5 Tips to Avoid Spring Break-down

5 Tips to Avoid Spring Break-down. (Originally published at idahomiddle.wordpress.com)

Only educators truly know that the last week before Spring Break is torture for teachers. Some of it has to do with the nicer weather and the kids’ energy levels, but it’s the teachers that desperately need the break. I firmly believe that the break isn’t for the benefit of the kids, other than to keep them safe. Normally sane and rational teachers turn into monsters that live in the shadows and feast upon the souls and dreams of middle school children. Perhaps that is a little melodramatic…perhaps not.

But it is really the post-Spring Break run that can make or break you as a teacher. Veteran teachers will tell you that there is no harder stretch in education than the April/May run to the end of the year. Gone are the monthly holidays and three-day weekends to break up the stressful schedule. No more “just x more days until y”. There is only one countdown left: how many more “get-ups” before summer vacation.

It’s time to buckle up and ride this roller coaster to the end of the line. Here are five tips to help you avoid derailing:

Reset Your Expectations— A colleague of mine used to give teachers some great advice: “If it wasn’t a big deal in October, don’t make it one in April.” Coming back from Spring Break is a great opportunity to remind students of your expectations. And yes, to explicitly do so. Middle school kids are great at pushing the limits. Your sixth grader aren’t sixth graders anymore. They are seventh graders in training. Spend 20-30 minutes of instructional time covering your expectations and routines and you will see it pay off in the end run.

Look for the Positive— At this point of the year it is easy to focus on Sally’s inability to bring a pencil to class EVERY period. Or the fact that Johnny still loses his binder three times a day. Look past them and you will find joy in everyday life.

This is a great chance for you to connect with some of the students that haven’t gotten your attention for the first three-quarters of the year. Make an effort to talk to the students that are there every single day and always do what you’ve asked. There is a distinct possibility that you are their favorite teacher and you don’t even know it. Let them fill your bucket and remind you that you do make a difference.

Don’t Forget the Parents— Just like spring can make kids and teachers twitchy, parents often suffer from the same symptoms. And if they go untreated, their anxiety grows until they lash out. Be proactive in communicating with parents. Yes, they should know how to check grades on the student portal. Yes, they should know where to find information about your homework on your classroom website. But some still don’t.

Worse, are the ones that have just woken up from a six month coma to see that their beautiful, perfect, innocent angel has a D or F in every class. All of a sudden their child is on fire and screaming at you is the only way to douse the flames. Send parents a quick update email about how to help their child through the last quarter of school. Assure them that you do actually care about their child. Ten minutes of preventive work is better than ten nasty emails and an ugly meeting that turns into a lose/lose situation for the student.

Family First— As educators we are notorious for sacrificing for our students. By the time you come home from work and remember that you have children of your own that you have neglected in preparing for the week’s lessons enough to fix them a meal that consists of something more than mac n’ cheese and hotdogs, you then remember you have a spouse that you haven’t seen awake since Spring Break. Stack in the laundry, yard work, the class you needed to take for recertification, etc. it is easy to put your family relationships at the bottom of a long list.

Find ways to balance family time:

  1. Dedicate one night a week for date-night with your spouse. It is important that you have that time to stay grounded in your relationship.
  2. Spend time with your kids during the daylight hours. Even if it is taking them to their spring sports practices, being present matters. Grading papers can wait until they’re in bed.
  3. Don’t stay at work past 5pm. Regardless, if you cook dinner or not, it is important to eat as a family. Talk with your kids and spouse about their day.

Find Time for Sunshine— The simple cure for being stuck in a classroom all day throughout the winter? SUNSHINE!! Forget the recent studies on Vitamin D deficiency. We all know that sunshine and fresh air can do wonders to keep us healthy and positive. Spring in Idaho can be a challenge—wind, rain, snow, sun, etc. Take advantage of the sunshine to relax in your own way: training for your next 5k, watching your kids’ baseball games, reading a book on the deck with your beverage of choice, etc.

Soak up the sunshine and before you know it summer will be upon you. And then “vacation” can start. But that’s another article.


