Thursday, March 12, 2015

You Are Their Favorite Toy: High School Kids Need Attention

180 days = the average school year. For teachers, some of those days can feel like a slow death while others leave us with a legal high. What's the difference? Relationships.

The vital piece is not taught or addressed in most credentialing programs. Why? Because it's messy. It's not Common Core or curriculum. It's relationships. It's messy.

Connection methods don't require money or ask you to give up your privacy. I remember when my two own kids (now 11 and 8 years old) were toddlers, I read a parenting book that left me with a lasting quote: "You are their favorite toy." Attention is what every child and teenager needs, and if they don't get it they will find a way to that is usually not pleasant. I've applied this in my classroom for the last 13 years. The only way to connect to your students is to pay attention to them. What are they wearing? What band is on their t-shirt? Who do they walk in with? Is it different from last week? Are their eyes red from crying? Are they wearing a swim parka? Is there a swim meet today? The mind of a high school teacher is like an internet browser with 100 tabs open: that is our power, that is how we roll, and connection to every kid is beyond just "possible," it's imperative for survival.

Building community is a tricky way to buy me time. Yep. It does not take away time in the classroom it gives me time. We must teach the teenager first and the content second. Learning something new requires vulnerability. Kids must put their guard down and ask for help when they don't "get" something. This is seen as a weakness for many. In order for people to show weakness, they must feel safe and in order to feel safe YOU MUST BUILD COMMUNITY: It is the only way for deep learning to take place at the secondary level. Here's the ulterior motive - when the kids look forward to my class...I do too.

High school teachers are a different breed from elementary. We must focus on a "single-subject" credential, mastering one of the following: Art, English, Foreign Language, Home Ec, Math, Music, History, Science, or P.E. This single-subject emphasis is usually accompanied with a passion for the subject matter...but not necessarily a passion for the students. Conversely, elementary education is more child-based, with the teacher instructing one grade level or classroom with 20 to 35 students on most, if not all, academics. The single-subject credential holder teaches one subject all day to multiple classes, sometimes as many as 200 students per day. How does one teacher connect to all these different personalities, especially if connection does not come naturally? How does one little teacher create bonds with students who hate (damn them!) their subject area! How does one little teacher survive?

Another motivating factor: if you live in or near the community you teach, their future is most likely directly linked to your own. I teach in Tulare, California, a small dusty ag town in the middle of the state. People don't leave. The majority of my graduates will stay in this little town and become our mailmen, our teachers, our Target workers or, conversely, our criminals, our homeless, our destitute. Nowhere have the stakes been higher to graduate well-rounded, socially just, caring young adults than the small town I find myself in currently.

This blog will explore tangible ways to connect as I experiment in my own classroom of high school students. It will be full of usable tips, as some methods succeed and others inevitably fail.

The quest for deeper connection must start with self-reflection on our, the teacher's, part. Who are you as a person? What are your personality traits? What are your passions? This blog will offer a menu of options for all types of personalities. Adopt some, ignore others. If you are tech savvy, emphasize those skills; if you enjoy playing games and tapping into deeper personal issues, accentuate community building activities within the classroom. If you are physically energetic, pick the games that get you moving.

Students do not care what your strengths are, they simply care that you care.


  1. BAM! Rocking it Mrs. Jones...High School teachers are a breed of themselves and proud of it. Can't wait to read your next blog.

  2. So true! Love teaching across the hall from you!! Looking forward to future entries.

  3. "When the kids look forward to my class... I do too." Perfectly said by an all-star teacher!

  4. Having had been a part of this "community" back in 2011-2012, I totally know this to be true. Keep punching the bare minimum in the face, Mrs. Jones!