Tag Archives: teaching

A New School Year: What Teachers Should Consider

Another school year is on the horizon.  Teachers are cramming in last minute vacations, working in their classrooms, and enjoying their last few mornings to sleep late.  After five years of retirement, I get a little nudge of envy this time of year when I pass schools and see teacher cars in the parking lots and coaches readying their practice fields.  Miles of bulletin board border stretches through schools across the nation as teachers take great pains to build “Welcome Back to School” displays.  Coaches scramble to ensure ice machines are working for the 100-degree plus heat indexes they will encounter in August and early September, and the excitement grows as band and cheerleaders roll out new shows and skits for football half-time and pep rallies.

Do I miss it?  HELL NO!  Global warming has so dismantled this old body, I wouldn’t last five minutes under a Mississippi sun in mid-August.  As for bulletin boards, I was one of those coaches who used the same bulletin board for sixteen consecutive years.  The school librarian or a lady teacher who felt sorry for me would help me change the border once or twice a year, but that was the extent of my bulletin board creativity.  No, I don’t miss the heat, the prep, or the job at all, but I do miss the kids and the people I worked with for so many years.

Since retiring, I have kept my distance from the school house, but at the beginning of each new school year I raise my head just high enough to offer a little advice to teachers.  During thirty-seven years as an educator, I learned a thing or two about the profession.  I learned the hard way through stubbornness, luck, trial and error, and from people a lot smarter than me that there are certain practices and principles that can make a teacher’s job a little less stressful and help them feel less alone.  YES, I said less alone!  Although surrounded daily by big and little people, teachers are in many ways engaged in the loneliness job on earth.  Often, they feel like they are swimming alone in a sea of negativity shackled by lead expectations and mandates few understand and fewer can explain [differentiated instruction in a classroom of thirty instantly comes to mind].  So, if I can offer a tidbit or two that might make a new or veteran teacher’s day a little better or prolong a career, I feel justified sharing the little I know.  Therefore, from the shadows of retirement where retirees become better teachers and administrators with each passing day, I offer the following advice, support, and consolation:

What Every Teacher Needs to Consider

  1. Teaching is not about delivering seeds; it is about planting, cultivating, and harvesting;
  2. Never sell your students or yourself short. Prepare for class, teach in class, and hold students accountable in class;
  3. Teach like you want your children to be taught. If you are not okay with your child’s teacher giving less than his/her best in the classroom, don’t settle for less than your best when teaching someone else’s children;
  4. Don’t worry about your pay. There is nothing wrong with wanting a pay raise but be thankful for what you have.  You signed a contract saying you were willing to work for a certain amount of money, so work for it.  The time to be unhappy with your pay is before you sign on the dotted line.  Kids don’t care how much money you make, and in the classroom, there are more important things for a teacher to worry about than a paycheck;
  5. If you would rather be somewhere other than the classroom, do yourself and the kids a favor and be somewhere else – preferably not in teaching;
  6. Worry only about the things you can control, pray about the things you might can influence, and don’t waste your time or breath on what you cannot control;
  7. Understand you will never be fully appreciated for all you do as a teacher. Don’t waste time or sleep worrying about it.  Refer to #6 when negatives get you down;
  8. Politicians are not your friends. Parents are not your friends.  Students are not your friends.  If you need a friend, or someone to be there for you when things go south, look in the mirror or look to your family;
  9. Although teaching days can become long and tedious, DON’T look for excuses to show movies, assign busy work, or allow free time in class! Very little if any student learning takes place during such lazy stagnant activities.  Teaching is about learning, and teachers have a limited amount of time to make learning happen.  DO your job to ensure students have a fair chance to learn in your classroom.  Students have greater respect for teachers who follow this practice;
  10. Be proud to be a teacher. Stand tall in the knowledge you are smarter, more courageous, thicker skinned, more loving, and more resilient than 90% of the population.  The other 10% are retired school teachers;
  11. Remember of all the professions God could have chosen for his son, he made him a teacher, so remember, as a teacher you represent the best of the best. You stand in elite company; and
  12. The best you can hope for in life is to have more good days than bad. Teaching is no different.

Finally, probably the two best pieces of advice I can offer are . . .

A GREAT TEACHER WILL ALWAYS DO WHAT IS BEST FOR HIS/HER STUDENTS!

and

GREAT TEACHERS TEACH AND DON’T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF!

 

Teaching is an awesome ride for those with the courage and perseverance to stay in the saddle, but it is not for the faint of heart, the selfish, or the lazy.  It takes a special person to be a teacher, and I pray God’s blessings will be with all those special people during the coming school year.  WELCOME BACK!

