Back to School Night Humor

As most of us are bogged down with preparing for parent nights and what is always the most nerve wracking day of the year (for me at least), I’ve taken the liberty of finding some quotes that you could use to lighten the mood. For maximum impact, I suggest posting these in your room in big, fancy type. I disclaim all liability associated with job loss while actually using these on parent night.

  • If there were no schools to take the children away from home part of the time, the insane asylums would be filled with mothers.  – Edgar W. Howe
  • Labor Day is a glorious holiday because your child will be going back to school the next day.  It would have been called Independence Day, but that name was already taken. – Bill Dodds
  • Often, when I am reading a good book, I stop and thank my teacher.  That is, I used to, until she got an unlisted number. – Author Unknown
  • A professor is someone who talks in someone else’s sleep. – W.H. Auden
  • Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school. – Albert Einstein
  • Home computers are being called upon to perform many new functions, including the consumption of homework formerly eaten by the dog. – Doug Larson
  • Did you know America ranks the lowest in education but the highest in drug use?  It’s nice to be number one, but we can fix that.  All we need to do is start the war on education.  If it’s anywhere near as successful as our war on drugs, in no time we’ll all be hooked on phonics. – Leighann Lord
  • I think everyone should go to college and get a degree and then spend six months as a bartender and six months as a cabdriver.  Then they would really be educated. – Al McGuire
  • When I was a kid, my parents moved a lot. But I always found them.  – Rodney Dangerfield
  • On Halloween, please don’t send your children to school looking like me. – Rodney Dangerfield
  • I am not young enough to know everything. – Oscar Wilde
  • I’ve come up with the top three things you never want to hear from a teacher. One: “You’re only responsible for the first $10,000 worth of damage.” Two: “There’s medication for this.” Three: “It was more than an ounce and he was less than a hundred yards from the school.” – Bill Engvall
  • Smartness runs in my family. When I was in school, I was so smart that my teacher was in my class for five years. – Gracie Allen


A Lesson In Differentiation From Computer Science

Differentiation is a big theme at GHS both in evaluations and administrator rhetoric, and for better or worse, it’s one that has spread across the education world as a key way to reach multiple student levels. In essence that’s a classic “easier said than done” idea, but I believe that I’ve stumbled across an experience in my programming class that might make it easier to actually do.   

My computer programming class consists of 5 freshman, sophomores, juniors, and seniors. Students within this group are taking math classes ranging from introductory algebra to AP statistics, making it the most diverse class I’ve taught by a country mile.  They also have coding experience ranging from beginner to experienced. I’ve been thinking a lot about how to differentiate to these students, since they all have to use the same basic coding skills to solve problems. I had been focusing a lot on the actual coding skills they would learn, thinking that advanced students could handle arrays while basic level students would stop at more basic variable types. I spent the first month attempting to do this, unsuccessfully, when I stumbled upon a solution by accident.  

Projects consist of students solving problems using self-designed algorithms and then coding these algorithms. Instead of trying to focus on the code they were learning, I decided to change the problems up a bit. I provided math problems for the students to solve at every level of math they were taking, and asked them to write algorithms using the same coding skills. It worked masterfully. All of the students were challenged by the math skills required to actually solve the problems, and thus were challenged by definition to code a solution.

This knowledge is applicable to a wide range of content areas. Since we talk so much about differentiating by content, process, and product, I didn’t feel this type of differentiation fit into either one. Instead, it’s differentiation by context. Differentiating the context of a problem can have just as profound effect on student performance as offering them product choice. In a science class, this might look like requiring all students to calculate the density of an object by water displacement, except providing some students with problems involving the lab setup they’re used to, while asking some students to do the same calculation involving floatation with an iceberg. While the basic skills are the same, the context through which they’re prevented are drastically different and can reach students just as effectively as differentiating the content, process, or product.


One Month Checklist

School is going to be a month old at the end of next week, which is the cruise ship equivalent of leaving land behind and chugging full steam ahead. Like boat captains, teachers should have a checklist of things to do before one month elapses to ensure a safe trip. Here’s my list. Consider that I teach a class with iPads in the room every day. 

