Ready to Teach Like a Pirate!
Note: Sarah Boselovic is a guest blogger for our #MasonLearns blog. Sarah is another teacher who believes that you have to read to lead. She dove into the hot book Teach Like a Pirate. Ms. Boselovic is about to enter her third year of teaching. This coming school year will be her second year teaching Language Arts at Mason High School — editors.
I’ve just completed my second full year of teaching. In no way have I ever thought I could teach others (in particular, more experienced teachers) to want to be better. At least not yet. Maybe years down the road when I’ve become more established. However, if I’ve taken anything from Dave Burgess’ Teach Like a Pirate, it’s that age doesn’t matter. Not even experienced teachers have all the answers. There is a certain commitment to always being on, always having that fire in your belly feeling, that makes you an effective teacher. It’s the rapport you build with the quiet student in the corner. The book you get that reluctant reader to pick up and finish. The satisfaction you receive at the end of the year knowing your students are moving on in life not only as better students, but better people. Dave Burgess’ Teach Like a Pirate, which I will now refer to as TLAP, has opened my eyes to the ways in which I can become my own version of a Pirate by using the skills I already am strong in and improving my weaknesses. Throughout this blog post, I will reflect on my reading of the book through three quotes that stood out to me. These quotes have led to shifts in my classroom and changes in my teaching and I hope they can for you as well. Before I do, I’d also like to start you off with a thought provoking question brought up in the book: If your students didn’t have to be there, would you be teaching in an empty room?
Think of this as I take you through highlights of Teach Like A Pirate.
“Provide an uncommon experience for your students and they will reward you with an uncommon effort and attitude.” (55)
I once had a student tell me that English class was the same thing every year, just with different books. While there may be some flaws in his observations, he isn’t totally off-base, in my opinion. Therefore, as an educator, I need to take on the role of making my classroom different. Make that uncommon experience for students so that they can get more out of my classroom then maybe they have in other English classrooms in the past. This year, I was able to succeed in this area in a variety of ways but most effectively, in my classroom’s environment. I applied for and received money for a grant that allowed me to change the setup of my room. The first step in this uncommon experience was getting input from my students. After all, it wasn’t me who needed to feel welcomed and appreciated in A211, it was them. I needed to know what they wanted out of a classroom if I wanted this to be effective. From this, my students were able to see that their voices mattered and because of this experience, I was able to give my students the classroom they asked for. Well, besides the hammocks hanging from the ceiling. During Spring Break, without the students knowing, I transformed the room, letting them come back from break to a pleasant surprise. After that, I noticed a shift in my classroom. The students seemed happier. They worked harder. There weren’t as many discipline issues. They were giving me that uncommon effort and attitude because I had first given them the opportunity for an uncommon experience. I transformed the expectations of a normal, boring (students words, not mine) English classroom, and showed them the possibilities of what it can be.
“We have unbelievably talented kids sitting in front of us and many are starving for the opportunity to display their creativity.” (95)
Like I said earlier, I’m a younger teacher. That gives me the advantage of relating to the students better, which allows me to see when they are crumbling mentally and physically in my classroom. I may get flack for this, but there are more veteran teachers out there who like things the way they always were. Paper and pencil. Quizzes on Friday. Projects going on 10 years of life. Trust me, I’m a fan of a system that has worked and will keep on working. Plus, I grew up with teachers like that who helped me succeed, and inspired me to become a teacher. I’m sure eventually I’ll want to do something I like each year because I love it. Actually, I did do that. During my senior year at ahem, THE Ohio University, one of the projects in my Methods course was to come up with a Multi-Genre project for a group of fake (maybe one day real) students. I loved this idea. I had never done one, never even heard of one actually and I totally bought into it. I developed this project that would take the students five weeks to complete and when I was done, A+ and all, I knew I had to do this when I got students of my own. Flash forward two months and I did it with my seniors at the high school I was student teaching at. We did it with Beowulf and students had to create various creative pieces of their own. At first, my cooperating teacher wasn’t sure about it because it was so different from projects in the past. Naturally, I became hesitant too. These were students already feeling the early onset of Senioritis. Why did I think they would want to go above and beyond for me? Being the young and reckless student teacher I was, I decided to go for it anyways. Throw all caution to the wind. And you know what? It worked. With creativity in the room, my seniors showed me how hungry they were to show off their unique abilities. Here are just some of the pieces students created within their projects:
- Rap ballad about Beowulf’s quest
- Editorial on why the quest would have turned out differently had Beowulf been a woman
- Paper Mache model of Grendel’s arm
- Replica of Beowulf’s sword, actually made out of metal (for this one, the student had to get the Principal’s permission)
I couldn’t believe it. These students taught me one of my first lessons as a teacher that was then reiterated in TLAP. Don’t underestimate your students. Give them opportunities to show you who they are. I have done that project since, modifying for the student clientele I had and again, I was amazed. What I learned from this is, it’s ok to repeat something because you like it. However, you also have to be open to modifying it so that the students do too.
“Students will do amazing things if you can design a class and environment that is positive and empowering. Rising up to and overcoming challenges, building lifetime relationships, and forging positive connections to school won’t directly result in better test scores. It will result in better people. Isn’t that what we’re really trying to accomplish?” (138)
I don’t have all the answers when it comes to teaching high school English. I don’t even consider myself the biggest English whiz outside of having a deep love for reading. However, what I will pat myself on the back for is my ability to connect with students, motivate them, and get them to like (dare I say even love?) English. I am fully aware that a high percentage of students do not look forward to English class. In particular, I have found that by the time many students get to me in ninth grade, they have never found success in any way in an English classroom. Therefore, they are already feeling defeated on day one. It is my challenge to lift them up and show them their potential. I do this first by getting to know them as people first, students second. My connections with students in that first two weeks of school set up the foundation for community, respect, and collaboration in my classroom. One of my favorite things as a teacher is seeing the students self-reflect at the end of the year. In their reflections, I see maturity growing within them. They feel more confident. They made friends with someone they never would have talked to at lunch. They enjoy reading. They are inspired to take Honors English. This warms my heart. I have only taught in a world where students are stretched thin and worn out by the amount and rigor of standardized testing each year. This has obviously affected me, but I’ve been slowly coming to the realization that it is not everything. As Dave Burgess says numerous times in the book, standardized testing is important for schools, teachers, students, communities, etc.. However, the bigger reward for me each year as a teacher is seeing my students transform into better people. As I said earlier, this was my second full year of teaching. What I’m most excited about for next year is it will be my very first second year at the same school. I cannot wait to continue to watch as my first year of Mason Comets transform even more. I know so many of them will do so many fantastic things and I’m unbelievably excited to see that. That’s what gives me the good feelings at the end of a long, tough school year. That’s what keeps me coming back.
To finish off this rather long blog post (Is anyone actually still reading this?), I wanted to leave you with a question that was brought up in the book: If your students didn’t have to be there, would you be teaching in an empty room?
Consider that question. Learn from your answer and continue growing as a teacher and a person. Also, go buy Dave Burgess’ Teach Like A Pirate. You won’t be disappointed.