Flossing and the Frustration of Undone Homework

Homework. Hmmm…yeah. The topic is as controversial today as it was when I began my teaching career 36 years ago. Although I am now retired, this exasperating subject surfaced the other day when I was veritably blasted by my periodontist for failure to floss. Let’s just say I really got schooled. In a nutshell, he said he was a highly trained professional, and furthermore a very busy man, and if I couldn’t be bothered to do my share of the work at home, then I should not come back. Wow. I mean double wow.

So let’s be honest. Hasn’t every teacher run those same thoughts through their head when confronted by a recalcitrant student who refuses to do their homework? Educators everywhere have wrestled with this problem for decades. Every teacher knows that there are some students who will do all their homework, some students who will do some of it, and some students who will do none of it. And in my experience, unless you’re teaching an honors class, the amount of homework that doesn’t get done is greater than the amount that does.

So what strategies can the teacher use to increase the amount of homework that gets turned in? We’ve all experimented. Here are a few I tried. First, I increased the weight of the homework category so a student could not pass my class unless they completed at least a large percentage of it. The result? The students still didn’t do their homework, and tons of kids were failing. Then I tried reducing the number of assignments from four nights a week to two nights a week. That helped with their grades, but it did not increase the number of assignments that got turned in. Next, I tried giving assignments that couldn’t be quantified, such as, “Your homework tonight is to study for your test tomorrow.” And then I just hoped they would do this, although I was pretty sure they wouldn’t. Finally, I gave them classwork assignments and told them if they didn’t finish in class, they should finish for homework. And then I gave them enough time to finish in class.

I can’t say I felt very professionally satisfied with any of these strategies. One thing I can say with certainty, though, is that if I had given voice to my frustration in the same way that my periodontist did, if I had pounded them into the ground for their errors, I could add another failed strategy to my list. Even if my students showed up empty-handed, I was always glad to see them come back the next day. Because every day a student shows up to class is a new opportunity to guide them, to help them be more successful, and to lovingly plant that suggestion one more time that, yes, homework is an important part of continued progress. And seizing these opportunities is never a waste of time or energy, even for a busy, well-trained professional.

I understand full well my periodontist’s exasperation. I empathize. I am truly sorry that my failure to floss provoked such an angry outburst from him, and I forgive him for losing his temper. After all, I’m not a kid. I know the man is right. Since that day I have attempted, in New Year’s resolution fashion, to mend the error of my ways. But I also found a new periodontist.

Organizing the Best of All Possible First Days

As a new school year approaches, teachers all over the country are considering ways to create the best of all possible first days. Here are a few thoughts.

Think about what you want to accomplish with your kids, right from the start. Certainly classroom management is important, but prevailing educational philosophy suggests classroom management is easiest when students are actively engaged in stimulating and meaningful activity. So avoid reading aloud a list of your classroom rules and expectations or your course syllabus. And for goodness sake, don’t plan a lecture. It’s a snore for the kids, and your throat will be sore by the end of the day.

To create a memorable first day, plan an activity that introduces your classroom values. Presumably these values would include respect for peers and working well together. Consider ice-breakers that encourage human interaction. Reward them for learning the names of their classmates. As for yourself, strive to learn the names of your students as quickly as possible so that you can greet them by name on their second day. Also, create activities that give kids opportunities to help you and their classmates get to know what is unique about them. Example activities would include a round of Two Truths and a Lie, a Shoe Pile Mingle, or Never Have I Ever.

Another oft-expressed classroom value emphasizes the joy of learning. Many teachers want their class to be an exciting adventure as they and their kids explore learning together. Crafting an activity that is interactive introduces this classroom value right from the beginning. So plan something interactive, such as a trivia game, collaborative drawing, or a scavenger hunt.

Whatever you plan for that first day, just be sure it is stimulating and engaging. The time will be well spent if the effort kicks off the school year with a sense of excitement for your class or subject. And that list of classroom rules an expectations and the course syllabus? Consider emailing these to parents before the school year begins, and have them reply that they have received it, perhaps with a simple phrase such as “I Agree.” Or use the communication as an opportunity to invite parents to dialogue with you about their child’s individual needs or concerns.

Above all, have a great year!

Ten-year-old Dalton Sherman asks the question, “Do you believe in your students?”

As educators all over the country ready for another school year, we are undoubtedly contemplating our role as a teacher, advocate, and role model for our kids. Here is a keynote speech from a young man just ten years old who asks the question, “Do you believe in your students?” You’ve got to see this!

How professional responsibilities have changed since the 1800’s!

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As teachers ready themselves for the start of another school year, it seems appropriate to spend some time reflecting on professional responsibilities. Usually I read the list of responsibilities for teachers published by the National Popular Education Board in 1872. It’s amusing to see how much things have changed in the last one hundred and forty years. Here’s the list:

  • Teachers each day will fill lamps, clean chimneys.
  • Each teacher will bring a bucket of water and a scuttle of coal for the day’s session.
  • Make your pens carefully. You may whittle nibs to the individual taste of the pupils.
  • Men teachers may take one evening each week for courting purposes, or two evenings a week if they go to church regularly.
  • After ten hours in school, the teachers may spend the remaining time reading the Bible or other good books.
  • Women teachers who marry or engage in unseemly conduct will be dismissed.
  • Every teacher should lay aside from each pay a goodly sum of his earnings for his benefit during his declining years so that he will not become a burden on society.
  • Any teacher who smokes, uses liquor in any form, frequents pool or public halls, or gets shaved in a barber shop will give good reason to suspect his worth, intention, integrity and honesty.
  • The teacher who performs his labor faithfully and without fault for five years will be given an increase of twenty-five cents per week in his pay, providing the Board of Education approves.

Awesome.