Going back to third grade

Doug Robertson teaches third grade in Southern Oregon. He’s also known as “the weird teacher,” a name given to him by some kindergarteners in his school when they thought he wasn’t listening. Doug wears this title with pride on his web site, in his book, on his videos, on Twitter, and whenever he’s talking about what he does. The other day as I listened to Sam Rangel interview the weird teacher on the amazing Amazing Teacher podcast I was struck by just how much a great third grade classroom has in common with a great undergraduate seminar.

  • The classroom should be safe. No one should be afraid of getting teased for making a mistake or having a “weird” idea.

    My students don’t like making mistakes either, but everyone makes mistakes when they are learning something new. As the weird teacher points out, if my students already know everything, I’m out of a job. When I make mistakes in the classroom, I’m just modeling the learning process. The key is to instill a belief that failure is not just okay, but that it’s a required part of learning.

  • Relationships with students are critical. Robertson greets all his students at the door every morning. He gets to know each of them individually. Once students know you and trust you, they are open to all manner of crazy potentially effective teaching methods. Emma, another K-12 teacher, recently wrote beautifully on her blog about how knowing your students lets you customize the classroom experience for them.

  • Stay positive. Everyone has bad days, but in a third grade classroom if the instructor is in a bad mood, the students think it’s their fault.

    My students don’t blame themselves if I’m not excited to be there, but it certainly puts a damper on any learning. Excitement and positivity is contagious and on bad days I sometimes have to take a few deep breaths before I walk into class. It’s totally worth it. If only I could stay positive more often for my kids at home too.

  • Love all your students. It’s easy to love the lovable students, but a little love goes a long way with the hard-to-love students.

    In a seminar, it’s easy to ignore the quiet students and let them just melt into the background, but my job is not to teach only the students who automatically engage. I make an effort to get to know, respect, and include everyone. Every single student must come to my office once during the semester as we together plan the next class. Every single student comes to one or two small group meetings outside class time where we talk about their individual semester-long projects. Every student has a voice in class.

The weird teacher shows us all just how much about teaching is universal. He also shows us that being different (and weird!) should be embraced not suppressed.