JL

©Jack Linton, July 20, 2018

Advertisements

Twenty Tips for New Teachers (or Veteran Teachers)

Over the years, I have been asked numerous times for advice or tips I would offer new teachers or veteran teachers.  I always respond by saying the little I know is the result of professional reading (at least thirty minutes daily) and mistakes I made as a teacher and a school administrator.  I think the biggest mistake most teachers make is looking for perfection.  This mistake can cost them their joy as a teacher.  It causes them to lose sight of what teaching is about and why they signed on to teach in the first place.  Sometimes teachers become so blinded by the pursuit of perfection, they lose sight of the good they do, and as a consequence they drum themselves out of the profession.  No matter how badly they want it, there is no such thing as the perfect student, the perfect parent, or the perfect teacher, so my advice to teachers is to STOP looking for perfection, and replace it with an expectation of always “putting forth the best you can do.”  That is the highest expectation, teachers can ever hope to achieve from their students; it is the highest expectation they can ever expect of themselves.  Next, I would advise teachers to MAKE TEACHING A COMMITMENT:  commitment to the teaching journey, commitment to learning from mistakes, commitment to professional learning, and commitment to NEVER giving up on students or themselves.  After that, I would offer the following advice and tips:

  1. You WILL make mistakes – learn not to repeat them – learn to apologize and move on! Making a mistake is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign you are not sitting still;
  2. It’s okay to have fun! Good teachers figure out how to make learning fun!
  3. Use handouts as a teaching tool, not a “keep them busy” tool. Remember, teachers teach and subs give handouts!   Which are you?
  4. Use pre-test to assess your student’s existing knowledge. Pre-assessments will help you make your teaching more relevant and their learning more meaningful;
  5. Communicate with parents often! Nothing can be more unsettling to a teacher’s day than a surprised or angry parent who has been kept in the dark about their child’s progress;
  6. Greet students at the door like you are happy to see them – not like they are the plague;
  7. Be on time for duty! The safety of students and your career is on the line.  Monitoring duty in the cafeteria, in the hall between classes, before school, or after school is a necessity!  It is not a useless punishment your uncaring principal has placed on you;
  8. Make note of teachers who always complain and are unhappy – be nice to them, but stay away, unless you want to be like them;
  9. Be proud to be a teacher! You have the most important job in the world.  You influence young lives every day, so decide every morning if it will be a positive influence or a negative influence;
  10. Assign seats! Especially until you get to know your students.  Assigning seats also makes it easier and faster to take roll;
  11. If you do not plan to discuss and review homework in class the next day, DO NOT assign homework! Homework is only effective if it is used as a formative tool with timely feedback to students;
  12. DO NOT assign work in class that will not be discussed, reviewed, or graded. Like the teacher, students DO NOT need busy work;
  13. Never make an online assignment without first checking the websites, including links to other websites. Ask these questions – Is it active?  Like most everything, websites do not last forever.  Is it blocked by the school filter?  If blocked, seek help from the school technology person to unblock it.  Is it appropriate?  Make sure the content is appropriate for the student age level you teach as well as for the community the school serves;
  14. Always, always, always preview movies to be shown in class. Movies should be used sparingly in class and then only in small clips to support discussion of the lesson.  Showing a movie that takes up one to three days of class time is poor practice and a waste of instructional time.  Showing a movie in its entirety is lazy teaching;
  15. If you assign a book or website that may be controversial to students, their families, or the community do the following: (1) meet with the principal and seek his/her support by explaining why you have chosen the material and its value to the learning process; (2) Send home a notice to parents/guardians that some content may be offensive and explain why you believe it is necessary to use the material in class; (3) offer an alternative assignment for students and/or parents who object to the content (use of offensive language, use of graphic sex, etc.);
  16. Never argue with a student in class! You are the authority in the classroom!  If a student wants to challenge authority let him/her challenge the authority of the assistant principal or the principal;
  17. Teaching for student success:
    1. Pre-assess (pre-test) knowledge;
    2. Provide students learning targets based on pre-assessment needs;
    3. Teach what you want them to know;
    4. Use on-going assessment (formative) throughout the lesson. Check frequently for understanding;
    5. STOP and re-teach if and when necessary;
    6. Assess what you want them to know (summative);
    7. Use summative assessment as a formative tool (feedback) for student learning; and
    8. Re-teach if and when necessary.
  18. Being a TEACHER is NOT about teaching; it is about LEARNING! You may be the greatest presenter of content of all time, but if your students don’t learn, you have failed as a teacher;
  19. Remember, it’s okay to breathe! Teaching is a monstrous responsibility, but if you teach with the same passion and compassion you expect from your children’s teachers, you will be okay; and
  20. Enjoy the teaching journey! You are a part of an awesome group of people.  You are a teacher because you care.

