Monday, January 18, 2010

Waiting for the Break

Students and teachers alike oftentimes adopt a mentality of waiting before a break. The job is so exhausting that even directly after a break the staff at times will take up waiting for the next break, especially if it's just a couple weeks away. This can lead both staff and students to simply "get by" until that break comes. What that looks like is students moving through their schedule almost comatose and teachers teaching such a way that requires much less energy and a lot more down time. Unfortunately even the most veteran teachers in this setting are guilty of this sometimes, and I can hardly claim I haven't simply survived until my next bit of respite, rather than throwing everything I've got into it.

It's important for the teacher to not get caught up in this attitude of waiting. Last year I was guilty very often of coming off as unenthusiastic about whatever it was I was teaching on a given day because I was so frustrated with management issues. It's hard to get excited about your content when you're constantly putting out fires. Before breaks, however, it's easy to re-adopt a practice I had when I was working part-time as a sales clerk in high school- watching the clock until my shift was over and I would be just fine. That means that the management issues become less important, you pass the entire buck to the students for misbehaving and not learning the material, and you go home at the end of the day having accomplished only getting one day closer to break.

The students pick up very easily on how enthused you are about a given topic. Their ability to perceive your mood is stunning, especially (it seems) those who want to get under your skin. If they know you're unenthusiastic about the topic, for whatever reason, they are far less likely to be engaged. By giving up your enthusiasm before the last minute of break you are handing the ball to those who want it and you're greatly decreasing the amount most of your students will learn.

Another thing that happens when you adopt this mentality is that you are lowering your expectations for what your students are capable of. This is unfair for those- generally the majority- who show up to learn and do what you ask. Lowering your expectations is what the minority of students want- they really do want to do as little as possible. It's our duty to make sure that doesn't happen. One of the most powerful tools teachers have is to keep expectations high and know that most people rise to meet expectations. If before breaks you lower them to get by, you're relinquishing that tool.

While I appreciate the extra day off as much as the next, it's important to keep our heads in it and work until the last minute of the last period before break. This weekend has been extended by Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and it could be felt in our school on Friday. There was a dance performance in the middle of the day, after which many of our students relieved themselves of the burden of the final two academic periods. Whether I was successful with that is debatable, but I think that it went better than it would have last year.

Today's Lack of Wine: Due to a stomach virus going around, I was not able to have wine this weekend. In it's place has a been a lot of water, green tea and some Gatorade. Cheers!


  1. Keeping expectations high also helps with the discipline. I always found that students are bored with non structured days and look around for something to do. Sometimes their choices aren't that great.:) I hope you are feeling better soon.

  2. That's very true. As much as the kids rebel against high expectations, they oftentimes fight even harder if the expectations are low.

    Thanks for the well wishes.