After over three and a half decades in education, I am finally getting close to a sweet spot. I look forward to the start of the school year and wish I could indeed start my career over with what I have learned.
However, whenever I had a substitute, my students rebelled. I returned to the most horrifying tales of misbehavior, and often the culprits were my best students.
It took me a long time to realize that I was making a crucial mistake. In my quest for an orderly classroom, I had taught them to follow me; they had not learned how to manage their own behavior.
My goal now is different. I want my students to be independent of me. They will only be with me for 181 days, but I want them to be successful in all the years beyond that.
So if I was starting over, I wouldn’t take it personally when they were disruptive. I would show them that they were hurting themselves and not me. I would be more relaxed over these very typical adolescent behaviors. That doesn’t mean that I would tolerate anarchy, but neither would I use shame, anger, or intimidation to get them into alignment.
Much of what I now believe about managing middle schoolers comes from two sources. One is the book Teaching with Love and Logic by Cline and Fay. The other is the transition from focusing on focusing on content acquisition to teaching STEM and project-based learning. These curricular mindset shifts more closely align with the natural learning styles of the brain. For that reason, I have significantly fewer behavioral issues when I am not boring their brains. I still value content, but I teach it through a more brain-compatible format.
In the past, the sole purpose of a school was to teach content. The more content the student mastered, the more valuable they became in the job market. But today’s society is changing so quickly that content is soon outdated. If my eighth graders mastered all the technological content available today, they would be dinosaurs when they graduated high school in four years. In the words of educator Bill Lombard, “Are we teaching for our past or for their future?”
So that is what I would change if I could roll back time. What about you?