These tips are basic, but if followed, they can serve the new teacher or the veteran teacher well.  Teachers must always maintain high expectations, accept nothing but the best from their students, and never give up on the least of them or themselves.  A tall order, no doubt, but kids will tell you – GOOD TEACHERS CAN DO ANYTHING!

JL

©Jack Linton, August 24, 2016

It’s The First Day of School, Teachers Don’t Worry

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry

            About low pay – they can’t afford what you are worth;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry

            About long hours – artists never see the clock;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry

            About politicians – they’ve never had your back;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry

            About public opinion – they haven’t a clue what you do;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry

            About evaluations – they need you more than you need them;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry

            About teaching – make compassion your passion;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry

            About state tests – teach their content with your heart;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry

            About personal breaks – teachers have big hearts and bladders;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry

            About not being good enough – your best is all anyone can ask;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry

            That America’s kids are behind the world – you know that’s B.S.;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry

            That parents don’t like you – sometimes they don’t like themselves;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry –

            Smile – Feed a young soul with your light;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry –

            Pray – Stay humbled by the lives you help shape;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry –

            Play – Laugh, dance, and celebrate the day;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry –

            Stand tall – Not many have the courage to do what you do;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry –

            Seize the moment – Be ready to make a difference;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry –

            Give – Your best gift is that you care;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry –

            Love – You teach because you love kids;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry –

            You have the most important job in the world;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry –

            Take a deep breath and enjoy the ride!

 

Remember the three most important influences in a child’s life are  . . .

  1. God
  2. Family
  3. Teachers

Everyone else is gravy or sour milk.

 

JL

©Jack Linton,  August 3, 2016

Warning Shot Fired at State Educators by Mississippi Legislature

After House Bill (HB) 449 in 2015 and HB 49 in 2016 failed to become law and silence state educators, the Mississippi Legislature may have delivered a coup de gras with the recent passage of HB 1643, Section 44.  Section 44 reads . . .

“None of the funds provided herein may be expended to make payments or transfers to the Mississippi Association of School Superintendents. Furthermore, none of the funds provided herein may be expended if any local school district expends any public funds to make payments or transfers to the Association.”

Over the years, the Mississippi Association of School Superintendents (MASS) has been a major education liaison between educators and the Mississippi Legislature.  After July 1, 2016, Section 44 may put an end to that relationship, but as grave as the loss of an association devoted to promoting and improving education may be, the gravest consequence of Section 44 may well be the silencing of educator voices across Mississippi.  By prohibiting payments from public funds to MASS and threatening to withhold state funds to any local district violating Section 44, the legislature fired a warning shot aimed at all state educators.  They sent a strong message that if any educator dares side or speak against them, as some superintendents did during the controversial and heated Initiative 42 campaign in the fall of 2015, there will be consequences to pay.

Bill author, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Herb Frierson, R–Poplarville, made it clear Section 44 of the bill is retaliation for what he called personal attacks against state officials by state school district superintendents during the Initiative 42 campaign.  He said, “When they attack people like that, they’re biting the hand that feeds them, and maybe the next time they need to think about that.”  However, the record supports the problem goes much deeper than Initiative 42.  Prior to the Initiative, House Education Chairman, John L. Moore introduced HB 449 in the 2015 legislative session that threatened to penalize educators $10,000 dollars for exercising their freedom of speech on school related issues.  He renewed his effort to silence educators in the 2016 legislative session when he introduced HB 49, which was basically a repeat of his failed 2015 bill.  The objective of both bills was to silence the voice of educators across the state who spoke in protest against state legislators who refused to honor the law and fully fund education.

Frierson said, “There’s very little trust between the leadership and school administrators and most of it goes back to the 42 campaign.”  He is right; little trust exists between state leadership and educators in general, and the vindictiveness of HB 1643, Section 44 will do nothing to build trust between the two factions.  The distrust between the two, which began long before Initiative 42, will only grow deeper as a result of such pettiness.  This rift began when state legislators repeatedly went back on their word to fully fund MAEP (Mississippi Adequate Education Program), and refused to work and listen to state educators on education issues.  This divide escalated with Initiative 42 when legislators placed an alternative measure on the ballot, which confused the issue and made it difficult at best for the Initiative to pass.  Trust between the two deteriorated further when legislators misled state voters with threats of budget cuts to other agencies if the Initiative passed – cuts that nevertheless became a reality after the Initiative was defeated.

