Why Tough Teachers Get Good Results - WSJ Saturday essay

Discussion in 'General Education' started by mcqxu, Sep 29, 2013.

  1. mcqxu

    mcqxu Comrade

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  3. HorseLover

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    This is very interesting, and I see lots of good points! I do think there are times when we coddle students too much, and perhaps even provide too much help (don't get me wrong, I'm not saying we should never give help just that there may be times when it is best for the student to make mistakes and figure it out on his/her own). I wonder how we could incorporate these ideas into "modern American teaching"?

    P.S. Here is a somewhat related article I saw recently
    Losing is Good for You
     
  4. giraffe326

    giraffe326 Virtuoso

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    I read it and I have mixed feelings. However, if I focus on just the bold subtitles, I have to agree with most of them.

    I feel, and have felt for a long, long time, that a lack of discipline and excessive coddling is a major problem with the current generation of elementary kids. They're not used to hearing no. They get limitless chances to complete something, and it is excused when it is never completed. I seriously fear these kids entering the workforce- they will drown.
     
  5. HorseLover

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    Oh, and to be clear, I agree with the author that this doesn't mean we should call kids names nor should we belittle and berate them
     
  6. FourSquare

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    I can get behind this....I don't know if I live up to the expectation...but I agree with it.
     
  7. Myrisophilist

    Myrisophilist Habitué

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    This article sums up many of my feelings about the direction our society is going in when it comes to raising and educating kids. I see it at my own school, to the extreme. Kids come in with overblown senses of entitlement, and then the teachers (whether they believe they should or they are just trying to live up to the "ideal" teacher model we see in inspirational teacher movies) reinforce this sentiment: we/they entertain, replace lecture with fluffy projects that supposedly address different learning styles, and indulge students' helpless behavior. I'm very frustrated with these attitudes.

    The thought I fight against every day is the possibility that a student of mine could get to college and say, "My biology teacher never taught me anything." That would be awful. So my goal is to prevent that from happening through rigorous instruction and high expectations, but this is usually misinterpreted by the students and I get labeled as "mean."
     
  8. Upsadaisy

    Upsadaisy Moderator

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    I read this article yesterday and agree with most of it. But, I wouldn't want to do away with lessons that foster deeper understanding so that kids would have more time for rote learning (math). Maybe a greater atmosphere of respect would come out of it, too.
     
  9. Loveslabs

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    My grumpiest, hardest to please teacher is the one teacher I remember from high school. He is the one we all talk about at reunions. He wasn't always our favorite at the time, but we now see how he instilled in us the desire to work hard and know we earned any praise we received. I love when I hear my own kids complain about any teachers that sound like my old teacher.
     
  10. a2z

    a2z Virtuoso

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    I agreed with a lot of what was in the article, but much was rather subjective.

    I do believe that learning certain things to automaticity is absolutely necessary. I also believe that a lot of it should be done in the classroom, not introduced and sent home to do. I believe we have put the cart before the horse by trying to foster creativity in writing before students learn the basics of sentences and language. I do believe students need to learn that failing is a part of learning, but it must come without the judgment that comes with failing in many classrooms.

    I think about all of the wasted classroom time because time wasn't spent making sure students knew the basics to automaticity. While the time spent initially is great and seems slow, students that have strong basics ramp up and then they can speed through higher level work easily without taxing their processing by things that should be automatic. Once a student knows math facts, computation in more difficult problems is nothing and the focus is on the more complex concept or procedure used to solve a problem. Once a student knows the structure of sentences and the mechanics of writing, editing becomes more about careless errors, content, and organization. Once a student can decode automatically and fluently, they can focus on comprehension and not be stopped by spending processing power on sounding out words and slowed down by not knowing or guessing the words in the text.
     
  11. i8myhomework

    i8myhomework Comrade

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    I never gravitated towards teachers like that, nor do I remember them... Okay, maybe I remember one or two but not fondly.