DON’T JUST SURVIVE: THRIVE DURING PARENT/TEACHER CONFERENCES

(Originally posted on IMLA blog, October 8, 2014)images (4)

It is no secret that many teachers dread Parent/Teacher Conferences, either from having to stay late after teaching for a full day, the anxiety and panic about talking with difficult parents about their students’ progress in your class, or somewhere in-between. Sadly there are teachers in our profession that look forward to Parent/Teacher Conferences because they know that few parents will show up and it will give them time to catch up on grading. We need to change our mindset and truly look at conferences as an opportunity to engage parents and assure them of our primary purpose—caring about their kids.

Communicate Early

We all know that the best practice in communicating with parents is to contact them early with a positive message. You do not want your first contact to be informing them of misbehavior or poor academic performance. Likewise, you definitely don’t want your first contact with them to be at conferences.

Find a way to set a baseline for communication and let them know that you care about their students’ success, not just their misbehaviors. If you haven’t, it’s not the end of the world. You will just need to be mindful of how you approach the situation.

Invite Parents

Yes, we notify parents at all levels—recorded messages from the office, website, reader board, teacher calendars, student agendas, etc. Don’t assume that they know about conferences. And perhaps more importantly, don’t let them assume that you don’t care whether they show up or not. Every year teachers say: “The parents I needed to talk to didn’t come.”

We act shocked that they didn’t come to Meet the Teacher or Back to School Night, and then they didn’t show up to conferences. If we really need to talk to them, let them know that we are looking forward to seeing them. If they choose not to show, that is on them. They can’t say we didn’t give them a personal invite.

Ask Their Names. Use Them.

Engaging with parents as team members with equal vested interest in students’ success is an important strategy. Introduce yourself. Shake their hand. Ask their name. It’s the personal connection that will help you enlist their help if you ever need it. As a general rule, I try to use first names as often as possible. When I first meet parents, either in person or via phone, I make every attempt to use their first name at least twice, if not three times. Showing you care about them as a person and not just a random parent helps them feel like they belong and that you value their input as parents. It is also more likely that they will give you the benefit of the doubt when they have concerns and approach you as a professional that wants to work with them, rather than an adversary they have to battle against.

Save the Grade

Chances are, parents have already seen the grade on the report they received when they walked through the door. We are not graders—assigning grades. We are teachers—teaching kids. Focus on the students and fostering a relationship focused on them. The rest will fall into place. Wait to talk about the letter grade, good or bad, until later in the conference (see below). Parents may bring it up immediately: “I see Suzie has an F. What is going on?” Do your best to deflect with respect until you can say the things you need to say (also see below). There is a time and a place in the conference to talk about the grade. Do your best to stick to your agenda, not the parents’.

Use Student Samples

Nothing is as powerful as showing the parents how their kids are doing in their own words. It takes leadership, time, and planning to effectively use student-led conferences as an entire school. However, every teacher can use student samples of work to share with parents the successes and struggles students are exhibiting in class. Something simple as a sample of their work in class or even a basic reflection sheet where students write a letter to their parent sharing the reason for their grade and their goals for the rest of the semester can be an eye opener for parents, particularly when students are honest about why they are struggling in class.

Gauge Your Emotions

Teaching is stressful! We know it. Unfortunately, sometimes, the parents don’t. You’ve taught all day, approaching your 12th hour in the building and you’re still sitting at a table handling difficult discussions. Your emotions will show if you aren’t mindful of how you are feeling. If you feel like you need a break emotionally, you probably do. The more tired you are, the less likely you are to catch yourself before you react negatively to a situation that may not normally get to you. Even if there is a line, you have to take care of yourself. Excuse yourself politely and assure them you will be right back.

Be conscientious of your body language and tone of voice. They can be your best friend or your worst enemy. Sit up. Lean in. Smile. Make eye contact. These simple gestures show parents that you are genuinely interested in spending the next five minutes with them talking about one of their favorite things—their student.

