I had been thinking about a jump to high school for a few years. Not seriously, just toying with the idea. My husband teaches high school. When he talked about lack of motivation and under achieving students who were perfectly capable of achieving, I was challenged. Could I inspire them to do better? I am Suzy Cheerleader. I smile a lot, I laugh a lot, and I talk. A lot. I despise negativity and drama, but having fallen into both somewhat in my last few years in elementary teaching - I knew I needed that new challenge. I went on an interview (my first in 17 years!) to a high school that was Title I, 25 miles from my house (my current school was less than 1 mile away), and that was 100% different both in socioeconomic and cultural make-up from where I was currently. I did not know one single soul there. Not one! Having been at the same school for the past 13 years, I knew every parent, every student, and every adult. Now here I was at a place that I had to Google to find, get on the interstate to get to, and had no idea where even to park. It was supposed to be a practice interview. I had no intention of actually working there. Until I did. I took the job offer on the spot. I emailed my husband when I got to school that morning (the interview was at 6:00 am, and we didn't start in elementary until 8:00), went to tell my principal to expect a phone call from my new principal, and floated on Cloud 9 all day long. That my friends, is a feeling we ALL need to revisit every once in a while.
I am going to share my Top Ten reflections on this year. These are all student relationship related. After all, these kids are struggling to become adults. Same mentality as elementary students oft times, but bigger bodies and bigger concerns.
- Laugh or Cry - You have heard me say this before. There are times when you want to cry. ALL teachers have those moments, and we are all only human. I don't mean cry because you are sad, although that is sometimes the case. I mean cry out of frustration/anger/overwhelmed/tired/stretched too thin crying. Next time you are there, laugh. It will all get done, the bell will ring and they will all leave, there are beaches on the horizon, and laughing looks prettier. All wins. Tomorrow is a new day. End today's with a laugh.
- Have a Plan - Do not waste their time. You can fool the younger students (sometimes), but teenagers know. They will call you out on it. It happened to me twice this year (I blogged about it!), and they were right. We all know students are much more productive and engaged when there is a solid, yet flexible, plan. I can't model high expectations and work ethic for them if I don't hold myself to the same standard. As it should be!
- Be Relevant - Well, to a point. Do NOT friend them on Facebook, follow them on Instagram, Twitter, Kick, or Vine, meet them at Starbucks to catch up on their weekend partying, or text them. Keep those worlds separate. None of my above mentioned accounts have anything questionable at all on them, but the students' will. I don't even use my name on my accounts. I use my first name. Relevance comes from me knowing about these things, being able to discuss them with the kids (safety, proper usage, cyberbullying, etc.), and knowing the latest YouTube videos that are a hit with it still being appropriate and separate. Those lines in high school can blur quickly. (My relevance also comes from my shoe game.... Converse and TOMS. Who knew this could matter so much?)
- Smile - Your bad morning/day/life is not their problem. Little ones know when you are "in a bad mood" but teenagers will again call you out. I have always been a stickler about this, and I promise I really do try to smile all the time. (Disclaimer: Unless they need a reality check and I have to get on them; I am referring to the moment they come in and daily interactions.) This became very clear to me about a month ago. I was having a situation at home that was preoccupying me in a huge way. I was trying to be my perky self at school, but was hearing things like: What's wrong Miss? Why are you so quiet? Something's wrong with her - she is never like this. Yep. Called out. And you know what? My EBD kids have more trouble with teachers who act one way one day and another the next than any other people in the school. All kids do. Which leads to my next point....
- Be consistent - If you are the biggest witch in the kingdom, then Honey - embrace that witch and be it every single day! At least they will know what to expect and who they are dealing with. As an adult, I hate people that I have to gauge their mood before I interact with them. Who has time for that? Now, imagine being in the person's class! Moods change - I get that, and we are human -I get that, too. But be you. (Disclaimer: Unless you suck, then become someone awesome instead.) By being consistent, we let them learn how to deal with all kinds of people. That's a life skill, people.
