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Response: How Students & Family Influence Our Teaching

(This is the second post in a three-part series. You can see Part One here.)

The new "question-of-the-week" is:

Who has had the biggest influence on your teaching and why?


In Part One, Rita Platt, Dr. Cynthia "Mama J" Johnson, Pernille Ripp, and Jenny Edwards shared their reflections. You can listen to a 10-minute conversation I had with Rita, Cynthia, and Pernille on my BAM! Radio Show. You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here. By the way, you can also now listen to the show on Google Play and Stitcher, in addition to iTunes.

Today, Jeryl-Ann Asaro, Dr. Manuel Rustin, Brett Novick, Toby Karten, and Dr. Barbara Blackburn contribute their answers.

Response From Jeryl-Ann Asaro

Jeryl-Ann Asaro loves her job as an 8th grade English teacher. As an educational writer for www.inspiringteachers.com, she specialized in offering guidelines to novice teachers. Jeri is also a contributor to the book, Classrooms that Spark and the NJASCED Report on Professional Communities (PLC) and Character Education. She has taught at four levels—elementary, middle, high school, and post-graduate, but she has found that teaching adolescent-aged students is her true calling. Spending her days in her classroom with her 14-year olds is her favorite place to be—crazy, but true:

"A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops." - Henry Adams

Most teachers respect the philosophy of this quote, and there could not be any more important words.

But, who has the biggest influence on my teaching of the students? THEY DO!

For me, it is one everlasting circle. Of course, I follow the curriculum and the standards, and I attend and provide professional development classes/webinars/chats to continue to be a lifelong learner, but in reality, it is my students who influence my teaching practices the most.

Each year, I begin with a week-long series of standards-based activities which allow me to get to know the students personally. I even include the parents in these assignments, so I learn about the students from more than one perspective. I read, watch, listen, question, conference, observe, and talk with each student as the lessons are being completed. By the end of about three weeks, the students feel welcomed in the room because I made the time to learn about each student personally and took a moment to make them feel special. The end result is that they feel like I know them, respect them, and appreciate them, which of course, I do! The bonus is that usually those same feelings are returned back to me, and another successful year begins!

The knowledge I gain in these early days, changes how I approach my lessons for the rest of the year. Although I teach the curriculum and the necessary skills listed in the standards, I change-up my delivery, often using the strategies or ideas I learned in those aforementioned professional development workshops. Each unit is taught in a different way so that the class never seems repetitive. Students do not know how I will approach the next activity/lesson/unit. It keeps them on their toes, and engages the masses. The 1980's concepts of "learning styles and multiple intelligences" are always in the forefront, as I want every child to find success and engagement at some point in the year. Questioning strategies and encouraging all students to participate and offer ideas is always part of my plans. I keep up on the latest fads, music trends, and technologies, so even at my mature age of 60, the students view me as younger and can relate to me in a variety of ways -- sometimes I am the MOM, or the favorite aunt, or the beloved teacher, or the funny lady lecturing the group! It's all about the connections I make with them.

Engaging students, and offering a solid education in my subject area of English, is my ultimate goal. For me, it is about doing whatever is needed to get them to buy-into my lessons. Every unit ends with a reflection, so I can establish what worked and what did not. With Google.forms and Survey Monkey, reflections are easy! And, the year never finishes without a discussion about the classes' favorite moments, sometimes funny, often spontaneous, and ultimately educational. The students' voices, both verbally and in writing, enable me to begin planning for the upcoming group before the new school year starts. The everlasting circle continues!

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Response From Dr. Manuel Rustin

Dr. Manuel Rustin is currently in his 14th year of teaching high school social science in California. He currently teaches U.S. history, government, economics, and a hip hop studies course that he created. In 2012, Dr. Rustin was awarded the Milken Educator Award and was recognized by the Pasadena NAACP with the Ruby McKnight Educator Award. Dr. Rustin earned his doctorate in educational leadership at UCLA where his dissertation, Teacher-driven Change: Developing an Intervention for Street-life Oriented Youth through Action Research, received the UCLA Outstanding Ed.D. Dissertation Award. Jeffrey Garrett assisted in the writing of this response:

As a classroom teacher, my biggest influence has been the student who sits in my room before class staring at his or her phone. The world that this student exists in at that moment is brand new and it is foreign to me. Thus, I do what I can to engage this student in conversation to learn about their world and make necessary course corrections to my curriculum and pedagogy.