Be Mindful of Time

Open format conferences give parents the freedom and flexibility to visit with teachers without having to have an appointment. However, it is critical for teachers to recognize that parents at conferences are still under time constraints and we can control the pace of our own conferences. A parent that is neutral about what to expect from a conference will quickly become annoyed or frustrated if they have to wait in a line for 45 minutes before their turn to talk…and then they have to go into another line and wait again…and again…

Parent/Teacher conferences should never last more than five minutes. If you meet with a team partner, you may consider extending the time, but you should still limit the conference to no more than seven minutes. Any longer and you should schedule a follow-up meeting to discuss concerns or issues in depth.

The Five Minute Conference

Many people have scoffed at me when I tell them about effective five minute conferences. Truth is, I used to do them in three. Here is the basic format to making that time count.

First, tell them they have five minutes. If you warn them ahead of time, it makes it easier for them to pay attention to the line that is behind them as well. If you don’t start with the expectation, prepare to be held hostage by that one parent that needs individual therapy because there have never been so many issues with Johnny at school and it’s causing issues at home, etc. You give them the time constraint, and have modeled with the parents before them in line that you will hold to it, they will respect it. Remember, if they need more time, schedule a follow up meeting.

Next, use their name (see above) and thank them for coming. We tend to concentrate on the negatives and the parents that don’t care without giving credit to the ones that do. Showing genuine appreciation for the parents that do care enough about their students to come to conferences will not only help you build positive relationships, it will fill your bucket.

Then, use this three step recipe:

  1. Something you like/appreciate about their student. Find something positive to say…about EVERY student! If you can relate it to something non-academic, awesome. It shows that you know their student more than just as a body in a desk. If it is related to their performance in class, great. It gives them a preview that their child is doing well. If you aren’t sure what to say because their grade is so low or their behavior has been so rotten…find something. Even if the student is never prepared for class, but shows up on time every day. Use that… “I appreciate that Johnny is on time to class every day…”
  2. Something specific the student can improve upon. Education is about growth. It is part of our role to help students grow, not just academically, but socially and emotionally as well. Focus on the goal of improvement and not the letter grade attached to the report card. We all know that Suzie has the responsibility to complete and turn in her work, but don’t just say: “She has an F because she doesn’t turn anything in…” That places blame on Suzie and brings out the mama-bear in her mother. If Suzie needs to improve on not having missing assignments, say it. “I really need Suzie to work on turning her work in on time. It will help her be more successful in my class.” Stating what you need positively in clear terms will make it more likely that you will see improvement.
  3. Ask for help. If you clearly communicate areas for improvement, it makes perfect sense to ask the parents to help you by having discussions with their students at home. Many times, if the students know that home and school are on the same page, they will stop trying to play the one off of the other. Ask mom and dad to explicitly tell Johnny that you asked them to speak with him about your concerns and the areas that he needs to improve upon. Most parents will gladly communicate your wishes and will stay in communication with you until things improve.

Now you can share grades. Saving grades to this point in the conference shows that you care about their students as individuals, not just test scores. If there are specific things or assignments the students need to do, repeat steps 2 and 3 above. Set the action points that will help parents help their kids improve their grade.

Finally, use their name (see above…again) and thank them for coming. Let them know the best way to contact you for further questions or concerns and encourage them to connect with you.

Remember, the more proactive you can be, the better things will be in the long run. No teacher will ever look forward to a 14-hour day. But hopefully using these strategies you can understand the purpose behind conferences and use them to your advantage. Understanding the relevance will make the time worth your while…and you’ll be surprised how fast the evening goes.


Confessions

images (1)This is the written piece that started it all…spring of 2007…the conclusion of my first year in a position to affect change. A year that I struggled to consider much of a success as y0u will read. When I wrote this, I had no clue what my future held…I was headed back into a classroom. But life launched me on a much different trajectory in more ways than one. However, it was the year that forever changed me. It changed the teacher I am..the leader I am…the father I am…the man I am. It was in this moment that I discovered my courage…

I hope you enjoy. ~ Micah

——————–

I am tired.

