Teachers Gonna Teach


All in the family. Image via metromba.com.

I say it often: Teaching is pretty much the Family Business. My mom was a school nurse in East Chicago, Gary, and Hammond for 30 years. My mother-in-law taught elementary school for 21 years, and now in retirement is a classroom aide in Las Vegas. My older brother was a civilian instructor for the Navy during his 30 years in the Army reserves. And my uncle (an engineer and then a lawyer) taught middle school math while he was in grad school.

It’s what we do.

My oldest son has his heart set on police work, which is cool. I personally think he’d make a great history teacher, an area of personal interest for him. But in the meantime, he is (among other things) a Life Teen Junior Core Member at our parish. So, he’s doing a little teaching, usually in small-group settings but often addressing a room full of high school students after Mass on Sunday evenings.

So Sunday morning he’s preparing a talk he’ll give to high school students later that night about “accepting difficult teachings”.

No pressure, right? Also, somewhat ironic.

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Image via photobucket.com.

Staring at a blank google doc that stays blank is very frustrating. Especially when the clock is ticking.

It’s his talk and he’s gotta write it, but… Can I help? Because 900 performances a year for 14 years has to be worth something to somebody. And, teachers gonna teach.

So, hoping to give him some guidance on building a coherent and compelling talk,  I pose two questions: “What’s your takeaway for them?”, and “How do you want to hook them in at the start?”

And thus I introduced my oldest to the Backwards Assessment Model and the concept of a hook.

He settled in on using some anecdotes from a concert that we (and several of the kids he’d be talking with) all attended the night before. A comment made by the lead singer while introing a song really stuck with him, and I suggested that if that line spoke to him, it probably would resonate with his audience too. It was a common experience that they could all use as an anchor. He was wise enough to see that would be a great tool for getting buy-in for his talk.

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Image via imgur.com.

Now that he’s on a roll, I dish out a handful of tools from my Blog Writing 101 bag:

  • Type words and phrases as they come into your head. before they evaporate. Don’t worry about complete sentences, or even punctuation. You can flesh it out later. Get the important points down and go from there.
  • Use all your resources. Life Teen publishes a guide book with suggestions for each Life Night. Is there anything in there you can take and run with? Especially with the more technical parts of your talk?
  • Develop a theme or conceit. Is there a phrase that summarizes your point? A little repetition can be a valuable tool for getting a point to stick.
  • Write like you talk. The Talk has to be in your voice. I could tell it sounded like him just by peeking over his shoulder and reading a few lines.
  • Get another set of eyes on it, especially for proofreading (grammar and spelling).
  • And one from my radio days: Read it. The whole thing. Out loud. You’d be amazed how a clever turn of phrase on paper turns into a tongue-twister when spoken aloud.

He’s been in their seats, just a few years ago. He knows what kind of Life Night talks kept his interest and what kind went in one ear and out the other. “Would I want to sit and listen to 10 or 15 minutes of what I just wrote?”

Lastly, we talked visuals. Wifi is a recent upgrade to the Life Teen Center, so he had the option to punch things up with media. He ended up using a piece of  the VeggieTales episode “Dave And The Giant Pickle“, and this one:

Writing themes and persuasive essays was not my son’s idea of a good time in high school. But here, a few years later, given an opportunity to tell a story that mattered to him, he put together a solid presentation.

He came home Sunday evening feeling like things went pretty well.

Cool. I was happy for him. And glad I could lend a hand.

Because Teachers Gonna Teach. In and out of season.





Will I Ever Make A PowerPoint After High School?

Every math teacher dreads the question. Like they dread teaching (Trigger Warning) synthetic division. “When are we ever gonna use this stuff?” We end up having to justify the thing we love so much we chose it as a career, to a bunch of disinterested 15-year-olds.

Other teachers get the “cool” subjects with relevant topics and awesome class discussions for days, and we get to make our kids graph lines with pencil and paper. As if anyone does that for real on the job. If only they could make PowerPoints for us, like they do for their US History teacher. Life would be so sweet.

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But you know what? Secretly… they hate making PowerPoints.


Or rather, they hate making an effort to make a good PowerPoint. It’s one more thing they can robotically churn out in a half-hour, read the slides off the screen when it’s time to make the presentation, then sit back and say “Gimme My Points!” I know it’s true, because I’ve heard those exact words.

What if making a PowerPoint is one more thing they’ll never do again after high school?

There is a stat floating around out there, of somewhat suspicious origin, that 30 million Power Point presentations are made every day.

Thirty. Million.

If this number is true, one in every 250 or so people on the planet is clicking through a slide deck today. I’m a math teacher (and a PLTW teacher), so I get that that number is not evenly distributed. But still. If my students feel like they won’t have to do this on the job… they’re probably right. Or maybe not. Depends on the job, right?


What if it’s not about slapping together 10 slides (ctrl-c, ctrl-v, rinse, repeat), and it’s really about telling a story?

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My Intro To Engineering Design students are in the midst of a project requiring them to select an invention, to research all the innovations that have been made to that product since it was invented, and to present what they have learned. I’ll be pretty honest with you. I don’t want to watch 40 horrible slide show presentation with my students standing with their back to their classmates, reading from bullet points while clicking through unreadable slides.

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Call me selfish. But last time I checked my business card, it says “Teacher”. Guess that means if I want them to make an awesome presentation, I’m gonna have to teach them how to make an awesome presentation. OK, fine. Somebody’s got to. So, after they research their invention and innovations, and before they start building a slide deck, I hit them with a combo platter: Carmine Gallo and Steve Jobs. Gallo literally wrote the book on making insanely great presentations, and Jobs…. well, c’mon. You know.

So we start with Gallo’s slide deck on the Presentation Secrets Of Steve Jobs. Yes, read the book. You’re probably already using at least a couple of these tactics in your class. Then once we’ve identified best practices, we watch the master at work.

Then I give them a slide from a previous year student’s presentation and ask them to use what they’ve learned to improve the slide.

Truth be told, it’s a lot more work than ctrl-c, ctrl-v. But holy crap, have they bought in. I say: tell a story with your slides, don’t read them, tell your audience the things you learned that you think are cool. And they give me this:

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I swear, it was like a contest to see who could put the coolest gif in their slides. They’re having fun. In school. On an assignment. For my class. Pinch me.

But, are they ever going to have to make a PowerPoint again after high school? Ask me again in 40 years. But I know for sure they’ll need digital communication skills. I know for sure they’ll have to tell a story, and make that story kind of interesting. Maybe they’ll be pitching a product or a business idea. Maybe they’ll be witnessing to a youth group. Maybe they’ll be podcasting about writing a novel or launching a youtube channel of  DIY household repair tutorials. Maybe they’ll be telling the life story of a loved one at a wedding or a wake.

Go tell your story, people.