10 Back-to-School Promises from a Very Cool Teacher

It would be great if all of our kids had a teacher like this one.
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A Teacher's Promise to Students for Back-to School

Dawn Casey-Rowe is a teacher and sustainability nut living in rural Rhode Island. She is the author of Don’t Sniff the Glue: A Teacher’s Misadventures in Education Reform. Dawn has worked in insurance, education, tech, consulting, and fitness. In her spare time, she tries to get off the grid. You can find her on her blog at CafeCasey.com or on twitter @runningdmc.

All summer I’ve been anxious to know what I’ll be teaching this year, but that curiosity has finally gone away. What I teach doesn’t matter–it’s what students do with it that does.

Here’s what I love: converting a class nobody wanted to take into a special experience–a “that didn’t suck” moment. If you’re in my class, I promise you an amazing year.

Every year on Day One I ask this question: “Who wanted to take this class? Be honest.” In a good year, one person raises a hand. That person’s either a butt kisser or super compassionate and doesn’t want to hurt my feelings.

“I know you don’t want to be here. I’m here to change your mind.” I call it like it is.

My question to students on Day 180: “Did you have more fun than you thought? What did you learn that you’ll use for real? How could I have helped you better?”

That feedback I put into my “be a better teacher” action plan for the following year. It’s how I improve. It’s the education data I treasure.

Students, I know we’re going to have a productive year. I hope I give you an A. Remember, A’s don’t define you, but since you want them, I hope you get them. And I hope you get everything else you want out of life—especially the things you have to work hard for. I want you to be proud of yourselves, knowing there’s nothing you can’t achieve.

“Your class was easy,” one girl said last year. “Not easy-easy, but interesting, so I always wanted to learn. I learned more outside of class because it was fun, then I talked about it with my dad during dinner.”

Victory!

Most people think a teacher’s job is to raise scores, proving kids learned and shutting up newspaper critics and trolls. That way, states don’t lose their money.

Nope.

My job is to create fun for people who think they’re about to be bored stiff for the next 45 minutes. You can’t get that time back, even if you’re a kid. I respect that. It’s also to show people who thought, “I can’t,” they actually can, all while having a good time learning. And it’s to replace my own “I can’ts” with “I dids.”

Teaching isn’t education so much as it is finesse and marketing. If students have fun, they want to learn more. If they want to learn more, I’ve given away the keys to the kingdom.

It doesn’t matter what I teach—“I teach social studies, learn this!” That’s my ego. With so many desks and chairs in the class, there’s no room for my ego.

Here are my 10 back-to-school promises to you if you get stuck with my class this year:

1. I will care about you, your cousin, your friend, and your crew like you were my own kid. Even if you’re the weird kid. Especially if you’re the weird kid. Weird kids forge paths that no one else can see–and that’s where success lies.

2. I live by the credo “School should not suck.” I loved school. You should, too. If you think school sucks, I’m your person. Tell me. Suggest something. Let’s make it a time you look back on with a smile.

3. No matter what I’m teaching, I guarantee I’ll bring life lessons to the table you can use “for real,” because anything can be a valuable lesson if you choose to apply it to things that matter most to you.

4. I won’t make you memorize a lot of trivia. Sure, you’ll need to know stuff, but when it comes down to it, on the 8th day the Lord invented Google. I’ll show you how to connect everything we learn to every other field and situation, so you, too, can look at a job, the news, an important world situation, the business you’re about to start and say, “Oh, that was just like…” and have a tool box to reach into.

5. I’m learning just as much as you. You may be a teen, but you’re an expert in some area, and I will learn what you teach me and run with it, applying it to my life. I will listen to you and maximize my learning. I hope you will do the same with what I show you. You’ve taught me social media, compassion, Photo Shop, sports, music, fashion, and life—you’ve taught me skills I use to make money right now. This is a give and take, not a dictatorship. I’ve already got my laundry list of things I need to learn and improve (gaming, coding, video editing…) so watch out!

6. I don’t care if you get all the answers right because I don’t have all the answers. I do care that you can research, interpret, analyze and apply all the things you find correctly, because that’s what will save your behind in the real world.

7. I can relate any specific interest you have to social studies. So, give me a shot, listen in a bit, and I’ll surprise you. The lesson: You can take your passions and connect them to anything, especially to making a good living. It’s a whole new world out there, so you’ll have to do that well. I hope you start today.

8. I know you are not the sum total of your grades. You are the sum total of your motivation, the ideas and people you surround yourself with, your work ethic, and your heart and spirit. Remember that. If you don’t like something about yourself, your thinking, your crowd, change it. Life’s a work in progress.

9. I never give meaningless work or homework “just because.” I’m hoping you’ll do the things I assign or design a better way to reach our objectives. Show me. You probably have better ideas than me anyway. See #5. I’ll be taking notes.

10. I will be passionate. Passion equals hard work plus fun. I expect you to be the same. Not every lesson gets an Oscar, sinks in, or makes sense right now—sometimes we’re planting the seeds for tomorrow. I’ve had “just trust me on this” classes I didn’t want to take wind up saving my career in the strangest ways. I hope some of what we do in class this year will be your inspiration, life raft, and foundation—even if you don’t see it right now.

I know we’ll enjoy our time together. Pay close attention—I’ll type in your grade wrong just like your boss will mess up your paycheck. I’ll forget what I said like a politician running for office, and I’ll correct your work much more quickly in the beginning of each quarter than the end. I won’t even feel guilty because I know you’re about to ask me for an extra day to get your stuff done. I’m not perfect. But when I mess things up, I’ll fix them. In return, I’ll expect the same from you.

And I’ll give you a money-back guarantee that when these lessons do sink in–even if you’re long gone from my class–we can continue the conversation at that time over coffee.

If I’ve forgotten anything, let me know. In the meantime, enjoy the last couple weeks off. Boy, it goes quick! Before you know it, we’ll be back in school wishing for just one more day of summer vacation.

 
 
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