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Not What They Want to Hear | TeacherSherpa Blog

Not What They Want to Hear

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Written by Josh McCusker, TeacherSherpa Blogger

I can be annoying. Big surprise if you know me right? If you don’t, consider that my disclaimer. Of course, we all can be a bit annoying at times right? Right? Oh, maybe it’s just me.


One of the many ways I can be annoying is with thinking that I’m helpful. I know that sounds like a cop out, like telling an interviewing potential employer that your biggest weakness is that you work too hard. But think about a time when you really wanted to figure something out and your friend came swooping in with the answer. Sometimes you’re grateful. Other times you are so frustrated you want to make them listen to me speak…a truly unfair punishment by the way.


People crave solving things that defy explanation. Why else would we madden ourselves with things like Rubik’s Cubes, crosswords, Tetris, and the popularity of socks with sandals? While often we are happy to just find the solution, sometimes we want to figure it out on our own. We like the process of it, making it into a game of sorts.


I try not to be the spoiler, the person that walks by and tells you the blurry picture is a sailboat or a schooner. I am getting better at it too, and the main reason for that is what I’ve learned from being a teacher. I’ve seen the eye rolls and frustrated faces looking back at me after I’ve tried to help. It is a process. I’m learning to figure out what things students find annoying, even when I have good intentions.

1. Talking too much
We all do it. We get on a roll, a train of thought, and we just…don’t…stop…ever. As important as you think your words are, as important as they may actually be, as much as a student might need to hear them, the more you talk, the less they will listen. Every student has a different tolerance level, but the longer you speak uninterrupted, the greater your chance of sounding like Charlie Brown’s teacher.
Fix: Set a timer for yourself. Practice your lectures and find opportunities for students to contribute to the discussion. If you must keep talking, think about when you can ask questions.

2. Telling them that they need to learn something.
One of the quickest ways to turn something into a chore is to make it seem like something that has to be done. Technically students need to learn everything listed in our state standards. Yet, we don’t hand them a list of standards in August, say learn this, and then walk out of the room.
Fix: Let them learn the concept first, then, if you absolutely have to, give them an assessment or practice that involves the skill. When they see the usefulness AND that they learned it, it will open the door to future learning. Listing objectives on the board or wall gives them the information without turning their attention somewhere else.

3. Answering for them
A student begins answering a question. You’re excited because you remember the answer from when you were in fifth grade. They start to say words that vaguely resemble the correct answer. As they form an incomplete answer, you finish it for them. They might have heard what you said, but they learned that you will answer for them.
Fix: Let them sort out their thinking. Use their answer to get them thinking about why they answered that way. Reframe the question if needed. Remember that it is the journey to an answer when we really learn.

4. False praise
We should encourage and motivate students. When we compliment them too much, they begin to either tune that praise out, or they think that you praise students for anything, and it devalues all of your praise.
Fix: Think of a staircase. If a student can consistently get to the third stair, it doesn’t do much for them to be praised for standing on the second stair. Instead, use your praise to remind them of things they’ve already learned and how they can use that knowledge to reach new levels. Then praise them when they reach those higher levels. An ongoing series of compliments and reinforcing will keep them motivated.

5. Reminding them what they don’t know.
We use data and assessments to find out weaknesses so that we can shore them up. It is a vital part of our job. The problem is that students need to be reminded of what they do know, and what they can learn.
Fix: Remember that you got into this to help students. Teach them their weaknesses without telling them that they are weaknesses.

All of these are rooted in good intentions. There is a nobility in trying, and in the passion that causes us to try to fix everything in the classroom. Sometimes we need to simply take a step back and think about what we want them to get out of it. 

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