By Leticia Skae
If you were to walk into my school today and ask any random upperclassman about what they thought/think of Mrs. Skae, you would surely receive an assortment of opinions; some dreadful and absurd; or some, maybe, even more affable. The students would be able to then describe to you many reasons for why they view me as they do. However, descriptions of me, you would never hear would be “lazy,” “apathetic,” “unaware” or “unenthusiastic.” So, students may not give me recognition for my teaching skills or classroom management, or even truly enjoy my idiosyncrasies.
Appreciation, much like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder so I never expect for all students to appreciate my teaching rituals; indeed, they are rituals. But I do expect for them to respect the rituals. To no surprise, every year they do actually respect the class. So how, then, do I achieve this? How can I manage such a discrepancy, to have students who respect the class but not love it?
To me, this is easy; I teach with vigor and tough love. What does it mean to teach this way? Well, to every teacher it would look different because each person has their own personality and their own level of vigor dependent upon this personality. Furthermore, tough love, and the severity of how tough differs from student to student. However, I value these teaching tools as my main reason for success.
Below I list realistic examples of how you can teach with vigor and tough love.
- Model your love for your content– I love to read. I love to write. I love vocabulary. I love to teach and guess what? I’m an English teacher, so I should. Often we forget to show students the joys we have in our area of expertise; we are doing them and ourselves a serious disservice. How can we expect for them to appreciate our class if we show up to class everyday looking like we don’t even appreciate our content? There was never a day that went by without me smiling when I mentioned reading, writing or teaching. I would often return from a break and ask students about what they did on a break only to then share with them the new books that I had read and poems that I had written. Though they didn’t seem to care that much, by the end of the year students often expected for me to talk to them about these things; students enjoyed talking to me about my expertise, even if it was to simply share that they had listened to a song that used our vocabulary words. Gestures, such as these, show respect. Students can’t honestly tell you that they are excited to write an essay or study for a vocabulary test; however, they respect the art. They respect English.
- Work, work, and more work– On top of regular assignments, my students get projects over every single break: Fall, Christmas, Spring and Summer Break. I create all of these projects from scratch and make sure that these projects focus on areas of need for my students. They complain and I honestly do not entertain their moans and groans. I tell them that I work hard as a teacher and that by default they will work hard as my students. As learners, as children of taxpayers, as scholars, they should be upset if any of their teachers slack in their education. If I teach poorly and have low expectations for them, then they should rebel because this means that I am getting paid for not doing my job.
- Standard is the norm and nothing less– When students gripe that I am giving them too much work for a “standard class” I remind them that standard means normal and what is normal for school is work! School is an educational experience that includes doing work in order to gain more knowledge. I remind them that if they are not being pushed that they are not learning; they are merely robots sitting in a building called school. Lastly, I remind them that none of us should be proud to work below what we can. We should love ourselves enough to reach the standard and go above it whenever we can.
To me, this is teaching with vigor and tough love. I love my students enough to challenge them, set structure and expectations and to model for them what beauties can be found in English class. This fosters respect and with respect there is growth.