Way back in the day, I did my last round of student teaching at one of the two high schools in our district. This was when I still thought I wanted to teach high school (silly me), and my cooperating teacher (actually they were called master teachers back then) and I didn’t really see eye to eye. Actually we did. I just didn’t know it then.

I was looking for specific tips and lessons and what to teach. What info was I supposed to be shoveling into them? What was the curriculum? I was a noob and I wanted specific things to teach.  He would never give me anything specific. He would talk in generalities like, “Make the kids do the work. You’re working too hard.”

Sound familiar?

To a noob, in the short term, this was not much help. But slowly, as I gained experience, I started to understand what he meant, and I have blogged about this particular platitude of mine on numerous occasions. It is now one of the  cornerstones of my teaching philosophy. (I get four, right?)

Another generality he preached was “bell-to-bell instruction.” Now that was a buzzword (buzzphrase?) when I was coming up through the ranks, but it was always connected to stuff like “sponge activities” and “team-building activities” and shtuff like that. As in soaking up extra time. That implies that you have extra time for useless crapola like matching games and fave whatever. There was so much talk of this kind of thing it almost seemed like you were supposed to regularly have extra minutes in the period.

Oh no. What he meant was to overplan for every period and to make sure that you always estimate a time for each activity, and make sure you fill all your minutes. Always better to continue than to come up short. Of course, he never actually came out and said that, but…

Our school only has bells for the breaks, but this is another cornerstone of my teaching. (Two more, huh?) I (almost) never come up short unless it’s on purpose. When it does happen, it’s so unusual that the kids notice, and start mooching for a funny video. This is one of their faves.

But most of them have finally realized that if they ask for something like that, it’s almost certain that they won’t get it. I am a big fan of the “you git what you git and you don’t throw a fit” philosophy. I was so stoked when the boy came home from kindergarten one day and told us that his teacher said that to a kid. Yesss!

“Can we watch-”

“No. I ain’t no dj.”

This year’s crew is one of the worst in years for begging, so now they only get the videos when I’m feeling sporty, they’ve been less than a PITA, and they manage to shush down the moochers.

So if there has been any extra time lately, it’s been filled by “Off Topic Questions.”

On the first day of school, I try to save about 5-6 minutes for them to ask me questions about me. You know how curious they are about you as a person. They think you don’t exist outside of school. But that early in the year, most of them are still so intimidated that it’s mostly 5-6 minutes of silence or asking about how to find their next class.

But by about six weeks in, I’ll be in the middle of correcting a warm up, and I’ll be asking for volunteers to answer number four. And I’ll call on an excited individual, hoping to hear an enthusiastic correct answer, only to have that hope crushed hearing,

“Do you even own a car?”

So nowadays I use those extra 90-120 seconds allowing them to ask me what ever they want. I don’t promise to answer every question, but I will consider them all.

We had a rather lively session the other day in my end of the day class.

Details next time.