- Find Your Kind of Crazy - Find people who will laugh with you, interact with the students the way you do, and support you in a positive way. Leave those nasty ones behind! They just bring you down. If it weren't for my department chair this year, I would not have had the kind of adult support I needed to be successful. She laughs. A lot. I love her for that. But she can also be real. See next point...
- Be Real - Remember in elementary school when you would say things like: I like the way Johnny is standing quietly in line! And the whole class, eager to be showered with such glowing praise, would follow his example of line perfection..... Well friends, in high school - they do not play that way. Remember, they are almost adults. Treat them almost as such. When they are "actin' a fool" let them know. Give them options. Allow them a way out. Example: One of my favorite kids, who loves me and I love him right back, struggles a great deal with making appropriate decisions about his clothing. Pants always around hid mid thigh (I will never get that one), "legalize marijuana" bracelet, marijuana leaves on his socks.... you get the idea, he's a dress code nightmare.... He had on a shirt with the beloved Tupac pictured, smoking an item of indeterminate origin, and flipping the middle finger to the observer with both hands. I said to my student: Now why in Heaven's name is Tupac flipping me off in my classroom when I am having such a lovely day? Now the real part is not in what I said, I would never say "in Heaven's name" or "lovely day", that was the real humorous part. But I made my point without turning inside out and arguing with a student who would naturally shut that out. We had a great talk about why that was offensive and why he wore it. Just planting a seed for thought, people. I imagine I'll see that shirt next year, and he'll get dress code all over again. But - he wrote me the sweetest end of year letter. He listens to me, and I know it. Maybe, just maybe that seed will take. Now - I will also be real in the calling out of crazy! Just be real.
- Listen, Don't Try to Solve - If you successfully build relationships with teenagers, they will tell you everything. Some things you don't even want to know. They are dealing with issues that elementary kids don't. Pregnancy, suicide, drugs, gangs, alcohol, physical relationships - all related to finding their way in an adult world. Listen to them. Don't swoop in and tell them what they should do in every instance. (THIS IS NOT EASY!!!!) Let them talk it out, be a reflective listener, and guide them into thinking over their options and making a healthy decision themselves. Again - life skill, people! (Disclaimer: Obviously, report suicide attempts or talk and other life threatening or dangerous situation immediately. Know when, how, and where to get help in those types of situations.)
- Build Trust - My kids know that I do not tell their business to anyone. I never talk about students, teachers, or any confidential situation in front of students. They ask me why someone is suspended, why someone is in jail, who did what, and my answer is always the same: That's not my story to tell. At first, it drove them crazy. They would beg and say they wouldn't tell anyone. But eventually, they all learned that not only were other people's situations safe with me, but so were theirs. They have come and told me numerous times about teachers trash talking other teachers and/or students in front of their whole class! What? Not cool, Robert Frost! - as Kid President would say. Model what it is to be a responsible, non mouth-running adult. Wouldn't the world be a better place?
- Mutual Respect - This is my big one. I have said before, I don't expect to get respect from students just because I wear a name tag. I'm the adult. I get that. Should I be respected by teenagers? Of course. Should I respect them? Absolutely. They walk into my classroom respected. I have to earn it from them. That's just real life. In the beginning, I would give my cabinet keys to different kids to get stuff out for me or get food for them. They thought that was amazing that I trusted them with that. I have always tried to show them that until you give me a reason not to trust or respect you, you will have that trust and respect. So they choose whether they keep it or not. I have only been stolen from once this year. And bless her heart, she never earned my trust and I never earned hers. The kids were shocked that she even did it. It was candy. They said: WOW! You would have given her the candy if she had asked! and Who steals from YOU? I had earned their respect and they knew I respected them. It was mutual. Another time, two boys were posturing to fight in my classroom. They took it out in the hall because they didn't want to fight in my room. It would have been disrespectful, they said. Wow. Life skill, people. Life. Skill.
Okay - way too long, but just my rambling thoughts on what I consider to have been an amazing year. I cannot wait for next year, albeit after a relaxing summer off, and look forward to new adventures and new challenges. I leave you with my finished precept board. I blogged about it on 10/19/13 if you want to check it out.
Happy summer, Friends! I am reading Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller. Let me know what you think of it if you read it also!
PS: And remember......