    Call me crazy, but I actually enjoyed being coddled in school. I liked the teachers that were warm and fuzzy the best. Maybe that's just me and my personality. Today I think I am doing pretty well in the world, despite the reputation of my generation. I may be in the minority but I think kids today are facing more challenges than ever had to deal with. They grow up way faster for one thing. The testing, the technology, the taking away of recess and nap time. ****, if anyone deserves a little bit of coddling and slack, it's these kiddos that are coming up in 2013.

    Back to teachers-The ones who were stern or even "tough", although I now believe them to be well-meaning, are the same ones that I shut myself off from time and time again. I realize now that what put me off was their attitude; I interpreted their approach as mean or standoffish, which resulted in me being afraid and put-off by their teaching.

    I don't know if tough teachers always get good results, or even if any set teaching style is the "best". Just like anything else I am sure results are varied. But I do think that all teachers should understand that their class isn't always going to be one size fits all. Each student has individual needs and being too tough or too soft, either or may not be what helps them.

    While I say this, I do realize it is not feasible or realistic to think that one educator can change their teaching personality/philosophy to suit and please every child. But just being aware and sensitive of how your student thinks and how they work best is definitely important. Maybe one kiddo needs someone to push them and bring on the tough love. But for every kid that needs that, remember that there is another who could be possibly alienated.
     
  12. Myrisophilist

    Myrisophilist Habitué

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    I appreciated the warm and fuzzy teachers after I learned to self-regulate. I had one college professor (education, go figure) who oozed warmth and I adored her. But I was mature enough not to take advantage of her fluffy approach to the class. I was there to learn and made sure that I got what I needed from the content while still enjoying my professor. In my experience, my students are generally not interested in learning (or even being in school) so it would be foolish to be soft with them.
     
  13. Cerek

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    I think the article hits the nail on the head. Tough teachers hold students to higher standards (generally speaking) and don't allow excuses for not reaching those standards. So, instead of making up reasons why they can't do what the teacher expects, they knuckle down and find out they can do what the teacher expects - and more.

    I've always been a fan of "drill work" for one simple reason - it WORKS!

    When my dad was in school, he and his classmates were required to memorize the capital of every state. When he was in his 60's (before he passed), he could still name every capital of every state. With all due respect, I doubt any of the members here could even do that.

    This "drill mentality" had another effect; my dad could memorize almost anything he put his mind to. He was a huge sports fan, mainly basketball and football. We would be watching NFL or NBA games and he could name where almost EVERY player on both teams went to college. Many of the players I had never even heard of, but dad not only heard of them, he knew their history.

    When I was in elementary school, my mom decided I wasn't doing well enough in math, so she made sit down for 30 minutes each afternoon and do flash cards with her. I HATED IT....until my 6th grade math teacher did a "challenge game" one day in which two kids went to the board and found the product of two random numbers as quickly as possible. I blew the entire class away, even kids that considered themselves much smarter than me. None of them could do mental multiplication as fast as I could. When I did my student teaching, I could often add numbers in my head faster than my students could find the answer on a calculator. Why? Because I PRACTICED doing mental math constantly throughout my school career.

    Fast forward to the current generation. My oldest son began playing in the band in 6th grade. The band teacher at his school was very strict and demanding. He did not allow ANY goofing off in the band room. Even in their little 6th grade concerts, when the band director simply stepped up to the podium, ALL the instruments in the band came to the "ready position" without any direction from him. When my ex remarried and moved the boys to a different school, the band teacher there was much more slack in his approach, and it showed in his concerts. The first band director demanded everyone wear "dress uniforms" for their concerts; black pants, black shoes and white shirt. At my son's first concert at the new school, kids wore blue jeans (with the legs ripped and torn), T-shirts hanging out and even ball caps. When the band director stepped up to the podium, my son brought his instrument to the "Ready" position. Most of the other kids kept talking and one was even texting until the band director began tapping his baton impatiently on the podium.