1.  Memorize my students’ first and last names.

2.  Reach out to the parents of my students at least once to introduce myself. 

3.  Conduct at least one pre-year assessment for the skills I hope to teach. 

4.  Stand in front of my class with another teacher to show camaraderie and to introduce them to another face in the building (important for freshmen). 

5.  Conduct at least two activities of each type I want my students to learn a routine of; one to coach and one to improve. 

6.  Settle into any online tools I plan on using for the rest of the year, since it’s confusing and inefficient to constantly be switching between these for students. 

7.  Conduct at least one lab experiment and discussion to model how it should work.

8.  Hold a conversation (when appropriate) with students who have IEPs about the best way to meet their needs that might not be included in the document.  

Got anything to add? Let us know in comments or on Twitter!

The Best Ways to Connect to Students This Year

Making connections to students is perhaps the most important key to any teacher demonstrating real classroom magic. It’s part of the art in teaching, that is difficult to study and analyze but is easily discernible to even the inexperienced observer. While a one size fits all approach is never appropriate, certain tools can go in your toolbox that might help you connect to more students in a way that really matters. Here are a few.


Humor goes a long way in any public speaking endeavor, but it’s something that really takes practice if you’re not just a naturally funny person. Numerous blog posts exist on how to be funnier, and the most important trend is that it takes work. Here’s one of my favorites. I reuse two tactics every year: I tell stories about my weekend life (which are always exaggerated and humorous) and I follow a select few comedians whom I find hilarious. By emulating their styles in stories I tell, I not only connect to students by sharing stories about my life, but I also get them laughing. As the article above says, the most important thing is to find your style, and that takes some work.

No matter which way you wrench laughs from your audience, the reward is important; laughter opens the mind and relaxes the senses, making connecting with students easier while they’re laughing. A well timed joke can make five minutes of any lesson memorable for the whole year. 

Know the Tech & App Trends

Kids seem to always be obsessed with a new app every year. Last year it was Snapchat  at my school, this year it’s Face-Switch and Clash of Clans. While you don’t have to become an expert in each of the kids’ favorite apps, it’s a great idea to learn what they are and what they do. Let’s face it: kids are not adults and a lot of the most important parts of their lives are online. By asking them about what they do and what goes on in the cyber world, you can make connections to students that might be shy or less talkative.  

Pop Culture is King

As much as it pains me to watch shows like the MTV Video Music Awards and company, the truth is that students are heavily invested in and care about pop culture. The debacle with Miley Cyrus is a particularly high profile incident, but we can do a lot of rapport work by paying attention to our students’ music, movies, and TV shows. A nice way to do this is to keep a set of iPod speakers in the classroom and let students play DJ with their music on the speakers as a reward during seat work types of activities. Music means a lot to some students and making connections over it can go a long way towards developing a rapport with the more artsy types. Disclaimer: we are not liable for any headaches obtained from listening to dubstep while taking this advice. 

Working projects around pop culture trends is a great idea too. Just last week we referenced a teacher who made a lot of money selling successful literature plans revolving around The Hunger Games. There’s a new teen novel movie trilogy out every other month it seems, so connection opportunities are abundant.   

Include Them In Something

GHS happens to be a school with an enormous wealth of elective courses and after school activities, but the advice goes the same way for a child in any school. We spend so much time getting them to care about their grades that we take away focus from some of their true interests. When you get to know a child, include them in something at school that doesn’t involve their academic classes. An after school activity, a club, or another elective course can go a long way towards making positive connections for a child. Even introducing them to a teacher from a course they’re interested in further solidifies your role as not only a teacher, but a mentor and caring figure in the building. It’s good for any school to have more of these people.

Attend Sporting Events

Nothing makes a student’s week than seeing one of their favorite teachers in the bleachers as they play their sport. Of course, we can’t attend every event every day, but trying to get to at least two or three per season goes a long way towards showing your athletes that what they do on the field is important to you as well. I try to limit it to games where there I have multiple students participating, but it doesn’t always work out. 



The Merit of Teacher-Sold Lessons and Content

I wrote an article a few weeks ago about the change that schools would experience if all of a sudden teachers had real opportunity to earn as much as they could in fields such as medicine, law, business, and finance. The change would not involve the sudden influx of rich people with summers off – it would involve a shift of the perspective society has for these individuals. If the highest earning teachers were also the most clever, efficient, and charismatic entrepreneurs, then our students stand to learn a whole lot more about how to succeed in life apart from exam proficiency. 