HB 1643, Section 44 was a stroke of political genius.  By taking a less direct route than Moore and embedding the retaliatory action against school superintendents in the appropriations bill, Frierson kept his intentions under the radar as a part of the greater bill.  However, the impact on educators will be everything Moore hoped for, if not more.  Section 44 is most likely a death blow to MASS, and due to fear of reprisals against them, it may likely usher the end of educators speaking out for fairness, integrity, and common sense on education issues.  As Frierson would say, “If it does, it does.”  After all, why should free speech stand in the way of the greater power of the state legislature?

It is ironic some of the exact things the Mississippi leadership detests most about the federal government are forced on Mississippi citizens by the state leadership.  They detest the federal government usurping the power of local government, yet Section 44 tells local school districts how to spend local dollars.  They openly despise Common Core Standards because they argue the federal government bullied schools into using the standards or risk losing federal funds.  Doesn’t Section 44 do the same when it threatens to withhold state funds from local school districts that fail to take part in the legislature’s vendetta against the superintendent’s association?  It appears the Mississippi Legislature may be as power hungry if not more so than the federal government they rail so vehemently against.

Isn’t it also ironic America’s most basic right, free speech, is the right many Mississippi legislators want to strip from state educators?  In the United States of America (Mississippi is a part of the United States), instead of reprisals against free speech, shouldn’t there be reprisals against those who advocate such?  However, retaliation against either side will not resolve this issue.  As Frierson said the issues boil down to trust, and at this time neither the legislature nor state educators trust the other to do their jobs effectively.

After the defeat of Initiative 42, Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves spoke about pulling both sides together as a family.  That has not happened.  All anyone needs to do is examine such bills as HB 49 and Section 44 of HB 1643 to see educators are not regarded as family by the state legislature.  If they were family, legislators would be more inclined to listen to them, and not try to silence them.  However, maybe Mr. Reeves’ words were for show only, and what Frierson, Moore and many others in the legislature really want is for educators to prostrate themselves before them.  If so, who is next – small business owners?  Ministers?   Simply put, Section 44 is nothing less than heavy handed tyranny that should scare all Mississippians into waking up!

JL

©Jack Linton, June 4, 2016

School Free: Eliminate Public Schools in the United States

I have been thinking about the recent Mississippi vote against fully funding public school education. I realize it does little good to rehash old wounds, but sometimes a second look is warranted. That is especially true in light of the emotions that flowed so freely on both sides of the issue in the days leading up to the vote. So, putting aside the confusion caused by the ballot and the chancery judge issues that dominated the discussion prior the people’s decision, I took a second long look at the main reasons people gave for voting against fully funding education. The primary issues I looked into were school consolidation, over paid school administrators, throwing money at education, and lack of performance and fiscal accountability. Rather than focus solely on Mississippi, I decided to take it one step further and examine how Mississippi attitudes toward education compared to public attitudes of education across the nation. I am glad I did; it changed everything!

First of all, when it comes to public attitudes, I found Mississippi pretty much flows in the same direction as the rest of the nation. We also seem to be perfectly in sync with the other education bottom dwellers – Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas, and Washington, D.C. I found the negative attitudes displayed toward public education by so many Mississippi voters differed little from attitudes toward public education in other parts of the nation. Like most of the nation, Mississippi is facing an education crisis spurred by a thinly disguised Republican agenda to privatize public schools, a movement for greater parental choice in education decisions, and an unwavering belief that the public knows more about what is best educationally for their children than educators. In addition, the overall lack of political and public respect for public schools as well as the political and public resolve to influence, dictate, and control the selection and development of local and state school curriculums appears to be common across the states. What truly bothered me though was the discovery of a deep underlying – unspoken – opinion held by many in the political arena as well as the public that suggested the United States would be better off by eliminating ALL public schools!

