It was only my second year teaching and the third time my principal formally observed me. I was ready to show him my best. In most cases, when the principal is in to observe the teacher, the students’ behavior is better than average, but not on this day. The topic was the four states of matter, including the elusive plasma state, and how energy affects each. Having taught the concept the previous year, I expected the students to struggle again with understanding plasma and planned to teach that state after solid, liquid, and gas. As all experienced teachers know, what we have planned isn’t necessarily what the students follow. But I was only in my second year.
As with many traumatic events, I only remember pieces:
My students followed the plan during the first three states of matter.
The mention of plasma started the downward spiral.
Martin could have cared less about the principal’s presence.
Plasma = a moving blob = the movie The Blob.
“I’m failing. What am I going to say after school in my follow-up meeting with Dr. O?”
Come on bell…ring!
I fretted for the rest of the day knowing my 3:00 meeting would be a disaster. But I should’ve known better.
When 3:00 arrived, I begrudgingly entered Dr. O’s office, immediately sat down, and waited.
“Want a do-over?”
I looked up to see his smile and the understanding twinkle in his eyes.
I smiled back and started to ramble…“I don’t know what happened. I tried and tried to get the kids back on track, but they kept going back to the movie.”
He chuckled, tore up his observation notes and said, “I know you did.”
And that was the thing about Bill; he understood teachers and students and the dynamics between the two, and he knew how to help his staff with those dynamics.
I am thankful for the twists and turns in life and wonder what would’ve happened if Bill hadn’t asked me to apply for an open position in his building the spring after my student teaching. I never expected an open position in the district, let alone at Bill’s middle school. MAPS teaching positions are highly competitive, so I figured, “It’ll be a good practice interview for when I move out West” Needless to say, I never moved out West and spent my first six years under Bill’s wings, not truly understanding the positive influence his guidance provided.
Dr. O.’s guiding principles still influence me today. He knew the power of positive first contacts and “highly suggested” his staff make those contacts for every student within the first marking period. I remember him saying, “A phone call works, but the physical postcard makes a difference. It’s hard for a child to complain, ‘Mrs. Diedrich doesn’t like me’ when there’s a positive note tape on the family’s refrigerator from that same teacher.” Thanks to Bill, in my 23rd year of teaching, I continue writing postcards to each of my students and require all my student teachers to do the same, because it works.
What else did I learn from Bill?
- A well-timed article, with underlined sections, is a gentle way to nudge your staff into trying student-led conferences or reminding the staff of the parents’ perspective of parent-teacher conferences or the students’ situation if living in poverty.
- Picking up the trash in the hallway models what students should do too.
- Being firm but fair works.
- As holiday breaks and the end of the year approach, it’s not the time to loosen up but to tighten up.
- Students will excel, especially if they know there’s a chance for a do-over.