6th Grade Teacher
Sleepy Hollow Middle School
Tarrytown, New York
What advice would you give your younger self?
If I had a time machine, I would have told my younger self, don’t be afraid to show the students you are a real person. Getting to know your students outside the classroom, pays dividends inside the classroom. Now you have a shared experience you both had a part in creating.
Do you have any tips for dealing with difficult students?
Find a way. As humans we all share universal human problems. My parents were divorced when I was very young. I’ve used this experience and others like it to help students relate to me on another level. This has always been my angle when it comes to diffusing difficult situations. Find commonalities where you can get students to respect you. I’m lucky that I have had many jobs and experiences in life. Sharing stories with students lets you connect on a deep level.
Do you have any tips for dealing with difficult administrators?
Use humor and be reflective. Most administrators will appreciate that you are a reflective practitioner. On the other hand, being a lackey or suck up is never appreciated by your peers. Find a balance where you can walk away from any situation where you are well liked and respected. I once went through 7 administrators in 5 years. You will realize that you and your peers are responsible for creating the culture of the school, not them.
Do you have any tried and true things you repeat from year-to-year?
I do a lot of ice breaking and team building activities that allow the students to feel like they can share in owning the classroom. This really helps to establish a classroom community early on in the year. When students feel comfortable making mistakes but also accountable to fix them, this is real learning. I recently taught a lesson on evaluative writing where students critiqued other students’ presentations. This also happened to be a lesson where it was a surprise evaluation/observation. The students gave useful feedback to each other and could have run the class without me. I honestly think that this lesson was so successful because of the different community building exercises my 6th-grade team worked hard to create and implement.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received as a teacher?
“You won’t understand because you’re not a parent.” I know this sounds more like criticism and not advice at the time, and it was. However, it has helped me to put things into perspective in more ways than one. The story comes from when I made a choice to ban a student from a special event they would have really enjoyed because of their behavior. Another teacher disagreed and told me that I should let them attend but I wouldn’t understand because I wasn’t parent. In hindsight, I know why I made the decision. However, in the grand scope of things, being a parent allows you to soften your view a bit so you can see more of the forest for the trees. Looking at my teaching experiences now from the lens of a parent, really helps me to be more empathetic, reminding me that any one of my students I should treat like my own children.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
I would say that the most rewarding part of my job besides seeing the yearly gains of my students is when I get visited by students from other years. I work in a middle/high school and when I see students I haven’t seen in a while, it’s great to see how much they’ve grown into young men and women. Knowing I had a part in their success makes all my hard work feel validated, seeing a student realize their full potential.
What’s a problem you’re still trying to solve?
Finding time to get everything done and teaching my students that the world is a very competitive place. There is no room for idleness, and they need to work hard. I often find myself saying “There are more honor’s students in China than we have students in America, and they want your jobs.” It frustrates me that some students have all the opportunities and resources but squander their time.
Who inspires you?
I sometimes use Mr. T. as my avatar. I love him. I get inspired by people who come from adversity. I love a great story about someone who picked themselves up from their bootstraps and turned their misfortune into success. I see a bit of myself in these people and like to instill these ethics in my students.
How do you recharge?
Being a dad and spending time with my family is a great way for me to relax. I like to bike ride and get outside with my kids and my dog to play. Gardening is also an escape for me. I grew up in an apartment so never had the opportunity to grow my own food. Now as a homeowner I love having my own little space to grow vegetables. It’s cathartic for me to feel connected to the earth and food in some way.
What was your favorite toy or game as a child?
This is a really tough question for me. I love video games, and technology.
What is one mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it?
One mistake or regret that I often share with my students was that I quit chorus in the 8th grade. I learned to use this in my classroom to teach students not to give up on something if they really like it. It doesn’t matter what other people say, follow your passion.
How do you jumpstart your creativity when you find yourself stalled?
When I need to jumpstart my creativity in any lesson, I ask myself if my students would find this activity fun. If the answer is no, I look to insert a game or make the activity more interactive. I have found that there are myriads of different web-based applications to deliver instruction such as Nearpod.com, Quizlet.com and WeVideo. They can all be used to get students up and moving around, working together in an accountable way.
Can you share anything memorable that a student of yours has said to you?
About 5 years ago, my school had a lockdown drill that I thought was a real lockdown. No information went out to the staff, I thought there was a possibility that an intruder had entered the school who wanted to harm my students. I went through great lengths to barricade the door and secure the room. It was a really intense moment in my classroom, and I didn’t have time to think. I stepped into action and I could tell the students were really scared. I did my best to let them know that they were safe and I would protect them. A short time later when my principal opened the door to my class by unlocking it, they realized that they should’ve sent out a memo about the drill. When the students left that day, we were all relieved that it was only a drill. I’ll never forget what one of the students said, “ If there is ever a lockdown again, I want to be with you.” This was only memorable because the students got to see a side of me that rarely comes out.
Thank you, Mr. Dietz!