Thursday, July 31, 2008

Grabbing Kids by their Brains

I just finished reading LouAnne Johnson's Teaching Outside the Box: How to Grab Your Students by Their Brains, and I was very impressed. The teaching books that I've read so far -- Harry Wong's The First Days of School, which I received from BCPSS along when he spoke to new teachers last year at the New Teacher Institute, and Rafe Esquith's Teach Like Your Hair's On Fire, have struck me as largely self-promoting and belittling of other teaching methods.

Teaching Outside the Box includes very realistic, simple, and relevant ideas for classroom management, organization, and even dress. The movie Dangerous Minds is based on one of Johnson's previous books, so she has taught in urban high schools, and she discusses what to do when students say the things that they really say in classrooms. Her chapter on discipline was especially important to me because I really want to do a better job this year than last year in that regard. By the end of the year I had pretty good control of my classroom, but I think that was mostly due to the kids just plain liking me (not that that's a bad thing!) I still didn't really have a plan for what to do when serious things happened -- like when a student called me a bitch toward the end of the year -- which in my mind was a big deal, although some of my colleagues (not necessarily at my school) seem to be cursed at every day. Also, did you know that I never used the word "cursing" until I came to Baltimore? I always said "swearing" or "swear words" but my kids told me that that's when you use the lord name's in vain or some such -- like, swear to god. But I'm from good old, liberal, lapsed Catholic, Massachusetts, so what do I know?

Reading Johnson's book, I felt that I could really identify with her. She writes that in her first year of teaching " I joked around a lot because I wanted the kids to like me, to think of me as an older friend." I knew going in to teaching that that attitude was not a good one to have, but it's hard to change your attitude, even when you know it stinks. Luckily, a year of teaching and getting to know these kids has taught me that I'm not doing any one favors when I try to be a friend. I can help students when I'm the teacher, a mentor, a person who cares about them. After a year of teaching, I've matured a lot and realize that it's not really about me and if the students like me and think I'm cool (because let's face it, I'm not -- although I do have a song about myself to the tune of Fergilicious). Instead, it's about caring about the kids, showing them that I care, and teaching them a whole lot of math and problem solving skills.

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