This is a guest post from Lori Carr, an AP English Literature and Composition teacher at Westside High School in Houston, Texas. This is her sixteenth year in the classroom.
I grew up the daughter of a radio disc jockey in the late 70s and early 80s. We lived in a college town, and my dad taught a couple of broadcasting classes in addition to his duties as program director and afternoon radio host. In the first few weeks of his first class, he decided he would need to establish a few overarching guidelines for his students. He established these expectations and then implemented them in our home, too. Almost daily.
My brother and I are now adults with kids of our own, but we can both recite these concepts due to the repetition of hearing them as we grew up. I present to you My Dad’s Rules of Radio and General Living:
- Communication is the basis of life.
- Be yourself; if you don’t have a self, get one.
- Know what you’re talking about. When you’re done talking about it, shut up.
- Doing more than is required is required.
As a teacher, I try to instill these values in each of my students. Not just academically, but in all aspects of their lives. Now that I teach solely seniors, and as they end this part of their academic journey, I find value in each and every one of these expectations.
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Communication is the basis of life.
To me, this rule seems the most basic. But sometimes the simplest things are the most uncommon. In teaching my students, this is a year-long lesson that some of them never fully learn. They don’t believe me when I say that they must communicate with me. They frequently will tell me what they think I want to hear. But, like all teachers, what I truly want to hear is the truth. If you didn’t do an assignment, tell me. Don’t give me an excuse or try to bluff your way through an assessment.
One of the most effective ways I teach this is to model it for them. When I make a mistake, I own up. I admit and take responsibility. I ask for forgiveness and accept the consequences, no matter how difficult. It’s truly terrifying to admit wrong-doing to a group of 17-18 year olds. In retrospect, those are the moments when life learning is going on. Most of them have never had an adult ask for their forgiveness.
“Be yourself; if you don’t have a self, get one.”
We all know them. We all love them. Those kids that have a strong sense of who they are, be it the class clown or the athlete or debater. But this is about those students who are comfortable being on the fringe, between the cracks, or wherever they are least seen or heard. So often as teachers, we are comfortable leaving them there. They are content and so are we.
Again, this concept needs to be exhibited for them. If you embrace your inner geek, and let’s face it, we all are geeks about something, it allows them to understand that your classroom, if nowhere else, is a safe space to express themselves.
Know what you’re talking about. When you’re done talking about it, shut up.
If you’ve ever assigned an essay about anything, then you’ve read and graded and essay that used copious words to say nothing. For some reason, our society thinks that the more and flowery our words, the smarter we must be. Nothing could be further from the truth. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Then keep your mouth shut. Do this in emails, correspondence to parents, and in your classroom management. Even in your praise of a child. Kids have BS meters that rival NASA. They know when you’re being sincere and when you’re full of it. So a simple, “I’m so glad you’re here,” can go a long way with them.
Doing more than is required is required.
“Miss, on my college application they said the essay question is optional, so I wasn’t going to do it.” If I had a nickel for every time a student told me this, I could retire yesterday and hire Ryan Gosling to feed me grapes in the Maldives. I could write a book on this idea alone. Something in our brains wants the highest reward for the least amount of work, but Happenstance never got that memo. Unfortunately this is a lesson that is usually taught and learned the most painful way possible. So rather than saying it till you die of asphyxia, show them how it’s done. And then hold them accountable. Give them an “A” only when they truly deserve it, only when the work is more than is required. Explain to them that the “optional” essay question is a test and an opportunity. It’s testing to see who will go above and beyond and who really wants to go to this college. It’s also an opportunity to let them speak for themselves, not just their test scores, grades, and resume’. They get to be the one that stands out.