As this school year comes to a close I ask myself, “Have I made a difference?” The answer scares me—“I’m not sure.”

I knew prior to accepting the position that the year would be filled with ups and downs. I knew the sheer negativity of the job would be an overwhelming obstacle. I knew that frustrations would come from personality conflicts with my colleagues. I knew that I would get yelled at by kids and parents. I knew that teachers would disagree with the way I handled a situation. I knew I would be exhausted.

Likewise, in the weeks leading up to the start of the year I had high hopes for what I could accomplish. I hoped that I could make a difference. I hoped that I could support the teachers. I hoped I could partner with parents. I hoped I could save kids; save them from themselves; save them from the system.

As I have grown in my experiences I have become an advocate: an advocate for parents who are at their wits-end; an advocate for parents who don’t have time or the ability to care; an advocate for teachers who want to do more, but find resistance in the most unlikely of places; an advocate for students whose voices can’t be heard.

I believe that everyone cares about success. No one wants to accept failure; it is only accepted as a last resort, when all hope is gone. We must ask ourselves, “Are we willing to let that hope die?” “How many times do we have an obligation to provide a second-chance?” “Did they really learn from their mistakes?” And perhaps the most difficult question of all, “Are we the ones killing the hope?” I believe everyone cares about the success—of some.

The parents I deal with do not see my school as a dynamic organization that ebbs and flows. The parents I deal with see their lives, their children, their demands and desires. They are unwilling, or perhaps blinded by their own situations, to see the bigger picture. But I firmly believe that parents care about the well being of their children. No parent says, as Johnny or Suzy gets on the bus for the first day of kindergarten, “I can’t wait until my son, my daughter, my future, drops out of school.”

The parents I talk to, the ones who get mad, fight for their children. I’ve had parents scream at me. I’ve had mothers threaten me with lawsuits, or worse. I’ve had parents cry; cry out for help. They see that kids are treated differently; they see that their children hate school; they see what a dangerous path their sons and daughters have chosen; they are struck with fear, paralyzed and incapable of intervening; they are fighting for what they believe in; they are desperately searching for a helping hand. I’ve had parents complain that we’ve let them down, and they are right.

Most parents want to help; some aren’t sure if it is welcomed. One mother recently told me that she appreciated the way she was treated by me, that she had been afraid to come down to the school because of how she was treated in the past. What are we doing as a school, as a system, as human beings, to cause such fear and distrust? Maybe it is because they had a bad experience when they were in school, but maybe not.

Whatever the reason, some of our parents do not, or cannot, trust that we have the best interest of their sons and daughters at heart. I had a mother in my office last week angry that I wasn’t keeping her daughter safe, ready to remove her daughter from school. I didn’t really know her daughter was in danger, but other people were aware of the situation. We don’t communicate enough, with parents, with each other.

“Why didn’t the teacher call me?” “I’ve left messages and no one will call me back.” “The teachers don’t care…” “The parents don’t care…” Do any of us really believe that? If so, we have lost. We have lost sight of what is important. We have lost sight of hope. We have lost that child.

Do some parents let us down? Do some parents let their children down? Absolutely. Whatever the reason we have parents that do not seem to care about their children. They are addicted to drugs. They are single mothers or fathers working two jobs so that their children can have a better life. They are too wrapped up in their own problems.

I called a father earlier in the year about his son’s behavior. It was a minor infraction, but I felt it my place to let dad know. His message back to me completely changed how I have handled issues with his son. “You have got to be kidding me…chop off his hand…do whatever you need to do…I was a kid once…I bet that you’ve done the same thing…don’t call me for stupid stuff like this.” Wow.

This young boy used to wear all black; he had a huge mohawk; he hardly socialized with other students; he yelled at his teachers. A couple of weeks after I received the message from his dad we played our cross-town rivals. To show school spirit the entire crowd had been asked to wear red. This young man showed up to the game, the first athletic event he had ever attended in his life. He showed up in black. “I don’t have anything red.” I knew where we kept some school spirit shirts, and even though I wasn’t authorized to hand them out, I went and got one. I walked over to the gym, called him out of the crowd. “For me? Seriously? Thank you!”

