Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The Secret To Building Positive Classroom Culture

Dan started a brush fire on this issue, probably fueled in part by the gasoline I poured all over the place. Classroom management and the construction of positive class culture is important stuff, a key component to my big, unbloggable project, and I gotta say, I think I've got it figured out. I have determined how to empower students in their own success, invest them in our classroom goals, and build the concepts of unity and family across diverse student groups. This is the thing that teachers across this great land struggle with daily, the issue that brings many a great and powerful educator to their knees. But I have the secret.

We call my dad.

During class, on speakerphone, always unplanned, to talk about any and all issues that may arise. He's doing financial reporting things down in S. Florida, but we'll ring him up on his cell phone, and he'll always answer with a gruff intonation of his first and last names like it's a stranger on the line and not his first born son calling from the opposite coast, which inevitably sends the kids into spasms of glee, the intonation: "He sounds just like you!"

It started when I presented an exemplar essay that explained the myriad ways in which I have liked pirates far longer than it was fashionable, trendy, or Disney-permissible to enjoy piratical history, esthetics, and vocal stylings. The kids took issue with the first reason/ argument (that's a yellow for all you SUTW acolytes), which outlined the origins of my fascination and explained how the roots of all this lay in a mid-1980s trip to Disney World, wherein I repeatedly rode the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.

THEM: How could you go on the ride when you were eight, if the movies came out like three years ago?
ME: The ride came before the movie.
THEM: Nooooooooooo!

Head-butted thusly with the surety of youth and inexperience, all I could think to do was call my dad for that ever valuable third-party validation. This he duly provided, while I grinned my biggest shit-eating grin and nodded like the king of the world. Since then, we've called to speak on a variety of issues, unevenly spaced out and completely unintentional, although I passed on a recent opportunity because it's more or less tax time.

MY DAD: [gruff intonation of first and last names]
THEM: [howls of laughter]
ME: Dad, you're on speaker-phone with a bunch of 7th and 8th graders, so don't say any bad words or anything.
MY DAD: And just why would you tell me something like that?
THEM: When he's angry he sounds just like you! [more howls]
ME: Do you remember the name of the guy we met in Costa Rica that one time...

We call my dad. It's a state change. It's third-party validation. It's my Minnesota-farm-boy-turned-corporate-financial-officer father interacting with teenaged Latino immigrants. It's the secret to everything.

Now go pile your Harry Wong books up in the back yard... and light a match.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are the master. (You are also a really good writer.)

2:55 AM  
Blogger Jenny said...

Love this idea. I don't think my parents would be as willing to talk to my students, however. You dad must be wonderful.

6:21 AM  
Blogger Liz Ditz said...

I was reading what you said over at dy/dan & thought -- hmmn. Wonder if TMAO's ever read Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals?

He talks a lot about "knowing the culture".

I haven't read it in probably 20 years.

12:30 PM  
Anonymous Dina said...

Um...phone number? Come on, now. I personally find it a little insulting when teachers hoard their resources.

6:42 PM  
Blogger Ken Rodoff said...

I called my father one time during class. Students so curious to "meet him" after all my disjointed anecdotes and self-loathing.

Me: Hey, Dad.

Dad: Did you quit? Are you going to go to law school? My offer still stands.

Me: Thanks for validating my issues. Talk to you later.

Scary. True. Family.

7:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry I still use that Harry Wong stuff, generously sprinkled with whatever is working for me for the next five minutes. Right now, if I can turn the activity into a game, they're sold; so games it is. Getting to know them a bit on the 'outside' helps too.

My dad has been equally awesome. He helped me quite a bit in my first few years, coming in to play the Easter Bunny or sing songs with me. This year, my husband ran the first couple minutes of my class the other day and my daughter regularly comes to class for the switch from 'mom-time' to 'dad-time'. I think it makes me seem more real to them. It's one of the reasons I think teachers need time in a community. I'm in my first year at my current school. It's year one all over again. Next year will be easier. I'll have a reputation. They'll know some of the fun they can have. One day at a time...

7:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

posts like these make me never want to leave. When I think of the fun I could actually be having next year as a third year teacher. I still can't decide.

3:24 PM  
Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

This was a GREAT post. You rock!

My mother ha a habit of calling when I am in the middle of class, like she doesn't get that I have a job teaching adolescents with micoscopic attention spans, but I answer the phone and haver them all say "HIIIIIII MOOOOOMMMMM!" and it freaks them out that I even have a mother.....

7:59 PM  
Blogger TMAO said...

anon #1: Thanks, buddy.

Jenny: What is wonderful is all the lessons he provided on how to put that you-have-completely-saddened-and-disappointed-me-but-that-is-nothing-compared-to-how-sad-you-will-soon-become look on your face.

Liz: Haven't read it, but I'll keep a look out.

anon #2: Do it. Third year is huge. That was maybe my favorite. I'm not kidding.

9:28 PM  
Blogger The Vegas Art Guy said...

But but but I don't have any Harry Wong books! Did I miss something by not joining the cult of Wong?

10:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glad your dad reacted in an understanding way. Can you imagine what would have happened if the phone call interrupted him as a deal was about to turn sour?

BTW, isn't it sad that these kids don't get this kind of interaction with their parents?

2:02 AM  
Blogger TMAO said...


How do you know they don't get this kind of interaction with their parents?

1:22 PM  
Blogger JeffreygeneHK said...

tmao, thanks for this.

you spurred me on to just freaking call my little sister.

and the result, well, i've never seen middle schoolers take notes as hard as they did the day we skype'd my sister to ask her to share what she knew about the renaissance (she studied art history).

family rox.

7:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


How do you know they don't get this kind of interaction with their parents?"

Because you wouldn't gotten quite the reaction you did.

4:38 PM  
Blogger TMAO said...

The reaction is based on seeing your teacher as someone else's son, someone who gets spoken to the same way you, as a kid, gets spoken to by your parents. It has nothing to do with not receiving attention from their families/ fathers.

Man, I usually have to be in a Marina bar to hear this kind of ill-informed generalizing.

6:41 PM  

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