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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Playing Catch-Up

The thought has been bouncing around my head all summer. A prayer. Or a toast, if you will. To all my teacher colleagues who will be starting new jobs in five weeks or so. First-year or veteran.

“May you always be the teacher your interviewer thinks you are.”

Students are a little less likely to give unconditional love than puppies are. Source:

We obviously present our best front at the interview. Our real self, but our best self. Ideally, when school starts, with 30 happy smiling faces sitting in front of us, that real self connects. Theory matches practice.

My own thought is: Culture Matters, In the classroom and in the building.

I’m making a move this year. Starting at a new school, in the town where I live. I already have a couple dozen parents in my circle of people asking me to watch out for their kids. Kids who may or not be among the 180 of mine, out of 2100 or so in the building. No pressure, right kid? I’ll do my best.

But I’m also balancing letting my personality (teaching and otherwise) show. I’m an introvert in real life, so of course I pick a profession where I put on 900 performances a year. Fridays especially are a little wacky. And that won’t change. But my most trusted advisor gave me good guidance this summer: Take a minute. Don’t come in with both barrels blazing. Lay low. Learn the culture first.

“Try and keep up, OK?”

One of my favorite moments in the interview came when an assistant superintendent asked me, “Do you teach math like you teach PLTW?” Meaning: Are you getting kids hands-on opportunities to learn, or just lecturing and handing out worksheets? I was able to show him how the concepts I’ve learned from my online PLN have influenced my teaching. How my lessons have evolved through a better understanding of desired student outcomes, and the addition of some pretty cool tech. I’m pretty much #MTBoS all-in.

A big Interview Pay-off Moment came when I mentioned using Desmos, the fantastic online graphing calculator. My new department chair’s ears perked up. I took that as a good sign. All of a sudden, I started to feel like my teaching style would be a good fit for the culture of the building. It’s a Four-Star school that excels at serving a college-bound population of motivated students. But more and more the administration is seeking ways to serve the kids who don’t fit in that narrow band of kids who play the game of school well.

Early in the summer, I had a twitter convo with my new department chair, regarding the text for my class and available supplemental materials. Teachers have got plenty of leeway to use whatever materials and activities they see fit, if it serves teaching and learning. And that includes pulling sections from other course texts offered by the same publisher. I told him that’s great, because I’m all about ditching the textbook.

The phrasing was partly intentional, but definitely struck a chord. He replied that the department had read Matt Miller‘s book Ditch That Textbook as a group last year.

Hashtag: No Coincidences

I’ve been reading Matt’s blog for a while, I’m fully bought-in to the concepts. Even implemented a few into my work. In a lot of places, that would make me a unicorn. Maybe even at my new school a few years ago, I would have been an outlier. But guess what? Now it’s SOP.

Welcome to The Show.

Thing is, I haven’t read the book yet. I’m already behind my new colleagues. That will never do.

Cool thing though: that personalized learning thing that we keep saying we want to offer our students? It goes for teachers too. Learn what you want, when you want, from anybody, any time. Hell, twitter is one giant on-demand personalized PD for me. So guess what. I’m about to join my department’s book club, from a distance.

Asymmetrical learning, people. Asymmetrical learning. I bought the book, started to tear in as soon as I opened the Amazon envelope on Sunday. I emailed my department chair to see if he had a google doc or written reflection questions from the department book chat that he could share to help me frame my thinking as I work my way through.

Call it my One-Man Book Club. Gonna do some thinking out loud in this space as well. Just what the doctor ordered to get me caught up.

And hey, if you want to join in…..

No time like now to get better.