Check Out

I am tired when I come home from work.

I interact with one hundred and sixty students - plus staff and parents - every day.

Every flipping day.

Did you know that I am an introvert?


I don't want to go to sleep once I get home. I'm not falling-asleep tired. I just want to check out for a while. 

I watch TV. Sometime I read a book. I mess around on my iPad. I surf Pinterest. I click on links in Wikipedia articles. I do nothing.

I could do something productive, I suppose. I always feel vaguely guilty whenever I'm not grading. 

Is it ok to check out when you are too tired to think?


Travel Gracefully

1. Wear clothing that is soft, stretchy and does not wrinkle, and bring a sweater or jacket, no matter how hot it is outside. At the very least, you can use it as a pillow.

2. Do anything you can to get through security quickly. Wear slip-on shoes, avoid metal - earrings, belts, bracelets, clips, etc., and keep your computer in an easy-to-access pocket.

3. Check in online. Sometimes you don't even need to print a boarding pass, because a lot of major airlines use electronic boarding passes. And if you check in online and also travel with only a carry-on, you can literally walk into the airport and head directly for the security line, no other stops necessary.

4. The best way to sleep in a chair (that I have found) is to put your bag in your lap and rest on it. It saves your neck and shoulders from a lot of twisting and aching, and you avoid the mouth-hanging-open-doofus look. 

5. Pack your toothbrush, deodorant, floss, and mint gum somewhere you can get to it easily. Hand wipes are good to have, too. Also, lotion. It seems like I always want lotion when I travel, but never have any. 

6. Bring an empty water bottle so you can fill it once you pass security, and you don't have to buy water. 

7. Download audiobooks and podcasts BEFORE you get on the plane, because a computer is a lot less interesting when you can't go online for four hours.


Five Principles of Classroom Management from Machiavelli's "The Prince"

 1. The Inertia Principle
Machiavelli: “Now I say that those dominions which, when acquired, [...] are of the same country and language, [...] it is easier to hold them, especially when they have not been accustomed to self-government; [...] He who has annexed them, if he wishes to hold them, has only to bear in mind two considerations: the one, that the family of their former lord is extinguished; the other, that neither their laws nor their taxes are altered, so that in a very short time they will become entirely one body with the old principality.” (Ch. 3)

Teacher: A new teacher will have the easiest time of teaching if they maintain a previously approved mode of operating, as long as the previous approved authority has been removed fromthe picture. (Notice I said easiest, not the best). Also, teachers who come from a similar background as their students will be more easily accepted than those of a differing background.

2. The Relationship Principle
Machiavelli: “But when states are acquired in a country differing in language, customs, or laws, there are difficulties, and good fortune and great energy are needed to hold them, and one of the greatest and most real helps would be that he who has acquired them should go and reside there. This would make his position more secure and durable, [...] Because, if one is on the spot, disorders are seen as they spring up, and one can quickly remedy them; but if one is not at hand, they are heard of only when they are great, and then one can no longer remedy them. Besides this, the country is not pillaged by your officials; the subjects are satisfied by prompt recourse to the prince; thus, wishing to be good, they have more cause to love him, and wishing to be otherwise, to fear him.” (Ch. 3)

Teacher: Know your students, talk to them, make jokes with them, mediate between them, and you will be able to detect and solve problems and encourage positive behavior as it occurs, rather than after a crises occurs. 

3. The Force Principle
Machiavelli: “But in maintaining armed men there in place of colonies one spends much more, having to consume on the garrison all the income from the state, so that the acquisition turns into a loss, and many more are exasperated, because the whole state is injured; through the shifting of the garrison up and down all become acquainted with hardship, and all become hostile, and they are enemies who, whilst beaten on their own ground, are yet able to do hurt. For every reason, therefore, such guards are as useless as a colony is useful.” (Ch. 3)

Teacher: Do not treat every student as a potential enemy, and do not address every problem with force. If you do, you will have lots of enemies and a lot of problems. 

4. The Friends and Enemies Principle
Machiavelli: “Again, the prince who holds a country differing in the above respects ought to make himself the head and defender of his less powerful neighbours, and to weaken the more powerful amongst them, taking care that no foreigner as powerful as himself shall, by any accident, get a footing there; for it will always happen that such a one will be introduced by those who are discontented, either through excess of ambition or through fear, as one has seen already.”

Teacher: Giving favors to gain the friendship of dominant students undermines your authority. It could result in these students taking advantage of your good intentions to gain something they should not have, or they could outright reject you for seeming to lack standing in your own right, it could make it seem that it is really the students who have control, not you as the teacher. Instead, identify students with potential and cultivate their growth as leaders, thus establishing yourself as a leader among leaders. 

5. The Old Grudges Principle
Machiavelli: “He who believes that new benefits will cause great personages to forget old injuries is deceived.”

Teacher: Interacting with more than a hundred individuals daily, it is easy for a teacher to accidentally offend or insult a student without realizing it. Even a recognized faux pas can be forgotten by the end of a long day and left unresolved. To avoid this, keep an eye out for subtle signs of annoyance or offense, and address minor issues as immediately as you can. Students will remember wrongs, even if you do not, and it can reemerge and cause problems later. It is also helpful when you begin to have problems without apparent cause and to think back and see if you can recall anything that might have offended a student but left the matter unresolved. 


