It's that time of year again. Time to watch as the future of America march across a stage, shake a few hands, move their tassel to the other side, and emerge as graduates. Part of the graduation tradition is listening to a variety of speeches. Superintendents, principals, and guest speakers will take center stage as they give words of wisdom to the graduating class. However, many students will be most interested in the speeches delivered by their fellow students.
Writing and delivering speeches can be quite daunting. Many valedictorians and student leaders will want to do something different in their graduation speeches. Some will integrate music or video. Some will sing. Others will use prompts. Still others will attempt to get a few laughs. However, all of these tricks will not produce a great speech unless the speaker also chooses to focus their words and ideas around a central theme.
A theme is simply an overriding idea that is referred to throughout the speech. Typical themes are usually deal with setting and achieving goals, although there are many others that also work quite effectively. I've come up with 10 themes that students can use as they create interesting speeches that will keep the audience's attention.
Realize, however, that having a truly memorable speech is much more than selecting a theme and peppering inspirational quotes throughout. A great speech should have a narrative arc instead of simply meandering from one thought to the next. The writer should think of a central argument and make the case for that argument. For example, 'We can find inspiration in the world around us' could start with the declaration that we don't need to wait for huge events to find inspiration, but instead can find inspiration for success and joy all around us. Then the speaker could expound on a number of examples:
- Inspirational memories from senior year
- Examples of local human interest stories
- Inspirational events that happen each and everyday in nature
Then in the end, the speaker would come back to the central idea. Throughout, the speaker must truly believe what they are saying and speak from the heart.
High school graduation ceremonies are special rites of passage. They provide closure to childhood. They celebrate the achievements attained over many years of education. They give classmates one last time to be together before they scatter towards their future. They inspire students to go forth and achieve. In this environment, a speaker's words can have a huge impact on their listeners. When they can walk away from the even having touched even one of their listeners, they they will have truly achieved success.
Here's a question for you: Would you notice if your principal took a month off of work? Would it make any difference to you, the students, or the school in general? If you did notice, would it be in a positive or negative way?
Principals, like teachers, come in many types. Some are truly effective administrators while others can't seem to be bothered. Some are great at finances and 'administrative' duties while others are better at people skills. The truth is that a good administrator can make a world of difference at a school. On the flip side, a terrible administrator can ruin a school faster than you might think. Most administrators are somewhere in the middle, not causing much harm but also not leading the charge for effective educational changes.
I was chatting the other day with some fellow teachers about the qualities that we all look for in a good principal. Surprisingly, many of these qualities are the same as those in effective teachers. Basically, we all want a leader who:
- is fair, consistent, and discrete,
- supports their teachers,
- solves problems,
- listens effectively,
- values and empowers their employees,
- is visible and dedicated,
- has a clear vision.
Over the years I have worked with a variety of principals and administrators, both good and bad. The best of them were always striving to improve and shared many of the above characteristics. The worst principal in my teaching career was an individual who was petty, dismissive, and rarely available to teachers or parents.
In the end, the best principals are those who motivate others to be better: better students, better teachers, better guidance counselors, better staff.
Today I watched a video posted on YouTube that shows a high school student speaking his mind about the quality of education he's receiving in class. You can view the video here: http://youtu.be/98_cmS-M9dQ. While it is important to note that there is no way to tell exactly what was happening in the class, obviously this child is frustrated with what is going on. The student mentions that everyday the class is given packets of information to learn - basically handouts and worksheets to complete. If that is the case, it is a sad and shocking commentary about what I hope is a minority of teachers who do not truly teach. That is no way to teach children. As he put it, "If you want a kid to change you have to touch is freakin' heart. You can't expect a kid to change if all you do is just tell 'em."
According to CBS DFW, the Duncanville School District released this note after the video was put up on YouTube:
"The district is aware of the video and we are currently addressing the situation. As a district with a motto of Engaging Hearts and Minds we focus on building positive relationships with students and designing engaging work that is meaningful. We want our students and teachers to be engaged, but the method by which the student expressed his concern could have been handled in a more appropriate way. We are and will continue to be open to listening to students."
