One year, eight and a half months ago, I packed up my little hatchback with the last few boxes of classroom materials, hugged a few students, and left the classroom, not knowing when I’d return.
There’s a chance — a slight chance — that I’ll be back in the classroom in some capacity next year.
I took the four steps down the hall and propped myself against the door frame to Kris’ office. “So, five years from now, when we have nine tech coaches — “
“Hah! Right.” Kris hasn’t looked up from her computer yet, but we have these conversations on a regular basis. No primer, no warm-up, and eye contact only once both parties are engaged.
“Nine tech coaches, but only six coaching at any one time. Each year, one-third of the coaching staff is back in the classroom. Keeping their chops up, trying out new instructional strategies, and filling a blank spot for the master schedule.” I’m still in the doorframe and I know she’ll spin and I can raise my eyebrows and feel smug and proud of my great idea.
“Hm,” says Kris, looking out the window above her computer and slowly turning her chair. I raise my eyebrows, like I’d planned, “I know, right? It’s the best idea in a long history of my great ideas.”
“I … don’t know about that,” she laughs. “Principals won’t like that plan; it’ll make hiring a nightmare. What if we used the tech coaches to fill temporary vacancies? Pregnancy, leave of absence, illness or injury; stuff like that.”
My jaw drops. “Oh, baby. That’s fantastic! That’s way better than my idea, which was already good.”
“Yeah…” Kris taps on her phone in her left hand, absently staring at the ceiling. “There’s something there. Let’s keep thinking about it.” She spins back to her computer and I retreat to my standing desk.
About six months after leaving the class, I attended CMC 2014, as I do every year.
Here’s the thing about leaving a conference with no classroom to return to; that feeling of “I can’t wait to try this!” remains unfulfilled. I’m pumping up a water-bottle rocket, but never releasing it.
In the few short months of instructional coaching, I’d already filled my satchel with great ideas that I can’t actually implement. That feeling has only grown in the last year-and-a-half.
Until Kris hatched this plan.
I’m already dreaming about how to teach differently. Here are a few benchmarks that have evolved since I left the class:
If you’ve taught more than a few weeks, you’ve noticed something.
Your highest-achieving students will do your homework.
Your lowest-achieving students will not.
Students in the middle might or might not.
This is not a new idea, and it gets worse.
“Mr. Vaudrey, can I talk to you outside?” Roger was a 16-year-old sophomore that arrived late in the year to my Geometry class. He fit in quickly and earned his B+ through hard work and sharing with his table, which I appreciated.
“I don’t have my homework today.” He shuffled his feet.
“Hm.” I folded my arms and put on my tough teacher face. “Why not?”
“It’s cuz… last night, my dad came home drunk, so we hid until he passed out and we left at midnight. My math book is at the house and we can’t go back for a few days.”
Roger wasn’t the only student with a shitty home life that year.
The students who most needed success in their life had the most stress once they left my class. Homework is just one more thing that they can’t control and isn’t going how they planned.
How arrogant that I punish those students with guilt and missing points.
Our students most in need of our support also face even more negativity in the land of teacher crackdown:
“No food, no gum, no drinks in my class.”
“If you don’t stop bothering him, you’re not going to pass the class.”
My sister is a psychologist who specializes in child development. My wife and I get to benefit from her work with kids, and we don’t even give her a copay.
In parenting with high-needs children, naming the “positive opposite” is a common practice. Kids don’t automatically know the alternative to their bad behavior, so name the behavior you want.
Instead of “Don’t hit your sister!” say “We use nice touches.”
Listen to what teachers are saying when they manage a class. Is it like the negative language above? Or are they naming the positive opposite?
Make Learning Matter
There are plenty of other class culture ideas that I’ve formulated in my time away from the front of the class, many of which, I dabbled in prior to leaving.
Instead of describing it in depth, I should just write a book.
~Matt “Nice Touches” Vaudrey