Please, Please, Please, for the Love of God– Dare to Be a Strict Teacher

I am a strict teacher.

If your child is in my class I have certain expectations for him or her. I expect him to be on time; I expect him to have his materials with him—no, he will not have time to visit his locker for paper and a pen; I expect him to be respectful and say “please” and “thank you”; I expect him to stay seated and quiet during my lesson—yes, I have a seating plan; I expect him to raise his hand when he wishes to speak—I would like to hear him speak; I expect him to have his homework done—yes, I assign and check homework; I expect him to clean up after himself; I expect him to never trash talk any student in my care; I expect him to put his cell phone away or kiss it goodbye;  I expect him not to whine, but to work.

I expect a lot from him.

Because I am a strict teacher, I have a lot of expectations.

Because I am a strict teacher, my expectations are often met.

Because I am a strict teacher, my students, in the process of meeting expectations, become better.

 All of this because I am strict.

I was not always a strict teacher.

I used to hate the idea of being strict. At my core, I am an introverted hippie. In my first few years of teaching, I tried being the introverted hippie teacher. It failed miserably. If you want a good laugh, read about my first year flop.

So, I couldn’t teach as my hippie self. Over years, I researched the finest minds in education, and I became a strict teacher. I thought about the best teachers I ever had (curiously, they are the only teachers I remember by name) and realized they shared one quality—they were strict. Soon enough, I developed the strict teacher mindset. Here is the strict teacher’s manifesto in five truths.

strict teacher scowling
I used to think that being a strict teacher meant wearing a perma-scowl and living in the dark.
  1. Being strict= having high expectations

When I was a kid, I used to take karate. I had a sensei—an old Japanese woman the size of a 10-year-old boy—who was stricter than any person I’d ever known. If you were late for karate class—even two minutes late—20 laps around the gym for you! If you didn’t do your best in the warm-up—20 laps around the gym for you! If you were chatting while she was teaching—20 laps around the gym for you!

While I was running laps assigned by my sensei for any number of what I perceived to be minor offenses, I hated her. I wanted to punch her wrinkled, 10-year-old boy body to space. I could even picture her as a little prune landing in a dark pothole on Mars. But then a funny thing happened. I kicked butt in karate. I was stronger, faster, leaner. I got a red belt. I was proud of myself. I found out that our karate school had the most competition winners.

Even as a kid, I figured it out:

Sensei had high expectations.

Sensei was strict because she expected me to be great. She wouldn’t tolerate any less than my best. My sensei—strict little biddy I thought she was—was one of the greatest teachers I ever had.

 Question: What would have happened if sensei had tolerated my lateness, my side-chatting, my laziness in warm-up not with discipline, but with a soft smile, a side-joke, an approving glint in her eye?

Answer: Mediocrity.

Treat a man as he is, and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he could be, and he will become what he should be.”—Ralph Waldo Emerson 

  1. Being strict ≠ being a bully

 Teachers who know they should become stricter but can’t often confuse being strict with being a bully. They picture themselves as strict teachers only to see themselves wearing the twisted grin of Principal Trunchbull from the film Matilda. These teachers tell themselves they cannot possibly be Principal Trunchbull and spin students around by their pigtails, make them eat inhumane amounts of chocolate cake, throw them into closets decorated with sharp nails, yell insults at students, and engage in other acts of unpleasantness.

But this is where these teachers are wrong:

Principal Trunchbull is not a real strict teacher.

strict teacher canning students victorian
To be a strict teacher, you don’t need to engage in any acts of unpleasantness.


A real strict teacher is strict because he or she loves.

She loves her students, so she is strict. She loves her students, so she sets boundaries in which they can thrive. She loves her students, so she talks to them, she jokes with them, she helps them in every way she can.

She does all this sweet stuff while keeping her students in line.

The best example of a kind but strict teacher in my memory is my middle school music and choir teacher, Mrs. C. She was wicked strict. She wouldn’t start talking till it was dead quiet; she had us practice walking in quietly and straight-backed for performances hundreds of times; she would insist we wear the right uniforms or leave practice; she would not let us repeat the same mistake twice.

Just like my sensei, Ms. C took us middle schoolers to unexpected highs.  Because of Mrs. C’s strictness, I was trained so well I was selected to sing on stage for cash. Our choir sang in professional theatre troupes. We made money because we were so good. We won festivals left and right. People wanted to listen to us!  We dominated the middle school choir sphere.

And Mrs. C showed she cared for us. Still to this day, I remember going on one of our singing trips without pocket change because my family couldn’t afford it at the time. When we went as a group to a candy shop nearby, Mrs .C saw me eyeing sweets hungrily, she took me aside, and she put a five-dollar bill in my palm.  Sour Patch Kids never tasted so good!

Question: What would have happened If Mrs. C had kept up with her sky-high expectations and strict attitude and never smiled or talked to us?

Answer: Hatred, rebellion, mutiny.

Rule your class like an iron fist in a velvet glove.”

  1. Aim to be revered, not liked.

Would you rather be respected or liked?

If your students like you, they find you to be “agreeable, enjoyable, satisfactory.”

If your students respect you, then they will “admire [you] deeply, as a result of [your] abilities, qualities, or achievement.”

So, would you rather be “admired” or “agreeable”? Respected or liked?

Put your ego aside for a moment and think: What do your students need?

Do they need a teacher they find “agreeable” or someone they “admire”?

Your students need a mentor; they need an example of a self-possess adult with clear boundaries; they need an example of a person who sets high standards for others and herself; they need a teacher who values knowledge and education so much that she treats it as sacred; they need a teacher with a backbone; they need you to be strict.

Be strict, committed, and principled, and you will win student respect.

The best example of a strict and respected teacher in my memory was my high school English teacher, Mr. K.

Mr. K had a terrible reputation in the school halls. Some claimed he used to be in the military. Some claimed he used to be a general in the military. Despite the variety in gossip, nearly everyone agreed that his expectations for writing and behaviour were crazy. if you want to stay sane or get an A—student wisdom said—drop Mr. K’s class.

