Saturday, March 1, 2014

Monkeys can teach good kids

Throughout life we have events that stick with us and mold us into who we are.  

I remember it like it was yesterday.  I was a student at Tri-State University and I was assigned a 7 week assignment in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  When my professor informed me of the assignment I took it in stride and was very excited to get started.  Two days later I was pulling into the parking lot of a school in downtown Fort Wayne.  The locked gates and endless concrete were very new to me.  I had always grown up in a rural community and this was different.  I met the Principal upon entering the building. She informed me of my placement and then spoke with me about the procedures and expectations.  I was going to spend the first couple hours in shop class and then I would switch to history.  As we walked to the shop class I noticed the students were wearing uniforms.  She informed me that this was a new procedure and it had drastically reduced gangs and violence in the school.  Needless to say, my eyes were WIDE open.

As I entered into the shop class I quickly felt a buzz in the room.  There were roughly 40 students in the classroom and they all were busy working on something.  The atmosphere was fantastic, but the weird thing was I couldn't find the teacher.  Then I noticed a small gathering around a desk.  I walked over to check it out and I found an older gentleman kneeling by a desk.  He looked up and introduced himself as Mr. Scott.  After about five minutes he finished helping a student and came over to talk with me.  I asked him how many students he had, he said 38.  I then told him I was impressed, every student was engaged with something.  I then told him that his room was the first one I had ever entered where the teacher was not the "central" figure.  He chuckled and told me that he empowers the students to problem solve.  I was in awe of his classroom.  It had a constant noise...but it was a very productive noise.  Students were working hard on projects of all sorts.

Over the course of the seven weeks I learned a lot. Some of the best lessons I learned happened when my professor came to visit.  I'll never forget when we sat down and conferenced about one of my lead lessons.  He looked me straight in the eye and said, "Monkeys can teach good kids!"  I gave him an odd look and scrunched my forehead.  He continued, "Think about it and you'll understand."  At first I wasn't sure if I should be confused or offended.  Then I looked at him and said, "I think I get it. A true teacher teaches anyone that walks through the door."  He nodded his head in approval and then added, "Too often teachers play the blame game.  What separates teachers isn't how you do with the good's how you make a difference with the students no one wants."  

Whoa.  I now understood why I was sent to inner city Fort Wayne.  My professor wanted me to embrace any student that walked through my door.  

During the last week of my practicum, I met with Mr. Scott.  We sat in his room and had lunch.  I began asking him for advice.  His words will forever stick in my head.

Q: What advice can you give me about classroom management?

A (from Mr. Scott): Your best form of classroom management is an engaging lesson...PERIOD.

Q:  You have 38 students in class, do you find this challenging?

A (from Mr. Scott):  Nope.  I invest in my students.  I know them on a personal level and because of this we have a high level of respect for each other.  Every student wants to know their teacher cares...and I'm not talking academics, students want to know that you care about them as a person.

Q:  Isn't it tough to create a lesson that all students learn from?

A (from Mr. Scott):  My rule is the 85% rule.  I fully expect 85% of my students to understand and learn from my teachings.  I also expect 15% will not always understand.  This is when I get a chance to re-teach, get creative or utilize my lunch hour to meet with the students.

Q:  What happens if more than 15% don't understand the concept?

A (from Mr. Scott):  If more than 15% of my kids don't understand my teachings I simply...GO LOOK IN THE MIRROR!  I take responsibility that my teachings didn't hit the target.

Mr. Scott then told me that too often he enters the teachers lounge and he hears excuse after excuse.  He told me to be my students' champion.  He said, "Ben, if you are student-centered and genuine, your kids will love you and learn from you...students need to know you care first and foremost."

This experience impacted me far more than Mr. Scott can ever understand.

Everyday I try my best to connect with students.  I see students that are hurting and I see students that love life.  

If every student that walked through our door was happy, above grade level and had involved parents, our roles would be fairly easy.  What makes teachers special is our willingness to teach anyone that comes into our classroom.  No excuses.  That's what truly defines a teacher...a teacher connects, cares and is a champion for their students.

This Week's Big Question:  Are you your students' champion?


