My Friday Ritual

When students walk into my class on Friday they’re greeted by a fast paced revolving slide show of my outstanding students for the week. It happens between passing periods and only on Fridays. I decided last school year to start recognizing students more often. They deserve more attention than they get. All of them.

I choose one student, sometimes two, who have shown me something I find notable. It might be one discrete event that punctures the day with the preterite tense or a continuous build up that might elicit integrals and the imperfect.  Obvious ways to get chosen are the typical ways one might expect to earn accolades: showing significant improvement over time, evidencing academic consistency, earning perfect marks on a concept quiz, articulating insightful comments in class, showing work that makes me write “lovely.”  But there are other not-so-obvious ways too. For example: being vulnerable enough to ask for help, being part of the school’s extracurricular offerings, offering to clean desks, volunteering to help someone on crutches get to their next class, standing up for the defenseless, showing the initiative to create something (a club, a blog, a personal habit) that aligns with their passion. If I notice it, it’s on my watch list.

Students talk about this slideshow, wonder who’ll be next, ask to get a copy of their slide (which I provide), inquire about others, see how I write, see how I create, see how I extol a student who may not be popular to others, witness my commitment to making it happen every Friday, and know that what they do matters. Many times I’ve had a winner tell me after class that I made her day. Now we both feel good.

Most weeks deciding who to choose is easy. When it’s not, that’s good. It makes me look deeper and plumb the depths of my own awareness for perhaps what I’m not seeing. Every one of my students is someone’s child. What would his parents find? Why am I not seeing something worth an extra look? What can I do to find that something? What kind of questions can I ask of the student to learn more about him? If our relationship is lacking communication, what can I do to foster that?  Does she dislike math? Does he dislike me? All questions worthy of my own reflection. Making myself do this every week forces a time of reflection.

I have roughly thirty-six Fridays to honor students. With creative planning to sprinkle the all-stars with the developing all-stars, I can honor an entire class of forty throughout the year in a way that I strive to keep not phony.

I keep the music the same. This year it’s “Don’t You Forget About Me” by Simple Minds. Last year it was “If I Had a Million Dollars” by Bare Naked Ladies. Students come running to me all the time with stories of where they were when they heard the music outside of school and think of our class. Let me repeat that, paraphrased:  I’m doing something that makes students have a positive connection to school when they’re not at school. That’s time well spent, in fact, usually about 20 minutes a week. Quite honestly it depends on the shots of espresso that morning.

Here are a few cheesy lines I extracted from my slides:

“He’s the lead dog in this class! If this were the Iditarod, you’d wanna put a leash on him!”

“Rolling in Pure 5s! Knows the power of reassessment!”

“Observant contribution to Broken Squares Activity!”

“Scorched the final and rocked the Charles Lindbergh glasses!”

This has become a tradition that looks like it’s here for a while.

If you want to see a poor man’s version of it with names abbreviated and no music, click here.

I Made an Error

Today I made my eighth error.

One of my honors Algebra 2 classes now watches me like a hawk. It’s game on when class starts. I made a bet with them.

If you can get past my Wiggle-looking shirt, this video explains it all.

For what it’s worth, the bet was made after one of my very perspicacious students had already tallied six errors and logged them in a notebook.  I showboated into the seventh error just to drum up excitement. Probably not smart. As of today, I have roughly five months to go and three mulligans. Gulp.

I told them to keep this a secret from the other periods. So far so good. If I lose the bet, out to the track we go.  Many of my students already volunteered to run the mile with me.

Processional effect: This bet is providing a conversation piece in continuing our year long quest towards realizing that “Failure Leads to Success.” How I operate and how many risks I am willing to take in front of the class changes when I know I might be penalized.

The student who had the wherewithal to film this bet and whose hand you see in the video signs his papers “Future M.D.” after his name. Apropos. He also is keeping a magical notebook of all the analogies I’ve employed this year. I cannot wait to see this in June.

To the Gallows, All of You!

Fresh off WordCamp San Diego, I was checking out Matt Mullenweg’s (founder of WordPress) blog, and ran across this short, clever YouTube video from Derek Sivers. Wow, is it ever true! It got me thinking. How many rules do we conjure up in our schools and classrooms to make our jobs more convenient and our students easier to control, when really we’re just crushing the spirit of the youngsters in our charge?  Insert “Teacher” every time you hear “business owner” and see how it resonates with you.

I think back to all the rules that blanket most classrooms, especially math classrooms.

  • ONLY PENCIL surely began because one student’s scrawling in pen was wrong, couldn’t be erased, drew the ire of the frustrated teacher, who then invented a no pen rule. I’ve eased up tremendously on this one myself. Students could pretty much write in blood if it were allowed.
  • NO GUM, NO FOOD, NO DRINKS These seem to be a universally shunned trio of class black sheep.  In all honesty, I think all three have a time and a place AT school, but the occasional mishap generally has all three banned inside most classroom walls. The teachers who allow such rule breaking are, dare I say, mavericks. When I first started teaching, these rules were posted by the school facilities manager in every classroom, on an unsightly shade of pink card stock, in unflattering font, telling all who read, that this was a place of NO. Underneath them I wrote, just for fun:  NO SMILING, NO GIGGLING, NO LAUGHING, NO FUN, which actually made all four occur. Except from far away, my NO SMILING rule looked like NO SAILING and puzzled many students.
  • NO CELL PHONES Kids text, get on the internet, and can distract themselves right out of our content during class time, but shouldn’t we be using the rich technology they already pine to use to our advantage? Ask Alan November. Why punish the whole lot when it’s just a few students who need to get guided back to the straight and narrow? I loathe students texting in class, but me outlawing cell phones because of the actions of the immature few will ultimately derail my opportunity to use these as tools of learning.

About 10 years ago, in the middle of a lesson, I had a very cool, likable, honors student, blurt out the F-word. THE F-word. Yep, right at the conclusion of something we did as a class. It might have been that we arrived at the solution to an involved problem together, I don’t recall, but in a fit of exclamatory delight he said “F#$% Yeah!” In no way was his slip-up appropriate or allowed to slide by. I called him on it, in a firm yet tactful way.  It was innocent.  It was a mistake.  It was also passion. Yet, to this day, I don’t have a sign on my wall that says NO F-Word. I will have that conversation when it comes up and honor the the many who have not used it by giving them one less NO to shout at them.