I’m ashamed to stay I almost took the advice and dropped Mr. K’s class. But I’m glad I didn’t. Yes, Mr. K was the strictest English teacher in the school. Yes, it was impossibly hard to get an A in his class. Yes, he handed out way too much homework. Yes, he would move us around in seating plans like a cruel puppet master. Yes, we feared him for most of the year.

But Mr. K also had an intense passion for English. He had an intense passion for sharing his passion with us. He had high standards. To get an A in class, I had to sweat and hustle for the first time.

And so, Mr. K became one of the few teachers I respected and admired.

Out of curiosity, I checked out Mr. K’s page. Just as I expected, students either love him or hate him. “Too strict, too demanding, too high expectations”—are the whines from the students who fail him as teacher. “Amazing, most inspiring, most dedicated, learned the most from him”—these are the comments left by his student who adore him as a teacher.

Are you going to be a Mr. K and be respected for the impact you made? Are you ready to shrug off the haters and do what you know is right?

It is true that integrity alone won’t make you a leader, but without integrity you will never be one.”– Zig Ziglar 

  1. Aim at being friendly, not a friend.

Similar to truth 2 (being strict ≠ being a bully) this is a needed reality check if you are on your path to becoming a stricter teacher:

Students don’t need friends. They already have friends.

What students need is an adult who sees they are working bellow their potentials and is willing to pull them up out of the gutter by imposing high expectations and uncompromising standards.

Too often, I see new teachers fall into the friendship trap with students. They want to be adored as the popular kid in high school, so they do friend-type things like give out praise that is not earned, candy that is not earned, information that is private.

What new teachers need to do instead is adopt a friendly but distant attitude appropriate for a teacher-student relationship: talk about student interests, share some of your own, ask about their weekend, talk passionately about a great book.

But don’t shimmy on the dance floor or wear ripped jeans.

You can be friendly without being a friend.

Respect yourself, and others will respect you”—Confucius

  1. Aim for their success, not their acceptance.

Don’t let your ego take over.

Your ego wants likes, adulations, praises, smiles, and so on from your students, from everyone. It wants quick, cheap, and easy positive feedback.

Your ego wants acceptance.

Let your heart and soul take over.

Your heart wants to love your students and see them grow.

Your soul wants to you to live your purpose as a teacher that transforms lives.

Your heart and soul wants what is slow-in-the-making, hard, and costly:

Your heart and soul want your students to succeed.

You can love your students best by maintaining classroom conditions conducive to learning; by teaching them life skills to kick butt in the real world; by making them better at writing, speaking, thinking; by pushing them past the limits of what they thought possible for them.

You can fulfill your purpose as a teacher that transforms lives by being a strict teacher and by sharing your passion without apology.

Teachers, dare to be strict without apology.

 By being strict, you will not likely win the favour of many students. Some will certainly hate you. Many will gossip about you. You won’t win “most popular teacher of the year” awards. Some parents—protective, permissive parents—will protest you. And no student will smile at you as you impose the rules. You will sometimes wish you could take the easy path and have students smile at you.

But by taking the harder path of the strict teacher, you will be making a difference.

And many students—as a bonus—will respect and even like you for it.

Strict teacher Quote- Aim to be revered not liked friendly not a friend.jpg

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7 Tips for Beating End-Of-Year Teacher Burnout

7 Tips for Dealing with End-Of-Year Teacher Burnout

It’s that time of the year when a dry erase marker that won’t work or first block without your morning coffee is enough to flip your normally jovial, light-hearted self into a snarling, spitting cat.

Welcome to the end of the school year, where the survivors are few and the wounded many. You have made it through the morass of the school year—avoided the grenades, crouched low, staked out your territory—and made it to the other side of the trenches. This is no man’s land, but you—and a few other teachers who remain relatively sane—have nearly made it.

Now what?

Any armchair psychologist need only survey your wrinkled teacher garb and your matted, knotted hair to identify your condition: end-of-year teacher burnout. But it takes a teacher who has been there and done that, one who has gained a degree in armchair psychology from The School of Life to advise a burnt-out teacher what to do about it.

While I may not a master’s or PhD, I do hold that precious degree from The School of Life, and here is what I know about end-of-year teacher burnout. 

  1. If you are feeling terribly burnt out at the end of the year, take it as a sign that you have overworked yourself throughout the whole year. The teaching year and your teaching career is a marathon, but you have treated it as a race. Take a second to consider how you sprinted when you should have walked or jogged. Did you work every night for hours after school? Did you spend your Sundays working on school? Did you volunteer yourself for every trip and committee that needed a warm body? Did you neglect your hobbies and your loved ones? Be honest with yourself. Be willing to look at the times that you said “yes” that led to you feeling overwhelmed, overtaxed, and burnt out near the finish line.
  2. Accept responsibility. It is always easier to blame others: your students, your administration, and other teachers for your burn out. But never forget:  this is YOUR burn out. If you had the chance to say “no” to the things that burnt you out, then you are responsible. As soon as you accept responsibility for your burnout, you have the power to change it. If you fail to accept responsibility, you will slip into victim mentality, and victims are like zombies. Victims are beyond saving.
  3. Write down the ways you are responsible for your burnout. Make an itemized list of things you said “yes” to that stole much needed moments of relaxation and connection away from you this year. Add to the list times you said “no” to your own needs for the sake of your students or your school. Post this list somewhere on your fridge so you can see it. As you think of other times when you should have said “no” and maintained boundaries, add them to your list, and be sure to spend time looking over this list during the summer. Vow to not repeat these mistakes next year. Prepare yourself to say the word “no.”
  4. Know that you are not alone. Most teachers are on their last legs. You could say that your school is a house of cards. Even if you can’t see it, know it. Most teachers are feeling overwhelmed, rushed, dissatisfied with aspects of the year, bone-tired. Don’t be fooled into thinking you are the only one. There is comfort in numbers.
  5. Accept imperfection. While it would be ideal to have all your essays marked and returned within three days, your bulletin boards neatly organized, and your students perfectly behaved, now, more than ever, you have to accept imperfection. If you rigidly stick to your idea of how things should be in your classroom and how students should behave, you’ll be perpetually dissatisfied and your burn out will worsen.