    As a result of that first year under a strict band leader, my son was the ONLY student in the entire middle school band at his second school that was invited to try out for the State Band. He has gone every year and made it through the first round easily every year. Last year was the first time he actually went to try-outs for the second round. Had he passed that round, he would have been a member of the Georgia All-State High School Band. He missed the cut by two positions. Considering he was competing against the best trombone players in the entire state (many of whom were upper classmen while he was just a sophomore), that wasn't too bad.

    I could continue giving example after example, but I'll close with one last one that really taught me the value of having a tough teacher. It was actually story recounted by James Herriot in one of his books from the "All Creatures Great and Small" series. He was talking about his experience in the English military. He joined the air force and was practicing his first landing. He brought the plane down smoothly and touched down rather softly - or so he thought. His instructor got out of the plane and asked him his name. James, thinking he was about to be praised, gave his name proudly. The instructor said "Well, James, that landing was BLOODY AWFUL!" and walked away. At first, I thought "How horrible! Why couldn't the instructor compliment him on doing so well so quickly?" James felt the same way too, until he realized that, in an actual combat situation, even the smallest miscalculation could be fatal. So while his current skill might be "good enough" for civilian flying, it still needed to be a LOT better for combat flying. The instructor never explained any of this. Instead, he remained steadfastly harsh and critical in all his evaluations, which made James try even harder to do better the next time.

    Sure enough, when attempting one of his first solo landings, James came into the airfield too high. He started to panic a bit, then stopped and said to himself "Wait a minute. There is a way to drop altitude quickly and safely with a specific maneuver. What was it again?" He thought about it for a minute, remembered the maneuver and executed it perfectly. This time, when he got out of the plane, the instructor said "Nice move".

    Just like Mr. K riding the students in practice, but then applauding them during their actual performance.
     
  14. Cerek

    Cerek Aficionado

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    Well, I'll have to disagree with kids today having it "way tougher" and having to "grow up faster" because of testing, technology and loss of recess or naps.

    When my parents grew up, they had a list of chores to do when they got home in addition to their homework. My grandfather owned a convenience store which my dad and his sisters were ALL expected to work in. My mom had to work in the garden, mow the yard, and help cook and wash. Many kids today don't even have to make up their own bed. I know a lot of kids in urban settings do have to "be the parent" when they get home because their actual parents are working the night shift, but there are a lot more kids whose toughest task at home is to walk across the room to change the game in the X-box or Playstation.

    I think most teacher today would agree the current and recent generations of students have grown up with a much greater sense of entitlement, expecting praise and compliments for the most mundane activities. This was even addressed in one of the first posts.

    Standardized testing? Yes, it's true we didn't have that when I was in school. We just had regular tests given by the teachers. However, we did NOT have a chance to correct mistakes or "try again" if we got the answers wrong. We got the grade we got - period. If we didn't like it, we had to study harder to bring our average up on the next test.

    My sons have had to take standardized testing all of their school years. They just accept it as a normal part of the school routine. They aren't stressed about them, they just do them.

    Technology? LOL. Yeah, I hear kids complaining ALL the time about having to carry those pesky cell phones and iPods to class each day...NOT. They don't complain about the technology in the classroom either. The only complaints I ever got was from kids who wanted me to use the technology even more.

    Loss of recess? That's true, but kids now have P.E. classes beginning in Kindergarten. We did have recess in elementary school. In Junior High and High School, that was replaced by P.E. Now kids have P.E. in elementary and several STILL have recess on top of that.

    Loss of naps? Well, I can't say much about that. We stopped getting naps after kindergarten and that is still true today. Kids IN Pre-K and K get naps. Kids in 1st grade through 12th, don't.

    Don't get me wrong, I liked the warm fuzzy teachers too. I didn't fully appreciate the "tough" teachers I had when I was in school, until AFTER I was out of school and realized just how much discipline and other lessons I had learned from them being "tough".
     