I talked with this young man (and yes he has grown into one) the other day at lunch. The mohawk has been gone for a while; I haven’t seen much black since that basketball game; I see him talk with friends; I see him smile. He is still failing most of his classes, but he hasn’t yelled at a teacher for months. He hasn’t lived with dad for months. He is fifteen years old, homeless, bouncing from friend’s couch to friend’s couch. We are his only refuge. Do we know it?

Do we truly understand the impact that our words have on students? Many times I’ve had kids in my office, removed from class for disrupting, swearing, leaving. The teachers are angry; they want them hammered, nailed, crucified. I ask, “Why are you here?” and too many times I hear, “the teacher called me stupid,” or “the teacher got mad and yelled at me, so I yelled back,” or “they don’t respect me, why should I respect them.” It’s no wonder students hate school. I sympathize with them; I would have done the same thing.

When I took the job, I knew what the teachers wanted; I knew what the students wanted—consistency. In as much as I have been able to, I have held consistent. The consequences haven’t always been consistent, but I have tried to stay consistent in addressing the behaviors. Discipline isn’t assigning consequences; discipline is teaching appropriate behavior; it is about teaching good decision making.

I believe in no-tolerance. We shouldn’t tolerate any negative or inappropriate behavior. That doesn’t mean we slap consequences on the kids, but it does mean we have an obligation to teach why it is wrong and what to do better next time. It also doesn’t mean that we encourage the behavior to continue by not assigning consequences. They are an important element of the process.

Students should be held accountable, but we are also responsible to make sure they learn from their mistakes. If we unjustly overreact and punish a student that didn’t deserve it, we risk losing all of the groundwork laid by the teachers and/or the parents. If we unceremoniously dismiss the behavior and not assign a consequence, we have failed to teach the child what is appropriate, and ultimately we fail that child. I know I have overreacted and had to comeback, swallow my pride, and earn the trust back.

I also know, whatever the reason, I have failed to reach children whose words and actions say, “What are you going to do about it?” and in my situation, my frustration, my uncertainty I say nothing; I do nothing; I am paralyzed. Finally I speak, “You just don’t get it do you?” He laughs, “No,” and walks away. Empowered by his bravado; empowered by too many times being allowed to get away with it. I’ve tried, but nothing will stick. His actions say, “You can’t touch me.” And he is right; he is untouchable, like so many others.

I wonder if we understand how some of our students feel, what they see. “The teachers will help the popular girls, but not me.” “How come the white kids can wear bandanas, but I’d get suspended if I did?” “Why do the jocks get treated different? They get away with everything. Why don’t they ever get in trouble?” I get asked these questions all the time. I don’t know what to tell them. I pretend it isn’t true, but I know better. I should speak out, but when I have, I feel no different than the kids. I stay quiet; I stay silent; I have failed them.

I hold kids to a high standard and they know it. I was visiting with a young lady last week who has been in a lot of minor trouble, but nothing major, at least not here. She told me how she used to get in fights all the time, how she got kicked out of school in middle school. She said that she hated how strict I was with her, how I wouldn’t let her get away with anything, “But I think it has made me a better person.”

I am not blameless; I’ve yelled at kids; I’ve gotten caught up in the negativity of a situation; I’m guilty too. I had a student in the office coming back from a suspension. He didn’t want to be in the room; he didn’t want to face his past. I called him out; mom came to our rescue. I listened to his story; I watched his pain; I offered my hand in apology.

For the first couple weeks of the year I spoke with a young man almost daily. He didn’t want to quit smoking; he didn’t like our rules; he didn’t try to hide it. After a while he stopped coming to school. The next time I saw him he was dropping out; he wouldn’t look me in the eye. “It really hurt me…” and he went on to tell me a story. I had given him the impression that I was looking for a reason to get rid of him. I had given him the impression that I didn’t care. I apologized; he looked me in the eye and shook my hand.

