Actually Giving a Damn: The ONLY Thing That Matters?

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

The events in this article are based on actual occurrences. The names and, in some
instances, the genders of individuals have been changed to protect the individuals’
privacy.

The aroma of coffee did little to awake the senses. For a sleepy NQT who was in his first week back at school after the Easter vacation the old routines were a sharp shock the system.

“I’ve got 9Q this morning” – pipes in one colleague.

“Don’t expect much outta them. You might as well bang your head against a brick wall for an hour.”

I stayed quiet – always the best policy in a moaning-match like this. But my silence was justified by another undercurrent.

poll everywhere

The ‘care’ factor

Surprisingly, I’d been doing really well with 9Q. Granted: they were a bit noisy and couldn’t sit still for more than ten minutes (most of them, anyway). But I liked their energy – I saw their youthful vitality as something to draw upon.

“Mr. Rogers” shouts John in a funny voice

“Your tie looks like human vomit”

To which I laughed and replied  – “Well done for bringing Biology into our lesson today”, to which there were giggles from the whole class. 

After that the class did a cut-and-stick activity on chemical reactions, and when we peer-assessed the task I said “Guess what – you’ll find a lot of carbon and hydrogen atoms in human vomit, so once again I thank John for his intuitive reference”

The class roared with laughter.

John does a little dance on his chair like some American rapper.

out-of-control

The wrong approach

These interactions just mentioned demonstrate the power a teacher can wield when he or she actually likes the kids they teach. When we care for and admire our students for the unique people they are, everything else just falls into place naturally.

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I believe that teacher-training colleges and school inspectorates have been getting their emphasis fatally wrong for decades. Focusing on lesson methodologies such as differentiation techniques, feedback mechanisms and behavior management: they have missed the vital component that crucially determines student welfare and academic success – that kids need to know that the teachers actually give a damn about them. 

Over the coming two weeks I’ll be exploring this ‘care factor’ (which I believe is the only thing that actually matters when scrutinizing the fiber of a successful teacher’s character).

Let’s see this in action this week, so that a greater understanding of it’s power can be realised. 

He just doesn’t ‘get it’

In a previous school I was teaching at I had a Year 10 student who had come to me from Germany. He was quiet and compliant in class but a little lack-luster and disinterested.

He completed two Chemistry end-of-unit tests in Term 1, scoring horrendously in both (30% below the next lowest student).

I could have used the old adage many teachers find themselves using: “It just doesn’t sink in with him”, “He just doesn’t get it” and “He doesn’t do enough work at home”.

If I wanted to, I could easily have passed on this failure to the student: alleviating me from all responsibility. 

I just couldn’t do that. This bugged me too much.

“If this student carries on like this then he will surely fail. The consequences for his life choices afterwards could be enormous and who’s fault would that be? That’s right, Richard, it would be your fault, because you and you alone are responsible for this kid’s success in Chemistry.”

This is what I told myself.

The next lesson came and I took this kid aside at the end of the lesson, when it was quiet and only I and him could talk. I said to him “Hi John, let’s have a chat. Let’s take a look at these results.”

I shown him his test scores, and how low they were compared to the rest of the class.

“John, I don’t know what’s going on, but I know that you are capable of more than this. I know that you can do much better.”

“I’ve seen the great diagrams you draw in class, and I’ve heard your great responses to verbal questions. I know that you have the ability to do so well in Chemistry.”

“Help me understand, John. Help me understand why these grades are so low.”

John replies – “I guess I just don’t revise enough at home”

“Well, John. We can’t carry on like this. We just can’t. If you continue to get scores like this then you will fail this whole course. John, I cannot let that happen. I care about you too much.”

“In our next test you must get at least 60%. You must. Do you understand, John.”

Jon replies – “Okay, sir. I’ll try.”

“No. No trying. Do it! Do it because I believe in you. Do it because even though it’s difficult you know that this is the moment when you can prove to yourself just how great you are. Do it for the respect you’ll earn within yourself – self respect.”

We end with a macho display of brotherhood – I hold out my fist and he taps his fist against mine.

High five

The corridor tactic

I see John on the corridors at lunchtimes and break times. Now he knows that I’m on his case. He knows that I care about his grades.

“How’s the studying going, John” I say as I pass him by.

“Great, sir”

“That’s good, John, because I know that you are a hard-working student”

This reinforcement continues day after day, week after week until the next test comes.

The success protocol

Before John takes his test I tell him “Go for it. I know you can do this!”

He scores 64%.

I make a massive deal out of it. He gets merits, a note in his diary and a congratulatory e-mail sent to his parents to tell them of his success.

I take him to the Head of Year, and tell him how proud I am of the effort he has made.

John is beaming with pride and happiness.

be enthusiastic

The belief protocol

Now John knows, with full supportive evidence, that he can achieve anything he puts his mind too.

All it took was some effort by a teacher: directed in a way that would make him realise his full potential; his full power

John continues along this route, scoring higher and higher as the weeks go by. He comes out with a grade A in IGCSE Chemistry.

This is not a tale of fiction – it’s one of many stories I can recount over the course of my twelve years as a teacher. I have learnt that genuine, heartfelt care and concern for our students can literally and completely change their lives for the better, and forever.

From this care comes the standard teaching methodologies – all of which are great and work well, but only when they are built on the foundation of “It is my responsibility that these kids succeed. I will not let them down. I will not leave anyone behind. I will not allow any student to under-perform.”

More to follow in the next few weeks.

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Author:

High School Science and Mathematics Teacher, Author and Blogger. Graduated from Bangor University with a BSc (Hons) degree in Molecular Biology and a PGCE in Secondary Science Education. Richard also holds the coveted Certificate in Mathematics from the Open University (UK).

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