  15. mmswm

    mmswm Moderator

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    I'm going to have to respectfully disagree. There's a time for deeper understanding, but until you have the facts memorized, you're attempting to save the Titanic by bailing it out with a thimble. That's what the studies are trying to get out. There's a certain baseline that must be internalized before the deeper understanding can even happen.

    Forgetting math for a moment, lets look at reading. There's a LOT of "drill and kill" that happens for YEARS before we ever begin to even think about teaching a child to read. From the time they're tiny little babies we sing them the ABC song. Heck, some people even start singing it to their babies before the child is even born! When they're toddlers we start reading them picture books like "A is for Apple" and so on and so forth. We spend countless hours over the course of several years "drilling and killing" the alphabet before we ever begin to start stringing those letters into actual words that we expect the child to read. We do it because if the child doesn't know his letters, there's no way he can start forming words, sentences, paragraphs and books.

    The alphabet in reading is analogous to the arithmetic facts in math. Until those facts are automatic, most, if not all of the "deeper understanding" we're looking for isn't going to happen, at least not on any meaningful level.
     
  16. i8myhomework

    i8myhomework Comrade

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    I'm glad you appreciated the "toughness". :) I never liked it. It is a shame though. I feel like I could have gotten close to more teachers had all of us been more open.
     
  17. Go Blue!

    Go Blue! Connoisseur

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    This. Many of my students also don't want to be in school/learn and being nice/kind to them means they should take advantage of you and treat you with less respect. They only seem to respond to teachers who are tough, loud, yell a lot, intimidating and would probably be considered mean in other schools/situations. These teachers are also relentless in enforcing discipline.

    If this is not your natural personality (yelling, being loud, intimidating and tough), then this can be emotionally exhaustive and mentally draining (at least for me).
     
  18. giraffe326

    giraffe326 Virtuoso

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    I don't yell or raise my voice. Well, very rarely. I've had to on a few occasions ;) I also don't think I'm very intimidating, although I have tried to intimidate a few behavior problems.

    However, I am strict and I have very high expectations. Yelling isn't the only way to accomplish that.
     
  19. i8myhomework

    i8myhomework Comrade

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    I have high expectations but I just can't bring myself to be strict lol. Then again my class this year is wonderful so I guess I am truly blessed. :love:

    The teacher three doors down to me is terrifying though. She doesn't yell or anything but geez louise is she intimidating! During lunch one day she told me she made her own drill sergeant cry. She has quite a presence!
     
  20. stargirl

    stargirl Companion

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    "Tough" does not have to equal "mean"--there are ways to let the kids know you mean business without yelling, etc.
    Agree with what a poster said above about drilling the basics. Years ago, I did my student teaching in a direct instruction school (I don't know if they even exist anymore) in a very urban, high poverty area--while I don't know that I'd enjoy teaching that way, it was interesting to see how much grammar, spelling rules, math computation skills etc. the students knew cold (plus fairly high fluency skills). My first job was in a regular type instruction school just a few blocks away, and the kids (both academically and behaviorally) were so much lower. True, the students in the DI school were not doing much creative writing, deep comprehension reading skills, or problem solving in math, but at least they were getting functional literacy and math skills--something that the students in the school just a few blocks away were barely or not even attaining.
     
  21. Ron6103

    Ron6103 Habitué

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    I think the responses to this also illustrate some wide differences in the schools and environments we all teach in. The "tough" teaching style may be more critical in some schools as opposed to others. I teach in a low-income community in a problematic area (crime/poverty/etc) during the regular year, and a ritzy suburb of Chicago during the summer. The difference in attitude of the kids is earth shattering.

    During the summer, my personality can be completely different. I am relaxed, we have discussions, we do group research projects, and the term goes well. Everyone seems to mostly enjoy themselves, test scores are high, and the kids seem to be learning. I'm not terribly strict, I barely even mention rules, and am extremely relaxed.