This student is not the same sort of student that I had when I began teaching. They're not even the same sort of student that I had just yesterday. This is due to the rapidly changing daily experience of being an adolescent in the era of mobile technology.

The pace and magnitude with which technology is impacting our kids, hour by hour, is difficult to overstate. The spread of smartphones may very well be the most rapid spread of any technology in human history.

The student looking at her phone before class must be my biggest influence. By the time a study by my favorite scholar is published or an education blog by my favorite influencer is posted, that students' reality has already changed in ways that those writings cannot quite capture.

Our digital world has had a continuing, profound impact on the people that our students are. My 2004 students needed information. My 2018 students have perhaps too much information. They need big picture themes, analytical skills, and guidance that's not "Googleable" because the abundance of information that surrounds them places them in a can't-see-the-forest-for-the-trees reality.

When I started teaching in 2004 I delivered basic history lectures and activities. As smartphones became more widespread, my students no longer needed me to present this basic who and what information. Now they needed more help critically analyzing the why. I had to become a new teacher. Less time was spent lecturing, more time was spent examining connections and varied perspectives. The 2004 me was obsolete. My students needed this new version of me.

Unsurprisingly, this new me soon became obsolete. My newest students were now dealing with an internet where strategic, sophisticated misinformation was running rampant. Sam Weinberg of Stanford University recently presented compelling evidence that students have trouble judging the credibility of information online. Now my students needed me to - on top of everything else - help them develop critical media literacy skills unlike anything needed before. Challenge accepted. It was time for an even newer version of me.

But those 2013 students weren't living on Snapchat. It existed, but
it's 30 million users paled in comparison to today's 173 million users. Many students aren't here as much as they are on Snapchat and other online spaces. The online lives of our students are a mystery to us and the impact of their online experiences appear to be quite troubling.  Anxiety, depression, and suicide are up and our literature can hardly keep pace with what's going on.

Today, my 2018 self has to deliver lessons that take my students' present reality into account even though it's a reality that changes by the moment. No one can tell me how to do this better than the very students whose reality this is. If you spend more time reading yesterday's blog posts and studies than you do speaking to right now's students, then you're perhaps becoming an expert in teaching yesterday's children. I follow a general approach of learning from students first and adults second.

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Response From Brett Novick

Brett Novick has worked as a school social worker/counselor for the last 16 years and is an adjunct instructor at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J. He has also authored nationally and internationally articles in a number of educational, educational leadership, counseling, parenting and social work magazines. He has authored two books with Rowman & Littlefield—Parents and Teachers Working Together and The Likeable, Effective, and Productive Educatorwell as a children's publication, The Brain Bully, produced by Childswork/Childsplay.

My greatest influence is that of my family in teaching.  The impact of my educational passion is trifold.  Like the sand, water, and wind that creates a canyon, I cannot point to one particular influence in these three family members who each taught me varying and important aspects of my educational paradigm.

It is my father who first taught me a love of teaching.  Though his primary career was that of an electrical engineer for the U.S. Army; his primary joy was in instructing at the community college level.  Many times, as a child, I sat in the back of a classroom as he demonstrated a love and passion for the subject of math.  In fact, he indicated that this joy caused him to consider retiring early from his primary career to follow this long sought after calling.

My mother was a special education teacher, in a lower socioeconomic district for students with behavioral disorders.  From her, I learned classroom management.  Despite her pupils towering over her less than five-foot stature, her students knew and learned rules, boundaries, and consequences.  She taught them with a combination of "tough love" and predictability that was often so far absent in their homes.  They learned to respect her because, first and foremost, she respected them.  In turn, she imparted to them the vital lesson of self-respect and reverence for education.

Finally, is my wife, also a special education teacher.  From her, I have learned the prominence of empathy for your students and their families.  Many times, I have seen her work tirelessly all hours of day and night to make a difference for a child who needed someone to believe in them.  Never, has she turned away a pupil or a family because she did not have time.  She is truly the hallmark of what you seek to embody as an educator.  She has shown me that an educator is not a job but a lifestyle.

In trying to tease apart which of these persons has had the most influence, I simply could not.  The only answer I could possibly give is that, perhaps, the world of public education is one that has been inherited in my blood.  It is a lifestyle and vocation that I was destined to join based on the luck I have had to be mentored by three unique and gifted educators.

