By Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller
You've heard the sayings:
"Don't be a quitter."
"Quitters never win and winners never quit."
These and other similar slogans are designed to remind us to never give up, to keep plugging away, to persevere. That's what you have to do if you want to be a winner. OK, nice thoughts. Sorry, not true.
Actually, the opposite is true. Winners quit and they quit frequently. They quit doing behaviors that don't get them what they want. They quit attitudes that don't produce the results they would like. They quit all things that are not working to move them forward toward their goals.
With that in mind, here are ten things to consider quitting this school year to move you closer to your goal of becoming the teacher you always wanted to be.
1. Quit "shoulding" on people. The middle school, elementary school, kindergarten or preschool teachers should The parents should have. The administration should have. The church should have. OK, we agree with you, someone should have before you got these students in your classroom. Guess what. Nobody did. Your students are the way they are. The behaviors and attitudes they exhibit are the behaviors and attitudes they exhibit. You can "should" all over others all year and it won't change anything. Your students will still remain in the same place, manifesting the same behaviors, attitudes, and results. Quit shoulding and start doing something about it.
2. Quit believing this crazy notion that many of us were told when we began teaching: Don't smile until Christmas. You can always ease up later. When you wait to smile until after Christmas, students won't trust it when you do. You have already set the norm that your classroom will not be a friendly, happy place. The number-one reason why students behave in school and work to achieve is because they are in relationship with an adult they look up to and respect. Begin building that relationship on day one. Smile.
3. Quit saying "Good job." The phrase is trite and meaningless. We tried for 15 years to fill kids up with self-esteem. It didn't work. If a student does a good job on something, tell her with descriptive praise. "Your block structure is higher than my waist." That way she can say to herself, "I did a good job." The self-esteem then comes from the inside and builds an internal sense of worth. If you're tempted to say "Good job" to your class for cleaning up the room, bite your tongue. Use descriptive and appreciative praise to tell them the effect it will have on another person. "I don't see one scrap of paper on the floor (descriptive). You just saved Mrs. Johnson 15 minutes of cleaning our room. I bet she's going to have a big smile on her face when she sees this room" (appreciative). That allows the students to say to themselves, "We did a good thing."
4. Quit doing mental scorekeeping. "That's the fifth time this week." "I've told you three times already." "This is the fourth time I've gone over this." Mental scorekeeping takes the past, drags it into the present, and projects it into the future. Stop counting. Treat each incident like it was the first time it ever happened.
5. Quit believing and acting as if teaching interpersonal skills is a waste of time. Quit calling this important material the "soft curriculum" or the "silent curriculum." Investing the time to teach students how to get started quickly, disagree politely, ask for help, respect the guest teacher, get their group back on task, encourage each other, ignore distractions, and take similar positive actions will pay dividends to you and to them in the long run. This is a classic case of "You can pay me now or you can pay me later." Invest the time up front and dividends will follow.
6. Quit complaining, criticizing and spreading gossip. These responses do nothing to change conditions and only reinforce your belief in the inevitability of those conditions. Quit going to the teachers' lounge if what happens there is nonproductive. Quit relationships that draw attention to the negative, or simply quit participating in complaint sessions and these people will fall away naturally. It's not reinforcing to complainers to be around someone who does not participate.
7. Quit seeing students as their current behavior. They are not their report card. They are not their problematic behavior at the assembly. They are not the inappropriate behavior they chose on the bus ride home. Students are much more than their behavior. You know they are love and light, a child of God. Separate the deed from the doer in your mind and with your words. Say, "Maria, since you chose to put Michael down, you have decided to have me write you up for a trip to the Responsibility Room so you can put together a plan to help me create a safe emotional environment where all students feel safe to take risks, free of ridicule. This note will inform Mrs. Kahn why you are arriving. Hurry up and get your plan finished. I don't want you getting behind on your school work. Finish it up and get back here. I like having you here. I'm going to miss your smile." (In other words, the real message, the silent message is, "I like you and I don't like that behavior.")
8. Quit seeing and communicating to students that mistakes are bad. To the contrary, mistakes are valuable. They offer important data regarding what needs to be improved. They are an opportunity for learning to occur. They point to the direction we need to go in. Mistakes are a sign that I am willing to take risks, to step out of my comfort zone, to try something new. Celebrate mistakes. Honor your own mistakes and teach students to take a similar view of their own.
9. Quit assigning responsibility for your emotional responses to events and circumstances to someone else. "She made me mad," "He hurt my feelings," "They disappointed me," "That makes me happy," "You warmed my heart," "The administration ticks me off," "Her father got me angry" are all examples of unself-responsible language. This style of speaking places the responsibility for your feelings on someone or something else and allows you to assume the victim stance. In addition, you verbally transmit this victim-style language to your students and infect them with disempowering language patterns. Instead, own your feelings: "I am angry," "I am choosing hurt," "I am doing disappointment right now," "I am creating a lot of happiness about this."
10. Quit living in the past. "I wish I had . . . ," "If only I had . . . ," "What was I thinking back then?", "I remember when teachers were respected," and reminiscing about the "good ole days" are signals you are living in the past. OK, take a look at the past, learn whatever lessons are there for you to use. Then move on. Turn the page. Yesterday is over. You cannot study for yesterday's graduate class exam today. It's past. You cannot take that job you were offered two years ago, today. You can’t do anything about the professional problem you are having now, yesterday. And you can’t do anything about the professional problem you are having now, tomorrow. One is gone. The other is not here yet. Your only point of power is NOW.
Quit anything that holds you back from being all you can be this year. And teach students to do the same. Quit and re-quit if necessary. Just don’t quit quitting.
Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller are the coauthors of The Teacher Talk Advantage: Five Voices of Effective Teaching. They are two of the world's foremost authorities on raising responsible, caring, confident children. They publish a free monthly e-zine for educators and another for parents. To sign up for their newsletters or learn more about the seminars they offer teachers and parents, visit their websites today: www.chickmoorman.com and www.thomashaller.com.