How to grade faster

  • Give smaller quizzes more frequently, rather than long tests less often
  • Make the numbers consistent and easy to calculate. My quizzes are typically 20 points each, one page front and back, and they are in sections of five questions, ten per page. (Not my doing - that is how our textbook publisher arranged it, but it makes everything much easier)
  • Write the "out of" amount at the top before you copy the quiz, so that you don't have to write the same thing a hundred times over.
  • Add up the "number correct" on the bottom corner of each page, and then add the total score as you go, to save yourself a final shuffle-through to add up the final scores.
  • Make as much of the quiz multiple choice as possible. Sometimes writing/short answer is necessary, but attempt to arrange it so that it is as easy to grade at a glance as possible.
  • Some feedback is better than no feedback. Getting some of it done is better than getting none of it done.
The idea behind all of these is to increase momentum. Though it should technically take me just as long to grade three 20-question quizzes as it does one 60-question quiz, just the feeling that I have finished something and can wrap it up keeps me productive, whereas when I am grading the second page of the 60-question quiz for one hundred students, I feel like curling up and dying.


Where politics happen

I attended a "voluntary staff meeting" today that was held to discuss the budget cuts that my district faces in the next school year. The superintendent was there, plus a handful of teachers. I went because I am a nerd, plus I know that as a new teacher, I land on the vulnerable end of the spectrum when it comes to layoffs and budget cuts.

We watched a video that explained the situation, then the superintendent shared a few thoughts and answered a few questions. As we discussed who was in the state legislature, who supported this proposal or that, where the funds come from and what restrictions are placed on how they are spent, I had a series of realizations.

  1. I know more about educational funding in the state of Michigan than probably 80% of the entire population, including the Internet and the news media. 
  2. The people making these decisions are people doing jobs not unlike mine. I make decisions for my students, and they make decisions for their electoral districts.
  3. Politics happens when interested people meet with the people who have the jobs where you make decisions for larger groups of people.
  4. Knowledge, experience, influence, government and inspiration are all words that connote a power bigger than any one person. But if I understand something better than most of people in my state, and I demonstrate interest and produce sound information and share that information during my meetings with the people with the jobs where you make decisions, then I become an ordinary person with significant power.
  5. This power - to acquire information, to share ideas, to come up with solutions - is no different from what I do in my life everyday anyway.
I suppose my point is, I always think of politics and influence as something that happens over my head, complicated and mysterious, and that little I do or say or think could affect what occurs. But it is not above my head, and I could, if I leveraged myself in certain ways, do quite a lot to affect what occurs.


How to become passive aggressive

How do you make a person passive-aggressive?

Make it as difficult as possible to address conflict.

How do you make a person unfriendly?

Act as though you don't like them. 

How do you make a person defensive?

Threaten them. 

How do you make a person let down their guard?

Listen to them.

How do you make a person feel valued?

Tell them what you appreciate about them.

How do you make a person trust you?

Be a true person.


The world language department at my school adopted a 0% policy for practice work. That is to say, homework and a lot of in-class practice work is categorized in a "Practice Work" category in the gradebook that does not directly factor into a student's grade. If they choose not to complete a homework assignment, well, the "0" that I enter into the gradebook doesn't affect the total grade that shows up in the gradebook next to their name. 

As you might expect, there was a quiet rebellion as students, so accustomed to receiving points on any and all work, even work that was poorly done but technically complete, began to grasp what this meant.
Student: You mean that I don't have to do my homework?
Me: No, you have to do your homework. You need to practice X, Y and Z.
Student: But it doesn't count toward my grade?
Me: It counts because if you don't do it, you are going to fail the test, you won't learn how to speak Spanish, plus you won't be able to retake any tests that you do badly on.
Student: But if I don't do this assignment, I won't get a worse grade?
Me: Not right now, today, no.
The incomplete work began to add up. Not the A students - they already understand the connection between doing the work and getting the results. It was the students who wanted to get away with the minimum who began to do, well, the minimum. And unsurprisingly, their quiz scores began to drop, and then the student would come to me with a Grade Crisis.
Student: Can I retake this test after school?
Me: Sure. But did you do all of your homework? You have to have all of your work up-to-date to qualify for a retake.
Student: Uhhh...
This policy was good for me as a teacher. It caused me to think strategically about what work I assigned, how I graded, and why I was grading it, because if the work I assign wasn't worth doing AND it didn't directly affect a students' grade, then you can bet that I would have a lot of incomplete work the next day.

And I think it is great for students, because I think that it reflects real life. You don't receive a grade for everything. You don't get paid for spending time with your family, or for being a good friend, or for taking out the trash, or for making the quiet, unrecognized moral choice. Many of us don't get paid a premium at work for doing it right the first time, instead of wasting time until it's time to go home.

But eventually, the tests come, and you will find yourself in a family that stays together, rather than the one that breaks apart. You will find yourself among people who are compassionate, instead of with people who take advantage and mock. You will find yourself with a promotion, or a better job, or a pleasant workplace, rather than stuck doing something you hate, but can't afford to leave. And you will realize that once the test has come, often it is too late to go back and do the work that you should have done all along.

Do you see? The tests are not the point. They only reveal what has been there all along.