Be willing to perform your teaching job, at least temporarily and to preserve your sanity, at a B+ level when you usually aim for an A+. A B+ is not a bad grade, and one B+ on a report card never killed anybody.

Remain high-minded even when you feel low. Look around you in your classroom like a royal, a Cleopatra or Marc Anthony, dignified and unperturbed; see the imperfections, and in your mind, pray the serenity prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”

Then accept your B+ like a royal.

vintage cleopatra 1920s
Face the end-of-the-year B+ like Cleopatra.
  1.  Extend the same compassion you show to others to yourself. In the last month or so of the year, it is so easy to look back at all the things you wish you had done better or differently. You will be tempted to blame yourself for the flopped novel study or the failed project. “If only I had tried harder,” you will think, “all of this could have been improved.” Don’t go there. Extend compassion to yourself instead. Remember how you show compassion to students and show compassion that way to yourself. If a student came up to you at the end of the year and said, “Miss, I am so sorry I wasn’t an A+ student this year. I promise that I studied hard. I spent hours each night preparing for each test. I made flashcards. I highlighted my books. But I still bombed some tests and didn’t get an A on everything. Will you forgive me?”

Would you forgive this student? Would you praise him or her for doing his or her best? Of course you would. See yourself as that student, and forgive and praise yourself for all the good you have done.

  1. Take care of your container, and your soul will feel better too. Work out your body in the morning; move your limbs; drink plenty of water; go to sleep at a decent hour; eat some grapes and carrots; smear yourself with coconut oil; get a massage; sing in the shower; pray and meditate. More than ever, take care of yourself.

To all you teachers out there feeling the end-of-the-year burnout blues—I’m with you. I promise you if you abide by these 7 Tips for Beating End-of-Year Teacher Burnout, you will make it to the other side.

See you there.


This week’s key quotation:

blackboardtalk- teacher compassion quote

14 tips for surviving the first year of teaching– a letter to my first year teacher self

When I was a first year teacher now nearly five years ago, I knew as much about teaching as I do about the types of clouds or the kinds of rocks: I had a vague recollection of learning facts about these things in school long, long ago, but put me in a rock museum or ask me to describe the clouds above my eyeballs, and I’d be stumped.

As a first year teacher, my knowledge of teaching was academic. In teachers’ college, I had been fed from a trough of fun, impractical theories; I had viewed classroom simulations comprised of perfectly behaved adults who playfully mimicked rebellious teenagers; I drank Starbucks lattes and sucked on bonbons as my professors talked about creativity, fun, and social justice.  In short, I had no idea what hell awaited me.

Here is my practical advice for first year teachers.

first year teacher enthusiastic
A random picture that reminded me of myself on my first day of teaching– bright eyed, bushy tailed, and bloody clueless.


Dear First Year Teacher on Your First Day of Teaching:

Congratulations! You’ve made it to the big leagues.  After years of studying, tutoring, and observing other teachers’ classrooms, here you are, in a classroom of your own, ready to inspire the next generation. Before your students enter your classroom, I have some advice.

The most important piece of advice?

1.Don’t fall for it.

I know, your professors talked about how children are wise and all-knowing—the beautiful future of our world— but know this: your students will not usher you lovingly into your classroom, your long-awaited Shangri-La.

Your students will test you as if you were a fool who stumbled onto skid row.

In the first week of school—and beyond—students will test your grit, your willpower, and your words. They will not sit in their seats quietly, respectfully listening to every word you say. They will test you with shout-outs, jokes, and fart noises.  They will not do as you ask. They will leave the classroom to go to the bathroom, bring back a roll of toilet paper, and roll themselves up in it like a Christmas tree wrapped in white ribbon, while others dance to the rap music blaring from their cellphones. You will watch this chaotic disco, powerless, close to tears, surrounded by Reese’s Pieces and Skittle packs you bought with your own cash—bribes for good behaviour.

All of this could have been avoided.

Someone could have told you this: all classes are well-behaved and quiet in the first days of school. All of them. It’s a ruse! Don’t imagine for a second that you don’t need rules. YOU NEED RULES. You need to spend the whole first week going over your rules. Don’t go over rules like the Dead Poets Society professor would, either. Don’t act like the rules are an annoying formality, and that you really just love these cuddly, quiet young men and women in front of you, but you have to simply read the rules.

dead poet's society teacher
Always wanted to be this guy in your first year of teaching? Forgetta ’bout it.

Proclaim the rules.

Then explain the rules. Explain the logic behind the rules: every single student in your classroom has the right to a high quality education, and you, their teacher, are 100% committed to delivering that high quality of education. You will therefore not tolerate any behaviour that destroys the quality of education in your classroom. You. Will. Not. Tolerate. It. Your rules are logical—explain the logic. Your rules are reasonable—explain your reasoning. And stick to your guns, enforcing the consequences you have set out. Do so impartially, immediately, and unemotionally. Keep your back straight; your face, expressionless; your voice clear, powerful, firm. For the first week, your job is to explain the rules, procedures, and consequences, and enforce them as the swift hand of justice.

Once you internalize your role as the swift hand of justice, you will realize that having enforcing logical rules and consequences is the most loving thing you can do for your students, and they will respect you for it. You will understand this worn maxim:

If you can’t control ’em, you can’t teach ’em.

Here are some other lessons you need to learn:

  • 2. Dress like a professional. No jeans, no tees, or running shoes, even if senior teachers are wearing them. The seniors have earned the right to jeans. You are a fresh-faced youngin’. In many cases, you are only few years older than your wards. This is a dangerous situation. Act and look young, and the students will treat you like a buddy and will dismiss your rules like pesky flies. Look cool and hip, and your students will treat your class like happy hour. Dress sloppily and casually, and your administration—even if they profess to not care about casual dress—will judge you. You are on probation for an important job. Opt for business casual attire, and cover your body.
  • 3. Expect to pay your dues. You will likely be assigned the classes no one wants. No use complaining. Count your first year as hard core classroom management training, like hard core hazing in the military. Be proud of your battle wounds. Learn to like the taste of tears.
  • veteran teacher first year
    Appreciate the veteran teacher’s style and no-nonsense manner.

