I have been training for a half-marathon in April and as my runs get longer and longer I get a lot of time for introspection. As teaching is life, most of my thoughts turn to the various moments over my life that have made me the educator that I am. Today’s post is titled: You Should Have Just Made A Poster.
It is my Junior year in HS and I am taking US History II. We are learning about WWI and my group has been assigned the task of explaining the events that started the war, specifically the assassination of Archduke Fernidand. Being a non-traditionalist, I convince my group members that we should film a news broadcast that include a breaking news segment about the assassination. We decide to include other things that are going on at the time including a sports report, other news that occurred that day, and even a commercial for Hershey’s chocolate (with sound effects!). Now, this might not sound impressive for 2018, but this was 1995. No one had video editing equipment. We used my family’s video recorder (that was so large it sat on your shoulder) and had to film everything in order because there was no way to edit clips together. In our main segment, we cut “live” to the back streets of Sarajevo (area behind an elementary school) where the locals (members of my HS fencing team) were chasing down the assassin (played by the team captain because he looked the oldest). For the commercials, my parents did the voice overs and sound effects off camera while my group sat at the “news desk” (my kitchen table).
It was raw, but it covered everything the teacher asked. We explained the details based on our research, discussed other noteworthy news of the time, and referenced information from class. When the day came to present to the class, I had to hunt down one of the 3 TVs that were on a cart that had a working VCR machine because the teacher had no clue where they were in the school. We show the broadcast to the class and we got a “C.” The only comment we received was “You should have just done a poster.” I was devastated. Mostly because I was one of those kids who never got less than an A, but also because I was being punished for being creative.
I have wanted to be a teacher since I was 8 so when moments like this happened to me I was quick to file them into my “things I will never do to my students” folder in my brain. I
never almost never squash my students’ desires to be creative. Usually, I criticize them for not being more creative and setting the bar higher for themselves. Maybe my video didn’t cover the material well, or maybe it was a little too unpolished, but I didn’t get that as my feedback. The teacher had set his expectations for the project so low that, when a group exceeded them, he didn’t know what to do.
As educators, we need to set our expectations high for our students and let them rise to the challenge. Some will, some won’t. No matter what, we are showing them that we expect more and they should expect more from themselves. And those that do will be that much better because of it.
My classroom is a typical HS Chemistry room. Black lab benches, wooden cabinets and drawers, a Periodic Table hanging on the wall. I have some inspirational posters, but otherwise nothing spectacular about the room. As I left the classroom in June I knew that something needed to change for next year. I began to troll Pinterest looking for classroom decorating ideas. I stumbled across a neon and black theme and fell in love.
I can’t paint my lab benches so I bought neon Duck Brand duct tape and wrapped the edges of the benches to give that neon pop.
Each bench has its own color. I am also in the process of wrapping all of the desks in the same colors. This is the way I am going to create lab groups. Something along the lines of ‘ok, if you are at a green table, find a partner and go to the green lab bench.’
This was a boring, gray shelving unit. A little black and neon yellow spray paint from Lowes and, BAM!, a shelf of awesome.
I absolutely LOVE my new bulletin board! Again, another idea I took from Pinterest. Instead of a boring announcements board with Class Guidelines and other school information, this board sends a positive message about what kinds of behaviors are expected in class. Words such HELPFUL, INQUISITIVE, FUN, WEIRD, and CARING, tells students that I want them to be themselves, but negative attitudes can be left at the door.
These are just a few pictures of some of the changes. All of these ideas came from elementary classroom setups because of so few HS teachers that are posting pictures of their room decor. I made these changes in the hopes that I inspire my students, but in reality, I did it to inspire ME. Teachers spend 8 hours a day for over 180 days so we need to be happy teaching in that environment. We can’t worry about others appreciating our efforts or receiving praise for setting up our rooms. We need to do it because it makes us feel better about ourselves.
For one of the supervisor’s classes as part of my Master’s program, I had a great professor. She was a former Superintendent of Schools who had moved up the ranks within her district from Teacher to Assistant Principal to Principal to Assistant Superintendent to Superintendent. She was always a wealth of information and anecdotes about what being an administrator really entails. One piece of advice she gave all of us was this:
No matter how your day is going, if anyone asks you how you are doing, you say ‘I’m fantastic. How are you?’ And you mean it!
She went on to explain that everyone in a school is busy. Everyone has things that happen to us during the day that causes us stress. When you are a supervisor, and you tell people that you are stressed or the job is hard that day, you are sending two messages: you can’t handle the tasks that are assigned to you and/or your problems are more important than theirs.
I have realized several things over the years when I think back to this class. First, in reality, no one really wants to hear about your problems. They have problems of their own and their problems need to be the most important ones. We have a tendency to try and one-up another person in the misery department and there should never be a contest in misery. This one-up-manship is usually why you won’t find me in the teacher’s cafeteria because that is the one room you can guarantee that the misery machine is running full tilt. Second, every time I say ‘I’m Fantastic’, subconsciously, I start to feel it. My posture improves to look the person in the eye. I even smile. My whole outlook on my day improves every time I say it. And third, when I am feeling fantastic and enthusiastic, those feelings start to spread to those around me. No matter who bad your day is, you always feel better when you are around others who are enjoying themselves.
Being an educator in today’s world is really hard. We need to do whatever little things we can to improve it for ourselves.