Humiliation? Never.

Humiliation? Never.

Recently, my social media feed offered a repost of an edutopia blog article I had read last year. It is one of those articles worthy of re-reading, re-posting, and re-sharing. Previously, I had shared the article with an administrator in our school district.  The reason being is that we experienced some long-lasting effects of student humiliation.  A humiliating incident in a math class last year, early in the semester, in which a teacher called my son “stupid” in front of his peers basically caused him to “shut down”.  Consequently, he did not get much out of the class he was taking, had no interest in going to this very sarcastic teacher for help, and resulted in a year-long bout of lowered self-confidence, periodic anger, and self-doubt.

Last month, I thought we were “over the hurdle” as it had been almost a year since the incident and my son seemed to be “holding his own” in his subsequent, but now current, math class. However, after having to speak to the guidance counselor about changing  an elective, the past experience with this teacher was broached again, bringing about more tears, and a renewed sense of anxiety.  I think my son was thinking, “will they ever remember me for anything other than what happened last year?” Well, the  answer to that is they have and they will, as some other very nice opportunities have been sent his way by the same guidance office. In addition, the teacher he has for this year’s class in the same subject area projects a much different attitude, has gotten to know my son, and has taken steps to individualize his instruction. It appears he is a conceptual learner and approaches new information from a big picture vantage point, rather than spiraling up with details to understand the concept in the way most students learn. It is unusual, but can be worked with by a compassionate, knowledgeable educator.

So, why do I write about this today? There are several reasons. First, it needs to be said that as parents, we are very supportive of our childrens’ education. Academics come first in our house and our boys know that. However, with that said, we also believe that our teachers must get to know their students.  This was one of the most grevous errors leading to the experience of last year. Assumptions about our student were made. They were incorrect. This particular teacher taught one way, in a manner that was not conducive to our son’s learning style. However, instead of finding ways that might help him, she used sarcasm and humiliation. This was not acceptable. I do believe she might have been willing to help him by reinforcing what she had gone over in class, but would have not done so by using a different demeanor or by approaching him without sarcasm.  He was unwilling to approach her for help because of the way he had been treated in class – with humiliation.  It is due to the inappropriate use of humiliation in the classroom that I write about this subject today.

Finally, I will leave you with a few thoughts to consider as you teach.

  1. Do not humiliate your students, for any reason.
  2. Use a variety of teaching models/styles in your presentation of material.
  3. Connect with your students. Get to know them.
  4. Think about whether your teaching style is meeting the learning styles of your students. Work to reach as many students as you can using various models.
  5. As a parent, speak up if you find something does not seem right, using the chain of command, if at all possible.
  6. Do not be afraid to remove your student from a situation in which he/she is not learning, if you feel that would be best. We did not do this, as my son did not want to be removed from this class. In hind sight, we should have, as we have seen that he did not absorb much because he could not get past his feelings toward this teacher and her classroom style. However, our district policies state the a student will receive an “F” if the class is dropped after the first two days of the term. This was also a consideration in our decision.
  7. Work to change district policy to enable fair and reasonable choices for students, not only teachers, regarding course changes.

Thanks for the opportunity to share blog posts on Slice of Life Tuesday: TwoWritingTeachers!

Connecting with Students

Connecting with Students

I’ve been thinking a lot about connecting with students lately. Part of the reason for doing so is that I am taking a graduate course on the Models of Teaching and Learning. The text for this course is set up in “families” of models and has been informative. Believe it or not, many of the models are familiar from either “default” usage on my part, or exploration of the models during my advanced practice nursing curriculum in pediatrics. However, one of the results from reading for this class is that the examples and outcomes are all very “utopian”. How I wish all teachers taught like what is described in this text-book! Exemplary and amazing are understatements! This feeling of unreachable model instruction was compounded by reading yet another text on Differentiated Instruction by Carol Ann Tomlinson for the same course. Both texts, filled with real life classroom examples from many grade levels, inspired me to reflect upon the best possible ways to teach  content in garden club and writer’s circle and really have the students learn, or at least learn how to learn, which is a large focus of both books.

One recurring theme has been how best to connect with your students. I seem to have an ability to so this without much effort and reading these texts has caused me to wonder what happens to cause teachers and students be unable to connect. Of course, I am at an advantage in that as a non-formal educator, teaching and leading enrichment groups, I do not have the burden of assessment or even teaching to standards (although my lessons are pretty well aligned to the common core state standards). I can design my lessons to reach the students in any way that I see fit. In other words, I can be creative in the development of my lessons.  Other that using project and place based learning, as well as advanced organizers, some direct teaching, and experiential learning are what I choose to use on a monthly basis. But, really what is it that helps me to connect to students?  After some thought, this is what I came up with:

1)  Approachability – my students know that I want them to ask questions, be curious, even be wrong in their theories about life science and all that we explore. They know I will not yell or demean them in any way for their curiosity. Some of my best units were developed because a curious student asked a hard question which I could not readily answer. What do I say when that happens? We will find out together!

2) Kindness – I love students. It shows. I am kind to them, no matter who they are.

3) Fairness – I have an innate sense of fairness and that comes across to my students. If I give one a break, or a hint, I will do that for all.

4) Passion – I am passionate about my subject matter. It shows. I’d like to think it is contagious, motivating the students to be in awe of the natural world as much as I am.

5) Conscientious – None of my work has been paid, but I still work and craft my lessons by researching how best to get the information across to the students in my groups, as if I were being paid a hefty salary.

In short, I have learned to invest in my students. Intuitively, by my words and actions, not because I am telling them, they know I want to be the best I can be, for them.

I know what not to do. By default, I’ve seen what not to do.  Unfortunately, what not to do is still being done by many. Please do not call a student stupid because they asked a curious question or showed you they do not understand. There is really no room for sarcasm in a classroom, even at the high school level. Please do not assume that if they do not come to you for help, they are doing nothing to help themselves. Please do not label or categorize them based on their out of school interests, especially if they are things that you were not a participant in (sports, music, theater) and might not understand. Please do not assume the way you are teaching fits everyone’s learning needs in your classroom. Please. You are a teacher. You hold in your classroom the power to instill the love of learning in a student or turn them off. I’ve seen it happen, both ways. Please. Invest in your students. It will pay off. I’ve seen that happen too.