Teaching High School Students

Teaching High School Students

This is a recording of a session I did with a group of Secondary Tech Center teachers. These are college instructors that are asked to teach high school students and sometimes both have an incomplete understanding of each other with regard to expectations. During this session, I cover a few key aspects to earning cooperation and effort from high school students in a post-secondary setting.


A Teacher’s Workout

Weight lifters will ‘Max-out’ periodically to determine the limits of their body. Teachers should ‘Max-out’ their minds to keep them sharp and determine just how many positives they can accomplish within a school day.

Our mind is like a muscle. It must be stretched and exercised to maintain and increase its tone and fortitude. Research has shown this to be true and those of us in education should be the model of mental growth and exercise. As educators move along the timeline of their lives and careers, however, many of us will look to our years of experience as the well developed, all-purpose tool that serves to decrease our workload and make the days go by without having to expend the energy we did when we first began our careers. This attitude is what makes the twilight of a teaching career less than remarkable in many cases.

Early in my career I too looked forward to the day when my archived lesson plans would be a complete library of easy printing and copying… when my bulletin board materials became routine… and when I had all of my files organized so that everything I needed for my students was at an arm’s length or a click away. I am so glad that I had a nagging in the back of my mind that those goals were selfish and that I should look toward the future of my career as something novel and not routine.

Thanks to several good mentors, I view my experience as something to build on, not rest on. I discovered that we can become mental ‘couch potatoes’ if we do not exercise our minds and I want to extend this idea with an analogy.

 As a student I was involved in athletics, namely football and track. During the off-season our coach developed a semester’s worth of running and weight lifting with the goal of making each team member faster and stronger for better performances during the next season of games and meets.

We always began with a test to determine the maximum weight we could lift or time we could make. Our coach would then develop a regimen of running and weightlifting based upon our tests. We would work out at certain percentages of our ‘Max’, we called it, everyday. After a few weeks passed we would ‘Max-out’ or text again to see if our maximum weight, speed or endurance had increased. Nearly always, if I had stayed true to the regimen, my performance would go up.

So, the regimen was this:

    • Set the goal(s) to win or achieve for the upcoming year.
    • Test yourself to determine just how much you were capable of doing.
    • Work daily at a level close to your limit.
    • Test again (‘Max-out’) for an increase in performance.
    • Adjust your daily workout based upon the last test for increased performance.
Just like our bodies, our brains need to exert themselves to remain fit and functional.

Now, how does this apply to teachers in the classroom? Many of you have caught on that teachers should reconstruct themselves and their approach on a yearly basis. Even things that work well should be tweaked even if only to give the instructor the mental challenge of recreating something they deem as ‘good enough’.

Teachers, we are models of the behaviors our students will mimic. They know when we are putting forth a good effort or not. It shows in our attitude and the exuberance on our face. It also shows by our expectations of our students. If we will ‘Max-out’ periodically, then it is well within our rights to demand that our students ‘Max-out’ too and if we are actually ‘Maxing-out’ our students will know it.

Recreate your lessons and you recreate yourself. This may sound like scary work but it is actually refreshing and it becomes easier as your mind gets used to it just as your body shapes up as you exercise.

Here is a suggested regimen:

  • Create a visual and attainable goal for the teacher you want to be. (Do you want to be exciting, clever, fun, creative, intelligent, artistic, etc.? What do you want the lesson to look like? Working with these goals in mind will make every action that you take as an educator fit the overarching goal or goals you have established. My goal was to always make my lessons engaging. I did not hit that goal 100 percent of the time, but I noticed my lessons were all changing for the better.)
  • Test yourself. (Develop a lesson idea that incorporates some High Yield Strategies that students enjoy and that you think you will too. Make sure it’s far from anything you have attempted before. It may involve the use of technology or collaborative groups. It may be project or inquiry based. Find some advice or strategies online or attempt using something you observed in a workshop. Keep in mind that with ‘Maxing-out’ we all reach a point when we can no longer continue. That is our limit and it is the scary part because we are not sure how the people around us will perceive what we are doing and whether it is beneficial or not, especially the adults we work with. Do not freak-out when you reach that point – that is what this test was for!)
  • Once you have determine your ‘Max’ figure out a regimen for yourself to keep the improvement on an upward incline. (Try those strategies again in a week or a few days. Working out is important. Without it, no improvements will be made. Reflect on how your first try went. When did you reach the point of disaster or exhaustion? Once you have answered that question, determine when to stop so that does not happen again until you ‘Max’ yourself out again. Also, consider the causes and how you might diminish them next time.)
  • Test yourself, or ‘Max-out’, again. (It is best to use the same strategies again to determine true gain. Try to go further than before by using research proven extensions of the strategies. If attempted with fidelity, you should observe positive results from your students and, thus, positive results for you ‘Max’ performance in the classroom.
  • Increase your regimen.

Your students will gain in the classroom as you gain within yourself. Success breeds success and nothing teaches like failure followed by success. No one can exercise for you to improve your physical condition, so there is no training or workshop you can attend that will make you a better teacher without your dedication and perseverance to ‘Maxing-out’ periodically and testing yourself to see just what you are capable of.