    During the school year, huge numbers of my kids hate school (not all thankfully), and as much as I'd love to think I can be that guy in the movies that inspires these kids to love learning, I guess I'm just not good enough at my job to do that. Because many of my kids, despite starting my career there being warm, caring, and doing the various group projects/fluffy activities, still hated school, were brutally rude to me, and basically ate me alive in my first year. They also didn't learn much... and couldn't really do any of my cooperative projects and problem-based learning because they didn't have the background knowledge. We couldn't have kids develop their own systems of government when they couldn't even name a single branch of the US government.

    So I shifted gears... my instruction shifted toward lecture. My assignments shifted toward drill/kill. My classroom personality shifted toward a more rigid system. Did I like doing it? Nope. Do the kids enjoy it? I'm not sure. But the behavior is under control, the scores on my final exams (standardized district wide) have gone up, and the parents/administration seem far happier with what's happening in my room. Could that simply be a product of having more experience? Probably. But the change it direction was undoubtedly part of the story too.
     
  22. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

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    I don't think that "tough" and "nice" are mutually exclusive. I think it's entirely possible to be 'tough" and still enjoy your kids and have them enjoy you. Having high academic expectations does NOT mean you have to be the type of teacher who intimidates and dislikes kids.

    No big shock to those who know me-- I agreed with a lot of what I read. I'm a huge fan of drill work. (Yes, my honors freshmen are STILL doing those times tables every day as their Do Now problem!!) Sure, I mix it up-- some days we play Times Table Bingo and they adore it!

    When I look back at the teachers I've had and those I've observed over the years, I always find that the best of them were the ones who believed that their kids were capable of far more than the kids realized. Who made those kids earn those stickers and accolades. Who were generous with encouragement, but far more stingy with praise. Who expected and demanded that thier kids LEARN the material being taught, and expected and demanded that the kids extrapolate that material. (Math teachers: love the way I worked "extrapolate" into that??? Who here remembers extrapolation in math??:) )
     
  23. Cerek

    Cerek Aficionado

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    Alice and the others are correct that you can be both tough and nice.

    I've mentioned a few times one of the teachers that was my inspiration for becoming a teacher. He was extremely tough, the toughest teacher any of us ever had at that point. He also took great joy in intimidating the 7th graders (we only had Jr. High back then). We felt he was "terrorizing" us and, admittedly, a lot of his tactics would get him fired in the first week today. I don't endorse those tactics, but when we had the same teacher in the 8th grade, we realized most of his "intimidation" was just an act and he could be a lot of fun. We also realized that he made us THINK harder than we ever had in a class before. If you spoke up or offered an answer in his class, you dang sure better know what you were talking about. I didn't fully appreciate his methods at the time, but as I faced tougher classes later on, I did appreciate the critical thinking skills he forced us to develop.

    I had some tough teachers and I had some very easy teachers. I liked them both, but I definitely felt a much greater sense of accomplishment when I got a good grade under the "tough" teacher than under the "easy" ones, because I knew I had earned that grade through hard work.

    The only teachers I did NOT like were the ones I felt were unfair, biased or subjective in their grading and their treatment of the students.
     
  24. CindyBlue

    CindyBlue Cohort

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    "Who here remembers extrapolation in math??"
    ...and explaining the difference between "interpolation" and "extrapolation" ? (smile!)
     
  25. Myrisophilist

    Myrisophilist Habitué

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    This x 1,000,000 (for me). I wish I could give my students what they need (more direct instruction) but my school's new instructional model is the complete opposite so, naturally, a few of my classes are nonproductive madhouses and I spend all my time trying to get the kids to do something besides call each other names, vandalize my property, and talk to each other.
     
  26. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

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    Oooohhh yeah!
     
  27. Ted

    Ted Habitué

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    I have a reputation for being very strict. However, I also consider myself fair. One doesn't have to exclude the other.

    I have my fourth-graders say "Yes, sir" instead of "Yep" and "No, sir" instead of "nuh-uh". The boys take their caps off when they enter and if/when they need to interrupt me, they say "Excuse me." I also have them greet me each day before asking a question.

