As a new teacher, I often did more preaching than teaching. Sometimes my preaching came in the form of “you can do it” speeches. Other times I lectured students about the work habits of successful people, and admonished them for self-defeating behaviors such as disorganization, tardiness, and irresponsibility. I also tried to inspire students with my Success Comes From the H.E.A.R.T. formula.
But whether I was cheerleading or chastising, my motivational efforts had no effect on students. Correction: no positive effect on students, since I got lots of pushback from them. Most memorable was when a student interrupted me and said, “F_ _ _ you. You don’t know anything about our lives.” Language aside, he had a good point, as did the student who wrote on a feedback form, “You should act like a math teacher instead of a salesperson.”
As I’ve written before, my students were my best teachers. And what they taught me in this case was that I needed to stop preaching and start teaching. Rather than tell students they could be successful, I needed to show them how to be successful. I needed to model the behaviors I wanted students to exhibit, reinforce those behaviors when students exhibited them, and establish policies and protocols that targeted those behaviors. Here are a few examples of how I replaced preaching with teaching:
- Instead of criticizing students for lack of effort and determination, I worked relentlessly to improve my effectiveness as a teacher. When students struggled to master a skill, I searched and searched for new and better ways to teach it. (My system for combining integers was informed by over 20 hours of self-directed research--pre-Internet!)
- Instead of harping on students’ poor note-taking skills, I empowered them with my Concept Cards note-taking system.
- Instead of confronting students for not doing their homework, I completed my homework--i.e, planning and preparing thoroughly for each class rather than winging it, as I often did my first year.
- Instead of pestering students for being disorganized, I created a classroom that was a model of organization.
- Instead of bemoaning students’ lack of resourcefulness, I cultivated resourcefulness by letting students use notes during quizzes and establishing a Hierarchy of Help.
- Instead of dwelling on students’ self-defeating behaviors, I looked for and acknowledged their constructive behaviors. (Reinforce More, Redirect Less)
- And instead of trying to talk students into feeling hopeful, I gave them cause for hope by grading them based on effort and improvement rather than just accuracy.
In his book, Star Teachers, Martin Haberman asserts that “preaching and lecturing is not teaching and does not impact behavior.” That’s exactly what I learned from my students--first through their resentment of my preaching, and later through their response to my teaching:
“Coach G, all I have to say is keep up the good work. The harder you try the better you get.”
“You taught me respect, responsibility, and the rules of this game and I respect you for that.”
Image by Orlando Florin Rosu, provided by Dreamstime license
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