Thursday, December 16, 2010

Are You a Student of Human Nature?

If you are a teacher or are planning to become a teacher, then your answer to this question should be a resounding, "Yes!" Teaching is not just a matter of passing along information and knowledge from one generation to the next; it is also all about understanding and interacting with human beings. While caught up in the rush of lesson planning, grading papers, school paperwork, meetings, and staff development, it can be hard to remember that we are dealing with a group of human beings on a daily basis. Whether you teach young children, youths, adolescents, young adults, or adults, they are all still human beings at the core and will react and respond to you as a human being.

So what can you do to better understand and interact with the group of human beings you currently teach? Become a student of human nature. This means that you distance yourself from the actions and start asking, "Why?" Why is this student so angry when he or she comes into my class every day? What is causing this anger? Is it me? Is it school? Is it because of parents or friends? Is it something happening outside of school? Until you know the answers to these questions, your interactions will be based on half-truths and conjecture.

Why is this parent constantly in my face? Is it something I've done or not done with their child? Is it based on past interactions with teachers and false assumptions about me as a teacher? Is it based on past treatment from the school or other schools? Does it come from a true desire to be an advocate for the child or is it a control issue?

When we take the words and actions of students, parents, and colleagues personally, we react as though what is being said or done is a personal attack on us. When we distance ourselves, ask the questions, and engage in communication with that person, we have better understanding. With clearer understanding, it is easier for us to work towards a solution to whatever the issue may be.

Another part of this understanding comes from looking at both sides of the issue fairly. As human beings, we tend to want to look at only our side of a situation and not the perspective of the other side. This is human nature. Take some time to put yourself "in the shoes" of the other person and ask how you would feel and react in the same situation. This includes your students sitting in your class and the parents with whom you communicate. The more we can understand other people, the better we can interact in a positive manner.

As a student of human nature, watch the interactions between your students when you have a moment or two. Watch the interactions between your administrator and the staff. Watch the interactions between your colleagues. Especially take note of the interactions between yourself and others. Then take some time to think about those interactions. Why did she say that? Why did he react that way? What did you feel when someone made that comment to you? How did you react? Why? Do you see any patterns? How do those patterns evolve? How do they affect the current interaction and future interactions between these people? By gathering this information and using it, you can then determine what kind of interactions you want to have with other people whether they are students or adults and deliberately modify your own words and actions to bring that about. Without asking these kinds of questions and without being a student of human nature, your interactions will continue to be instinctive rather than deliberate.

Help your interactions be positive ones by gaining understanding of how people "work." The more you observe and reflect and look for understanding, the more it will come to you. The better you understand how people "work," the better you will be able to interact with your students, with parents, and with colleagues. Just remember, a student of human nature seeks first to understand and then to react.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Homework Tips

Assigning homework in moderation can be useful to instill values of self-discipline and responsibility in older students. It can be effective to build a positive work ethic in our students. However, it must be done in moderation.

Teachers should remember that when homework is assigned, one student could easily spend hours on the same assignment that takes another student just 15 minutes to complete. Why do we need to assign 25 two-digit multiplication problems when 5 will show us whether or not students can apply the concept? If practice is what you seek, keep it in the classroom under close supervision. You do not want to deal with the frustration of working with a student who has practiced a skill incorrectly over and over without the benefit of correction and re-teaching. This happens frequently when homework is used to practice a skill. The student must then "unlearn" the incorrect application and "relearn" the correct method. This can put the student further behind in his or her academic progress.

Keep in mind the following factors which influence a child's ability to complete homework:

  • Some students live in a chaotic home environment with many children. The student may have adult responsibilities within the home.
  • Some students are without parental supervision for most of the time after school hours.
  • Students living in poverty may not have a place to complete homework nor the supplies needed.
  • Older students might work after school.
  • Students have busy family and extra-curricular lives including sports, church, community service activities, and family events which are just as important as their school life.

Procedures are important to help students and parents know what you expect in regards to homework assignments. Type a list of homework procedures and expectations to give to students and parents. One copy should go in the student's binder and the other should be posted on the refrigerator at home. It is also a good idea to post these procedures in your classroom blog, Web site, or online parent portal.

  • What homework stays the same each night or each week?
  • Do you expect parents to sign the academic calendar once a week?
  • When and where do you expect assignments to be turned in?
  • What is your policy for absences and late-work? How long do students have to turn in the assignment? How will their grade be affected?


  • Offer positive feedback for students who turn in their work on time.
  • Allow students two days for every one day absent to make up their work. Remember, they are now having to complete double the assignments, so cut them a little slack.
  • Take off points each day an assignment is late. I usually take off 5 points for each day. Be sure to clearly explain your policy for late work.
  • Remind students of missing assignments each day. Many will forget that they owe you the work. If your school has an online portal where assignments and grades are posted for student and parent viewing, remind everyone to check this valuable tool frequently.
  • Provide before or after-school time to make up missing work or to complete homework while you are available for supervision and help.
  • Set aside one place in the classroom where assignments are turned in to be graded. Keep this the same all year to cut down on confusion.
  • Have parents sign the Homework Procedures/ Policy form to be placed in the students' binders.
  • Do not take away recess as punishment for no homework. This is counter-productive and will cause further stress in the classroom.

Homework can be stressful for everyone. Students and parents may feel overwhelmed by projects and activities and you may feel frustrated that homework is not turned in regularly. It is important to find a balance somewhere in between. Take some time to reflect about the purpose of homework for your class. Why do you assign certain assignments to be completed at home? Communicate that purpose to students and parents to help them understand this is not simply busywork. Keep that purpose in mind whenever assigning homework. Will this homework help students reach learning goals more effectively than doing the work in class? These are just a few questions you should keep in mind when planning and assigning homework to make sure it is purpose-driven and effective for student learning.