painting a fence (metaphorically and literally) with your students, stand by them no matter how they treat you.
Let them know that their success honours you.

There is always something else you can, could, and should do as a teacher.
Be OK with leaving it all to one side and watching Big Bang Theory
Know that it will all be there when you wake up after your whiskey, wine, sherry-infused sleep - and that you can start again.

On the job tip - get a slot in a decile 1 or 2 school as a beginning teacher - fall into the deep end of our societal issues, with a job title that attracts equal parts scorn and respect - and be prepared to be humiliated, humbled and honoured by what you see and experience. Best training ever - if you're interested in the real guts of life and teaching.

I wrote this last bit back about in 2007. I think it still stands.

"Max – welcome to the most noble pursuit on the planet. I use noble in the sense that teaching is a pursuit that is decent, unselfish, righteous and worthy. You will be frustrated, challenged and despairing at times. See through the paperwork, the politics, the constant planning.

Be there for your students.
Be the one positive, passionate, purposeful person in their lives.

Give them hope.
Give them dignity.
Believe in them.
Believe in the possibilities that they are.
Every day.

That might be in teaching them how to balance algebraic equations, how to make sense of a piece of text, or just be greeting them with a smile each day.

All that might sound like pablum and hokey to some. But we adults seem to have forgotten to believe in our young people. We reduce them to statistics or put them into boxes.

I showed Apple’s ‘Think Different’ TVC to my students today and we had a discussion about the vocabulary and what it meant. I didn’t think the challenge would come from explaining ’round peg in a square hole’ – but then how do you argue with a student who states: “You could do that if the peg was smaller than the hole.”

My 12 year olds only recognized Muhammed Ali and Mahatma Gandhi, but when I asked which individual did they think was the most important, several considered, then answered carefully: “The little girl at the end … because that’s us.”

The kids are alright.

As are you.

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