    4. Find veteran teachers and ask for advice. Don’t dismiss their techniques as “cold” and “harsh.” They have been hardened by many battles. They have thick skin; they have survived. To show your appreciation, do something nice for your veteran teachers. Get them coffee or offer to run an errand. Remember, they are just as busy as you are, but because they have big hearts, they stop to share advice with you.

  • 5. Make some teacher friends. Aim for quality over quantity. Be polite to everyone, but recognize the people of integrity and hutzpah in your midst, and aim to befriend them. Start with your neighbours next to your classroom, and work your way down the hall. Start by offering a favour or co-planning a course you teach in common. If all else fails, turn to Reddit. Your teacher friends—the only ones who will get what you’re going through— will be your lifeline in the darkest days of your first year.
  • 6. Shrug off the haters. Teachers can be territorial and mean. Perhaps it’s the bad coffee in the staff room, or one too many incoherent essays read, but some teachers inhabit the darkest corner of your first year teacher hell. They will not say “hi” to you in the halls, but they will snoop on your teaching and tell everyone what you’ve done to slip up. They will exclude you from their cliques—tightly wound nests of spite. You will shrug them off. What they do says more about them than you. Trust me on this.
  • 7. Don’t take student comments personally. You will have some student haters. They will talk about you behind your back, and they won’t be saying anything nice. You will be shocked by this. After all the work you put in to teaching them, preparing fun flashcards, and buying candy prizes, how could they hate you? Don’t take it personally. One reason they may hate you is that you are not very good at your job just yet—but who is any good at anything without lots of practice? But there are many other reasons they may hate you outside your control, including projection, crappy home lives, general teenage desire to challenge authority, PMS, and so on. It’s hard to imagine, but you will one day laugh—laugh — at how much you cared about what students thought of you.

    haters teacher students.png
    Haters gonna hate
  • 8. Do your homework and check the exams- Check the established exams of the classes you are teaching. Do not assume you will be allowed to write your own final exams. You won’t. So, study the established exams your students will have to write so that you know exactly what to teach. Knowing you prepared your students for their final exam will give you confidence.
  • 9. Come in early and don’t stay too late- You will befriend the custodian by staying late each day till 7-8pm, planning your lessons and red-inking papers. You will come in to school on Sundays. This is a mistake. Instead, befriend the morning custodian by coming in 1-2 hours early each school day. Do all your planning then, and enjoy the zen. Leave no later than 2 hours after school, even if your lessons aren’t perfect. You deserve to see the light of day.
  • 10. Take care of your health. Because you are so consumed with teaching, you will fail to pack healthy food and survive on ramen noodles and pizza. You will gain 20 pounds in a year without even realize it. Observe tip #9 and get home, go for a jog, run on a treadmill. Make the time to pack a healthy lunch and snack each night for the next day. You matter. You are of no use to your students sick, unhealthy, or burnt out.
  • 11. Don’t aim for perfection in your first year. You will be tempted to make showcase lessons each day. Don’t. Your aim should be to understand your course content and teach in a simple, efficient way, with the occasional game thrown in. Study your textbooks because deep understanding leads to good teaching. Direct instruction works—don’t be afraid of it because it’s so simple.
  • 12. Be kind to yourself. You will find yourself beating yourself up about a word your mispronounced or a train wreck of a lesson. Don’t. Recognize that no matter how confident the teachers around you seem, they all have taught horrible lessons and have all lost control of a class at some point. Instead of beating yourself up, learn from the situation, eat some bonbons, and take a warm bath. You can make your own Shangri-La!
  • 13. Remember you have a life. You will be tempted to spend all your waking hours planning lessons, marking papers, and kvetching about students. Don’t. Teaching is not your life. You have a life. Part of it is spent teaching. Only a part of it. Reclaim the rest, or you will end the year so resentful, that the dictionary will put a picture of your miserable mug by the word “resentful.” Don’t end up in the dictionary under “resentful.”

    resentful tired teacher
    This could be you– the resentful, prematurely aged first year teacher. Tread carefully through the morass of first year teaching, sweet young one.
  • 14. You’re not alone in this terrible first year. You will Google “I want to quit teaching” nearly every day during your prep hours. You will cry yourself to sleep. You will wonder why you got into this God-forsaken profession. You will even hate your students with the intensity of a thousand suns. Welcome to teaching! Ask any honest teacher, and he or she will tell you about those days in first year teacher hell. You are not alone.

It does get better. I know that’s what everyone else says, but really: it does get better.

The crazy workload will still be there, but you will learn to manage the classroom, let the hateful comments roll of your back, and manage your work and life.

And, very slowly but surely, you will receive notes. Notes of thanks and praise. Cards flourished with signatures and flowers and hearts. And a sketch of the Pope, framed and gifted to you. Then an essay written about you entitled, “My Favourite Teacher.” A bouquet of flowers on graduation day. Visits from former students.

And these little things will mean more to you than your pay cheque.

Your memories of first year teacher hell will make you chuckle.

The world won’t seem perpetually dark anymore.

But teaching will still have its dark moments.

Welcome to teaching.



motivational quote quotation first year teacher teaching


Teachers, what advice would you give your first year teacher self?

First year teachers, what are you struggling with, and how can we help?

How to be the best student teacher ever


Four years. I cannot believe it has been four years since I wrote a blog post.

A lot has happened in my teaching career over the past four years. I moved schools. I now primarily teach English. I’ve read some transformative teaching books. and I’ve recently been inspired by a teacher Youtuber and a great teacher blogger. But none of this compares to having the whole circle of life turned upside down and belly up when I  became a mentor teacher to two student teachers.

Two student teachers!

Two days ago was the last day with my second student teacher, who was a pleasure to have in my classroom. For all of you education majors gearing up for student teaching, let me tell you what my latest student teacher did to be the best student teacher ever.


