Tag Archives: school

Teaching Kids to Do What It Takes

“Do what it takes,” I say. “Don’t let things happen to you… instead, make you happen to other things.”

This is all part of my push to teach high schoolers how to become professionals. One of the key rites of passage in my life was when I simply decided to stop making excuses.

It’s a small wonder that students become so keen to rationalize failure; when they’re young, they learn very quickly that they don’t have power over their own lives. The frustration that comes from not being allowed to make one’s own choices either festers into anger or stagnates into resignation. Then this lack of control becomes a convenient excuse for failure. This is not permanent, however; starting with high school, their choices suddenly matter – only someone seems to have forgotten to tell them about it.

“Do what it takes.” The premise sounds simple, but execution can seem agonizingly demanding to a student unused to accepting agency over his or her own performance. “My printer didn’t work!” a student would say to me, as if I had somehow failed to provide resources when giving an assignment.

“Oh. I guess you should just give up.” I reply. A sheepish grin is quick to break out over the student’s face then as they inevitably hear what they sound like. That’s when I hit them with all of the things they could have done. This list is very similar to below:

Did you:

  • Print it at school?
  • Text a classmate? (After all, they have to turn the assignment in too…)
  • Bike to the library?
  • Tell your parents?
  • Email ME, the one person who can grant pardons and stays of executions?
  • Take a selfie with the finished assignment in case they needed to verify that it was done on time?
  • Email it to a classmate to print?
  • Go to Kinko’s?
  • Make a handwritten version in a last-ditch effort to create a submittable hard copy?

The point is not that I expect students to spend money or anything like that – at least, not specifically. The point is to do what it takes. Nobody cares about your story unless you have results. No boss wants to hear excuses. They do want to hear crazy success stories. The crazier the story, the prouder you can be! Don’t try to impress me with how bad your luck is. Impress me with how far you went to make sure you got done what needed to be done. Try an idea instead of waiting for me to feed it to you when you tell me your life is impossible.

As more technology makes things more convenient, it’s amazing how life seems to be so much more difficult. “I couldn’t do it.” has a subtext of “it wasn’t convenient enough.” Really? Do you own a phone? Then you have access to pretty much the entirety of humankind’s collective knowledge. There was a time when writing a paper meant you had to visit the library and pore over volumes of text while being shushed by a lady who looked like a human raisin. Now you can do it in some cases without even looking at your phone.

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More than a mantra to repeat through the year, this simple concept of doing what it takes has been the theme bolstering my new curriculum and my attitude about putting in work hours. It wasn’t long before this concept led to regular attendance of Saturday School.

I should explain. The school at which I work has a program called START Saturday School. I’m sure there’s something clever that START stands for, but I have no idea at this moment what it is. What I do know is that it’s basically 4 hours out of the day on Saturday when students can receive help, feedback, and attention that they need. As if that’s not enough, the school gets back funds lost from the same students being absent during the week. Teachers are also able to work general tutoring or, with groups of 15 or more, be in their rooms and give additional lessons and/or customized support to suit the needs of their students. Teachers are paid for their time, and I’ve had the pleasure of telling students to come in on Saturday for more support and them of watching the relief appear on their faces.

I couldn’t tell students to do what it takes, and then also tell them that coming in on Saturday was not worth it to me.  So I started attending regularly.

This time has proven repeatedly to be worth it, and I find myself regularly inspired by the opportunity to show students that extra effort is met with a similar effort on my part.  I also find that without the pressure to lesson plan, the four hours become some of the most productive ever (for the students), because they feel like I am there specifically to answer their questions, rather than to screen their inquiries while I push my lesson out.

Teachers, if your school has a Saturday School program like this, I implore you to go, and to push it on your students like it’s a new iPhone.  Saturday School has proven not to be the chore it sounded like in my staff email inbox; instead, it has proven to be a regular reminder of why I became a teacher: to help students and lead by example.

More importantly, the generation needs to learn how to do what it takes.  We live in a society that thinks “bring me solutions, not problems” means to not talk about problems we can’t solve.  No.  It means that we don’t accept no for an answer.  Even a “sort of yes” beats a no any day.  If you aim for the A, you might get a B, which is better than an F.

