Thursday, February 19, 2015

Ideas From a 5th Grade Teacher

On May 24, 1980, I jotted down my top ten list of things I wanted to do as a teacher.  It was the end of my 5th grade year, and I did not want to forget the ideas I had formed in Mr. Neal Lang's class at Slate Run Elementary School.  The teaching bug had bitten me early, and Mr. Lang was everything I thought a professional, organized, educational leader should be.  He required us to keep an assignment book in which it was our responsibility to write the homework that he had listed on the board each day for our various subjects.  Even though this was still elementary school, his approach made me feel big and important, no longer a little boy who had to be spoon fed his assignments.

I was recently talking with Sarah Pies, my friend who serves as Educator Effectiveness Specialist and director of the Indiana Teacher of the Year program at the Indiana Department of Education, and told her about the list I had made in 5th grade.  She thought it would be a neat idea for me to blog about it now, so I asked my mom to send it to me, and here we are.

As with many children, going to the doctor made me want to be a doctor, going to the dentist made me want to be a dentist, and the desire to be a teacher when I was in 5th grade was specifically the desire to teach that grade level.  Some of my ideas from thirty-five years ago were clearly related to teaching at the elementary level, such as having sign & return folders for student work, but others have made their way into my current high school Latin classroom.  For example, idea #1 plays out electronically.  I have on my computer at school 8,601 files in 509 folders.  For what it is worth, I do not like having my apps strewn across my iPhone landscape, but keep them all in appropriately labeled folders, too.

While I do not lead my students in physical education every day (idea #10), we occasionally take a "walkabout," in which we walk around the school, pointing out and naming things in Latin.  Why do we do that?  We do it because sometimes students, and teachers, just need to get up and get the blood flowing again.

A no-comic-book policy (idea #3) has morphed into requiring students to put their smart phones away, at least during certain activities.  My list of materials at the beginning of school asks students to bring some kind of writing utensil every day and a colored pen for marking assignments (idea #6).  I do not list homework assignments on the board (idea #2), but put them in a Word document on our website.

As I look back at the list I wrote in 5th grade, three things strike me.  The first is idea #8, "Have a good sense of humor."  Not one period of one day goes by in which there is not considerable laughter in my room.  We have fun with learning and fun with each other, and along the way a true culture of family grows among our Latin students.

The second idea that catches my attention is #9, "Read to students every day."  I do not fulfill this in the classroom, but at home as I continue to read each night to our children.  It is always the best part of my day, and I am glad we still enjoy this even as our children are growing older.

The third thing that strikes me about this list is the list itself.  I have wanted to be many things over the years, some with more and some with less seriousness:  author, public speaker, lead singer in a hair metal band, blues guitarist, etc.  Yet at my core I am a teacher.  I have been since Kindergarten when I came home one day to find my grandma visiting, whereupon I gave her a quiz and gleefully marked everything wrong to give her an F.  I have been since 5th grade when I began to get serious about planning for a life in education.  I have been since high school when the pieces started to fall into place, and I knew that I would teach Latin.  Teaching is not just what I do.  It is who I am.


  1. Wow! What strikes me....the neat writing! "Every" underlined! And that you still have this in your possession...and that it is a part of your current practice! AMAZING!

    1. Believe me, I wish my handwriting were still that neat! As for still having it, well, my mom is the one who saved it. If I touched it, she has it. We will have some great items for the Perkins Museum one day!

      I am encouraging other teachers to leave comments about when they first knew they wanted to be teachers. I bet there are some great stories out there!


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