I saw him a couple of months ago. He looked healthy; he looked happy. “I’m working on my GED.” I went to the graduation ceremony. I shook his hand afterward. He said, “I did it.” I said, “Thanks.”

I love B-day team meetings. I was never required to attend. They were never required to invite me. On particular days, when I needed a reminder of why I was doing what I was doing, I would venture into the staff meeting room. “I’m worried about…” and the next ten minutes was spent discussing more than just grades. I loved listening to the teachers talk about their students; even the frustrations came from caring hearts, hoping to do more. It became my haven. I never said it, but I think they knew it.

It takes courage to teach; it takes nerve. I’ve had teachers stand up for kids who have done something wrong. They have gone the extra step to say, “I believe in this one.” That is what teaching is, believing. Security responded to a called verbal altercation in a classroom. One of the boys sat in his chair, stunned by what had just happened; the other had left campus. I was prepared to suspend both boys, but I wanted to talk with the teachers first, “I’m not sure it will help.” I asked, “How can I help you help them?” “Make them come in after school for extra help.” One did, one didn’t; both have dropped out of school. It takes courage to face that challenge day after day. It takes courage to believe that students can overcome the odds and not become statistics.

One student who knows me very well asked me one day why I had been so grumpy. I knew I had been run down, but didn’t think I was wearing it on my face. She knew better; she knew me well enough to know; she reminded me why I became a teacher. I watched her struggle when she was a freshman; I watched her drop out as a sophomore; I watched her graduate this year. She refused to “become a product of her environment”; she “refused to be a statistic”. Her words, not mine.

I can name ten kids right now that didn’t. They got caught up in their own issues. Sometimes we helped them and they still chose another path. Sometimes we showed them the door. I can’t help but think where they are now.

I talked with one of them last week. I hadn’t seen her since spring break. While she was here, she took a large percentage of my time. Trouble followed her, and I think she enjoyed it. She came in with her mother to pick up some paperwork. I asked her where she’d been; she said she’d been locked up for two months. For the first time, I heard her say, “I learned some things about me while I was in. I don’t want to go back, but I’m not sure I can do it.” We talked for a while; I told her I hoped she didn’t; I told her mom to let me know if she did and I would visit. Her mom thanked me; she gave me a hug.

I know that someday I will have to make that visit. I hope it isn’t for her, but it will be for someone else.

A few weeks ago there was a near fight in the hallway and security brought the boys down to the office. I looked in my office and saw one of them. I looked in the adjacent office and saw the other. I told them both, “I’ll come back and talk with you, but right now I am so disappointed and frustrated that I need some time to cool off.”

I’ve known one of them for four years. When we first met he was a gang banger; he was rude; he was just a boy. He is on probation for stealing a car; he is out of the gang, but not quite far enough; he is going to be a father; he is a man.

The other I have gotten to know too well from his frequent visits to my office. I’ve suspended him five times for verbal and physical fights; I see potential; he is one of the best poets I’ve read. Neither gang likes him; he’s argued with both, and lost. He won’t raise his voice; he won’t raise a fist; he stands there and takes it, hands at his side, almost inviting a punch; few have come. I joke with him that he’s too young to be the next Gandhi, but his time will come.

When I calmed down I put them in my office together, and I closed the door. A red hat sat on table between them. I am firm, “No talking, just listen,” neither looked up at me or each other. I can’t sit; I stand and I talk; I preach; I beg. “If I sign that line, you go to jail.” “If I sign that line, you get kicked out of school.” “Are you willing to throw away everything for a red hat?” Neither claims a gang, yet the stigma of the hat, the law of the streets, dictates that they should care.

“You don’t even know each other; you know nothing about each other.” They were quiet for a while. Then they began to talk. They talked about their homes; they talked about their history; they talked about life. They realized that they were very similar. They understood each other. I left them in my office together. I couldn’t make the determination on their consequences, but I went to bat for them with the principal. They went back to class; the red hat hangs on my wall.