After years of lackluster academic performance, it appears the public’s respect and trust of public education falls somewhere between their respect and trust of politicians, TV evangelists, and used car salesmen. In seems, many people in the public believe they can do better teaching their children at home than public school teachers can in the classroom, so they question the existence of public schools. Of course, as an educator, I regarded such reasoning as nonsense, but after immersing myself further into the issues, I came to the realization that maybe they are right. Maybe, it is time that as a nation, we face the possibility that public schools have outlived their purpose. If we are honest with ourselves, public schools today exist primarily for childcare, sports, free lunches, and of course, testing. Even academic courses, to create jobs and sustain student interest, have been subdivided and disemboweled to the point of irrelevance. When lack of subject substance and continuity is meshed with the present public school focus on social interactions, celebrations, playtime, political correctness, and curriculums we dare not make too challenging, we are left with little more than a hypothetical school. Again, let’s be honest, that game can be played at home with less expensive overhead than public classrooms. Current politics, local pandering, inclusiveness, and permissiveness have left many public schools little more than thirteen years of leveled kindergarten with a senior year that according to the public should exclusively be about having fun and building memories.

So, yes, maybe there is credibility to the idea of eliminating public schools altogether. With the Internet, cell phones, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and texting, children have little need for the social aspect of school anymore, and the academic possibilities and resources available online far exceed what many underfunded and understaffed public schools can offer. Regardless of parental income level, the Internet is available with very few exceptions in homes via a connected computer, smart TV, Ipad, or data linked cell phone, so why do parents need to send their children to school? For a fraction of the cost of what parents spend on local school taxes, school supply lists, workbooks, monthly school fundraisers, school field trips, school uniforms, and private tutoring lessons, they can have everything a school can offer in the comfort of their homes or the public library, and still have time to drop the kids off at the mall for the afternoon.

This has not been easy for me to swallow, but as an educated person, I have no choice but to face this new reality. Schools are no longer relevant in America! The sooner this is accepted, the sooner we can put an end to the many school related issues handcuffing our society. Since everyone who has ever attended grade school or high school is recognized by most American political leaders as experts on what children need to know and be able to do (especially in Mississippi), the United States could easily abolish ALL public schools and save billions of dollars in education wages, salaries, and benefits. I dare say, making America “School Free” would most likely have a major positive economic and social impact on our nation. If there are any doubters, please look carefully at the following benefits . . . .

If we made America “School Free”. . . .

  1. Parents could teach their children the way they were taught;
  2. Parents could assign homework not too difficult, so they could help their children with the homework;
  3. If we made America “School Free,” the national budget could be balanced and the national debt paid off with the money saved on education;
  4. The cost of childcare for working parents could be drastically reduced. Parents could reduce childcare costs by dropping their older children off at the mall, movie theater, park, or zoo during the day. For younger children below the age of five, there would be an abundance of teenagers available and willing to babysit for a small fee since they would not be burdened by school;
  5. Eliminating public schools would drastically impact the economy for the better:
    • Revenue for businesses in malls would increase;
    • Local sales taxes would increase;
    • State money normally spent on education could be divided among other state agencies to hire extra personnel, improve services, rebuild crumbling infrastructures such as bridges, and there would even be money to build more prisons. Who knows a little extra money in the budget may even solicit a smile from the highway patrol personnel in the driver’s license office;
    • Without such expenses as school taxes, school fund raisers, and school supply lists, parents would have more money in their pockets;
    • If America was to become “school free,” unemployment numbers would spiral downwards since malls would need to hire extra security and sales floor people and more police and highway patrol personnel would be needed to patrol the streets.
  6. If We made America “School Free,” kids too cool for the mall or without transportation to the mall would have more social time on street corners;
  7. School buildings could be converted to climate control storage units, which would create additional local government revenues. Of course, the broken windows and air and heat would have to be repaired or replaced first, and better security systems would have to be installed in most public schools used for this purpose;
  8. Football and baseball stadiums as well as gyms could be turned over to local club sports. Clubs would be responsible for hiring and firing coaches at their discretion. There would be no more of the “namby-pamby” talk about character building; it would be “win or the highway” for coaches and players alike. Kids could practice eight hours a day, five days per week or even seven days a week if coaches and parents desired;
  9. There would be no testing, which means no more shaming comparisons to other schools in the state or countries around the world;
  10. Since they would no longer be needed, School buses could be parked bumper to bumper along the USA/Mexico border to provide an inexpensive wall to keep out illegal immigrants. School bus drivers could be hired full time to sit in each bus with a shotgun to repel all illegals trying to cross the border;
  11. Money saved on education could be used to create a wall of isolation around the United States. Only information and people deemed pertinent to the political agendas of the governing party or pertinent to the success of collegiate or professional athletic teams would be permitted to enter the country;
  12. The government could control all free thinking, or at least quarantine free thinking troublemakers to restricted zones in barren thinly populated areas of the country. The Democrat and Republican parties would be free to indoctrinate or brainwash the American people with any ideology that suited their agendas;
  13. Providing services such as sex education, suicide awareness, health screenings, counseling, providing for children with disabilities, and serving breakfast and lunch would once again become the moral, parenting, and monetary responsibilities of parents;
  14. State and Federal legislators could concentrate on issues such as poverty and not simply focus on the symptoms of poverty such as poor academic performance. Without public schools as a whipping boy, legislators might finally do the job they were elected to do;
  15. If we made America “School Free,” freeloading teachers would finally be forced to get real jobs like everybody else!