  1. SHOW UP ON TIME- Tardiness is epidemic these days. As someone who is nearly always on time, lateness grinds my gears.
  2. DRESS LIKE YOU CARE- Yes, you are a young student. But you want to be a respected teacher. Dress like it. Know full well that your mentor teacher—no matter how sloppily he or she dresses—is judging your wrinkled tee and your ripped jeans. It’s not fair, but it’s worth repeating: No matter how progressive, cool, or hip your mentor teacher may seem, he or she is charged with sifting the golden nuggets from the pebbles of the teaching world, and like it or not, your dress is part of that sifting. Be golden.

    professional dress for teachers.jpg
    Dressing professionally also gives you this mysterious allure…
  3. DO YOUR HOMEWORK- Before you even set foot into your school, contact your mentor teacher and ask what you can do to be prepared for your first day. Chances are your mentor teacher will be relieved that you have a plan and have read the curriculum or standards documents before you enter his or her classroom.
  4. BE READY TO WORK- The education world attracts the best people and the worst people. On one hand, you have the best people—the teachers who are idealistic, sensitive, and willing to put in the work. These teachers really care about students. Then, on the other hand, you have the worst people—the teachers who got into teaching because they exhausted other options, loved the idea of summers off, and will put in as little work as possible. These teachers really do not care about students. If you belong to the first category of teachers, you deserve to stay. Demonstrate that you are in teaching for the right reasons by working for your certification: prepare your own lessons as much as you can,  put effort into your lessons; get to know your students; have your photocopies ready; ask meaningful questions; come in early—all these actions show your mentor teacher you mean business.

    STudent teacher practicum
    Look at how serious this student teacher is and how committed she is to learning.
  5. LISTEN TO ADVICE- Back when I was a student teacher, I had a lot of (in retrospect) idiotic ideas, but I did have one thing going for me: I trusted life experience. Listen to your mentor’s advice. Don’t discount your mentor’s advice as hateful, spiteful, or “old school.” Your teacher has been in the trenches. He or she has fought the war. You are a fresh-faced recruit who has been playing video games. You may have an idea of what the battle field looks like, but have no idea what it feels like and tastes like. No educational psychology textbook will prepare you for the middle school bullies, the stench of post-Phys Ed B.O., or the first paper ball thrown in your direction. Trust experience. Take notes.
  6. GET TO KNOW YOUR STUDENTS- I don’t care if you are a hardcore introvert and would rather spend hours contemplating the intricacies of your navel rather than talking to another living human being. Teaching is a social profession; it is a people profession. Do your best to get to know the students. If you’re quiet, aim for one-on-one conversations. Smile—either show your teeth or don’t—whatever suits you, but smile. Stand by the door as students come in and say “hello.” As you monitor the halls, make some head nods.Talk to students about what they’re writing, reading, playing, thinking. I don’t expect you to be a class clown holding the attention of all with your witty banter, one-liner jokes, and general coolness—just be interested.
  7. ACT LIKE AN ADULT- I understand. Just yesterday you were waxing poetic about Marxism and the plight of the underdog in Social Justice 101; you organized rallies on your university campus to defend the local misfits de jour; you care deeply about justice, love, and peace. But for God’s sake, be an adult in the classroom. Know that identifying with the students as underdogs who need your sweetness, kindness, best friend vibes, and lax “live and let live” attitude is not doing them any favours and will unravel your classroom management. Students don’t need another friend. They have friends. What they need is an adult who sees that they are working below their potential and is willing to push them to reach that potential. They need an adult who is willing to be tough, if that’s what it takes. Be that adult. That is how you love them.

    The other side of teaching.jpg
    For the first time, as a student teacher, you’re part of the establishment. Get used to it.
  8. MAKE YOUR MENTOR’ S LIFE EASIER, NOT HARDER—This is probably my most important piece of advice. Ask yourself this question: In general, is my presence in the classroom a help or a hindrance? Am I a helper, or more like a dementor from J. K. Rowling’s novels, sucking the life out of all around me? Be honest when you answer. I would say I oscillated, as a student teacher, between being a helper and dementor. As for you– you decide to be a helper:  get your teacher photocopies, get coffee from the staff room, take the students to the library, mark tests,  help plan a field trip– do not consider these actions beneath you. These little acts of kindness make your mentor teacher’s life easier, and  they make you indispensable.

    Don't be a dementor.jpg
    Are you a helper (pictured left) or dementor (right)?
  9. FINISH THE JOB- Anything you start, finish. If you assigned it, mark it. The last thing your mentor teacher wants– what any sane person does not want– is to hunt students down for marks, or to look at yet another assignment. After you leave, your teacher should be able to teach.
  10. SHOW YOUR GRATITUDE- I don’t care how you do it. Just be sure to say “thank you” to your mentor teacher. He or she will really appreciate it.  Teachers aren’t thanked often.  And I hope your mentor teacher thanks you too.

If you follow the above advice, you’ll be the best student teacher to ever set foot into your school. You will not get any accolades or any awards. But I promise you: you will have found a treasured spot in your mentor teacher’s heart.

classroom management for teachers student teachers
Advice for student teachers regarding classroom management.


Teachers, what other advice do you have for student teachers? 

Student teachers, what advice do you have for your mentor teachers?

I’m an Ontario Certified Teacher!

An old post from when I first graduated from teachers’ college.

Two weeks ago, I graduated from teachers’ college. Since then, I’ve been thinking of something inspirational to write, but I realized I’ve already written what I want to say.

Us teachers lookin' regal on graduation day.
Us teachers lookin’ regal on graduation day.

My first blog post ever explained why I want to be a teacher. It still captures best why I went to OISE.  It also explains what kind of teacher I want to be.

So, I’ve posted it below for you to read.

I have only one thing to add… a big ‘THANK YOU’ to all those people who stood by me during my studies! To start with, I thank my boss, Gilbert, for keeping me teaching part-time and tolerating my ‘pedagogical experiments’ in the classroom (Baroque music & other oddities…but they work).

I also owe a lot to friends, family, and teacher associates who:  drove me to bus stations, bought me Timmies, shared inspirational stories, or just understood when I disappeared under a pile of tests.

You guys are the best.

And big thanks to all the people at teachers’ college, enthusiastic and interesting, who often inspired me to keep going when the going was getting tough. Almost each one taught me something I’ll keep in mind—whether it’s laugh at the odd things, sing at the class, or eat salad on lunch break. And, finally, thank you teachers’ college…for introducing me to the wonderful world of baseball!