Monday, March 3rd:  Reading Month begins (Poster Contest kicks-off)
Monday, March 3rd:  1:1 Tech Meeting at 1:15pm
Monday, March 3rd:  Minecraft Club 4-5pm
Monday, March 3rd:  Conferences
Tuesday, March 4th:  Admin meeting 9:30am
Tuesday, March 4th:  Minecraft Club 4-5pm
Tuesday, March 4th:  Conferences
Wednesday, March 5th:  Assembly for grades 3-5
Wednesday, March 5th:  Minecraft Club 3-4pm
Wednesday, March 5th:  String Team 3-4:30pm
Wednesday, March 5th:  iCreate Poetry Celebration at the Michigan Theatre (6:30pm)
Wednesday, March 5th:  Conferences
Thursday, March 6th:  Conferences
Thursday, March 6th:  Lockdown in the PM
Friday, March 7th:  NO SCHOOL, Professional Development begins at Bean 8:30am

*  Most people have met with me for Mid-Year Evaluations.  If you have not scheduled a time please do so this week.  (note...this is all staff, not just teachers)

Articles Worth Reading:

This is why you should do #20Time in your school +Nicholas Provenzano @thenerdyteacher

Small Moment PD or How To Be a PD Ninja +Pernille Ripp @pernilleripp

Are you teaching Content or teaching Thought? +Terry Heick @TeachThought

100 of the BEST educational games for the iPad +TeachThought @TeachThought

10 images to get you thinking +Justin Tarte @justintarte

5 Tips to Foster a Love for Reading @teachingwthsoul

8 Things To Look For In Today's Classroom +George Couros @gcouros

Life's Toughest Tests Don't Require A Pencil @Jonharper70bd

Teacher Leadership Doesn't "Just Happen" +Daisy Dyer Duerr @daisydyerduerr

Broadcasting School Events +Jessica Johnson @PrincipalJ

3 Emotions That Drive Deeper Learning +A.J. Juliani @ajjuliani

4 Ways To Live Today, and Not Merely Exist +Marc Chernoff @marcandangel

Battle of the Kids' Books #nerdybookclub

Best School Stories from the Best School Storytellers @BodyMindChild

Videos Worth Watching:

Attitude Reflects Leadership... (1 min)

This is a classic...sure to make you smile! (6 min)

Sacrifice...touching story. (13 min)

Lessons from the Mental Hospital...authentic...powerful. (17 min)

Congratulations Melissa - @MoffittMelissa on receiving Top Teacher recognition!  I'm a very proud principal and friend!


  1. Ben, this article has me tearing up thinking about students past and present. I am so passionately in agreement with wise Mr. Scott. If you know your students, if THEY know you care about them as little people, AND if you create an engaging and exciting lesson with transitions that aren't slow where they can get off task, learning will take place. One of my secrets is when I'm on a field trip with my class, I stick close to my quiet or struggling students, trying to build a connection without the stresses of schoolwork between us. Also, the first thing I do when I make it back to my classroom after kids have gone home is walk around my room, going through my class list to see if I can recall a direct one-on-one interaction with each of my students that day. (Honestly, with 30 students, there are days I let one little friend slip by me.) If I can't recall praising them up front "being the teacher" to solve a math problem, giving specific positive feedback, sharing a hug with that child, I put their name on a post-it note on my desk so that I can be sure to greet them in the morning. So, so important.
    Thank you for this post!

    1. If the world cared as much as you...

      What I'm grateful for is your constant reflection. You understand the needs of each individual and you constantly reflect to make sure you have done your very best with each one.

      Keep being you Breanna. You are definitely your students' champion!

  2. I also think letting them know: tomorrow is a new day- we get to start over: is pretty important. If those challenging children don't know that we love them even after they mess up- and each day is NEW, they begin to feel defeated pretty quickly. I NEVER want anyone to walk in my door thinking "is she still mad at me?". THAT is why I stand in the hall and try to greet and "friendly chat" with everyone BEFORE we get started. I also try to love them out the door each day.... I am NOT perfect with that either. :)

    1. Don't sell yourself short Susan, you do a wonderful job letting your students know you love them. Just this week I met with one of your cherubs. I asked him who was his biggest supporter...he said Mrs. Nash and my grandma. Doesn't that say everything?

  3. What a great post! I totally agree: students need to connect with us. Too many students won't let themselves learn without feeling a connection to the teacher.

    1. Thanks for sharing Laura. I see it all too often, students are guarded/protected until they know we (as educators) care. Keep making a difference Laura.

  4. Ben, This may come through twice. Great read and right on. As it's been stated, many times the students who need the most love are sometimes the most unlovable. When we can impact the lives of students like that and all students, true teaching occurs. We share the same vision. I would be honored if you checked out my blog:

    1. Thanks Cory. I'll be sure to check yours out. Appreciate your willingness to connect and share. Be the Change...

  5. This might be my favorite CP, which is sayingsomething!! Thank you for sharing, as always, BG!!

  6. So many important lessons contained in the advice Mr. Scott shared with you. I will be sharing this post with colleagues.