The point is nobody can begin to meet you halfway if you decide the path is too hard.  We’re pack animals – gregarious beings that compensate for the failures of the individual through numbers and diverse offerings – but in order for that to happen, everyone needs to offer what they have instead of not coming out at all.  Sometimes your part is to just put what you have on the table until someone comes along that needs what you have.

This starts with you doing YOU first so you can get to that point.  For some individuals on this Earth, that starts in MY classroom, doing what it takes.  I’ve made it my mission to ensure that if it starts there, it won’t end there.

Let’s make it happen.

Let’s do what it takes.

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The Bathroom Issue

This debate is one that often transcends any single plane of argument.  One minute it’s about logistics, the next it’s about ethics.  The situation starts as a simple hypothetical: A student asks to use the restroom in the middle of your class, at a time when you’ve just started getting your class into gear.  What do you do?

Online, I’ve noticed that there are several lines drawn here.  Parents almost unanimously cry foul at a teacher’s refusal, citing human rights for why their angels should be allowed to use the restroom whenever they feel the need, and that furthermore, they shouldn’t feel pressured to put themselves out in any way upon feeling said urge – the teacher needs to just let them go and suck it up, they say.

Students feel the same way – “We’re young adults, you can’t tell us what to do.  Just go, no matter what the teacher says.”

Teachers are divided: Half say “Don’t let them go.”  The other half says “Go, you don’t want to get sued, especially if admin won’t back you up.”  Sad truth.

I will first tell you my bathroom policy, followed by my responses to these arguments.

I tell my students that my class is like a car ride, and that they need to go before they get in the car.  If they ask to use the restroom, I use Classcraft to take 10HP from them with a preset called “Go on your own time,” or I say “No.” until they ask again.  I do tell them that they are at my mercy, as in my class I am the Morning and Evening Star.

Is this a power trip?  No.  I will explain.

First of all, this argument needs to be put into context so that I don’t have a swarm of Common Sense Media parents clamoring for my execution.  I teach high school.  Young adults, they’re called.  Not elementary students.  My policy is based heavily on this factor.  The three skills that I focus on in my class are the same that I would want my own kids to develop as young adults, and they’re the same traits that pushed me into adulthood and maturity.  Students find that mastering these three things is the only thing they have to do to be sure they will do well in my class – the rest happens by itself, usually.

Phan’s Trinity of Maturity
  1. Managing Time
  2. Managing Priorities
  3. Managing Communication

At my school, students are given a passing period to use the restroom, etc. and of course breaks and lunch.  If students don’t use the restroom during this time, then they are not managing their time, and they are certainly not prioritizing their own well-being.

What about a medical condition or an emergency?

The contingency I do allow is reliant on the 3rd skill.  If you have a medical condition or an emergency, you need to adequately and effectively communicate it.  That’s just survival.

My child shouldn’t have to humiliate themselves in front of the class to use the restroom.

Then certainly it’s their job – or at the very least the PARENT’S job if the student is determined to be helpless – to tell the teacher ahead of time and work out some kind of signal system if they have a condition… I mean, it’s not like effectively conveying need in an emergency situation in a quick and efficient manner is a life skill or anything.

Communication is the major skill here, because I’m not a robot!  If you can convey the gravity of the situation, you probably have nothing to worry about.  It’s about knowing why the system is in place.  The system says nobody can go, but the system is not in place to stop people with full bladders.  It’s to facilitate learning.

If you need to pee and you’re not just trying to escape class because you’re bored, then you’ll have no worries, because you’ll have no problem finishing the sentence you’re on before going.  You won’t have any qualms about handing over your phone while you’re gone either, right?  Since you’ll be right back and it’s not like you were going to call your friends or tweet for 45 minutes and come back when the bell rings?

It’s messed up to take points away for having to use the bathroom in class!

If you really need to go, you can’t control it, right? It’s like having bad weather that cancels your practice.  If you take the hit, then work extra hard to make up for the hit!  That’s being responsible.  If you accidentally break something, you still own up.  If you have to go to the bathroom, it’s not the teacher’s fault, it’s not your classmates’ fault, so obviously it comes down to you to deal with the issue – and sometimes that means taking the hit.  You know what?  Life will go on.  I don’t know what the aversion is to losing points for things that aren’t anyone else’s problem.  That’s life.  If I’m paid by the hour for a job and an asteroid strikes my car and keeps me from going to work, I’m not going to insist I get paid anyway.  No, I take the hit.  If your dog eats your homework, you take the hit and then in the future you take better care of your homework – and your dog.

