I know you have a life that demands your time. After all, aren’t you involved enough? This job seems to never end. You always have grading to do, some teacher function, or see kids at the store. I have found that there is one surefire way to truly improve your classroom and work life.
Nothing great happens without sacrifice, so go do one thing now.
Get involved at school in a meaningful way!
Don’t just show up to school dances or watch football games. Go sponsoring an organization, coach a team, or start a club. You have interests, pass them on to a group of kids immediately interested as well.
Why? I’m not telling you to do this for some 'betterment of man' scenario. Even though this will have life long impacts on the kids you serve, this is for selfish reasons. Let’s talk about how you benefit from involvement.
Authentic Mentor-Student Relationships
There is nothing better than building real mentoring relationships for keeping you engaged and focused on why are doing the stuff you have to do every day. You will gain a better understanding of what is driving your students, what the distractions and worries are in their lives, and awareness of what motivates and demotivates them. This is a serious tool during your planning.
Model Community Involvement
Spend time with a set of the students at your school. Model community involvement for them. The kids you serve will also get involved.
Teacher, parent, and community leader involvement in a school is a well known metric for a school success. There is a reason for this!
Kids are watching. The majority of them are modeling their behavior on what they see the older students and adults in their lives do. If they get involved, your lessons will inherently have higher participation.
If you leave right after school every day and don’t participate, you can’t judge them when they don’t want to play your game or pay attention during a discussion.
Whenever I’ve had trouble with a student, it’s almost always because they don’t view me as significantly connected to their worries. Just because we care about their grades and a peaceful, effective, and efficient classroom does not mean they will (or should) give a rat’s rear end.
Use social pressure and conforming behavior against them. If you are involved in school activities, the banter between students and between you and students will be much more familiar and relevant to their social concerns.
Try a 3-5 minute focusing event disguised as banter about school happenings.
You will be amazed how a 3-5 minute focusing event about how the cheerleaders skipped out on setting up for homecoming alters a class dynamic. You can participate because you were involved in the setup. Tell them to get started at the end of your allotted time. A class will nearly always feel like you are one of them.
Let me give you another example. In the middle of a semester last year in one of my most rowdy classes, a student transferred in from an inner city New Orleans school. This guy had a major chip on his shoulder and immediately made friends with the most aggressive guys he could find. The minute he walked into class and I introduced myself, he shrugged me off and rolled his eyes.
If this was one of my own children, I might have been less balanced. I know this class of kids, so I let it slide the first time while he sat by the “rough” looking kids. When class started, I focussed them with my standard, “Alright, guys” the new kid says softly, but bit too loud, “I ain’t your guy!”
Before I even processed what was said, two guys sitting at the table backed him down hard like they were defending me and the girl at the table who was quite talkative to him just a minute before gave him a serious glare. I never had another comment from the guy and we ended getting along great.
Find a Way to Get Involved
I know it’s unlikely that you will reproduce this exact type of behavior. I sponsored or heavily participated 3 organizations while coaching a robotics team. My defenders would never have existed otherwise.