Flying the Unfriendly Skies – with Glenn Beck

My flight attendant…merely barked the word “breakfast” when he came to me…

When he delivered a soda, he slammed it down so hard, I hesitated to even open the can for fear that it would spray all over other passengers in the cabin.

By the way, the other passengers, nobody else had to open their can. He opened it and poured it for them…I have had rude service before. I lived in New York City.

I have never had service that was specifically designed to make me feel subhuman.

Glenn Beck

Poor fella. Can’t a man spew a little venom and vitriol for years to an entire nation for years without getting a soda slammed down in front of him? I, for one, am aghast at his inhumane treatment. I sure hope no one else ever has to endure the unmitigated discrimination he experienced at the hands of Dallas-based AmeriCommie Airlines. All this pain, just because someone disagreed with his politics.

Be sure you let American Airlines know how you feel about this, and what you think they should do with the cruel beast flight attendant who so harshly discriminated against Mr. Beck.

Start Your Day Off Right :D – Advice for New Teachers #4


Smile too much.

Especially in the morning. ESPECIALLY with students.

Train yourself to automatically smile as you walk down the hall.  Read Damn You Autocorrect (NSFW!) or LOL with the LOLCATS before you come to school.  Find the class clown on your faculty and buddy up with them.  Tell a joke in the faculty meeting.  Do whatever you can to plaster a smile on your face.  Especially when you have morning duty.  If you smile at the students as they enter the building, you might just affect the rest of their day.  And the next time you’re struggling to carry in all 3 bags of work you spent all weekend grading, one of those kids you don’t remember smiling at may just offer to help.

If you walk into work and no one ever looks up at you, greets you, smiles and says good morning – or worse, if people are actively scowling and grumpy – well – that kind of behavior tends to affect most people.  If you don’t like it, children won’t either.  And while your fully developed adult coping mechanisms may let you ignore it; the kids?  They’ll take it personally.

Smiles aren’t just for others though.  A smile can change the course of your morning; your whole day – did you know the act of smiling can make you happier?  But – maybe even more than that.  Don’t take my word for it…

Reflection for Learning – Advice for New Teachers #3

In much the same way dreams are thought to be our subconscious mind making sense of our daily experiences, reflection is the conscious process of “unpacking” our experiences and fitting them in with the established knowledge Computerin our brains.  I picture installing a new device in a computer: we have to “wire in” our new learning to connect it with earlier information.  Without the proper connections the new device would never add anything to the computer, just as new learning without connection adds nothing to our own capacity and ability.

Reflection is often an arduous process, requiring us to think critically and build new neural connections.  Reviewing information is a first step to reflection.  This can be accomplished through simple means, such as having the students complete an “exit ticket” each day as they leave the classroom.  The mere act of recalling information can help students begin to naturally create these connections.

But don’t stop there.  Just hoping students make natural connections isn’t enough.  Students also need purposeful help connecting the information to their prior learning.  Students struggle with this more than with “memorization,” as it requires difficult (and desirable) critical thinking.

Metaphors are probably my favorite way to access prior knowledge and connect it to newly acquired information.  One tool I’ve used to accomplish this is to offer students a chance to reflect using pre-written sentence stems:  “Ecological succession reminds me of ______.” or “The structure of an atom is like ______ because _______.”  (One of my favorites?  “The structure of an atom is like my sister’s brain: there’s definitely something there, but it’s mostly made up of empty space.”)

Often for me, personally, getting started on an assignment is the most difficult part.  Sentence stems can overcome that intimidation and bring students directly into the process of making the connections needed to make learning meaningful for them.   Even with the help of a sentence stem, though, students often expect just one correct answer for each question.   The process of coming up with the “right” metaphor can be difficult and scary.  Don’t give up – one of the beautiful things we often forget about life (and that we can and must teach) is that, for the really important questions there never is just one right answer: not for you, as you grow as a teacher; not for a parent as they raise a child; nor should there be for a child as they create meaning and connect their new ideas with their prior learning.  Life isn’t narrowed down to 4 choices, only one of them correct.

Reflections must be a part of any kind of good learning, whether for students or adults.  As lifelong learners, we must purposefully seek to draw connections with our learning and experiences. Often in teaching we are so busy surviving each day that it becomes difficult to take time to reflect on our experiences and draw learning from them.  For those seeking growth, I hope you’ll consider starting a blog or keeping a journal to track your own experiences.  After a couple weeks of school (if you are anything like me) you may find that the simple, blissful act of sleeping has the effect on your memory that a raging kegger may once have had on you in college: you won’t remember this stuff later. (Although teaching rarely ends in regrettable tattoos, fortunately.)

So go buy a notebook…or better yet, check out Oh, Life, a private journaling web service that sends you an email each day asking “How was your day?”  All you do is reply to the email to make your entry – and throw in a few similes.  Who knows how much you’ll be able to learn from yourself!

Rewards? Pah!! – Advice for New Teachers #2

Don’t give rewards. 

Candy?  Trinkets?  Homework passes?  Never!!!

Consistent reward programs teach kids to seek – you guessed it – consistent rewards.  What happens when you run out of stickers?  Or when everyone except ONE STUDENT masters a concept?

…And, you know, break this rule occasionally.  (Psychologists call this “randomized positive reinforcement.”)  

A rare reward?  That can be quite a boon for a student who needs an extra push.  Or it can just be a way to get rid of junk you don’t want.  That bobbly pencil-topper you got at the office supply store teacher appreciation breakfast?  That’s worth 15 minutes of quiet time if you play your cards right!