I’m excited for all of us teachers….the world is open to us, and not just for walking about in. We are going to teach it…and not everyone can say that.



Why I’m a teacher (revisited post-graduation)

This is me.
This is me.

 Fresh out of teachers’ college, I still find this old post  about why I teach rings true…


People react to my telling them I’m a teacher in predictable ways. They all seem to assume the same things: I must enjoy spending time with children, living vicariously through teenagers, teaching a pet subject, or lounging about during summer vacations. In small part, these reasons are true. Alone, though, these reasons are insufficient: I’ve only nodded along with these people’s ideas about my choice of profession because I haven’t the time to explain my reasons. It’s complicated. It’s too much to explain in one sitting to a stranger who asks the inevitable: “Whatcha do?” and “Why you doin’ it?” expecting a few words wrapped in a smile. Let me explain now: Teaching is like being a stream in a forest. I want to be that stream.

A stream anywhere is a lifeline splitting the ground—wherever it goes, the birds, the bears, the bees, the trees—all visit the stream to drink and to survive. Plants shoot their roots towards it; animals won’t stray from it. A teacher is like a stream; wherever she is, there is life-giving knowledge. Teaching, I give students something to help them thrive. For Mark, I give the ability to read when he couldn’t. For Frieda, I give the ability to write. For Xinyu, I give the ability to debate, research, and vote. So, I nourish them.

And I nourish their families too. A teacher is also a judge, psychiatrist, manager, family and marriage therapist, social worker, and activist. If Mary’s family is troubled, I’ll likely be the first outside her family to know, and perhaps her only confidant. If Jason’s having mental problems and overdosing on prescription drugs—yes, I’ll be at his hospital bed too. If Yousuf’s family can’t be approved citizens after five years, I’ll write to government bureaucrats. I’ve seen teachers do all these things; I’ve seen them do it after a long day of school spent building up their students with kind words. That’s what convinced me teachers are like streams that nourishing and building up those around them.

But to be a nourishing stream and a model of humanity for students forty-five hours a week a teacher must not be burnt up inside—she faces, then, the challenge of bettering herself. This moral transformation is a perk of the job: struggling to explain a concept for the tenth time, a teacher develops patience; dealing with a student with behaviour issues, courage; knowing a student’s personal struggles, empathy; marking students’ papers fairly, a just mind; and, finally, dropping the I’m-a-university-grad-and-too-smart-to-teach-thirteen-year-olds persona, humility. Before the teacher knows it, she’s a pure stream:  a teacher with soul. Is there a better end?

The Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, made an observation about streams relevant to teachers.When he said “no man ever steps in the same [stream] twice,” he meant that as a stream is never the same, so too reality is always changing. Teachers, like Heraclitus’ stream, are constantly re-inventing themselves if they’re worth a sticker. At sixteen— I know only now— I was a new tutor, an illiterate, and a bad writer despite high grades. Then, I knew nearly nothing; now, I know much more. My profession demands it. I’ve learned about how the mind operates; how your mind differs from mine; how your family affects your learning; what your lunch tells me about you. And, apart from studying psychology, I’ve learned technology. Smartboards, ipads, elmos, blogs, and the like—these are my new blackboard. Because I’m a teacher, I’ve forced myself into the 21st century. Because I’m a teacher, I keep learning. I’ll always be a stream overflowing with freshness.

So, let this be my answer to all those who ask, “Why did you become a teacher?”: I’m a teacher, because it’s like being a stream. A stream is no small thing. It nourishes others; it keeps pure; it alters and reflects in beautiful ways. Though you can’t see a stream immediately when looking at the forest trees, or hear it in the racket of hoots and howls, you can be sure it’s there. It’s quietly bubbling along the forest floor, minding its own business, observing all around, seeking out roots. I know it may sound odd, but I want to do that for a living.

Building self-esteem in students– have we gone too far?

Are your children spoiled? Quite possibly.

Our nation- wide, well-intentioned “grow self-esteem in students” movement has gone too far. Before you hurl stones, let me preface this by saying I’m a teacher committed to building strong self-concepts in students,  especially body-conscious girls. And I don’t think praising students is bad.

But I think some praise is bad.

Some praise is downright destructive.

Jean  Twenge’s “Me Generation”

generation me narcissism
This TIME article  claims there are nearly  3 times as many narcissists in their 20s than in the  65 + crowd

As an undergraduate sociology student, I studied Generations X and Y and this led me to read Jean Twenge’s book, Generation Me: a book that cautions too much self-esteem building programs have led to a narcissistic Generation Y. According to Twenge, the emphasis on building self-esteem in schools  really began in the Sixties, with the “Free to Be You and Me” mentality. According to Twenge, the 1960’s mass project to build self-esteem in students destroyed people born between the early 1980s to early 2000s– the millenial generation.

Using psychology and social surveys, Twenge and her associates found that members of this so-called millennial generation are overall more “confident, entitled and assertive,” but, because they’re trapped in their little worlds—centered around themselves, of course— they’re “more miserable than ever before.”

Growing in popularity, Twenge’s research has been republished in her new book The Narcissim Epidemic. Here’s an illustration of generation Y narcissism in her words:

“On a reality TV show, a girl planning her Sweet Sixteen wants a major road blocked off so a marching band can precede her grand entrance on a red carpet. Five times as many Americans undergo plastic surgery and cosmetic procedures as ten years ago, and ordinary people hire fake paparazzi to follow them around to make them look famous. High school students physically attack classmates and post YouTube videos of the beatings to get attention. And for the past several years, Americans have been buying McMansions and expensive cars on credit they can’t afford.”

The real cause for all this madness, for Twenge, is epidemic narcissism:

“Although these seem like a random collection of current trends, all are rooted in a single underlying shift in American culture: the relentless rise of narcissism, a very positive and inflated view of self. Narcissists believe they are better than others, lack emotionally warm and caring relationships, constantly seek attention, and treasure material wealth and physical appearance”[see Source 1]

Is Twenge right? Are our students narcissists?

