Sunday, February 21, 2010

It's Not Fairy Dust

My brother, Brad, was confined to a wheelchair from birth, and I was confined to a wheelchair since the sixth grade. Our parents never told us we couldn't do something due to our handicap. They made it possible for us to do what every other child our age did. Our parents expected us to be successful. We both attended public school at a time when handicapped children did not attend public school. We both attended college. It was expected! Our parents expected us to succeed, and we did! I would be nowhere, if it weren't for my parents' high expectations.

I have always had high expectations for myself and for the students I teach. It annoys me when I hear teachers say: "These kids can't," or "They're not developmentally ready to learn that," or "This is too hard for my students." Those words are fingernails on a blackboard. I cringe when I hear them.

My first year of teaching I taught 5th and 6th grade self-contained learning disabled children. Basically, these were the children that everyone gave up on. These were the "bad" boys. I mean that literally, I had a class full of boys and they were mean. All the other teachers had signs on there door that said, "WELCOME." The sign on my door said, " Please leave all weapons at the door with the guard!"

One day I was working on something after school, and I was using glitter. (Using glitter is a definite sign of a first year teacher.) As I was sprinkling the glitter on a piece of paper, a little boy entered my room and said, "Hi, I am Richard's brother and I need to ask you something. How did you do it?"

"How did I do what?" I asked in return.

"How did you turn Richard into a person? He does his homework, and he talks to my mom real nice. And he doesn't beat me up anymore. So, I was just wondering how did you do it? None of his other teachers have been able to do it."

It was my first year of teaching. I hadn't had time to develop a teaching philosophy. I happened to have a hand full of glitter so, I blew the glitter into the little boy's face and said, "It's magic, kid. It's all magic!"

"That's what I thought!" he replied enthusiastically as he skipped out of my room.

Fast forward, twenty-five years, I was conferencing with a student and I noticed she wasn't paying attention to me. She was staring at something. When I looked in the direction of her gazing I realized she was staring at another student that was diligently working who usually isn't working so diligently. I knew if she continued to stare, he was going to feel her staring at him, look up, and shout, "WHAT? STOP!" I had to interrupt her thoughtful gazing.

"Karen, you have got to stop staring at him," I implored.

"Oh, I was just thinking," she said as she shook her head and looked at me.

"About what?" I asked.

"He has been in the same classroom with me every year since kindergarten, and I have never seen him do any work like he has done in this class. I have never seen him be as nice as he has been in this class. It is kinda amazing. Maybe you and Ms Meyers need to write a book." I laughed, acknowledged her vote of confidence, and we continued with our conference without disturbing the student of our discussion.

After school, I told my team teaching buddy, Colleen, what Karen had said and she laughed and said, "That would be the shortest book with the longest title in the world! How Do You Get Students to Be Polite, Treat Others With Respect, Work Harder Than They Have Ever Worked, Do Their Homework, and Excel on State Tests? Then the text on page one would be EXPECT THEM TO DO IT!"

Colleen was right. People have always wanted to know what I do, and the only "magic bullet" is high expectations.
It's not fairy dust! My mantra is: Expect It!

A teacher at my school went on maternity leave this quarter, and her students "took the substitute hostage" through no fault of the sub. The students were out of control, their common assessment scores were dropping drastically, and the administration was being flooded with complaints from parents. I was asked to step in until their teacher returned. I really didn't want to go into the lions' den. I had observed the class, I had heard the class through the walls when teaching in rooms next door, and I didn't really want to have two full time jobs, but a student from the class came to my office and sadly said, "Miss C, I can't stand it anymore. My class needs help."

The first two days I was in the class I kept asking myself, "What was I thinking?" I was beginning to think it might be impossible. I thought they might be too far gone to rein them in, and then I remembered what the young man that had begged for help said when I informed the class that I would be there until their teacher returned, "All my dreams have come true!"

I went home, I cried, I regrouped, and I chanted my mantra, "Expect it, expect it, expect it . . . . . . ."

I went back the next day. I shared with them their data. I told them, "I expect this to change." I discussed what I had observed in reference to their behavior. I told them, "I expect this to change." I told them, "Every day there will be homework, and I expect you to do it." I also told them, "As much as I expect from you; you can expect the same from me. Also, you need to know that I always have the smartest and best behaved students in the school. You have quite a reputation to live up to so, I suggest we get busy!" At the end of the day, on their way out the door as I handed them their homework, I looked each and every one of them in the eye and said, "I care about you!"

I have been in the class for five days. The students are working, doing homework, participating in class, reaching their goals, and making a change in their behavior. The assistant principal saw the class in the cafeteria and asked how things were going and the students replied, "We are learning stuff!"

If someone asked me, "How did you get them to change so quickly?"

My simple answer would be, "I expected them to change." That's it! No secret! No magic fairy dust!

There is tons of research on self-fulfilling prophecy. The results of the research, simply stated, are: If students are told they are smart and wonderful, they will be smart and wonderful. When teachers are told they have the most gifted students (even if they aren't), the students will excel on tests. That's it! No secret! No magic fairy dust!

If teachers cry, "They can't," then they won't. If teachers don't believe in the impossible, then there are no possibilities. Believing is achieving! If teachers believe their students can achieve, they will. That's it! No secret! No magic fairy dust!

Paco's Perspective

Do you think we could expect the cock-eared one to come when you call? I seem to have figured it out; why can't he?

The Flip Side

Is it possible to expect treats if I come, every time you call?

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