The copier that breaks down with regularity has been granted a moniker. I have named it “Bob Marley” because it’s always jamming.
We have a copy machine for teacher use, but it may be haunted or demon-possessed like the mangler from the film with the eponymous title. I have used it exactly 12 times this year (I usually make all of my copies during the weekend), and the copier has broken down or become massively jammed exactly 11 times.
However, having said that, if this is my biggest beef at this point in the year, it’s a pretty darn good school year.
One thing I’ve realized during my career as an educator is that positive public relations are always good for my classroom. Really, isn’t that what Open House is? It’s a PR moment for the school–especially high schools–where parents frequently state they are intimidated to enter, and a chance for teachers to reveal their plans, the standards, and themselves in a short presentation.
However, I’ve also learned that PR comes in many packages.
One way I use positive word of mouth is to show films related to the content in my classroom. Occasionally, during an evening of the work week or on a weekend afternoon, I will show a film for my students to watch while I work on grading assignments or planning projects and the like. To get the students there, I offer extra credit, but I make sure that the points are a negligible amount having no real effect on students’ grades, or I will give students a ticket which, when redeemed, allows a student to retake a test or rewrite a paper (which I do anyway, but it’s about perception).
Plus, showing films is an excellent way to use a popular medium to provide enrichment opportunities while simultaneously showing students and parents that I sacrifice my personal time for students. We all do this. We grade student work on our own time, plan lessons and units, prepare assessments, and more on our own time, but this makes the time sacrifice a visible teaching moment for the students and parents.
Moreover, it’s a fun way to show students how the literature I teach connects to what they learn in class. For example, here are a few of my favorites:
- The Dark Knight is an easy tie-in with A Tale of Two Cities (revolution, kangaroo courts, death sentences, sacrifice, conscience, and a funeral where a character reads the final lines of the novel);
- Minority Report works well with Julius Caesar (pre-crime and Brutus’ soliloquy to begin Act II);
- Schindler’s List, The Pianist, Hotel Rwanda, and many more connect with Night by Elie Wiesel (the Holocaust and genocides in general); and
- Star Wars, The Wizard of Oz, or Raiders of the Lost Ark are excellent for illustrating the heroic cycle.
Many other films work well with the literature I teach, especially when I teach American Literature, and the students enjoy coming to school for a fun activity. Since I’ve started having these movie nights and afternoons, I’ve have seen a difference in my students’ feelings about coming to my classroom and my parents’ attitudes about how teachers care about their kids. The comments I receive from the parents are heart-warming and they sometimes come to the movie nights too and bring snacks.
I don’t attribute all of my successes to these movie nights, but they are part of a larger series of positive PR moments that increase engagement in my classroom and word of mouth about my classes.
Let the students teach one another? Of course we can!
I tend to receive many, many questions when teaching anything by Charles Dickens (currently A Tale of Two Cities), and I frequently look for ways to combat being the provider of information and instead becoming a facilitator of learning. All of that eduspeak really means I want the kids working harder than me.
Before explaining the lesson, I need you to know that I have the students write down questions about their assigned reading along with the page numbers on which the question was based. This occurs each night. For the first three days of the reading, I spent quite a bit of time answering these questions before we could actually move to analysis (since most of their questions were fairly basic). The kids were starting to think I would just do all of the work for them, and I needed the students to start becoming independent of me.
Thus, I put my students into five groups of 5-6 students each, and I assigned each group one of the five chapters read over the weekend. The students were required to sit in circles and answer one another’s questions about the chapter and then to summarize the chapter in ten sentences. I moved from group to group but really just said things like “what evidence from the text do you have for that idea?” and “how do you think you can answer that?” I wanted the onus placed on them to find their own answers. The students had 25 minutes to work in their groups. They could use any resource in the room that was in print–no online sources (because of the dreaded SparkNotes and the like).
Then, the students moved back to a full class setting after I collected their summaries, and the students could ask the groups questions about the chapters. I simply ensured that the students maintained order and remained attentive while the students helped answer one another’s questions and clear up ambiguities and areas of confusion.
I only needed to jump in once to correct the students going down the wrong path. I considered this a successful venture, and the students left the room with more confidence than when they entered.
I took this weekend off after staying late Friday. No trips to the school. No e-mail. No grading. No planning. Just relaxation. Ahhhhhhh.
I’m not sure what purpose Open House serves besides having a short PR session. Parents want to talk about their kids, and they aren’t learning much about their kids’ classes or progress. Maybe it’s different for elementary or middle school teachers, but I don’t see much point in high school Open House nights. I’d rather have an extra day of conferences.
My classes are off to a great start. I’m actually surprised how excited they are to learn something new each day.
I had a fun lesson today where I showed the Blues Traveler video for “Runaround” and had the kids count and list the allusions to The Wizard of Oz. It was a fun way to teach allusions, and nothing gets the students’ attention like cartoons or music videos.
No, it wasn’t the meeting I attended that made my day. No, it wasn’t the excellent day I had today teaching. No, it wasn’t the new teacher who showed me a fantastic set of rubrics she created for a unit she’s teaching. It was dinner.
As I was eating some pizza and reading a book in a booth, one of my former students–now in his 20s and an ambulance mechanic–brought over his six year-old son to meet me. He wanted to show his son, who had his first day of kindergarten today, his teacher from high school. I chatted with his son for about five minutes and heard about his day painting and playing with hula hoops and holding a gerbil and a stick bug and having lunch with his dad in the cafeteria. It was adorable, especially with his inability to pronounce the letter ‘r’ in his words.
His dad then told him it was time to go, and he told his little boy, “If you’re lucky, you’ll get to be in Doc’s class someday.” Warmed my heart and (almost) ended a fabulous day.
I say ‘almost’ because two other former students caught me as I was leaving to tell me how their college classes were going and how well they’re doing. What a super end to an already good day.
P.S. If you want one more article about why I’m not a fan of the way standardized tests are used, read this article.