TEACHER TUESDAY: More tales from the darkside. . .

Just kidding. . .not really the darkside.  That phrase just has a ring to it, although some days in the classroom or school were dark for a lot of my students at different times.  For a young, inexperienced schoolteacher who was about as confident as a tightrope walker without a net, there were dark times in the classroom as well. 

Like for instance, the daily struggle to maintain classroom discipline so as not to invoke the disapproval of the two very strict male teachers on either side of me.  The last thing I wanted was for them to talk about my lack of classroom discipline with the same disdain they held for other teachers.  In those days, students were expected to remain quiet at all times, even in the science lab.  I can’t even imagine trying to get students to whisper in the lab today.  Times have certainly changed.

Anyway, there were a few students, a couple that I remember in particular, who had trouble keeping quiet during my lectures and scads of notes.  Not only were these students fourteen and fifteen-year-old boys, but they unable to resist challenging a first-year teacher, especially a size 5 female in high heels.

I’ll never forget trying to start class while being conscious of a couple of boys in the middle of the room who were trying to conceal their laughter.  I would give them the pointed teacher stare and they would settle a bit with smirks on their faces.  As I began to write notes on the chalkboard–yes, CHALKboard–I finally discovered what they were snickering about.

Written on the board just above the chalk tray were the words, “Mrs. Coker has a fine a**.”  Now what does one do with this information?  I had stopped for a second while reading, but I then hurriedly reached for the eraser and made it disappear, ignoring the ripples of stifled laughter that swept the room behind me, my face burning with embarrassment.

Me as a young teacher

But the show must go on, they say, so I proceeded with my lesson, acting as if nothing had happened.  Oh, those early days.  With their tales of the darkside.  Or rather, the backside. . .



Teacher Tuesday: Once upon a time. . .

. . .a long time ago, a young woman finished college and ventured into the world of public education with a desire to change the world, one teenager at a time.  Like most college graduates, this young woman, ME, was anxious to secure a teaching job.  I was lucky that the high school who allowed me to student teach offered me a job for the next school year.  I was elated, even though I would be teaching physical science instead of the biology or English I was certified to teach.  No matter, back in 1982, schools were allowed to place teachers in subjects they were not certified in for up to two years before they had to be certified.

I was excited to have my own classroom, though I had very little to bring to it other than my planning and organizational skills. I was given a teacher’s edition textbook along with some encouragement and thrown to the wolves–in this case, about thirty 14- and 15-year-olds.  It might as well have been an enemy army.  Only thing is, they didn’t have any weapons other than their freshman silliness.

Fortunately, I had two wonderful mentors who modeled classroom discipline and building relationships with students, so it was easy for me to build a proper classroom climate and good rapport with students.  In 1982, in Texas high schools, corporal punishment was not only allowed, it was expected.  So I set my expectations and used the wooden paddle on transgressors.  

At only 5’2″ and 110 pounds, I was not very intimidating.  I will never forget the look on one young man’s face as I gave him everything I had.  The other teacher who witnessed the paddling said the boy’s eyes widened in shock and appreciation.  After that, he became my biggest ally.  Sadly, he passed away this year.  I wish I could have said goodbye.

One thing I have always demanded of my students is good classroom behavior.  I always expected my students to behave themselves and treat me and each other with respect.  These are some things I have learned in my 30-year career:

  • Students will respect you when you show them the respect you expect from them.
  • Listen to each student as if he or she is the most important one in your classroom.
  • Never belittle students.
  • The student is more important than the grade.
  • Students want to succeed.  It is up to you to find a way for that to happen.
  • It is okay to smile, laugh, and have fun.  But students must know when it is time to be serious as well.
  • Never participate in gossip about students or staff members.
  • Treat all staff and students with respect.  Be friendly to everyone.
  • Remember that you are a role model inside and outside of school. . .including restaurants, bars, and Facebook.
  • Do not expect rewards and appreciation but be pleasantly surprised when they come your way.
  • If you are not in it for the kids, then you are in it for the wrong reason.
  • Have fun!
My first year of teaching yearbook. . .