These are only a few of the benefits of getting rid of public schools in America. Based on the current attitudes toward public school education in Mississippi and across the United States, I am convinced the public is ready for such a move.  It is bound to happen sooner or later.  How much longer can public schools in this state and this nation exist without the confidence of the people? Public school educators have endured about all the disrespect and votes of “no confidence” they can tolerate. So, why not simply put them out of their misery and close public schools altogether? Except for Friday nights in the fall, I wonder if public schools would even be missed.

JL

©Jack Linton, December 14, 2015

The Monk in Santoni Oxfords and the Ten Commandments for Educators

Many years ago I made a pilgrimage to Woodall Mountain, Mississippi. I had heard stories of a wise monk draped in the cloak of Southern evangelism preaching from the mountain’s summit. According to the stories, during the summer months of June, July, and August, a monk, who spoke with gentleness and wisdom intertwined with intoxicated tidbits of misplaced hell, fire and brimstone, held counsel with despondent teachers. If you were willing to endure the blistering heat of the Mississippi summer to sit at his feet and listen, the story tellers were adamant that you would be blessed with a life-altering miracle. As a struggling second year teacher, I desperately needed a miracle, so I journeyed to Iuka. Mississippi and located the mountain.

I drove my 1979 Ford Fairmont up the steep rocky incline to the summit where I found an aging observation tower standing in a gravel circle. Not far from the tower there was a bench where a solitary figure reclined gazing out over the hardwoods and pines that were interrupted here and there by patches of farmland colored in various shades of green and brown. When I approached the bench, the man turned to me and motioned to a place on the grass at his feet. He looked very much like the Buddhist monks I had seen on television and in National Geographic magazine. His bald head signified his commitment to the Holy Life and his yellow robe, drenched in sweat from the merciless sun, represented his devotion to virtue; however, that was where the similarities to the television and magazine monks ended. The pressed black slacks under his robe made visible when he crossed his legs, his highly polished Santoni Oxfords, and the diamond and emerald rings that adorned the fingers of both hands spoke volumes about the Americanization of his commitments.

Once I was seated on the prickly sun parched grass, the monk began to speak. As he spoke, the sun sucked sweat bubbles from his bald head where they sparkled and sizzled for a brief moment before flowing in great droplets down the back of his neck, down the sides of his cheeks and down his forehead into his eyes. Watching him continuously wipe the sweat from his eyes, I remember thinking, I bet he wishes he hadn’t shaved his eyebrows. It didn’t take long before we were both scarlet faced and boiling in our sweat, but not once did his words falter. He spoke to me for three hours. His words flowed seamlessly from the wise and simple counsel of the bhikknu to the nostril-flaring indignation of the Southern evangelist and played as true as any infomercial I had ever heard. When finished speaking, he slowly licked his cracking sunburned lips as he studied me.  “You are not buying any of that bulls#%$ are you?” he asked.

Thinking I had somehow offended him, I apologized profusely, but he raised an open hand to silence me. He reached inside his yellow robe and pulled out a rolled piece of goat skin and handed it to me. I remember recoiling from the rancid smell of the goat skin and thinking why would this monk offer me a very sharp cheese wrapped in goat skin. I untied the thin cord, and the goat skin unfurled over my hand. There was no cheese, but the rotted-feet-stench of Limburger cheese radiated from the 14 inch by 24 inch skin.

“I believe the list on the scroll will be more to your liking,” the monk said, his face also distorted by the foul odor.   With his hands clasped prayerfully to either side of his nose, he bowed respectfully and hurriedly walked away disappearing between two young water oaks that led to a trail down the mountain.

The ten decrees hand printed on the goat skin were more to my liking. The simple commandments, especially written for educators, were perfect for my needs.  I always thought it was uncanny, even a little unsettling, that the monk happened to have a scroll inside his robe tailored to my specific needs. How did he know I was a teacher?  He never asked, nor did I volunteer the information.  But, that is like dwelling on spilled milk; it doesn’t really matter how he knew.  All that matters is that he shared the commandments with me and ultimately saved my teaching career.

