Teacherscribe’s Teaching Tip #140
The four skills innovative teachers need to thrive with millennials and in the digital age.
1. You have to know how to sell.
If you can’t sell your students on why they should show up to your class every day (other than the fact that they have to because of truancy laws), you won’t have great student buy in.
Remember, the millennial generation hates the hard sell. This generation is the reason we have to sit through commercials on Youtube or at the movie theatre. They have been bombarded with millions of commercials over their life times. Now, though, thanks to the DVR, they can skip every commercial. No wonder they hate having products (or in our cases, subjects) crammed down their throats.
So how do we sell to students when they have being sold to? Well, that’s what’s awesome about the millennials, they do, though, love to purchase. I believe they are willing to “buy” our subjects. We just have to do it more on their terms than on our terms.
What I mean by that is I can’t imagine any of my high school teachers ever considering the question - why does Kurt really need to know this and how will he use these skills 20 years from now? Okay, they might have put some thought into those questions, but for the most part, I had a specific role to play in school - show up, take notes, listen to the lecture, memorize the notes, take the test, and repeat.
Does that sound like school today?
Does that sound like it gets our students excited to come to our classes?
Remember, the millennials have grown up in the most visually stimulating and entertaining culture known to man. We can’t expect them to do as we did in school 20 years ago.
Now, if you say “it’s not my job to sell them or entertain them or even like them. It’s my job to teach them. They should come to my room ready to learn.”
Yes, in a perfect world.
But what world do you live (or more importantly, teach) in?
When you were 16 did you come in the room ready to learn?
I didn’t. I came in wanting to prolong the conversation I was having with my best friend Lon as long as I possibly could until the teacher told us to shut up and take notes. I came in wanting to keep my headphones on and listen to Def Leppard or Metallica for as long as I could get away with it. I came in looking at the stats from Tecmo Bowl and Madden that I religiously kept in my tablet rather than reviewing my notes.
If you just expect the kids to care - without any effort on your part - your year is going to be long and arduous.
But it doesn’t have to be.
Sell your students on why this information or subject or text or equation is important.
Sell them by showing them how much you love it and how passionate you are about it.
Sell them by showing them how this will not only impact them now but also 20 years down the road.
Sell them by showing them how this relates to their lives right now as they walk into your room.
The area I struggle most with is teaching Shakespeare (namely, Romeo and Juliet) to my Lit and Lang 9R kids.
These kids are - by and large - who have been turned off to English and reading by copious worksheets and boring (their language, not mine) stories and novels.
It’s my job to show them that what we read isn’t boring. It’s actually really freaking cool.
And there’s nothing that kids hate more than Shakespeare.
So before we embark on Romeo and Juliet, I give them a list of popular phrases that didn’t exist until Shakespeare invented them (“Dead as a doornail” “All that glitters is not gold” “Fancy free” “Full circle” “Good riddance” “Jealousy is the green eyed monster” “In a pickle” “Seen better days” . . .). We discuss these and I do a lot of selling them on how Shakespeare has impacted our lives. There is a great Youtube video detailing Shakespeare’s impact on our language that I often show.
My goal (and this is a lofty one, I know) is to have them begin seeing Shakespeare’s influence on the very words they speak every single day. It is kind of like when I realized all the songs the Beatles actually wrote and made popular. I didn’t know the Beatles originally sang any of those songs since I only knew them through the cover versions of those songs. But the more I listened to the original Beatles collection, I realize their impact on every single artist I ever listened to!
If there is more time, I’ll show them some of the very famous movies (The Lion King, Warm Bodies, She’s the Man, 10 Things I Hate About You, Forbidden Planet, Strange Brew, My Own Private Idaho to name just a few).
I also want to begin laying the foundation for why they should struggle to read Shakespeare - that is because he is the greatest, most influential writer ever to exist. I always tell them what one of my professors (dear old Dr. Drake) said, “If aliens landed on earth and wanted to know all about humans, I wouldn’t say a word. I’d just hand the the works of Shakespeare.” I also try and wow them with the fact that even 400 years after his death, Shakespeare is still a billion dollar business.
Then, I have kids survey their parents about what language was like then they were young. So kids come in with their parents giving them words like “groovy” and so on. Then I try to use that as a springboard to talk about how language is fluid. We can always talk about how the word “gay” has taken on different meanings (just watch the old intro the The Flntstones . . . ‘We’ll have a gay old time.”). We will examine the new words that have been added to Websters each year (“starter marriage” “dot com” “hashtag”and so on) talk about how language evolves constantly. Then I have them complete a worksheet (see, I’m not totally obsessed with technology) on creating Shakespearean insults.
My goal is to show them that the very difficult and strange language we are going to spend the next two weeks trying to decipher really isn’t so strange. It’s actually “modern” English. We just need to realize that language changes and evolves over time. To prove this point we examine how language has changed since their parents’ and grandparents’ days.
Then I try to connect the play to their lives right now in 2015. As freshman they are caught up in one of the most awkward times of their lives in terms of adolescents and all that goes along with it: raging hormones, peer pressure, trying to fit in, high school life and drama . . . when we look at R&J this way, there isn’t a better time to read it! I talk about how in this play Shakespeare gives life to our modern concept of romantic love. Prior to this, there wasn’t this infatuation with “falling in love” (in fact, literary critic Harold Bloom observes that never before had that phrase been used before in the English language). Marriages were often either arranged or just convenient. Here is where I have students look at their grandparents and great grandparents and how they met. I always ask them, if we are destined to find that one true love on this planet, isn’t it odd that so many of our great grandparents ended up marrying the boy who lived two farms over or in the next town. Out of the billions of people on our planet, what are those odds?
My goal is to get them thinking about this crazy abstract concept of love, specifically how it is evident in the marriages of their relatives. Sometimes we will go so far as to discuss the concept of “love at first sight.” It’s great to have them ask their parents and grand parents and even great grandparents about this. Often I will hear responses like, “At first, I thought your grandmother was the most beautiful thing in the world, but she didn’t have any time for me.” Ha ha. So much for love at first sight!
Next, I ask them about their lives now. Do they know any of their friends or siblings who are desperately in love? This leads to a great discussion on “puppy” love. I share with them that some think that falling in love the first time is often the most intense love one will ever feel . . . and this is one reason it sometimes leads to tragedy, such as depression and suicide. I will then have students bring in their favorite love songs. We will spend some time listening to them and note that (as a whole) most tend to focus on heartbreak. For every “Just Breathe” there are a dozen “Every Rose Has It’s Thorn” or “Battlefield.”
My goal is to get them thinking about all the emotions and drama going on around them right now as it relates to relationships and love. Sometimes we will talk about shows like Temptation Island (you can see that I’m really showing how long I’ve been doing this) or The Bachelor. And how they depict love.
All of this work is done on the front end before we actually read a word of the play. This is all done to sell, sell, sell, sell, and sell them on the idea that what they are about to read is important and relevant to them.