I remember taking my very first Education class in college. Honestly, I think my Education classes were some of my favorite courses at college because they fueled a hunger not only for learning, but for change and one of my many passions.
It was in that first Education class that I got a glimpse into what it truly meant to be a Teacher and what all that entailed from writing your teaching philosophy, creating detailed lesson plans (that were seriously PAGES long), to working in groups on cross curricular unit plans, to observing classes and seeing what it was really all about. However, there was one thing in particular that I learned in that introductory Education course that FOREVER CHANGED my view of what it meant to not just be a teacher, but to act like one.
In this Intro. Education class we were tasked with the job of reading through the book What Great Teachers do Differently, 17 Things That Matter Most. I’m sure many of my classmates were not thrilled about reading a book, but I immediately ordered a copy and started speed reading my way through!
If I am being honest, this book was REVOLUTIONARY for me as a student studying to be a teacher. In the midst of reading that book I began to form my future beliefs as a teacher and how I would one day act in a classroom of my own. The book, What Great Teachers Do Differently, taught me so many thing that I didn’t know (or had never thought of) in regards to classroom management, how to handle negativity, how to interact with co-workers, how to handle difficult situations, and how it is all about People and not programs!
While I absolutely ate up every bit of advise and knowledge the author had to impart, it was one chapter in particular that forever changed my mindset on teacher behavior and what we truly control in our classrooms. It all happened in Chapter 7, titled “Who is the Variable“, and I remember starting that chapter not even knowing what I was about to take away, that is, until I came upon a phrase that left me speechless! As I was readying the first couple of paragraphs I came upon the heart of the chapter and the mindset that would forever influence how I viewed my actions as a teacher, reading the words “Great teachers know who the variable is in the classroom: They are (Whitaker, 37)”
That phrase might seem trivial to some, but as I continued reading I realized that it opened up a window showing that when we recognize we are in control of our behavior in our classroom, and when we learn to take control of it, we forever change everything that goes on when students walk through our doors and when they walk out. The author went on to point out that it is our behavior that determines if a student makes a tricky situation in class worse or better. It is our behavior that determines if a student simply gets frustrated or revs up to full blown angry. However, more than anything it is our behavior that determines student success.
We might not be able (in fact we are not) to always control the type of situations students go through before they get to our class, but we CAN control the situations they face in our classroom. Additionally we, above anything, can control what we say, what we teach and how we teach it.
So often we are quick to point fingers at other people when our students struggle, when we deal with situations in the classroom, or when behavior gets out of hand. We blame the students, the parents, the school, administration, drugs, anything but ourselves. However, what if it is not about pointing fingers at everyone else, but about looking to our own teaching and finding the mistakes? What if it is knowing that we are the VARIABLE that we continuously have control over 24/7!
Great Teachers consistently strive to improve, and they focus on something they can control: their own performance.What Great Teachers Do Differently, Whitaker, 38
Thus, if we give a test and discover that nearly every student failed, it is on us to look to ourselves and self reflect on our teaching. Asking ourselves “Did my student fail because they were unwilling to try?” or “Did my students fail, because I was unwilling to try and did not prepare them well enough?”
At the end of the day it is OUR OWN BEHAVIOR & ACTIONS THAT WE CONTROL 24/7. It is up to us to take responsibility for what goes on inside of our classrooms and the success of our students! Thus, when students fail its up to us to backtrack and reteach. When students lash out in anger because we get angry at them it is up to us to take a breath and get our emotions in check. When the class is completely off task and unruly, it is up to us to take a look at our classroom management and make changes.
Accepting responsibility is an essential difference between more effective and less effective employers, teachers, principals–even parents.What Great Teachers Do Differently, Whitaker, 40
Granted, we have the power to influence and impart change on our students every day! However, change in student’s doesn’t happen unless we are able to make changes in ourselves when students best interest depends on it! Thus, I want to remind you that YOU ARE THE VARIABLE! Your own behavior is sometimes the only thing that you have control of and the ability to immediately change…..so, are you willing to change? Are you willing to admit that you were wrong? Are you willing to accept responsibility? Are you willing to admit that you didn’t care if the students failed the test? Are you willing to change YOU in order to make a CHANGE with your students best interest in mind?
Our empowering ability to look in the mirror and see ourselves as the variable raises our level of positive results and will eventually reach students. Success in any career starts with ones ability to focus on “self” and teaching is no different. At the end of the day we are the ONE VARIABLE that WE CAN most easily and productively influence.
And yes, maybe you can’t save every student, but you know that you have to at least try. Even in those moments where a student fails, if you are able to ask yourself “Did I do enough?” and “Did I do everything I could?” and your answer is Yes, then you have done your job.
Next time a class struggles on a test, 5th period pokes at your frustration, or a student asks the same question yet again, take a breath and remind yourself that change first starts with YOU & that YOU ARE THE VARIABLE!