Until now, I have never shared the commandments in their entirety with anyone, but the time has come to share. Maybe, there is an educator somewhere who needs a nudge or even a huge eye opening kick in the rear like I did. Maybe, there is an educator somewhere who is looking for a “silver bullet” or their own savior monk to right their ship. Or, maybe, there is someone who simply needs another list. Whatever the reason or the need, I believe the commandments are a difference maker; they were for me.

The Ten Commandments for Educators

  1. Thou shall slow down and take a deep breath before you react;
  2. Thou shall give audience to your “gut feelings.” If it doesn’t feel right or your gut feeling says “no,” don’t ignore the feeling. Take a step back, take a look from a different angle and call a friend;
  3. Thou shall not turn away from common sense;
  4. Thou shall not tear down a fence unless you know why it was built;
  5. Thou shall ask before any decision, “Is this what is best for children?”
  6. Thou shall not let pride or an omniscient point-of-view stand between you and knowledge.  No one may be as smart as you or know half as much as you do, but it does no harm to listen;
  7. Thou shall not be reluctant to offer second chances least you be denied yourself. If you cannot give a child a second chance, don’t ask or expect one for yourself;
  8. Thou shall stand blessed before children. When you stand in front of a classroom of students, act like you want to be there;
  9. Thou shall not take yourself so seriously. Education is a serious business, but don’t take yourself too seriously. The art of play is the key to learning;
  10. Thou shall work with the precision, the skill, the focus and the mastery of the surgeon.  As an educator you perform brain surgery every day; for Heaven’s sake GET IT RIGHT!

I kept these commandments with me everywhere I traveled as a teacher, and a year never passed that I did not take time to review them and do my best to apply them as a professional as well as in my personal life. The commandments are not a magical “silver bullet,” but they they are reminders of what it means to be a professional and the responsibilities and commitments that go along with being a professional. I have not been back to Woodall Mountain, but I like to believe the monk is still there every summer counseling young teachers and even veteran teachers when they are not too proud and smart to listen. To that monk in the Santoni Oxfords, I offer a heartfelt THANK YOU! You made a difference, and I will forever be grateful.

JL

©Jack Linton, July 31, 2015

What Makes a Good Teacher?

By the number and content of the education bills that have been flying back and forth in the 2015 Mississippi Legislative session, it is easy to see that many of our legislators have little respect for teachers in the state. Much of their lack of respect for educators can be attributed to political agendas and a superhero complex. Politically they tend to ride on the coattails of whatever wind happens to be blowing at the time, and lately the fashionable political gale is education bashing. The other fashionable political trend is the superhero complex that so many of our elected officials have adopted. Too many of them think they have a super-sized “S” stamped on their chest, and all they need do to right any perceived problems is to huff and puff and legislate the problems away, especially in education. They believe that they alone are the saviors who can save the state from ill prepared, incompetent, diabolical teachers. However, when it comes to education, the vast majority of legislators likely do not have a clue about education other than what they hear in Walmart or in their church parking lot. Their negative perceptions of education are generally fueled more by personal experiences, experiences of family members, and public opinion than test scores or poor rankings. Unfortunately, sometimes these experiences and opinions are not the hogwash educators would like to attribute to them; sometimes they do have merit no matter how isolated the experience might be. It is unfortunate, but there are some weak teachers out there who give teachers including the good ones a bad name. Fortunately, there are many more good teachers than the handful of bad apples who get all the press and attention.

Like any other profession, education has people who need to be weeded out; they do not have the aptitude to teach, they do not have the knowledge to teach, they do not have commitment to teach, nor do they have the work ethic to teach. It is easy to be a teacher, but it is not easy to be a GOOD teacher. To be a good teacher, it takes a lot of hard time consuming work! For whatever reason, there is a mindset in our society today that teaching is an easy job anyone can do. It is unbelievable, but so many people think of teaching as little more than standing in front of a bunch of kids and talking or watching them color? If that was all there was to it, anyone could do it, but it takes more – a lot more. To be a good teacher a person must be motivated, committed, and driven to do what is best for children. To be a good teacher, an individual must also have the courage to stand alone against a society that seemingly takes pleasure in branding them as incompetent and self-serving. So, what could possibly motivate an individual with an advanced degree or degrees to subject himself/herself on a daily basis to such ridicule and disrespect? Why do smart people continue to work in a profession where they are not appreciated? The answer is they are professionals, they love children, they are working for the kids not the adults, and they are GOOD at what they do!