Hey look ma! It’s a picture of me…looking at me, looking at me, looking at me…

One reason we might be concerned about building too much self-esteem in students is that we might unintentionally build cold, unfeeling monsters— Twenge’s narcissists. But I’m unconvinced this is our  greatest fear. From my observation, my students are not a pack of in-it-for-myself-alone types, but caring, feeling individuals who, like most teenagers, are idealists. That my students overall “constantly seek attention, and treasure material wealth and physical appearance” is, however, undeniable.

You’re special– but do you have grit?

You need proof– let me tell you about the experiment I’ve run for the past three years. At the start of most classes, I take a student survey asking them about their ambitions. What have I learned? I’ve learned that most students believe themselves to be special. They see their future selves as being wildly successful–they are the future Bon Jovis,  the Freuds, the Obamas, the Trumps, the Spielbergs of our world. And what of their work ethic? I’ve learned that a scant few have the work ethic to achieve their goals, never mind an A average. The majority of my students have forgotten what Benjamin Franklin knew: “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”

That hard work usually equals success, I think, should be taught in every classroom. I propose these mottoes for every student: Effort multiplies reward. Sweat equals success. Practice makes perfect. Struggle builds character.

Perhaps you disagree. Maybe our students are indeed so special that their success is certain. Maybe they are so special they should get praise without cause.

As for me, I think we’re off the train tracks.  Here’s how our self-esteem building efforts have backfired:

1)      Students may become suckers for recognition

When we praise students and make it seem like only when they are praised, and only when they do well, that they are valuable human beings, we create attention-seeking addicts. Witness the countless Facebook self-portraits and un-private lives lived for the fleeting pleasure of being “noticed” and “liked.” Wouldn’t it be better if our students didn’t care much about what others thought of them? Wouldn’t it be better if they introspected for self-worth rather than grasping hungrily outside?

2)      Students only value some things, forget others

When we praise students because they get a great mark, win the student election, score a touchdown, win a scholarship, we are doing a good thing. But do we praise students when they do good? For example, when was the last time we praised a student for helping someone who was bullied, for volunteering, for sharing their lunch? If we praise academic or extracurricular excellence alone, we send the message that only material and academic achievement matters. Do we believe that? If so, why do we believe that?

3)      Students can’t correct their mistakes and live in ignorance—

When we praise students for every little thing—even when they are wrong—we are being dishonest. Worse yet, we are ruining their chances in life. For example, some well-meaning teachers have taken self-esteem building to mean “don’t correct mistakes because it’ll discourage students.” I’ve heard of teachers not correcting papers full of serious punctuation and grammatical errors because they believed their students’ writing still had “flow”—whatever that is. If jonny rites like this he, wont be getting a good job don’t U think??

generation me y bunny
Our students do not have to be this bunny.

4)      Students are unprepared for the real world, complacent—

In school, everyone thinks you’re wonderful and you get easy As! Then you get your first job. You find it very disconcerting that nobody praises you without cause. You have to work for it. We should prepare students for this. We should also never give students the impression that they’re so perfect they can’t improve; everyone can improve, because we all have weaknesses.

So, what is the balance between building healthy self-esteem in students, and building narcissists, attention-seeking types, ruthless go-getters and unprepared “princes and princesses”? I’m not sure, but so far I follow these three rules:

1)        I will praise students for a job well done, but only if they deserve it.

2)       I will not praise students for a job poorly done or ignore mistakes.

3)       I will not praise students for academic achievements alone.

Doing all this, am I being too harsh? I think not. I’m trying to be a good teacher, as I understand it.

For more about the “Me Generation” phenomenon,  Isuggest you go to this article recently published in TIME: “Millennials: The Me Me Me Generation” by Joel Stein

Or check out Source 1:Jean Twenge’s site

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Every teacher & parent should watch this!

An old post I wrote while studying to become a teacher.

Activist, author, and child prodigy  Adora Svitak  makes the case for childish thinking in her compelling TED talk.

She’s 16-years-old but eloquent as my 40-year-old aunt…and that’s eloquent.

I’ve taken the quotes that really stuck out to me and pasted them for you below.


[by Adora Svitak]

Straight from Svitak:

‘irrational’ thinking

“The traits the word ‘childish’ addresses are seen so often in adults that we should abolish this age-discriminatory word when it comes to criticizing behavior associated with irresponsibility and irrational thinking.”

“…who’s to say that certain types of irrational thinking aren’t exactly what the world needs?”

optimism & dreams

“For better or worse, we kids aren’t hampered as much when it comes to thinking about reasons why not to do things.”

“…we kids still dream about perfection. And that’s a good thing, because in order to make anything a reality, you have to dream about it first.”

control & care

“Now, what’s even worse than restriction is that adults often underestimate kids abilities. We love challenges, but when expectations are low, trust me, we will sink to them.”

“…to show that you truly care, you listen.”


“But there’s a problem with this rosy picture of kids being so much better than adults. Kids grow up and become adults just like you. Or just like you, really? The goal is not to turn kids into your kind of adult, but rather better adults than you have been.”

my two cents…

I agree with Svitak about everything, except  for one thing; as a student, I don’t think she fully appreciates classroom control. It’s necessary.  No classroom can function well without some rules and guidelines. I know, because I once set very little rules or guidelines (not my thing, anyway), and my students were less focused and less successful because of it. It’s a fine balance. We teachers need to give as much freedom as possible so long as learning is not impeded.

one more thought…

Svitak paints an accurate picture of kids who “still dream about perfection.”Listening to her, I remembered a situation that captures the child mentality perfectly.

Once, I left my black handbag in a classroom over lunch break. I returned to the empty room to find a one of my grade 5 students, Emma, hunched over my bag. “Oh no!” I immediately thought. I’m ashamed to admit it now, but I though to myself, “she must be taking something from my bag.”

Rushing over to Emily to “catch her” red-handed, I soon became embarrassed. I saw that she was holding a mop of soggy tissue papers, cleaning my bag from the grit it picked up from the floor. “What are you doing?” I asked. And then she looked up at me, a small mess of freckles,  and said in her slow, deliberate way, “Cleaning…your bag…” I thought she had been stealing, when she had just been helping me behind my back.

