Tuesday, April 28, 2015

6 Top Lies I Tole My Students

I lied to them all the time. Here are a few of the most common lies I told my kids.

6 . “I’m really 73 years old”. I just use really good moisturizer. I did this purely for my own amusement.  It was funny to watch middle schoolers try to decide if I was telling the truth or messing with them. They still want to believe in crazy stuff. PS  -- I was in my 20s when I told this. It was more absurd then :) I stopped telling it around age 30 when they stopped asking me if I was teasing.

5 . “That’s against my religion” My catch-all excuse for anything I didn’t want to deal with was that it was against my (fake) “religion”. Class parties were against my “religion”. Free time was against my “religion”. Candy was against my “religion”. Chewing gum was really against my “religion”. Texting in class was against my “religion”. It took a while before some kid asked what my religion WAS.

I now tell them that I am a Newmanite (since I’m Newman). My maiden name was Berlage so I was Berlagian before that. The kids realized it was a silly way of saying things weren’t “My Way” of doing things. They would tell new kids about things that were against the teacher’s religion. I still tell this lie to students.

4. “I will lose my job if you do ___” I told kids that the things they did would cause me to lose my job. I often made things more dramatic than they actually were. But it scared the heck out of my kids when I used this line about opening the windows of my classroom (a no-no, true, but not lose-my-job worthy), kids breaking stuff (like my projector or a desk), or about them cheating on tests

I was probably not going to lose my job over those things. But certainly fewer kids did them. And that’s saying something. I don’t really have to tell this lie much anymore. But it works when I do.

3. You really need to know this. They don’t, really.Not all of it. Especially not the details. At no point in my life -- even as a Social Studies Teacher(!) has anyone ever asked me in what year the Maryland Colony was founded or what happened in the Tet Offensive. Not once. Not even on Trivia Night! I got over this lie and I hardly ever tell it anymore.

2. I don’t have favorite students. I tried. I really, really did try! I tried to care about all the kids the same. But some kids are just more likeable than others. Some kids were easier to connect with than others. Some kids drove me crazy! Some kids I got through to  -- and some, I didn’t. But I could never admit that to my students. I couldn’t afford to lose the occasional attention of Jasmina by telling her she was annoying. I couldn’t afford to lose the connection with Javonte by letting him know that he got on my nerves. I couldn’t lose the rest of my class by letting them all doubt whether I cared about all of them or was just pretending. My relationship with my class was too important. I lied about that every day. Now that I don’t have my own students, I don’t get to tell this one. But I totally would.

1. You can’t do this so I will do it for you. I honestly believed for years that my kids couldn't do a lot. They couldn't read the textbook. They didn't have the background knowledge for the content I was teaching. They just couldn't do it.

So instead of teaching them how to do things, I did the things for the kids. Out of kindness and love. Seriously!

They couldn't read the textbook and glean the important info? I would put that important info in a power point! They couldn't understand important cause and effects? I would tell them the causes and effects! They couldn't write well? I would let them write short answers or bullet points! Their lack of background knowledge made them struggle through understanding of complicated pieces of history? I would simplify the moments into a cute worksheet or handout so they didn’t have to wade through the messy stuff.

When I believed that my kids couldn't do things, then I was right. My kids didn’t do those things. And I didn’t make them!

But -- the only way to get better at something is to practice. Can I keep my non-swimming kid on the beach for her whole life? Or do I teach her to swim? Buy her velcro shoes until she’s twenty? Or teach her to tie her shoes?

Do I stop expecting my students to read, write, and think -- or do I teach them and make them practice and practice and practice -- until they improve?

The biggest barrier to student success is a teacher who thinks they can’t.

I definitely don’t tell this lie anymore.

You know what made me stop telling this lie? The slight streak of competitiveness in me and a little ego. I heard someone say “Tracy, your kids can’t do x, y, and z”. And I thought “The heck they can’t!!! I will make ‘em do x, y, and z!”

And it was hard work and I had to try some different, out-of-the-box things. But, dangit, my kids DID do it! Who said they can’t?

I challenge you to look at the lies you tell -- especially this last one. Do you tell it? Or do you find a way to teach the skills your kids need? Struggles and ideas? As always, I love to hear from you! Email me! newmantr@pcsb.org

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