My Advice to Teachers: Be Careful What You Ask For
By Jill Jenkins
Be careful what you ask for. Adults often make the assumption that students think like adults, that they have lofty academic goals. They don’t. Kids just want to have fun, even the intellectually gifted. As an educator you can either use that trait to your advantage or they will use it against you.
For example, I once received a phone call from my daughter’s principal, Mrs. Puhr when she was in the fifth grade. On this occasion, Mrs. Puhr had called each student individually into her office on a fact finding mission to ascertain who was responsible for the paint fight that had occurred while a substitute teacher was present. Mrs. Puhr laughingly said, “Jill, I had to share this with you.” When asked who was responsible, my daughter, Jeanette, had answered, “The teacher. She told us to do anything we wanted when we finished our work. When you’re in fifth grade, you just might want to have a paint fight.” Ironically, she was right. It is important to give students options, but as an educator you must decide what those options are, because you may not like their choices.
Never give a student an option that you can’t live with. When I was in a seventh grade honors program, my class was assigned a first year Spanish teacher, Mr. Panko. We all loved his enthusiasm, but took advantage of his lack of rules by behaving disruptively: throwing spit wads, talking to each other and generally misbehaving. Finally out of frustration he said, “Tomorrow anyone who does not care about learning can turn his desks to the back wall and I will only teach those who really want to learn.” It was an invitation to destruction. The next day, everyone’s desk was facing the back wall, except Patty. It was a victory for the students.
Students love to play games. Use that. You need to establish a starting line-up activity to begin your class every day. Think about how do we line up for a race and use that kind of procedure to control students’ behavior. Include word tag games and races to teach vocabulary. Get them out of their seats and moving to help increase the flow of blood from their butts to their brains. Add fabulous prizes for the winners: stamps, stickers, rubber ducks, and my fifth grade teachers gave rocks. It really doesn’t matter what you give them as long as you sell them on the idea that this is one thing they cannot live without. You need to be the game show host and they students are the contestants. Everyone will win. Make your class both memorable and exciting. Never let them forget---you are in charge, so be careful what you ask for, because they would love to be in charge.