Thursday, April 13, 2017

Teaching Tip #151




Teacherscribe’s Teaching Tip #151


It’s what we all do when no one is watching that really counts.  And sometimes it’s what we do that we don’t even remember that makes a huge difference in the lives of our students. 


It’s What You Do When You Think No One Is Watching (installment 2)
I am a noticer.

You may not notice, but odds are I will.

What does that mean?
Just this morning in my first block, I have, supposedly, our top students in College Comp 2.  These are the kids who, supposedly, have never got a B and will do whatever it takes to keep their precious little 4.0s.
Yet I notice how when given time to work - they’re completing an infograph instead of an essay on the first book they read, Cal Newport’s So Good They Can’t Ignore You, and they have a take home essay exam to complete by Tuesday - I still see two students constantly on their phones.
I notice this.  And then I think, let me observe any class and I bet I can accurately predict not only the students’ grades but what their teachers’ comments will be on their report cards by how often they are on their cell phones. 
I’ve noticed this over the years.  My least inspiring and successful students are constantly on their phones.  They simply don’t develop the ability to tune out the distractions and devote themselves to the real work that college demands. 
This is but one reason 70% of students will leave college without a degree.
At the same time, though, I notice one student right now sitting at the table in front of me, her hand on her head massaging her temples and she designs her own infograph.  I see another staring intently at the screen.  She scribbles something on a yellow Sticky-Note, peels it from the stack, and slaps it in her book. 
I know the former student scored a 34 on her ACT.  She scored a 35 on the English portion and a 36 on the written portion.  I sure noticed that!  The latter scored well enough to get into the U of M.
They haven’t picked up their phones once.
So what? 
You see, dear reader, what I notice when you don’t think anyone is watching is the most important ‘tell’ of the type of person you are and how much you will succeed.  Plus, this is that type of information I put into the letters of recommendation you ask me for, especially the ones that you will have to agree to only let the university or scholarship committee see.  That means your eyes will never read what I notice about you.
And for some that is a really good thing. 
Here is a real paragraph from a letter of recommendation I was asked to write. Now, let me preface that with this: I informed the student ahead of time that I would not be the wisest of choice for a reference.  However, the student confessed that he had no other options.
So, this is what I wrote - John is like so many other high schoolers I see.  That is, he is unremarkable.  He shows up to my class, usually on time.  He often turns in his work, usually a day late.  He does not actively engage in any discussions or conversations.  In fact, the only thing he actively engages with is his phone.  Now, I’m not strict on cell phones in my class, so when I notice he has a problem with it, then he really, really has a problem with it.  So unless you are looking for someone who will flunk or drop out after a semester, I would not give this student a scholarship.  Perhaps I am wrong.  Please see his other letters of recommendation, though.
I put that final line in giving him a second chance, but I also knew that he did not actually have any other recommendations.

Before you think I am completely nefarious, let me show you another paragraph from a letter of recommendation I am currently writing for Shelby, who is now majoring in education at Concordia - One thing I will always remember about Shelby was her kindness. The fall of her senior year, I saw her do something amazing. It touched my heart and really illustrates what kind of wonderful young lady Shelby is. In late October, the school put on a pep fest for the volleyball team as they were, hopefully, about to return to the state playoffs. Shelby was announced and said a few words to the roaring crowd. Then when the students were released to leave for the day, I saw Shelby take time out and stop and talk to Nate, one of our special needs students who is confined to a wheelchair who also happens to be a diehard Prowler sports fan. She knelt by Nate as he sat by the exit. Everyone else was pouring out of the gym to get home or to practice. Shelby, however, talked with Nate. She interacted with him for at least 5 minutes before giving him a hug before leaving. I was speechless. She didn’t have to do that. In fact, most of her teammates were so caught up in the moment that they were oblivious to anything else. Again, not Shelby. I believe this illustrates perfectly her kindness and empathy.  In fact, I’d be proud if my daughter, Kenzie, grew up to be just like her.

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