Obviously, this student picked an inappropriate way to express his opinion. He stood up in the middle of class and made a scene. But that point should not cloud the frustration that is obvious. This student wants a good education from an effective teacher. He doesn't want to sit at a desk and complete worksheets. Who does? I feel sad for him and for the others students around the nation who will leave high school remembering little but sub-par teaching that lacks inspiration and variety.
What can we do about this? We need to ensure that student teachers are well prepared. We need to help teachers who suffer from burnout. We need to be excellent mentors. We need to ensure that teachers continue to be given professional development opportunities. We also need to respect the teacher evaluation process so that the rotten few can be culled from the profession. Sadly, bad impressions hurts the educational system in the eyes of students, parents, and society at large.
Recently I was eating out with one of my younger relatives who is 23, let's call her Sally. I was shocked that when the time came to determine the tip, Sally pulled out a 'tip cheat sheet'. When I asked her why, she said it was because she always had a hard time figuring out percentages in her head. I asked her how much she planned to pay. She said 20%. I asked her if she could figure out 10% of the total, which she could easily do. Then I asked her if she could double that amount, which she easily did. Then I pointed out that 20% is just double 10%, to which she said, "I never thought about it that way!" Now, this young woman is normally quite bright. She's a rising star in her profession and praised for her writing skills. However, this basic consumer math alluded her.
Interested, I began asking about her high school math career. She said that she had successfully passed Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II, and Statistics. She had never been a stellar student, but never made below a B- in a math class. I asked her about when she last remembered learning about consumer math topics: percentages, interest rates, budgeting, figuring out taxes. She said that some of that was covered briefly in Economics in her senior year, but most was covered in middle school. She admitted to me that she wasn't very good at budgeting her money and that she never did her own taxes. She just assumed that she had a 'math block' and left it at that. I thought about and decided that there are at least nine essential consumer math topics that every students should learn before they leave high school.
My question, then, is did the system fail Sally? She passed math and graduated. She passed the statewide exit exam and did well enough on the SAT to make it into a four year college from which she graduated with a BA. However, on some basic math concepts that are encountered on a daily basis, Sally lacked confidence and experienced math anxiety.
Now, obviously, Sally is just one person. I have not made an educated study of the situation I'm describing here. However, I have done some additional anecdotal polling of friends and family and have come to one conclusion: many people do not connect the math they do in classes like Algebra and Geometry with the math that is required of them everyday. I'm wondering if part of the disconnect is due to a lack of understanding the real world connections of math concepts taught in class. Alternatively, it could be that someone who feels they are just rubbish at math does not have the confidence to make these connections beyond the confines of the classroom. Whatever the cause, consumer math skills are necessary in everyday life, and ensuring that students graduate with some basic understanding of them is essential.
What makes a movie about a teacher who inspires their students to achieve so good? I believe that it refers back to the Sage archetype defined by psychologist Carl Jung. Jung believed that there were 12 archetypes that live within every human being's subconscious. One of these is the sage: the archetype that embodies the phrase "the truth will set you free." One of the archetypal stories that resonates so deeply with individuals across the spectrum is the idea of the 'hero' and their 'mentor'. The mentor helps the hero understand themselves until ultimately the hero is able to rise above and succeed on their own. This was one of George Lucas' inspirations for writing the Star Wars series.
In terms of teacher movies, the idea of a teacher who can look past the surface of each student and nurture the soul within is one that most if not all of us wish we could have had in our own school days. These teachers guide their students to their own awakenings. The best teacher movies and shows are more about this relationship than about the teacher's personal life. Sure Breaking Bad might be a fascinating show about a teacher, but is it inspiring? Of course not. Instead, we look to teachers like Jaime Escalante in Stand and Deliver or Louanne Johnson in Dangerous Minds or even Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid to find teachers that make a difference. In each of these cases, I believe that the teachers:
- Believe from the depths of their souls that their student(s) can learn.
- Express that belief through enforcing high standards on their students.
- Stand by their students when times get tough.
- Allow their students the freedom to achieve on their own merits.
There is much that I believe all teachers can learn from this list. We can try and embody each of these principles every day as we enter the classroom.
