Good As Gold

The Wolf Finally Came
From John Hoerr’s 1988 release And The Wolf Finally Came: The Decline And Fall Of The American Steel Industry

Teacher horror stories about adversarial relationships between school administration and staff abound. Not just apocryphal ones: I’ve heard from good people the real tactics used to drive teachers out of a building.

There’s also a lot of misperception masquerading as reality: there can’t really be that many “faculty meetings that could have been an email“.

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In 2017, after 15 years of recession, it’s cool to hate your job I guess.

But I’ve been at three schools under six principals, and I just don’t see it. Partly because I’m not a big unionist and don’t have that inherent distrust of management. But mostly because I’ve had really good administrators.

You know that saying “Attitude reflects leadership”? It’s true. For good or for bad.

I’ve been reminded on multiple occasions recently the effect that school culture has on me as a teacher. And by “culture” I mean “people”.

  • I spent my last teacher work day in an empty room hoping I’d have students desks for Monday. My office staff promised the desks would be there in time for school to start. They arrived at 5:00 Friday afternoon. Just in time.
  • My new classroom is also without computer workstations for the 3D design work my students do in Introduction To Engineering Design. We are in the midst of a lengthy renovation project, and making use of all the spaces in the building as construction continues. I’m currently triple-booked in a nearby lab. When the issue was brought to the attention of my principal he got it squared away in a matter of days and came to my classroom to report the news.
  • Friday I had to call off on short notice. Because I care about my job and my students, I drove in just to make sure everything was set up for my sub so he wouldn’t have to go frantically looking for something that should be right there for him. My office manager over subs saw me and said “I thought you weren’t here today”. When I told her what I was doing she just smiled and said, ” I already printed that out from your email. It’s all taken care of”.

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What I’ve learned so far this year: If somebody in my building says something’s gonna get done, you can take it to the bank. It’s as good as done. Honestly, it’s been like that at every school I’ve ever been at. But I know that’s not the case for every teacher.

Does that shape my attitude about my job? I’m a worker bee at heart. Having a dad work 40 years at Inland Steel will do that. Pick up my hard hat and lunch box and metatarsal shoes and let’s go to work.

But yeah, when I know they mean what they say, I don’t have to stress over whether I’ll have what I need to do my job.

That’s as good as gold.

Kids aren’t adults. They don’t go to school and do our work just for their health. Some of them wouldn’t come here if you paid them. Believe me, I’ve had my share. There’s a ton of research out there on intrinsic/extrinsic motivation. Like such. Oh, this too.

Maybe we need a different way to guide students to getting done what needs done in school, and maybe learn a little something while they’re at it.


First Friday of the school year. Second year in the building. Had some Friday Fun ready to go. Instead, had to take a sub day for a family illness. Walked in at 7:00 am to set up my sub. Hat, shades, t-shirt, shorts, which is, as you might have guessed, not your standard-issue teacher uniform. And still, teachers and students I passed in the hallways recognized me and said “Hey”.

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“Mario Andretti knows my name!” (source)

I’m pretty much floating on air right now thinking about it. And I’m a grown man. What does it do for a student’s¬†attitude for me to smile and say “Hi” in the hallway?

I suck at classroom management. Kids don’t do things for me because I’m their favorite teacher. I’ve never been able to be a Drill Instructor, it’s not my style and besides I’m terrible at it. And yelling at 15 year olds makes me an ass.

And I don’t have that Obi-Wan thing.

I wish I did, but I don’t. If there’s anything at all that I’ve done right in regard to classroom management, it’s that I’ve built relationships with students. I’ve been honest that it’ll take me a minute to learn their names, but I will learn them. They know I love them, even if they make me crazy sometimes. I’ll smile and say “Hi” in the hall. I work to de-escalate conflict. I’ll be reasonable with my rules. We’ll have fun in class, maybe be a little goofy sometimes.¬†It might get a little loud. There might be dancing.

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I’ll never write a book or present at a conference about how to run your classroom. Nobody would read it even if I did. If you read this far looking for a solution in three easy steps, sorry I wasted your time. But a smile and a chin nod is a good start. It’s free, if not easy sometimes. But the ROI is Infinity.

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