A week later a similar issue occurred, only the colors were real. I had the same talk. The results were strained, forced. In another week one of those boys got in a fight. It had nothing to do with gangs or colors; it had to do with toilet paper and a prank. He had been given his last chance and blown it. His mother had worked with us all year to try and keep him in school. I used to call and leave messages and she’d be in the office by the end of the day, her son sitting beside her. She cared; I cared. In the end it didn’t matter. I suspended him; he was referred for expulsion. Over the weekend he threatened to stab or shoot the kid he’d fought.

So I ask myself, “Have I made a difference?” I hope so, with some.

I am tired of watching the system fail. I am tired of watching kids slip through unnoticed. I am tired of pretending I don’t care. I am tired of remaining silent. I’m tired of being afraid to answer the difficult questions.

“Are we willing to let that hope die?” I hope not, but sometimes I wonder.

“Did they really learn from their mistakes?” Some did, but others still laugh at us.

“Are we the ones killing the hope?” Not always, but sometimes I fear we are.

“How many times do we have an obligation to provide a second-chance?” At least once more.

To the teachers that worked alongside me to give kids that second-chance, thank you. It was your positive spirits and caring hearts that helped carry me through. I sought to empower you to empower kids, and I saw that; I saw it work and I saw you pull your hair out resisting failure until the end.

To the teachers that don’t see what I see, I wish I could share my vision. Sometimes there is more to the kid sitting in a desk than your class, your homework. Sometimes there is more behind the words they speak or the actions they commit.

To the parents that offered their support in tough situations, thank you. I know you care about your children enough to hold them accountable. I want you to know I truly care about the success of your son or daughter.

To the parents that couldn’t offer their support in tough situations, thank you. I know you care about your children enough to fight for what you believe is right. I am sorry I couldn’t do more to help in that fight. I want you to know I truly care about the success of your son or daughter.

To the students who never came to my office, thank you. It was busy enough without you, though I wish I had time to get to know you and help you reach your dreams.

To the students who came on a more frequent basis, thank you for keeping me on my feet. I am grateful I was able to cross paths with you and hope that someday in the future we may meet on more favorable terms.

To the students I have forgotten, I am sorry I have moved on and let you go or left you behind.

To the students I will never forget, thank you for teaching me the meaning of compassion, patience, learning, and most of all…hope.

I am tired.

So I will go; I will recharge; I will rest; I will return with hope.


The Reset Generation…

resetA couple months ago I was in a parent meeting…an 8th grade boy with major attitude problems at home and the problems were starting to pop up at school. He was disrespectful to teachers in the hallway, refusing to follow rules, argumentative with authority. Home was worse…he resisted any authority of his parents, particularly his step-father. His actions had earned him being grounded from his friends, computer, and phone. And instead of things getting better, they got worse. He attempted to negotiate where he had no standing…promising better behavior if the parents returned privileges. He refused to accept responsibility for his actions, or even show understanding that his actions were tied to his consequences.

In the midst of this parent meeting, we were all discussing the difficulties of the path of behaviors. It was the School Resource Officer that raised an interesting perspective. One that I would later tell him I was going to steal. His only condition was to preface it by saying, “a wise old man once told me…”

So…A wise old man once told me that the current generation of kids, particularly boys, should be referred to as the Reset Generation. He offered a unique premise: that kids raised in the video game age are used to a reset option. And that the more we see the prevalence of video games influencing children at younger ages, the more solidified this concept becomes in their social/emotional developmental process.

When he brought this concept up in the parent meeting it was like a lightning storm struck…in that parent meeting, I was not facilitating the meeting as an administrator…I was sitting there as a step-father, banging my head against the will of a thirteen year old. As the detective talked about the Reset Generation, my perspective shifted dramatically…he had just described my son to a tee. Being able to see him in a different light allowed me to take the first step toward recovery…not in what I expected from my son, but how I needed to change my tactics to get the best from him.

I have come to the conclusion that, as with most things, there are pros and cons to the reset switch that young people expect in real life, just as with their fictional characters on a console. Adapting to a video game environment where a character dies or an obstacle is too big to conquer, a player simply restarts at the last save point. In this scenario, anything that happened in the last mission technically does not exist…therefore…the player cannot be held responsible for it. Sure, depending on the game, they may lose some experience points each time they die, but by and large, mistakes have no lasting consequences.