With all of this in mind, I have created my go-to list of 10 movies about teachers that I watch when I want a little inspiration. I never tire of watching the triumph of the human spirit. I hope that in a small way, these movies have helped make me a better teacher to my students.
Classroom discipline is one of the main concerns of new teachers, for good reason. If you talk to veteran teachers who have experienced teaching in the 80's, 90's, and 00's, a large number will tell you that student behavior has changed for the worse over the decades. The causes of this change are not simple or easy to explain. Instead, blame must be shared by a large number of individuals throughout our society. In my opinion, the discipline challenges that teachers today must face are caused by a number of colliding factors:
- Cultural Signals, ie. Blame Ferris Bueller
- Over the years, the way that children, parents, students, and teachers have been portrayed has changed. I am not sure the exact movie or television series that started portraying the smart-mouthed kid as being smarter or wiser than the parents or teachers. However, there is a definite demarcation between the way that parents and teachers were portrayed in The Cosby Show vs. The Simpsons or Drake and Josh. Somehow, it has become normal for the kids to be outspoken.
- District and School Policies
- Many districts and individual schools create policies, either written or unwritten, that take the authority away from the teacher. I personally witnessed a new teacher be chastised for sending a referral for something that the administration felt was 'minor'. She was crying because she felt the student was being insolent. However, she soon learned the unwritten rule that referrals at that school were only for 'major' incidents. As a further example, a veteran teacher at the school who never wrote referrals had finally had enough one day and sent a student to the office for belligerent behavior. The administrator who was in charge of the referral sent the student back to class after a few minute talk. The teacher was so upset because it had taken a lot for the student to get to that point and the administrator's lack of action sent a terrible message to the student.
- Parental Support
- While there are many parents who are great at supporting schools, there are also quite a number who do not. One time, I had a parent explain to me that when their child was at school they were no longer the parent's problem. My first year of teaching, I had a student call me a bi*&$. When I called her Mother, the first question she asked me was, "What did you do to her to cause her to say that?" This subject is quite controversial as this article from CNN about parent complaints after Ron Clark wrote about wanting more parental support. I will have to say that in my experience, the more I called and contacted parents, the more they became involved so this is something that the teacher can be proactive about to some extent.
- Student Attitudes
- There is a definite lack of responsibility on the part of many students. Many students do not take responsibility for their own learning. Further, there is a definite lack of manners amongst a significant portion of students. Simple civility has in many ways been lost. Things that I would never have said to my teacher are simply commonplace nowadays, not even the cause of a reprimand in many cases.
None of this is to say that all is lost. We as teachers must continue to push our students towards better manners and continue to contact parents as often as possible to get them involved. There are many things we can do to manage student behavior more effectively on a daily basis. Following is a list of many resources that can make a difference:
- Top 10 Tips for Effective Classroom Management
- How to Handle Discipline Problems
- Dealing With Confrontational Students
Block schedules, also known as modular schedules, adjust the amount of time that students spend in class. Many reformers claim that just by changing the time that students are in a class, they can change the quality of education.The goal of this type of reform is to increase the amount of quality time teachers spend with each teacher. It also provides teachers with the flexibility to include nontraditional methods for delivering instruction including role-play, debates, and simulations. Further, science teachers have the added benefit of being able to complete more complicated experiments within the confines of one particular class period.
As with any reform that is implemented in schools today, block schedules are controversial in many ways. There are negatives associated with their implementation. For example, a student missing one day under a modified schedule is equivalent to missing two in a traditional schedule. A further issue with block schedules deals with teacher planning. Many teachers find that keeping students engaged for an extended period of time is quite difficult. Even when a teacher includes a number of different activities within the class day, they are often left with 5-10 minutes of extra time at the end of the period. That wasted instructional time can have a huge impact on student learning. However, there are a number of block scheduling teaching strategies that can help educators faced with this situation.
Personally, I believe education's ills go far deeper than simply adjusting time. There are a number of conflicting aims of education that make the situation even more difficult. Take a look at the pros and cons of block scheduling to learn more about the positives and negatives of this type of reform.
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Dealing with unexpected interruptions is normal for teachers each and every day. This list provides an overview of many of the unexpected disruptions that occur in teachers classes each day of the year.
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