I left my classroom today, shortly after an earthquake aftershock and possibly for the last time for weeks (nope, just got word that I go in tomorrow). I haven’t seen my students for 5 days. I don’t know how they’re dealing with all of the things that are happening around us. I hope they understand my assignments. I hope they see my video and can feel how much I care.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) has spurred the need to send everyone home and continue the education experience over the internet.  I know that many school districts, schools, and teachers around the world aren’t ready to teach their students remotely. Many classes are nearly impossible to teach from across the city. Fortunately, at least I think so, I have been teaching students to read and write in small chunks. I have a system set up on Canvas, a multi-user learning management tool. Students know how to write responses to prompts, and have been reading almost daily from the beginning of the school year.

The problem I am worried about, with my students specifically, is whether they are doing it. I can’t be there to talk them through what they are thinking. Should I be? Would that help? Shouldn’t they be able to take the experiences and understanding that they have acquired, and apply that to today’s assignments?

Here is some context to the dilemma of teaching, both online, and in person. I was watching a documentary about Mr. Rogers. It is a very personal and insightful look into who Fred Rogers was, and what he believed about people. Mr. Rogers has been quoted as saying, “Deep and simple is far better than shallow and complex”.

Today I realized that I generally follow that philosophy. Obviously, teachers are not universally the same in any way. We have preferences, systems, strengths, and weaknesses that shape who we are and how we teach. Education shouldn’t be confusing. Learning should be challenging, but manageable. Students should express some resistance because they don’t know if they can manage what is expected of them. That is why I teach. They can do difficult things. Students can improve their reading skills. Students can improve their writing skills. Students are critical thinkers and can get better at problem-solving.

This particular quarantine situation is the perfect time for teachers to take some time and get familiar with programs and websites like YouTube, Zoom, and Skype.

I know that parents feel overwhelmed with what all of the different teachers are planning and expect from their students. Kids should know what their teachers do. For the most part, schoolwork or homework shouldn’t be any different than what has happened in the school. Systems should basically be in place. Of course, I’m thinking of high school and junior high/middle school. I can’t imagine trying to create work that elementary students can learn from.

Therefore, teachers should consider video messages of encouragement, understanding, and homework explanation. Teachers should do their best to use systems that students are familiar with. Avoid the temptation to create something new just because we have to communicate online. Pick a process and stick with it.

I know that students are going to do what they do when it comes to schoolwork. What does that mean? Some will, some won’t. Some care, some don’t. Some are dealing with things at home that they don’t have control over.

Long story short, we need teachers. We need in-person education. Some will learn just fine online. Most, however, most need to be in a room with a caring and educated adult, guiding them through their assignments (with objectives and outcomes). Teachers are more than education. Teachers are examples of behavior. Teachers are examples of problem-solvers. Teachers are examples of tenacity and courage.

Especially in the face of being asked to do more than stated in a contract, with no model to follow.

Hang in there. We got this! #itsonlyafewweeks

 