Kids do really think a different way, see the world differently. It’s a shame that we grow up.

Do you think you’re childish enough? Or, have you become too serious and narrow-minded to the see the big, bright picture? Have you lost your rose-coloured glasses?

Something to think about…

Why do we un-teach intuition?

I wrote this post when I was studying to become a teacher.

Last Sunday, fate arranged for me to eat burrito across from Ian, creative strategist, business owner, and writer. He taught me something in this school of life, and he can teach you. He taught me the value of intuition.

He came dressed in a sock

His sweater was a over-sized sock— trendy these days, I guessed. A pair of aviator glasses hid his bright green eyes. Despite his youthful look, I sensed his depth.

I wanted to know how he became a success reaching the top of every hipster’s dream, Mount Everest, Holy Grail – the advertising industry.

Ian had found his inspiration in some classroom, I was sure, or in some lecture hall, in some teacher. Armed with knowledge, he’d rough-housed in the creative marketplace.

Except he hadn’t. He started by selling shoes for Aldo. He became a manager. Then he became a producer, left, and opened his own company.

He never went to university.

“Didn’t need it. Waste of time,” he said, “school makes you complacent.”

I nearly choked on burrito.  Didn’t Ian realize he was talking to a teacher? Didn’t he realize he was wearing a sock?

This man was the annoying kid

In school, Ian was likely the kid we teachers struggle with. He was the dreamer; he studied in his own world. He didn’t have the patience for calculating, filling in blanks, or discussing the causes of the Great War. Yes, Ian was “the annoying kid.”

“He needs to pay attention in class,” teachers must have been complained of him, “he should write essays without the pictures or the poetry. He should…”

…be unimaginative? A bore?

Looking for salamanders

Students like Ian are on the search for the unusual, the unseen in everyday life.

As a boy, Ian looked for salamanders.

“When I was a kid,” he told me, “my mom took me to the forest to catch salamanders. She taught me not to look too hard when we pulled up a moldy log.  To catch a salamander, you have to be see the whole and the details.”

Now as a grown man, his powers of observation are occult.

“You see that man over there,” he nods somewhat discreetly, “he’s wearing a Zara jacket  bought two years ago.” At every moment in our conversation, he can list off the colours, the brands, the condition of every customer’s clothes.

He points to my tiny black earring lying on the black tile floor, and it creeps me out. Has he noticed the run in my tights, too?

This is only half of my encounter with the annoying kid.

We are made up of three things

“We are made up of three things,” Ian continues as he motions with his hands, “we have our mind.” His hand hovers over his head. “We have our soul, and we have our gut.” He pats his belly.

Ian followed his belly throughout life.  He paid attention to the voice within him; he ignored the voices outside him.

Intuition was his best friend.

Curiosity didn’t kill the cat

Three-quarters through my burrito, Ian spots a homeless man passing by our window and asks, “What’s his story?”

I’m not sure; I know only he’s a staple here in Streetsville— the homeless man who looks like a black Cosmo Kramer.

“Let’s go,” he jumps up, “let’s go find his story.”

“Oh, that’s great,” I think, “just when the burrito is getting spicy, we’re on an adventure for a story, a story we can’t eat.” I think Ian is rude. Or a weirdo.  As I nod, and pack up my burrito, I mull this madness over. When the homeless man disappears out of sight, I sigh.

“It looks like he’s gone. Maybe we should just stay and eat our burritos.”

The classroom tug of war

We didn’t chase the story of the homeless man, though I’m certain Ian would have. He was more curious than I, and now I see it.

Our burrito affair was really a metaphor for the ongoing tug of war in classrooms across the country: it is a war between intuition and logic, exploration and structure.

The tug of war begins when a student points to a picture in a science textbooks and asks a question like, “What’s his story?”, and we teachers say: “I’m sorry. Now is not the time for stories. We talk about stories in English class, in period one. We will entertain that question and that story then.”

Often teachers win the tug of war. It’s sad that logic trumps intuition, structure beats exploration, curriculum beats awe. It’s also sad that we teachers have un-learned our intuition– here defined as  the random urge to know.

There is only one solution to this struggle.  We teachers must drop the rope once in a while; we must love and trust our own intuitions, and those of our students. We’ll be rewarded by the salamanders we didn’t see before, the tweaks in reality that make life a kaleidoscope of meaning.

And we’ll rest content. We’ll know we never trained a single child to embody that ugly,  beastly word—“complacent.”

“Class Action” film: are we for social justice in our schools?

I wrote this post when I was studying to become a teacher.

Last week was my final week of classes at OISE.

The final assignment for School and Society course was to create an artifact representing our commitment to social justice in the classroom.

To create my film artifact, I did some digging and found some stories. The facts I found upset some people. Others questioned them.

I embraced their emotions. Facts that are hidden and hard-hitting often stir them. Click to watch my social justice artifact here:

What is “social justice”?

When I began to create my artifact I first thought that the words “social justice” actually mean little to me– they’re too vague and abstract.

When I think of “social justice” I see things:

I see a smile.

I see a student reading a play in which he has the lead role.

I see myself  handing a student a book with a character just like them, a character which I know will get them excited themselves…about living.

I see…

“Class action”

Social justice to me is actions teachers take in  the classroom. It is not an anti-bullying poster. It is not memos. And it is definitely not an impassioned speech made in the staff room over tuna fish sandwiches.

Everyday in their  classrooms, teachers have the opportunity to cure kids from the illnesses that are indecision, shame, and self-loathing. I mean, teachers can bandage those kids who are rejected– because of what they look like, how they feel, or what they do– and help those who hate going to school.

Class action is nursing school rejects back to life. That is social justice.

The flip-side of “class action”

There’s another side to “class action.”

In legalese, “class action” is a case in which a large group of people get together and try to sue some wrongdoer.

“Class action,” with this connotation, also made it the perfect title for my film artifact. When I researched the  lot of the “school rejects” of today, I found they faced serious obstacles in school. These obstacles are not  the kind easily brushed off the shoulder like dust…they are constantly carried on student shoulders…and they are heavy. There is anger, some of it justified, against our school system.

There is much to be done.

Let’s make the commitment to class action today.