Monday, January 2, 2012

How Sucking at Golf Helps My Teaching

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And so we start anew.
A new day
A new semester
A new year

I love the start of a new semester and a new year. Life just seems full of possibilities. It seems like I can do anything. Be anything.

My plans for today--to begin making those connections with kids. I have 100 new students coming into my classroom. They'll be excited to be back in class, but a little nervous too.  Especially those in speech class. I want to let them know it's OK to be nervous, that I don't expect perfection, and that I want to help them.

I model the first speech of the year for them on each first day. It's a paper bag speech that introduces them to class. They are to put three objects in the bag that will help us get to know them. My speech goes a little something like this:

I'm Mrs. Day and I'll be your speech teacher this semester.  I know that many of you are a little nervous about this class and having me for a teacher.  I'm going to tell you a little bit about myself just so you know who I am.

I was a very shy student until my sophomore year in high school when I took speech and drama classes.  Those classes helped shape me into the person I am today.  I can still be shy, I still get a little nervous talking in front of people, but speech helped me deal with both of those things. I hope it does the same for you.

(Hold up my writer's notebook)

The first thing you should know is I am a writer.  I love to write.  Creative Writing is a class close to my heart.  I think it's important for people to write every day. It makes you think and feel.  This is my writer's notebook which I try to write in every day. I also write a blog about teaching and my life that has become a very important part of who I am.

(Hold up a book)

I am also a reader.  I read every day.  I read everything I can get my hands on--magazines, newspapers, blogs, books and cereal boxes. I have read at least half of the books on those shelves, so if you have the need for a good book, talk to me.  I promise I will find you one.  Just because this is speech class doesn't mean you can't check out my books, so find some time to go through the boxes and see what you can find.

These are important things to me and I'm good at them--guess it's why I'm an English teacher!

(Hold up golf ball)

In the last few years, I have also learned to golf.  I suck at golf (there's usually a little chuckle here). But I love getting outside with my friends and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine. But really, I suck.

Now, let's face it. Most adults don't continue doing things they aren't good at.  If they try something and aren't successful at it, they quit.  They never do it again.  Kids don't get that option. For better or worse, you have to be in this class whether you enjoy it or not, whether you are good at it or not. So golf reminds what it's like to be a student in my classroom. What's its like to not be good at something. What it's like to not enjoy something all the time. What it's like to struggle.

You will see that I usually have a golf ball on my desk, It's my reminder to be patient, to be understanding, to sometimes give you a break when you need it.  If you are struggling with things, please come and talk to me about it.  My door is always open.

And then I stop. I hand out the assignment and the paper bags, and let them get to work. But I have figuratively opened that door.  I've let them know I don't expect them to all be good at this thing called speech. That's it's OK to struggle. That it's OK to ask for help. And this is how I start making connections.

My One Little Word:  Connect


  1. Amazing. I wish I wrote like you.

  2. I find myself, once again, wishing we taught across the hall from each other. Thank you for giving us a glimpse into your first day of the semester. I live that you shares your speech and the photos. Thanks for writing today.

  3. Deb, what a great way to start a new class and begin to make connections! You are the teacher I wish I had (many years ago). What a lucky district to have you. I'm glad I connected with you. :)

  4. I love the glimpses we get into your teaching world. It is an awesome world to visit (through your posts) and I am sure an even more incredible world to experience firsthand. I am somewhat jealous of the fresh start with new students that you get, while at the same time overwhelmed for you. I am just getting to really know my students and you are starting over with that class. I have no doubt you will make powerful connections; you have already begun!

  5. I'll bet so many of those students just breathe a huge sigh of relief (if only an inner breath) knowing that you understand. I like the way you also let them know that 'they're there' and they may as well accept it.
    Very inspiring post, Deb.

  6. What a great, and connecting, idea, Deb. It's so wonderful that you don't just give the assignment, that you tell who you are & what you will do with them and for them. I imagine your reputation precedes you & they see that all that talk about what a great class this is is true, and will be true. A long while ago I subbed in a school where the principal had every teacher take a learning challenge, learn to play a musical instrument, a sport, to dance, etc. It was to help the teachers see what a challenge was like. You do that with your golf, & I bet you do learn from your struggle & it makes you such a good teacher. Hurrah, Deb!

  7. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous. Thank you for this. I love the symbol of the golf ball on your desk as a reminder - what a great way to connect. and YAY for new semesters. We are on that silly schedule where I returned to three weeks of first semester before we move on, but I used to teach under this schedule...and I loved the freshness of new in the same way - thank you.

  8. It is inspiring now to read this from the eyes of a teacher instead of the eyes of a student. I can remember doing this activity with you in Speech class years ago. I have also done this activity in some of my college classes as an ice breaker. The word "connect" is a BIG one that we talk about in classes and this activity is PERFECT to connect students and teachers!

  9. I don't think you all know how much your comments mean to me when I write these things. It's hard to open up and let people into my classroom, but in doing so, I let you all have a glimpse. And then you validate what I do. Pink Scribbles, having a former student comment and let me know that it is a good connecting activity really makes my day.

  10. What a powerful way to start the semester. I love that you openly share your strengths and weaknesses. I also love how your golf ball is your visual model. I may have to steal this it. Have a wonderful new year...I have no doubt that you'll make several connections this year.

  11. Deb, as the mom of two high school sons, your post made me cry. I so, so, so wish my boys had more teachers like you-- people who cared enough to share themselves, and their books (I can count on one hand the number of books my boys have actually READ during their high school years, and it is not for my lack of trying!). Thanks for sharing this beautiful post!

    P.S. I think I have Chloe's cousin living at my house. My dog Jack is like a four legged garbage disposal. When he was six months old, he ate a sock, and had to have surgery ($4500) but since then he can eat ANYTHING. His favorite treat is socks!

  12. Wow--can I be in your class? And maybe bring my 3 kids with me? Or at least, as Ruth A. says, can I teach across the hall?
    I hope that our comments have given you enough courage to continue sharing bits of your teaching life--to let us into your classroom. You have a lot to share about connecting with kids and teaching them in powerful ways. Keep it coming!

  13. Deb, some how I missed your slice! But I'm so glad I stumbled upon it - you are just phenomenal. Thank you for sharing this glimpse into your classroom. I love the golf ball too! I chuckled! I'm in awe and only wish I had a teacher like you and I taught across the hall!

    Thank you for connecting with us, your readers, too!

  14. What a powerful way to start your class! I loved reading your speech -- especially the part about how you read everything, even cereal boxes! I'm famous in my family for always reading stupid stuff like ingredient lists on cereal, just for something to read. :-) As for the golf metaphor, that's amazing! I really like the idea of the golf ball as a reminder of what it's like to be stuck doing something that's hard. Great post!