Language. We don’t often think about the words we use and the messages we send. Yet it is something we inherently know and do every day. We communicate with people using words, but communication or language is not just using words.
We use body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice. Language is something we understand, even if it is difficult to explain. Words mean things. Sometimes language can paint a picture, or express an emotion. Language can provide a window to our thoughts. Can language portray how we really feel?
Language is something that we can feel confident about until we get into a fight with a loved one. We think we make sense. We think people understand us. And then out of nowhere, we feel frustrated, flustered, hurt, for being misunderstood.
Language is not only the words we say out loud, but the words we think in our minds. The messages we tell ourselves to deal with the struggles we face.
My Canoeing Challenge – A Story
I found myself in the nose of a Coleman canoe, paddling a week’s worth of gear in hopefully waterproof garbage bags. We had begun the first part of a weeklong high adventure trip in Idaho. Half a dozen fourteen and fifteen-year-old boys and a few scoutmasters maneuvering the river from one point to another, pitching tents on the bank of the river. It was exciting and scary. A challenge that men accomplish. Something to tell my future grandchildren about as we sit by a campfire.
Each person had to prove that they were capable of participating in this adventure. I was a confident swimmer. But swamping a canoe, lifting it to dump water, and turning it upright is a solid challenge for any young man. Especially in the chilly, early summer snowmelt river. We proved we could do it, which put everyone in high spirits. Now we each hoped that we wouldn’t have to repeat that terrible process, potentially losing, or at the very least, soaking our clothes and gear.
We set out, enjoying the sunny morning, keeping our eyes open for eagles in the sky. I was paired with an adult by the name of Bart. He was a kind and encouraging leader, though he wasn’t afraid to keep us in line when we needed it. We made it for several miles without a problem. It looked as if we would make it through the day without incident. The river split into a fork. All of the canoes in our group floated to the left. Bart and I steered to the right hoping to stay in deep, moving water. We weren’t that lucky. We tried looking ahead, hoping to avoid logs or rocks close to the surface but with the sparkle of the sun on the water, we failed to float through a clear path. The bottom of the red plastic canoe scraped slowly against the bottom of the river until we stopped.
We were high-centered in water deep enough to potentially tip the canoe over if we attempted to get out. We tried to shift our weight and push with our oars, knowing if we broke the blade of the paddle the rest of the trip would be difficult. I had never really experienced such a difficult situation before this. I could see Bart getting frustrated. I was trying everything that I could without much effect. He was trying to be encouraging without being too mean. I didn’t want to be seen as weak. I didn’t want to tip the canoe. I didn’t want Bart to think I wasn’t trying. I didn’t know what I could do. I didn’t feel strong enough to move the canoe. We were stuck.
Bart didn’t take my reasons or excuses or anything else I said. He became a coach, aggressive and encouraging. He said things like, “We can do this!” and, “Pull that oar like your life depends on it!”
I tried to lean into it, pulling the oar through what seemed like inches of water. I didn’t think we would get out of this unless one of us got out to lift and push the canoe. Bart might have. It was a serious struggle. I didn’t like being stuck there in the middle of a river. I didn’t like being thought of as weak. I didn’t like worrying about whether we would tip over and get all of our gear wet.
We made it through. I was sore and embarrassed, but we caught up with the others in our group. It was a struggle and one that I will never forget. It helps me to remember that it is okay to struggle. It helps me to see kids, young people, my students, struggle and reminds me that they are not broken. They have not failed. They are simply struggling and haven’t figured out how to get through whatever it is that they are dealing with.
What About You?
Does anyone really like to struggle? It is frustrating, but it is a part of life. It is something that everyone experiences, regardless of age, status, nationality, and gender. At one time or another, all of us have tried to do something and failed, or at least not been successful the first time. What keeps us from quitting?
When our babies first try to walk, and fall, we think it’s cute. We smile, lift them up, and encourage them to try again. However, shortly after we become proficient walkers we start to get frustrated when we try to do something and get stuck. We think there is something wrong with us when we try to read new words, can’t get it, feel stupid, and quit.
Struggling isn’t fun. Nobody really wants to struggle. We might accept it, and learn from it, but it is a challenge and takes time for a person to change their attitude or perspective, or accept that it might just be time to grow in some unknown way.
But what is worse? Struggling when we have support all around us, at school or at home when it is manageable to some extent. What happens when we are expected to struggle and live with other people who struggle? Shouldn’t we have some confidence in our ability to struggle?
Shouldn’t we understand that struggle is a part of the process? If we are struggling, we are learning and growing. We are finding out what we are capable of. We start to learn that we can do hard things, even if it isn’t fun. We can do things and survive, and hopefully in some instances, thrive.
What are you capable of? Have you given yourself time to get there? Don’t give up! Keep trying. Find a new way to think about the problem.
Who has inspired you to not give up? How have you overcome a challenge?
Who can you inspire? Who is struggling that needs to hear your encouragement?

Nobody wants to look like a fool. It’s embarrassing to be seen as dumb or clumsy. Do we lose this insecurity as we grow older? In our teenage years it’s probably the thing that takes most of our time. We worry about what others will think about our clothes, our shoes, our hair, the car we drive, almost everything. The thing is, as we worry about what others are thinking of us, they are thinking the same thing. We are motivated to do things that we wouldn’t normally do because of what we perceive to be other peoples expectations.

What is Perception?

Perceptions are dangerous. We can see someone and based on how they’re dressed, what they are driving, how they carry themselves, we think something about them. We perceive them as successful, or smart, or poor. But are they really? We don’t ever have the whole story in front of us.

Perceptions are always assumptions. We assume things about someone based on how they look. We assume things about what someone is thinking when we don’t really know unless they tell us.

Perceptions are a problem because we have to observe situations and people around us. We are accustomed to observing people and guessing things about them. This isn’t necessarily bad when we get to know someone. If we really know someone, our perception, our observations could be totally accurate. If we get to know our coworker, or a fellow student, and we see by their facial expressions that they’re having a bad day, we can attempt to help them feel better. We view ourselves and others as good people who care about those around us. We know that we intend to help, or at least stay out of the way.

