Ideas and Opinions about
Teaching, Learning, and
the Educational System
Ideas and Opinions about
Teaching, Learning, and
the Educational System
Are you a good co-worker? Sure you are.
Just last week you let another teacher make “a few quick copies” on the copy machine, even though you were next in line. You pay your hospitality dues on time, and you always bring your famous green bean casserole to the faculty luncheons.
You help rearrange the cafeteria tables after the school dance. You share your lesson plans and exams with the new teacher down the hall. You covered a class during your planning period when another teacher had an emergency. You smile and greet your co-workers with a hearty “good morning” every day. And you never, ever ask a question in a faculty meeting after 4 PM.
Am I minimizing or making fun of those qualities and good deeds? Of course not! Most teachers would enjoy working at a school with kind, considerate co-workers. And personally, I’m quite fond of sumptuous luncheons and short faculty meetings.
But in this TeacherScope column, I’m going to mention some teacher behaviors that are probably irritating and irksome to your fellow teachers – things that you probably don’t even realize you’re doing! Because you’re nice and they’re nice – and we’re trying to keep it professional – your fellow teachers don’t mention their irritation.
These are five things teachers need to stop doing, now!
And before I begin this list, I must confess that I have been guilty of all of these annoying behaviors at least a few times in my teaching career. I’m not standing before you as an innocent role-model. Rather, I’m sharing my experience as a repentant violator. Sometimes I was corrected by a more experienced colleague. Other times I realized my past transgressions when I was on the receiving end of the inconvenience. Either way, I learned my lessons. And - like a good kid in the assistant principal's office - I vowed to never, ever do it again!
#1 Stop Letting Students Break the School Rules
Your school probably has a Code of Conduct that describes expected student behavior, and the punishment for violating those standards. Chances are those rules were put in place to ensure student safety and maximize learning. Allowing students to violate school rules tells students that the rules aren’t important, making it harder for other teachers to enforce those rules.
Here’s an example: let’s say your school has a policy prohibiting student cell phone use in class. But one teacher allows students to use their phones to send texts, play games, and check their Facebook pages during class as a reward for completing their work. As the school day continues those students will expect to have the same privilege in each class. That permissiveness makes it harder on your co-workers who follow the school policies.
A few years ago I took-over a class mid-year for a teacher who didn’t enforce school rules. You can imagine my shock on my first day when the students entered the room, pushed the desks together, and started eating snacks and listening to music on their mp3 players. It took me several weeks to align student behavior to the school rules, and I was forever known as the “mean teacher” to that group.
Allowing students to violate the school rules in your classroom may establish you as the “cool teacher” in your school, but it sure makes your colleagues’ jobs harder.
#2 Stop Blowing-off a Class on a Regular Basis
“Do we have to do anything today?” Every teacher with more than a couple of years’ experience has fielded this question many times. You’ve planned a great lesson, and you’re disappointed that your students would rather just sit around for an hour. Where did they get that idea?
Chances are, one or more of your colleagues can be persuaded to cancel the day’s activities and provide a “free day.” While this down-time during the school day may seem benevolent, it really hampers the efforts of your fellow-teachers. If you think your students need a little relaxation, introduce a creative curriculum-based activity or game. “Doing nothing” shouldn’t be an option in a classroom.
#3 Stop Making Students Late for their Next Class
You’ve probably experienced this if you teach middle school or high school: a few minutes after class begins, one or two students rush into class and hand you a pass from another teacher. Or an announcement comes over the intercom asking teachers to admit all students from a certain class without a pass. Your fellow teachers will tell you, “Really, it’s not a problem." But really, it is.
The art students had to stay late to clean up. The math test took longer than expected. The science students were at a critical point in their experiments. There are several reasons that teachers keep students after their scheduled class period, and they're usually legitimate reasons. But the situation could have been avoided with better time management and/or better classroom management. Sure, sometimes it’s hard to just stop a great classroom experience. But with respect to your peers, you need to understand that the students’ next classes are just as important.
Once I was in a faculty meeting where this issue exploded (and I do mean EXPLODED.) The volcano of frustration erupted. Fingers were pointed, and accusations were made. The principal wisely ruled that no students should be held after class – EVER! That ended the problem, and fortunately our professional friendships withstood the episode. Consider instituting this policy at your school.
#4 Stop Being Careless with the Schedule
Secondary schools run on bells, but elementary schools run on clocks. In elementary school classes go to lunch and to “specials” (PE, computers, music, etc.) en masse. Teachers who miss their scheduled times – even by a few minutes – can cause a breakdown in the entire system and topple the schedule like a row of dominoes.
Imagine a teacher dropping-off her class for music five minutes early. It’s just five minutes, right? Well, the music teacher probably has another group she’s working with during that time. Or perhaps that’s the last five minutes of the music teacher’s planning period, and she’s preparing the room for that class. Maybe that five minutes represents the music teacher’s only opportunity to go to the bathroom before lunch!
A class that remains five minutes late in the cafeteria at lunch is probably occupying a table needed for the next lunch shift. A class arriving at the computer lab five minutes early means that the computer teacher won’t have the chance to troubleshoot a malfunctioning computer. The cafeteria supervisor and the computer teacher will probably say, “Oh, it’s no problem,” because they want to be professional. But trust me, it’s a problem.
There’s a running joke among “specials” teachers: she dropped her class off early, but made up for it by picking them up late! Don’t be the punchline of that joke.
#5 Stop Inviting Students into Teacher-only Areas
Schools are made for students, but really there are a few teacher-only areas: the faculty lounge, the teacher workroom/copy room and the faculty cafeteria come to mind. Students shouldn’t be allowed to enter these areas.
So, you’re sitting on the couch in the faculty lounge, enjoying a casual conversation and a cup of coffee with your peers. Feet up, shoes off. You hear a tap-tap-tap, and you see your student peering through the glass in the door, holding her completed homework. What do you do? The correct answer: walk out into the hallway and talk to the student. Don’t wave them in to the faculty lounge.
Years ago I worked with a teacher who regularly sent students into the faculty lounge to buy sodas for him. Then there was the teacher who invited her son – who was a student at the school – into the faculty cafeteria to eat lunch with her once or twice a week. And there was the teacher who sent students to the teacher workroom to use the letter dye-cut machine (okay, that was me.) You get the idea.
One of my college educational foundations teachers, Dr. Harrow, shared this bit of wisdom to all of his eager future-teachers. The first rule of teaching: never jam-up another teacher. As teachers, we should strive to conduct ourselves in a way that shows respect for our fellow teachers and to the teaching profession.
Although they’re probably resisting the urge, your peers won’t mention these transgressions. No need to apologize at the next faculty meeting, or make a big deal about it. (A box of Krispy Kremes in the teacher's lounge would be a nice gesture.) As I wrote earlier, we've all made these mistakes. At the time, we didn't realize that we were making life difficult for our coworkers.
So now you know. Smile. You will now be more beloved than you are already. Maybe they'll name the new building after you. Or at least the faculty lounge...
Keith Kyker (M.Ed)
is a career educator with 35 years of teaching experience. He has worked with every age group from Pre-K to college. Keith's experience includes stints at suburban mega-high schools, neighborhood elementary and middle schools, and a tiny K-12 school in a Yupik village on the Bering Sea.
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Important note: the ideas and opinions expressed on this blog are the those of the author, Keith Kyker, and in no way reflect the opinions, policies, or practices of any of Keith's current or former employing school districts.
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