Note: A lot of teachers disagree with me, and many feel they’ve found success with consistent reward programs.  But after trying it myself (my many failed attempts with a Treasure Chest, “Science Bucks” and Character Coins) and reading about others’ difficulties in maintaining their reward programs, I’ve come to realize these truths: 1. it’s expensive, 2. it’s time-consuming, annoying, and distracting 3. it’s a short-term solution even when it does work, 4. it trains kids to only perform when they are getting a tangible prize.

You should definitely celebrate children when they do things well – just stop giving them crap.

For more (surprising) information on motivation, check out Dan Pink’s book Drive, or watch this awesome animation of a talk he gives summarizing some of his main points:

How to Come Out of This OK – Advice for New (and Old) Teachers. #1

The first year of teaching is a special thing. It’s a little like I imagine having a baby will be: exciting, nerve-wracking, and a different experience for everyone. It’s also incredibly painful, and when you’re done with it, you look at the product and realize that you’re in it for the long haul. It’s always going to be about survival, and learning to grow in the midst of surviving each day.

Right now if you’re preparing to start your first year of teaching hopefully you’re feeling excited: you look at your freshly decorated classroom, your bins and pockets and folders, your orderly desks and chairs. You imagine children piling in the door, finding their seats. You picture the adventures and activities you want to do with your students. Kids eagerly raising their hands and filling out worksheets and notebooks. Projects neatly displayed, showing off the deep learning they’ve accomplished. Parents at Open House shaking your hand vigorously to thank you for the hard work you do everyday for their child, not to mention the many others in your classes.

Most people recognize this as a decidedly rosy view.  If you’re a new teacher, you’re likely also vaguely aware that you have *no idea* of the work ahead of you. You know there will be behavior problems. You know that not all parents will be…shall we say, “ideal?” You wonder how you’ll maintain your lesson plans, gradebook and classroom management plans as things get going.

My first year teaching, I had NO idea what was coming. I didn’t know how to write a lesson plan (nor really what should be in one at all), how to maintain classroom management…I didn’t even know my content area very well. Honestly, I was aware of several gaps in my preparation, but I had no idea what they were. Some of the hardest lessons for me in that first year:

  1. How important is a seating chart, and how do I make one? It turns out that making good seating charts is an art. The only way to get better is to practice and experiment – but ALWAYS start with a seating chart. Always.
  2. How do you ask meaningful questions to drive learning? Yes/no questions are hardly sufficient to make a student think. But if a question is too open-ended you’re going to be chasing your lesson around the room for a week. Striking that balance is a daily struggle, and while you’ll get better at it, you’ll always have room to improve.
  3. How do you ask a student who speaks literally not a word of English (only Khmer) and has been in the country for less than a week because his parents were killed in a car accident and he had to suddenly move in with his Aunt and Uncle who emigrated to America to sit down in a particular chair during first period on your (and his) first day? Ok, you likely won’t get that same question. Which is good, because I’m afraid I never did come up with a good answer.

Look – you’re going to be ok. You will, I promise. Whether or not your first day goes spectacularly; whether or not your first year teaching pans out; whether or not you decide in the long run that teaching is the calling for you. Just keep breathing, and center yourself on the students. Not their test scores, not their parents, not the glory of the school or the excitement of whatever subject you teach. It’s really all about the interaction between you and the student. So when things get hard, try to go Zen and bring yourself back to that: it’s about these kids. If you’re truly trying to do your best for the kids, you can’t be too far from where you should be.

This post is just the first in a series. I’ll be posting more advice in the coming weeks and throughout the year. I’ll do my best to keep them much shorter in the future. :)  Good luck!

A teacher’s rank is rank indeed.

How to Celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week

So you’ve heard about an education system in crisis.  You’ve heard about teacher burnout.  You’ve heard about No Child Left Behind and standardized testing.

Maybe you have kids – if so, surely you’ve, at one point or another, imagined a room full of kids and wondered how teachers can do what they do.  Because facing 35 hormone-addled 13 year-olds is a terrifying prospect.  And they do it *all day long.*

So how do you show your teachers appreciation?  Well, there’s the (deeply appreciated – I don’t want to minimize here!) usual: get your kid to bring a Starbucks giftcard, send little heartfelt mementos – or better yet: chocolate.  Or (my personal favorite) have your kid write a card to his or her teachers.  That’s truly nice, and we always love the sentiment.  It is important to feel personally appreciated.

BUT.  If you REALLY want to show your appreciation with teachers it won’t cost you one red cent.  (Well, except the money you pay for your driver’s license or other ID)


Now, I don’t mean in November.  That’s important too, and I hope you will – but local elections (including school board elections) are often determined in the primary.  Here in Texas, our primary is (finally!) set for May 29th, with early voting running from May 14-25.  Please.  PLEASE.  Show your teachers some appreciation.  Vote pro-education this election.
Education is arguably the MOST important issue your representative will be voting on in the next couple years.  I say that, even though I have deep interests in many other areas – the quality of the public education system will outlast the effects of even things like cutting social safety nets, destroying the open beaches laws, jamming ultrasounds in unwanted places…the quality of public education is going to determine our overall future economy, it is going to determine the ability of the Texas public to think critically and ask the right questions about liberty and democracy in the future, it is going to determine how many people end up in low-wage jobs…this is big stuff!

So how do you make the right decisions about education? 

The problem with these DESPERATELY IMPORTANT local elections and statewide elections: how do you find information on the candidates?  They don’t have the money and clout (if they do, you should probably be skeptical!) to get their messages out like in Gubernatorial, US Congressional or Presidential elections.

Well, try these resources on for size:

Seriously, though, folks.  Voting in national elections is glamorous and fun.  I enjoyed checking my box for president.  But it’s these local elections and state elections that affect us the most – and get the lowest turnout – and have the least publicized positions – and affect us the most (did I say that one already?).

But don’t forget to make your kids write some thank you notes to their teachers.  That’s awful nice too!  <3