We’re All Human

As a teacher, I have observed my students and made assumptions about them. I have seen them behave, or misbehave in class. Some teachers might feel abused or offended by this behavior. Maybe these teachers even feel targeted by their students’ indifference to the lesson and assignment, like it’s a personal thing. It’s not usually very long after I have thought something about a student, that I find out what’s really going on at home. Maybe not everything is revealed, but enough is brought to light to make me feel like a jerk for thinking negatively about a student.

I like to think I give every student a fair chance in class, but I’m sure there are things that cause me to think or act unfairly toward students. I can only hope that I err on the side of the student more often than not. Not every student feels comfortable asking for help or extra time on assignments.

One student helped me to realize an aspect of the stress of school, and my perception of male students that I hadn’t thought of before. I had heard that some male students are being thought of as lazy. They are perceived as capable by parents and teachers, but they’re not doing the work because they don’t care, or they procrastinate. While that might be true to some extent, one student admitted that he “plays lazy” because he is afraid to perform to his true potential because he was afraid that he would be expected to sustain that grade level or GPA through the rest of his school experience. He knew he was capable of doing it, he just didn’t want to spend that much time doing it. Parents perceived one thing, while he was presenting something else.

The other side of that is the students perception of the energy that would be required to maintain a certain grade level or GPA. Is it really difficult to pass some classes? What is our students perception of us and the work we are having them do? Are our students really capable of doing the work we are asking them to do? We need to be sure that what we are presenting as important and critical to our class, really is important.

Communication is intricate and dangerous. I don’t mean dangerous like someone could die; well maybe death is possible. We don’t just rely on spoken language but body language and facial expressions as well. When we think we see something and guess a persons intentions, we are perceiving falsely. Young people in particular can have a hard time understanding what an adult is saying. A simple lack of experience can cause all kinds of problems.

An Example of Misperception and a Possible Fix

In school, a younger person might not have experience holding a conversation around an academic topic. In this particular instance, a student, Jane, was absent for a day. Now being back in school, Jane might feel lost and not know how to proceed with an assignment. Jane’s perception might be that the teacher expects her to know more than she does. Jane might be embarrassed because she wasn’t paying attention. Jane might be scared that things were covered the day she was sick. Jane’s perception is that somehow she is missing something that was probably already given to everyone else. Is she going to have the confidence to ask questions to fill in the gap that was created by her absence?

On the other hand, the teacher’s perception might be that Jane wasn’t paying attention, or already knows what need to be done. The teacher may or may not remember that Jane was sick and missed an important day. If the teacher remembers that Jane was absent, she might clarify what Jane remembers and what information she missed the day she was sick.

Jane has some responsibility to clarify what the assignment is about and ask for help.

The language of perception is challenging. Too often we are afraid to look dumb in front of other people. We want to be seen as successful and ‘with it’. We can’t control others thoughts or beliefs. We can only marginally impact how others perceive us. How do you dress? How do you style your hair? People make assumptions about you based on how you look. How do you want others to perceive you? Are you successful and confident? Do you dress that way? Do you want to be seen that way? Do you dress like you’re always ready to play basketball? How do you want to be perceived?

You and I are guilty of this kind of thinking. How do you perceive other people? What biases do you have about others? How we perceive others can impact how we treat others. How teachers or other adults perceive you can impact how they treat you. Most often this type of perception and treatment is unfair. A good teacher will take time to get to know students, and not make judgements about ability and intent until later when there is actual evidence of ability.

Let’s Fix It

So how do you manage your perceptions or how you perceive people? I can think of a couple of examples from my teaching experience. My most memorable experience with perception and expectation was when I taught 12 and 13 year olds in grade 7. I’m not super tall at 5’11”, but I did weigh a bit more than I should, and at the time I had a full beard which was almost all gray before I turned 40. I looked intimidating, but I didn’t really understand how intimidating I was until later in the year when students had become more comfortable with me and told me about their first few days in my class. They were respectful at the beginning of the year, which isn’t totally unusual. Everyone is nervous in those first days of school. Later I found out that they thought I was scary. They thought I would be mean, and strict, and unforgiving on their assignments. I just laughed with them. Our perceptions of others can really cause some anxiety.

So what? What does this have to do with me or my child now? Teachers are in the teaching profession to help students learn. Speaking from experience, some students ask for clarity or to understand, but don’t really want to know, or don’t plan on acting on what they are asking for. As a teacher, this can be frustrating. My perception of a student is tied to previous experiences with that student. I genuinely hope that each time a student asks a teacher for help, that that teacher responds seriously and with a helpful heart.

What you can do. Be specific and clear in your request for help. If you, or your student is asking for help or clarification, ask specific questions. Explain why you don’t understand. Honesty is always the best path. State the truth about who was distracting, or what didn’t make sense. Even if the teacher appears to be mean and scary, ask for what you need. If you can get written instructions for the assignment, that can help both teacher and student understand the end goal. Sometimes it might be appropriate to ask for help through email or other school instituted technology. That can work to include parents or others in the conversation.

