I realized something this summer. When I reflected back on my years as a teacher, I realized something. Everything I did revolved around one principle that was simple, and when you really think about it, rather profound. It's about the kids.

In media training, one of the first things trainers teach is that, when you are interviewed, you should have a platform. No matter what questions the interviewer throws at you, you constantly find a way to bring the interview back to your main point (your platform), and you keep doing that. Because of my writing, I've been interviewed many times, but it wasn't until I began putting together a national award application (an award I probably don't really have a prayer of receiving), that I realized I'd been practicing and preaching a platform all along.

Everything I do is about and for the kids.

I must admit, I'm one of those people who likes to pretend the world revolves around me.  As a teacher, I've learned to create a positive classroom climate and orchestrate and facilitate a carefully designed system of checks and balances. Everything is designed to help kids learn and excel. However, let me tell you, the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray. So who's the one changing? Me. As my principal says, the teacher is the variable in the classroom. That makes sense. While life doesn't revolve around me, in my classroom, what goes on is up to me.

So as we look forward to going back to school, sharpening our pencils and opening our classroom doors, I came up with a few points to consider.

  1. It's about the kids — let them read. My summer school students again proved that reluctant readers read if you allow them to read books of their choice or books that have high reader interest. Not all children are going to attend Ivy League schools, so consider all factors when choosing required reading. Consider the audience and balance your love of literature and their lives. There's nothing worse than having kids hate reading because everything they read is pure torture.
  2. It's about the kids — teach them words. Studies have shown that one of the biggest differences between children of lower income parents and children of higher income parents is the vocabulary of the children. Children of higher income parents are exposed to more words at an earlier age. So find new and creative ways to expose all children to words and their meaning. After all, words are the building blocks for all reading and writing.
  3. It's about the kids — teach and emphasize editing. I judged yearbooks this summer and it shocked me how many typos I found in several of the books. The abundant amount told me that the student producers of the work didn't spend as much time as they should have on proofreading. Proofreading is still a valuable skill and kids need to realize that just because they can shorthand text messages doesn't mean they can shorthand their English papers or their correspondence. They must learn to put their best foot forward.
  4. It's about the kids — set and maintain high standards. Kids need to receive constructive feedback. The world, as we adults know, can be brutal and tough. Don't sugarcoat things in fear of hurting self-esteem. All this does is sets kids up for failure. You need to be truthful so that students can grow as writers, learners and people. I tell my students that I expect them to achieve at a certain level because if I didn't, I would be telling them instead that I didn't believe they could do it. Trust me, kids will meet your expectations. It is a disservice to keep a kid in the dark about something on which he can improve — he should not have to learn later in life that he's been deluded because someone was afraid to give honest feedback. Be gentle, but be truthful. Give students the tools with which to achieve and praise often as they reach real milestones.
  5. It's about the kids — give them power and allow them choices. Find ways to infuse real world life skills into your classroom. One of my former junior's first words to me (upon seeing me at schedule pickup) was that he'd received a letter back from the President of the United States in a response to his letter. He brought it back up to school two days later — and it was a two-page typed response that actually addressed the points in his letter, not just a form. Can you picture how cool it was for him to realize that? So find ways to break out from underneath the "read, respond, memorize, test" cycle of assignments. Look for those things that build meaning and allow for personal, individualized learning or lessons that make real connections to their lives.

Finally, let me leave you with this thought. Hallmark has a slogan, "When You Care Enough to Send the Very Best." As you plan and create your assignments, you are already planning to give your students the very best. So reach deep. Remember, you are the one in control, but that you put their needs first. Go outside your comfort zone. Try something new. Don't be afraid if a lesson fails. To err is human. To forgive divine. So don't beat yourself up. Go forward. Demonstrate how to handle failure and how to create positive change. Let students see you as a role model. After all, it's about them.

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Michele Dunaway is an award-winning English and journalism teacher who, in addition to teaching English III, advises the student newspaper, yearbook and news website at Francis Howell High School in St. Charles, MO. In 2009, the Journalism Education Association awarded Michele with its Medal of Merit. She has received recognition as a Distinguished Yearbook Adviser in the H.L. Hall Yearbook Adviser of the Year competition and was named a Special Recognition Newspaper Adviser by the Dow Jones News Fund. She also practices what she teaches by authoring professional journal articles and writing novels. Click here to read more articles by Michele Dunaway.

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Comments from our users:

Monday July 30th 2012, 5:35 AM
Comment by: Victor G. (Vancouver Canada)
Excellent article Michele. Sets out the point and then drives it home over and over. However, in order to achieve the notoriety you apparently have in your profession you must have spent a good number of years at it. I'm sure you didn't spend as much time as you did without realizing that "It's all about the kids." That was your platform to which you could return throughout your article correct?
Monday July 30th 2012, 9:16 AM
Comment by: sally L. (s natick, MA)
This is so good. a great article....distilation of experience in the classroom.

Its about the kids...
i had this thought about what is called the sorry state of education,,,,year and years of it...

The simple thought came into full view...KIDS LOVE TO LEarn and be empowered!
Tuesday July 31st 2012, 9:28 AM
Comment by: Roberta M. (Redmond, WA)
Michele, I loved the whole article. No criticism. I just loved it.

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