Until someone proves me wrong, I believe good teachers are the norm in education rather than the exception. Of course, there are some teachers who are better than others, but that is true in any profession. But, what makes one teacher better than another teacher? Maybe, it is that some teachers are not satisfied with just being good; they want to be the best. Maybe, the teachers who really set the standard for the profession are not satisfied that their students pass; they expect them to excel! Whatever the reason, the common denominator for all GOOD teachers is they CARE for their students, their colleagues, and their profession. They have high expectations of their students, of their colleagues, of their profession, and most of all they have high expectations of themselves. They refuse to settle for anything less. If every teacher had these traits, education naysayers would have little fuel to feed their negativism against teachers and the profession. Regrettably, that is not the case, so good teachers continue to be pulled down by a handful of misfits. That is a shame since Mississippi has so many good teachers trying to do what is right for kids.

What does a good teacher look like? Without fail I always found GOOD teachers have common characteristics that make them special – that make them not just teachers but good even great teachers. I have observed that good teachers are personally motivated to be the best teacher they can possibly be. They understand that it is their responsibility to teach and ensure children learn in their classrooms; they are driven personally and professionally by the success of their students.

What Makes a Good Teacher?

  1. Good teachers have high expectations for their students;
  2. Good teachers rarely miss a day from school;
  3. Good teachers understand education is all about LEARNING; teaching is simply a means to kick start the process;
  4. Good teachers truly believe all children can learn; they are committed to making learning happen in their classrooms;
  5. Good teachers do not teach sitting behind their desk. They understand that learning is an ACTIVE activity not a passive activity. Good teachers are up moving around and working with kids; they are engaged in learning with the kids;
  6. Good teachers never give up on their students;
  7. Good teachers are committed to being learners themselves. Good teachers are READERS – both professionally and personally;
  8. Good teachers understand that all children do not learn in the same way or in the same time;
  9. Good teachers do not work in isolation. Professional collaboration is essential to the quality of teaching and learning in the classroom;
  10. Good teachers understand that instruction is not “gut” driven, but rather “data” and “research” driven;
  11. Good teachers don’t check or send email or grade papers on student time. Student time is anytime there are students in the classroom;
  12. Good teachers respect children for who they are – not for who they want them to be;
  13. Good teachers understand that misbehavior in the classroom is a behavior/choice issue and not a personal issue directed at them;
  14. Good teachers do not waste students’ time with busy work;
  15. Good teachers provide feedback on student work including classwork, homework, and tests;
  16. Good teachers always come to class prepared;
  17. Good teachers make lessons relevant to their students;
  18. Good teachers do not argue with students in their classroom;
  19. Good teachers are not afraid to try new teaching methods or to take risks;
  20. Good teachers teach day to day routines beginning day one;
  21. Good teachers understand the culture behind the status quo, but they are never satisfied with it;
  22. Good teachers do not expend energy on the negative; good teachers spend very little time with negative people;
  23. Good teachers understand when they sign their contracts . . .
    1. they are signing on for inadequate pay for the job they are expected to do;
    2. they are signing on for overcrowded classrooms;
    3. they are signing on for hours of thankless time away from their families;
    4. they are signing on to be evaluated by an evaluation process with little relevance to what actually happens in the classroom;
    5. they are signing on to be evaluated by principals and/or assistant principals who often do not have a clue as to what they should be looking for in the classroom and who look at evaluations as something to be checked off their “to do” list rather than a tool to actually help the teacher;
    6. they are signing on to be led by a superintendent whose politics and political competency are often more important than what he/she knows about instruction and learning;
    7. they are signing on to ensure children learn to the best of their ability, and to that end “1 – 6” above do not really matter.

Good teachers believe the journey as a teacher is worth taking. They believe their journey can make a difference in the lives of the children they teach, and they pray it makes a difference in them as well. Good teachers understand that for learning to take place in the classroom, the teacher must be mentally and physically involved. Finally, good teachers understand the way to shut the naysayers up is to prove them wrong daily.   To do that, they understand they must be good teachers everyday not just some days. They understand . . .

  • You can’t be a good teacher if you don’t love kids;
  • You cant be a good teacher sitting on your butt;
  • You can’t be a good teacher worrying about your paycheck;
  • You can’t be a good teacher if you don’t love your profession;
  • You can’t be a good teacher if you aren’t prepared;
  • You can’t be a good teacher if you are not willing to do whatever it takes to ensure your students learn; and
  • You can’t be a good teacher if you think teaching is about you.

To be a good teacher, teachers must believe in their kids and themselves. After all, that is all that really matters in the classroom.

JL

©Jack Linton, March 17, 2015