Practice

Mr./Ms. –

I need some clarification on this assignment.
Can you please explain this to me again?
Are there written instructions somewhere that I can refer to later?
I’m not able to pay attention when I sit by _____________. Could he or I be moved, please?

Review

Perceptions are tricky. What we think we see or hear might not be right.
What our teacher or other adults see or hear might not be right. If more communication or clarification is needed, just ask. Let your student grow from this experience. Don’t take over because you want to protect him or her. Teachers aren’t mean people. They genuinely love the things that they teach and want to help others understand the information.

 

I hope this helped you out! Let me know in the comments.

I’m also available for questions and other motivational helps on Instagram and Facebooknametag.png

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Why do we have to study the English Language you ask?

One of the questions that I get from students is, “Why do we have to take English when we already speak English?” The best reason I can come up with is that it’s less about the language itself, and more about learning how to communicate.

 

Communication includes sending signals and receiving signals. That’s basically it. How good are you at communicating? Miscommunication happens all the time. Especially if you communicate through text or email messages. Do you mean what you wrote to come across happy or angry? Does the recipient know that?

Body language is an important part of communication when we are in the same room with someone. It’s easier to understand meaning with words, volume, tone, and body language. It is a lot less likely that the message someone is sending is going to be misunderstood. And even if it’s misunderstood, there is the opportunity for instant clarification. The receiver can ask questions to make sense of the message.

Students haven’t always been taught how to communicate in school, with teachers and administrators. The only adults that they regularly interact with live in the same home as they do. They are familiar and not threatening. Teachers and administrators shouldn’t be intimidating, but young students don’t know or understand this very well.

My objective this year, is to explore how students and teachers communicate with each other. Hopefully the stories and scenarios provided will help you to figure out a more successful path for your student, or maybe even yourself.

I would love feedback or questions. If there is a specific situation that you need help with, let me know.

I’m on Instagram @lit_teacher_dave, or on Facebook here.nametag.png

Shoot me some questions or comments there.

Good luck this year! You got this!

Read on-
Dave

 

I’ve been absent from this site for a while. Things have been changing and I’m excited to share them with you!

I started Wasatch Reading Club with the intention of helping students who struggle with reading. I value the experience of reading a good book and believe that reading is the best way to learn about everything and everyone around us. However, I realized that students who struggle with reading are likely struggling with school as well.

I needed to broaden my scope. I needed to change my offering. I have been producing YouTube videos and writing blog posts for Wasatch Reading Club, but I also teach high school English and English 1010, 2010, and 2200 for Weber State University through our high school’s Concurrent Enrollment program. Wasatch Academic Coaching is different. It’s more broad in covering all of the different elements of education, not just reading.

Every day I see students not motivated to do the work. There are many reasons why students struggle. It is possible that there are as many ways for students to struggle as there are students. And this is the problem with our Public Education System. How can I as a caring and demanding teacher, help all of my students where they need it most?

It is a daunting task.

Is it possible? Sure, why not?

Is it going to happen? I don’t know.

What would it take for me to help each of my students feel successful in school?

What about actually being successful in school?

Time. Time, and effort.

So, Dave. What is it you do as an Academic Coach? Is it the same teaching?

Kind of. I’ll explain.

  • Academic Coaching is helping an individual make discoveries about themselves.
  • Academic Coaching is about providing an outside commentary about what I see and hear from an individual.
  • Academic Coaching is helping an individual understand what they want, and what steps it might take to get there.

It’s like Athletic Coaching, but Academic.

  • Academic Coaching is not talking about the past, like therapy. It’s not a never ending schedule of appointments forever talking about the future.
  • Progress is made IF you’re ready to act.

Academic Coaching is dependent on trust.

Academic Coaching is for the student who has a hard time with homework completion, procrastination, turning homework in, being organized, and understanding assignment instructions. It’s a big process that can be overwhelming.

I can help break down what is expected, what it takes, and guide students on the ways of getting it done.

That is Academic Coaching.

I have experience not doing well in school. I understand the dichotomy of pleasure and pain as it relates to procrastination, homework, and grades.

I know what it’s like to go back to college as an adult with a family.

I know what it’s like to desire change and improvement and not know how to make it happen.

And, I have made it through.

I am available to work individually with students (and parents) through school and what teachers expect.

If you want to have a chat about your student and what it might look like to work together, drop me a line.

Dave@WasatchAcademics.com

Good luck comes from good work!

Read on!

-Dave