For kids in the Reset Generation, there is an emphasis on learning from mistakes…take as many resets or reloads as necessary to successfully complete the mission. However, once the mission has been restarted, there is no need to discuss the previous attempt. The player has no desire to discuss or acknowledge defeat, but simply wishes to try again without making the same mistake, yearning for that euphoric moment when the mission is successfully completed.

Is that a bad thing? Perhaps in some regards. In real life, not all problems in life can be avoided by hitting the reset switch…and some mistakes cannot be undone. But I do think there are myriad opportunities in life that there is some redeeming value in being able to put the past behind you and moving forward.

Typically, I work through a behavior issue with a student by getting them to admit responsibility for their actions, then we talk about learning from our mistakes and moving forward. What I have come to understand is that for some kids, refusing to admit their fault does not equate with whether they accept responsibility …and forcing them to admit it, might even be tantamount to subjecting them to humiliation and ridicule. All they want is a chance to reset…forget the failure…try again without judgment…show that they will approach the mission differently the next time.


Be the Change…

When I was completing my student teaching, I recognized that our educational system was broken…it didn’t serve kids the way district and building administrators claimed it did…it didn’t support teachers the way it should. We still operated mainly in the traditional industrial model of education. Some students were destined to succeed, while others had already resigned to the failure that inevitably stood before them. It was then that I resolved to go into administration…before I had even stepped foot in my own classroom…I felt a moral obligation as an educator to “be the change” I saw was needed in the world.

As a first year teacher I was inspired to make a difference. I had been hired to teach a brand new social studies curriculum that had barely been outlined, let alone developed. We were able to make it our own based on the current geo-political climate. In the two years I taught the curriculum we covered modern terrorism, HIV/AIDS in Africa, environmental issues, and my favorite unit: the Palestinian/Israeli conflict.

At the time, I envisioned creating a Digital Youth Peace Summit, where my students would network via video-conferencing with students in Israeli and Palestinian schools to address the issues that had plagued the region for years. I put together a grant proposal for the software and hardware needed to facilitate the beginnings of this program. My administrator looked at the $10,000 price tag and laughed. He told me not to waste my time and that there were more important things to focus the districts resources towards. I regret giving up on that dream…

I feel guilty…What would have cost me $10,000 in 2002, I could accomplish for less than $500 thanks to the advancements in technology and Internet communication tools. I look at the turmoil in Israel and Palestine and wonder if I could have made a difference, even in just a small part.

Like so many before me, inspired to change the world, the light of my passion was quickly overshadowed by my sheer determination to survive the grading period without incident or having a nervous breakdown. My grand ideas of changing the world met opposition from my administration and quickly I devolved back to the type of teacher that bored me during my stint in secondary school, the kind that talked the talk, but never took a leap of faith.

More than a decade later, the educational system still suffers from the same overall lack of creativity and inspiration. Not from a lack of effort on the part of select individual teachers; they are working harder than ever…but their collective efforts are going toward survival, not towards realizing their passions. Districts and states have put so much emphasis on standardized testing, that true creativity and learning is sacrificed for rote memorization and pacing guides. Political pressures and budget cuts have led to shortening of school calendars, decreasing pay or laying-off teachers, cutting professional development programs and funding, and so many other vital efforts to maintaining inspiration and passion in our teachers. We know what the right thing to do is…but we’re not given the respect, support, time, pay, and professional development to make it a reality.

Now, that same moral obligation to change the system I felt over a decade ago still burns within me…I wrestle with it daily. How can I make a difference without being buried under the pressure of the system? I still passionately feel it is my duty as instructional leader to build better classrooms for my students. It is my duty as an administrator to build a better school for my teachers. It is my duty as an educator to build a better society. It is my desire to never be part of the problem with our education system, rather, part of the solution and be the change that is so desperately needed.


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