When I started teaching, I had an amazing assistant principal. She used to be a kindergarten teacher years and years before. She insisted we have work on the walls, change our bulletin boards monthly and take every outside opportunity we could get, such as taking a class that allowed me to accompany my students to Lincoln Center to see the musical Chicago.
She was the first to tell me that I should never smile before Christmas.
I loved my AP, but I always felt weird about that advice. Why not smile? Because it makes students know you’re serious.
But still… weird.
This week, I finished reading Teaching Outside the Box: How to Grab Your Students by the Brains. And LouAnne Johnson, the same woman who wrote Dangerous Minds, based on her own teaching experiences, left me wondering why I never had a textbook like this one.
It felt like I was communing with a kindred spirit. She reinforced all the ideas I have come to believe in my nearly 20 years of teaching. And it would have been so lovely to have heard all of this when I first started. Never smiling for the first six months? Hooey. Never letting the students know that you don’t know something? Also bunk.
I have spent the last few years really trying to learn about SLIFE (students with limited or interrupted formal education), and all that advice I got just made me seem like a bully. Her approach is one that I have only come to in the past few years. And this book would have made my life toward a humanistic approach to teaching SO much easier.
She writes about how students test you, but how they really just need someone to listen, to understand. If I walked into the classroom now with the same attitudes I was encouraged to project when I was first starting out, I’d never get anywhere.
My students learn from someone they know and trust. If you walk in and say, “my way or the highway,” many of them would just choose the highway. And you can’t teach them if they are not there.
LouAnne Johnson gets that.
She had me at chapter 1 with the open letter to teachers, thanking me and everyone else in the field for doing what we do, day in and day out. She kept me riveted with stories and advice. Although much of this I already do and know about, such as calling parents to establish and maintain a relationship–something a lot of high school teachers forego–or making sure students eat well because it affects their ability to learn, it’s just nice to feel that I am not alone in my ways of thinking.
I needed this affirmation to get me through new administration, hostile contract negotiations, a divisive election and drama in my own classroom. I needed someone to understand me. A talk over coffee to make sure I’m not crazy.
This was it. And it was grand.
I highly recommend this book. To everyone. It was just what I needed.