One such area where this is a reasonable possibility is the teacher marketplace website.  There are several of these circulating now, most notably , where teachers sell their lessons and content to other teachers for a small fee, as if it were an iTunes track. Most teachers who upload content to this website stand to make a buck or two, however to generate a substantial amount of income one has to not only invest their time in creating a great product, but also spend their time wisely to market themselves as a valuable and knowledgable teacher resource. For most teachers, the former is easy because it’s what we do every day. The latter, on the other hand, requires the kind of creative thinking and problem solving strategies that we hope to instill in our students. By demonstrating our own ability to create, market, and sell a product, even if that product is just our own teaching, our students see what we have to offer as way more than a grade. They see potential for their own success.

Take Tracee Orman, one of the website’s top sellers, for example. Like most good english teachers, Tracee has a propensity for connecting important themes in literature to popular novels of the time. Almost every penny of Tracee’s sales were made off of lessons involving the Hunger Games. Tracee put together a great product and people bought it. Not only did Tracee’s lessons benefit her students, but they benefitted other students and teachers as well. 

Let’s not be so naive to think that these sales simply came from uploading content to the website. No, Tracee had the wherewithal to market herself and her product to other teachers through social media. This act alone is perhaps the most valuable piece of the teacher marketplace case study: what value added this brings to the classroom. Whether one is a science, language arts, history, or business teacher, chances are the ability to design, create, and market any product is one that is of extraordinary value to every student no matter their career choices. The insights Tracee is able to share because of her journey are invaluable assets for students.  

I’ve witnessed the same thing in my classroom, and I’m sure I’m not alone. Students benefit greatly from knowing how to send a marketing email, how to promote themselves, how to determine if an idea could make money or not, how to do use their limited time in smart and effective ways, and so on. I’ve written entire lessons for science classes that incorporate these features because not only do the kids want to know about it, but in order to succeed when they graduate college, they have to know about it. 

The most interesting thing about this example to me is the similarities it shares with the college professor system. Professors are hired to not only teach students, but conduct or create acclaimed work that brings merit to the university and valuable collaboration opportunities to the students. Should high school not operate under the same system? Granted, a professor’s salary is paid by the school, but most professors obtain funding and/or compensation from outside sources as well. 

Teacher marketplaces are perhaps the most simple place to start, but it shouldn’t stop there. We have an electronic music teacher who wrote a book on her practice. Even if it sells zero copies (which it hasn’t), the process she went through of authoring, publishing, and distributing a book is something that’s not only invaluable to her teaching, but invaluable for her students to hear as well.   

I can’t conclude by stating this trend will likely continue in the future, because I have no idea if it’s even a trend. In addition, the current system does not promote these types of endeavors (even mine). That said, the merit here is undeniable and would represent a major positive change for the teaching climate and perspective.


Some Statistics From Planner’s First Launch

This past Wednesday, Planner launched at Greenwich High School. Many call teaching a thankless profession, but this week felt different. There was genuine excitement about this app and students were talking about it as if it were the next Angry Birds or Facebook. Here’s some irony: word about the app spread so fast that some students in my own class didn’t even know I made it! Even after telling them some didn’t believe me. Here are some statistics from the launch:

  • When the app was announced to the student body on Wednesday at 1PM, over 500 students had already heard about it and downloaded it. Another 500 installed the software in the remaining hour and a half of school.
  • By Thursday morning, over 4,000 assignments had been added and were being tracked by Planners amongst 1,000 students.  
  • Over 65% of staff downloaded the app in the first week, while 75% of the student body had installed it in just three days.
  • The average schedule setup time was 10 minutes. Feedback here was the best overall.
  • The app garnered an average rating of 4 1/2 stars on the App Store without a built in rating mechanism, which surprised us. It’s hard to get people to rate apps (as any developer knows)  but students and teachers did it spontaneously here. This might have to do with the fact that a teacher in their school made it, but I can’t be sure.  

It’s been a great week and we’re looking forward to helping other schools plan to succeed!  

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