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Like a Wood Duck: Finding Peace in the Classroom

Ben Johnson

Administrator, author and educator
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After a hard day of teaching, I often plop down on my desk chair at home and gaze up at a framed drawing hanging on the wall above my desk that a dear friend of mine gave me. It is a detailed depiction of a pair of wood ducks serenely floating on a calm pond. One of the ducks is male that has brightly colored feathers and beak; the other is female that is plain gray and nondescript. Yet both are at peace and comfortable with each other.

Struggling to help students to learn can sometimes destroy our internal peace and serenity, especially when students resist our best efforts. I'd like to share some things that help me to stay calm as a wood duck:

Don't Take It Personally

Some students come to class with their own emotional baggage and seem to not really care about the teacher. To them, the teacher is just another figure of authority. When they act out, it helps me to realize that even though I have taught the students to behave otherwise, and the students are purposely misbehaving, I need to remember that the students are lashing out at the authority figure. It is difficult though to separate the role of "teacher" from myself as an individual when a student responds rudely to polite requests. I have found that if I am successful, internal calm is easier to maintain. The best way to do this is to frame all the tasks and their expected behaviors before setting the students to work. If you have correctly framed what you expect the students to do, and you find students not doing it, you are in a position to ask the students what way you can help the be successful in doing what they are supposed to be doing. If this doesn't work then at the very least you can ask them why they are not doing the task and re-explain any consequences.

Be Prepared

I discovered early in my career that when I am completely prepared for class, calm is easier to maintain. Because I am prepared, I can stand at the door and greet students as they come in. I am able to see how students respond and can get a leg up on how to help them be successful that day. Students enter the class with my cheerful greeting and my positive comments and are prone to behave just a little better. Ever wonder why businesses can afford to pay a person to stand at the door just to greet people as they walk in? Banks know that a greeter is a security measure by reducing the anonymity of the individual. Stores see reduced shoplifting and increased levels of purchasing because someone paused long enough to say hello to customers as they entered.

Reach Out to Parents/Guardians

Most of the time, if a student has been unruly or non-participatory in a class, a simple phone call to a parent or guardian can make a world of difference in their behavior the next day. When I speak to the parents of the student's misbehavior, I try to show concern for the student rather than frustration about the behavior. This usually helps the parents to not be defensive and be more willing to address the issue at home. I advise that this phone call happen prior to a student getting home so the adult can hear from me first.

Reflect Daily

Perhaps the most important thing I do that helps me to maintain that calm assurance that I need to be an effective educator is reflecting on the day. I ride the city bus home and that is when I do my reflections. During the hour commute I think about the successes, and I think about which interactions with students need more work. I think also about my blunders and how I might repair the damage those times I may have not remained calm. Interestingly enough, students are usually willing to start fresh the next day, so I need to do the same thing (holding grudges against particular students I have found destroys my internal peace). After reflecting, then I am able to create effective plans to make things go better the next day.

Wood ducks have a hard life: eating bugs, swimming in the cold water, dealing with bad weather, avoiding predators (human and otherwise), and yet they are able to maintain a calm, confident serenity. Reflecting on my own behavior and making plans to improve provides me with a measure of confidence that it is going to be better tomorrow -- and that allows me to relax a bit more and enjoy my family and friends more fully. Peace.

What have you found that helps you to find Wood Duck serenity? Please share in the comments section below.

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Comments (10) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

John Star's picture
John Star
Online College Professor

Wonderful post with lots of practical advice here. Thanks for sharing and taking the time to write something so meaningful and helpful.

Jacci Buelow's picture
Jacci Buelow
8th grade Social Science teacher from Wausau, Wisconsin

When a student becomes unruly in the classroom, I never take it personally. I remind myself that every single person is dealing with "stuff", and students are no different. I look at it as an opportunity to help that student feel good about himself by making a better choice. People in glass houses . . .

Kevin Finnegan's picture

There's some very helpful information in this article. I've been using Lee and Marlene Canter's Assertive Discipline program since 1989. It's solved whatever classroom management issues I was having when I first started teaching. I'm also incorporating some of the tactics and strategies from the "Total Transformation System" that's currently being advertised on the radio.

Ben Johnson's picture
Ben Johnson
Administrator, author and educator

Isn't it interesting that the tried and true really is the tried and true! Lee Canter's stuff is rock solid. The ultimate goal is to helps students self govern and Canter does a masterful job of helping us do that. I have heard of the total transformation and it sounds good- too good to be true.

Thanks for the post.
Ben Johnson
San Antonio, Texas

Ms. Tonyes's picture
Ms. Tonyes
6-8 Math Teacher from Brooklyn, New York

Thank you for all your words of wisdom. As a first year teacher I have learned that I must start with a clean slate at the beginning of each day in order to make positive connections with my students. I plan to use your tips on reflection will help my personal and professional growth.

Ashley Knight's picture
Ashley Knight
Kindergarten Teacher from Columbus, OH

Thank you so much for these suggestions/reminders! I am definitely going to use these tips on a daily basis and hopefully I will see myself unwind a little bit and start to enjoy my job a little more. I found your tips both useful and encouraging. It is nice to know that I am not the only one who finds their classroom to be a stressful place at times.

April's picture

Pre-service Teacher
Prairie View A&M University

Mr. Johnson, I enjoyed reading this post. I think you give some helpful hints for teachers at all different levels. I would like to say thank you for sharing a few "tricks of the trade" to all educators, especially pre-service teachers like myself. I believe the information you talked about will be plenty useful when I get into my first classroom.
On another note, I would like to ask a few questions.
1. In the first year of teaching, what are some tips you can give to help teachers manage and keep everything organized?
2. Can you give pre-service teachers or teacher moving to a new school district tips for getting acclimated to the new school?

Thank you again for your thoughtful post.

Best regards,

April Avery
Prairie View, TX

Ben Johnson's picture
Ben Johnson
Administrator, author and educator

Thanks for reading my post. This fact alone indicates that you are well on your way to being a superb teacher.

To answer your questions, I need you to understand that there is nothing concrete or absolute about teaching. Having said that, to answer your first question, think it through all the way. How will you give the assignment? What will you do for absent students and late work? How will students submit the assignment? Will you grade it? Will the students grade each other's papers? Do you trust them? Do you care more about quality or the fact that they did It? How much is it worth? Finally, be kind to yourself and don't give assignments every week that take a lot of time to grade. Get a routine- Tuesday and Thursday, graded assignments etc...

The best way to acclimatize yourself to a new school is to ask lots of questions. Talk to your mentor and fellow teachers,...alot! Read the school improvement plan. Any doubts - speak up in faculty meetings. Be chatty with your emails to supervisors... Let them know what is going on.

Best of luck!

Ben Johnson
San Antonio, TX

Marissa's picture

Makes you think and reevaluate.
My name is Marissa Berry and I am currently a pre-service teacher. This blog was really good because it made me think and made me reevaluate how I would do things as a teacher. I personally need to stop taking things personally and I am learning how to do that. Being a teacher is a job that is rewarding and fun but at times it can be hard. This blog shows that even though the job is hard you don't have to give up.

Henry C. Darnell's picture
Henry C. Darnell
4-8 Generalist Pre-Service Teacher Canidate

Mr. Johnson, After reading your posts from start to finish I truly believe that all four points in their entirety are truly helpful to me as a pre service candidate at Prairie View A&M University. Going through observations and classes this semester it only proves more and more that it takes a greater knowledge of know how than just book knowledge to make it as a teacher and that it often comes from a teacher who has been down the road I will travel in the future.

Thank You Again,
Henry Darnell
Prairie View A&M University

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