And as for the student insistence that they have the freedom to just “go, no matter what the teacher says?”  That’s true, you have that freedom.  A teacher won’t bodily stop you.  I can technically walk out of the classroom whenever I want, too.

You see, freedom comes only to those who accept the consequences.  If a teacher forbids you to go, and you need to go, then by all means go.  Then take the referral the teacher writes you, serve the detention, whine about it to your mom, and sleep soundly knowing you were in the right.  Then use your knowledge of your teacher’s jerk attitude and the system to avoid having to go in their class anymore.

As for getting sued… well, honestly, no teacher can do anything if they fear being sued.  My advice for that is usually just to be smart, be transparent, and always do your very best to do what’s right in your heart, and the world will have a hard time condemning you.

Yeah, sometimes I’m more naive than the students.  I don’t really see how anyone who isn’t an idealist in some fashion or another can become a teacher, though.

Updates – May 19th, 2017

So I’ve had a lot going on lately, with a lot of activity resulting in very little blog output, so I thought that I’d provide some information for the nosiest people among us.

Phan Summer Tour 2017

I’m kidding around.  I am doing no such thing.  That being said, I will be doing a little bit of speaking at some Google Summits and things about Classcraft and Hip Hop Ed.  I may vlog it.  I may even vlog it and edit it, who knows?  A lot of this year has been new experiences in networking, classroom implementation, and in professional projects.  Most of this activity will be as part of the wonderful Classcraft Ambassador program, which has plunged me headfirst into gamification and engagement strategies, not to mention reignited some of my passion for teaching.  This is also rather alarming because I didn’t really need reigniting, so the enthusiasm level right now is real.  Yes, that’s right, I’m using real the way some people use unreal or even intense.  Or hardcore.  You just have to say it right.  Get a little of that Logan growl in there when you say real.

Nice, good job.

Some passion projects have included:

Classcraft

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Using Classcraft has transformed my classroom!  A lot of time and energy has also gone into making the MOST out of the benefits it has provided.  This has trickled into other parts of the profession, of course, but it has also put my brain into more of a “teaching” gear.  As a result, the blog also seems to have gained a focus on education, rather than scattered topics.  Never fear, I shall continue to write unrestrained, as the initial idea was to write about all aspects of being a teacher – including the parts that people don’t want to talk about.  Like what being a teacher does to your work-life balance.  Or your finances.  Or your relationship.  Or your gaming hobby.  Or your consumption of media.  Or your rule about using fragments.

Podcast: Phan’s Homework

phanhw
Click to listen/subscribe on Google Play

I actually started this with my wife.  She’s helping me organize the huge gaggle of content that is my brain.  I have a passion for speaking that I can’t quite capture in the written word.  Also, I think I’m funny, and I need you to check my ego.  After all, who needs self-esteem?

The appeal of a Podcast to me is that when I talk about things, the content tends to arrive organically in a way that mirrors how I – and hopefully by extension, some other humans – actually think.  This makes the consumption of the content easy to follow and intimate.  I don’t think I’m some masterful guru with wisdom to share, but I do think that I’m learning every day, and I do think that the way I tend to reflect and connect events in my life is possibly useful to other people.  Maybe it’s because I’m a teacher, or maybe it’s why I’m a teacher: they way I talk tends to provoke thought, and the process itself along with the result is more often than not an amusing one.  Hence: Phan’s Homework – a teacher’s Podcast about school, home, and the limbo between.  Please, if you join my audience, do write me with feedback.  I want to commiserate, provide catharsis, and spark inspiration.  I want more teachers listening to podcasts and less teachers burning out and thinking nobody understands the struggle.

The struggle is real. (Don’t forget the growl.  Good.)

I am unsure about some the logistics of putting the podcast out; I have released it on Google Play Music, and I’m in the process of iTunes… I suppose I can have the feed run in a sidebar on this site, or simply link to it above.  I could have used a feed from a category on this site, but I gave it its own site in case people still want to consume this content without having to see my podcast.

Some other things you may hear about in the days to come include but are not limited to my YouTube channel, reading Oathbringer when it’s finally released sometime this year, playing Injustice 2 over the summer, trying to get my exercising back on point, and other things that come up when you’re an English Teacher and a gamer.