    I'm very old-fashioned, I reckon; however, I have several repeat visits from former students and have even had an invitation to one of their weddings... so perhaps I'm doing something right. :)

    I currently have a student teacher and I've advised her that it's easier (and better) to go in like a lion and out like a lamb, than the other way around.

    I believe teachers need to earn respect and can't be (too much) "fun and games" until January and then all of a sudden get angry with their class when the class won't listen to them.

    But then again... I do also believe the "tough" teachers (at least in my school) are the minority.
     
  28. Rockguykev

    Rockguykev Connoisseur

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    Is it possible that your attitude toward education has something to do with that?

    My students love learning.
     
  29. EdEd

    EdEd Aficionado

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    I think there's been a good attempt in this discussion to operationalize the words "tough," "nice," etc. Too often we throw those around and end up promoting teachers being "mean," "passive," and other things that aren't good because we aren't clear on what we mean. We also tend to attach emotions to those terms. I know a number of teachers who wear "tough" as a badge of pride - not because it's effective, but because somehow they feel more powerful.

    I also think we tend to mix up terms, and may start to think of "tough" as referring to the use of particular instructional strategies such as rote drilling of basic facts, or the lack of use of strategies such as cooperative learning. This, of course, is also not accurate, and can confuse folks who might think that in order to be firm with kids one also needs to use certain instructional techniques.

    It's interesting - just as we teach kids values such as "responsibility" or "perseverance" and then try to attach specific behaviors that should be associated with those values or general behavioral classes, I think we can do the same with each other and promote concepts such as "being tough." It can help us to apply general principles to specific situations rather than remembering a bunch of individual behaviors and situational applications. I just think we need to remember to be specific upfront about what those values include and don't include. That's one reason I like this forum - this article was able to be digested and operationalized a bit more on this forum, rather than just being taken at face value.
     
  30. 2ndTimeAround

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    I wish I could say that my students loved learning. Some of my students do, but by far, not all of them. Some of them love getting good grades, and will work hard to do so, but they don't love learning. And some of my students have absolutely no desire to learn. Sadly, some of THOSE students, have no desire to learn anything. Not science, not math, not history, not auto mechanics, not even a new way to beat a level in a video game.

    My own child borders on this very thing. She doesn't enjoy learning for the sake of learning. She will get interested in a subject for a brief amount of time and then it fizzles out. She does appreciate the rewards that come with a job well (or semi-well) done, like having a cell phone, watching tv, not having parents fussing about grades, so she does what it takes to maintain certain grades. But there is no intrinsic love of learning that drives her.
     
  31. chebrutta

    chebrutta Enthusiast

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    I agree with a LOT of what the article says. I'm going to speak for my own district: these kids are coddled too much. They are babied. They are not responsible for retaining information.

    There is no reason why children should be coming to middle school without knowing their times tables, without being able to add four two-digit numbers without a calculator, without knowing when to capitalize in a sentence, without being able to write a complete simple or compound sentence.

    I'm strict. I smile constantly in class. I laugh. I encourage my students. I never yell. But they know that those 90 minutes are MY time, and they will be working and thinking their little behinds off.
     
  32. mazzystar

    mazzystar Rookie

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    Oct 1, 2013

    I wish I had read this before the school year started. I'm too nice.
     
  33. MzMooreTeaches

    MzMooreTeaches Cohort

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    Oct 1, 2013

    I like to think that I started out as a coddling, warm overly nice pre-k then kindergarten teacher. This school year however I am approaching differently. I am warm, but firm. Students like to say I love you and say you are my favorite teacher etc, but my phrase is, "show me." Let me see you work hard and try. I love my students dearly but I know that as their kindergarten teacher I have to push them dearly and lay a good strong solid foundation so they grow into students who are lifelong learners who learn how to think.

    So far I cannot brag enough how I am loving my 4th year. I feel such an assurance and that my consequences to behavior or so much more relavent. I wouldn't necessarily call my students names of course but I often tell them to show me more and I want their work to be better than it was on the first yesterday.
     

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