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Response From Toby Karten

Toby Karten, a staff developer, instructional coach, educational consultant, author, adjunct professor, and inclusion specialist, has taught populations of learners ranging from preschool to graduate level. Ms. Karten's first publication, Inclusion Strategies That Work! Research-Based Methods for the Classroom, is an international best seller, now in its third edition. Her recent publications include Navigating the Core Curriculum, Building on the Strengths of Students With Special Needs, and Developing Effective Learners:

The person who had the greatest influence on my teaching is my cousin, Randie. She taught me that a person is not defined by a difference.  Randie, delivered by forceps at birth, back in the early 1950's, is a few years older than me. As an eight year old I knew that my cousin sometimes required help. When we played cards or a board game, she needed things explained in a step-by-step way. Randie also knew how to do things I could not do; she created beautiful framed needlepoint and pretty bouquets of beaded flowers and fruit. I learned at an early age that Randie is much smarter than the people who stare at her because she has what is labeled intellectual disability.

We spent many fun hours as kids, and now we enjoy each other's company as adults. We went to the beach, watched the same movies, and listened to the same music. Today, we still do those same things.   Randie is a productive sixty-five year old adult because of the academic and emotional supports received. Since I grew up with Randie, I realize that everyone learns, but just not the same way. My cousin taught me more than any journal article I read.  As an educator, inclusion coach, and author, it is important for me to continually communicate that special does not translate to less. We all have exceptionalities, and like my cousin, we all can shine.  Labels never define a life. Thank you Randie.

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Response From Dr. Barbara Blackburn

Dr. Barbara Blackburn was recently named one of the top 30 education global gurus. She is the author of 17 books, including Rigor is Not a Four Letter Word and Motivating Struggling Learners. A regular consultant who works with schools and districts, she can be reached through her website, www.barbarablackburnonline.com:

My father has been the biggest influence on my teaching. As a teacher and college professor, I watched him passionately dedicate himself to student learning.  With prospective teachers, he was encouraging, yet realistic about challenges.  When he taught graduate students, he was constantly helping his students deal with issues they faced in their classrooms.  These issues were usually particularly stressful ones, as he was a health educator.  Drug abuse prevention, sex education, and smoking were issues he dealt with head-on, and helped his students deal with.  I remember when I was in sixth grade, he fought to implement sex education programs in our schools, because he felt like all students should be educated in order to make wise decisions.  That was over 40 years ago, and his perspective was not popular.  I watched him take a stand on principle, even though others disagreed with him.  He remained calm, listened to everyone, and then made his points.  He believed in collaboration, and with that approach he made a difference.

Another event I remember was when he was also working part-time as a basketball referee.  First, that showed me that teachers sometimes have to work part-time jobs!  But there was an even more important lesson.  I attended one of the high school games, and the students sitting behind me booed him the entire night.  When we were driving home, I was crying, and he asked me what was wrong.  I told him, and he calmly explained that most fans boo referees.  He then said, "I just ignore them.  You do the right thing and do your best.  That's what counts."  As I think about all his passion for students, the lesson that made more of a difference was that you should stand on your principles, do your best, and make a positive impact."

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Thanks to Manuel, Jeryl-Ann, Brett, Toby, and Barbara for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at [email protected]. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it's selected or if you'd prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Anyone whose question is selected for this weekly column can choose one free book from a number of education publishers.

Education Week has published a collection of posts from this blog, along with new material, in an e-book form. It's titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

Just a reminder—you can subscribe and receive updates from this blog via email or RSS Reader. And, if you missed any of the highlights from the first six years of this blog, you can see a categorized list below. They don't include ones from this current year, but you can find those by clicking on the "answers" category found in the sidebar.

This Year's Most Popular Q&A Posts

Classroom Management Advice

Race & Gender Challenges

Implementing The Common Core

Best Ways To Begin The School Year

Best Ways To End The School Year

Student Motivation & Social Emotional Learning

Teaching Social Studies

Project-Based Learning

Using Tech In The Classroom

Parent Engagement In Schools

Teaching English Language Learners

Student Assessment

Brain-Based Learning

Reading Instruction

Writing Instruction

Education Policy Issues

Differentiating Instruction

Math Instruction

Science Instruction

Advice For New Teachers

Author Interviews

Entering The Teaching Profession

Administrator Leadership

Teacher Leadership

Relationships In Schools

Professional Development

Instructional Strategies

I am also creating a Twitter list including all contributers to this column.

Look for Part Three in a few days.

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