Posts Tagged ‘teaching’

Teaching Kids

February 26, 2022

My favorite thing about teaching kids was the kids. They’re so much fun to be around. And they have so much love, a kind of love you won’t find anywhere else.  

As a teacher, every year I had the privilege to be with a group of kids for nine and a half months. During that time, my number one objective was to do everything I could to strengthen and support families.  

Parent conferences are scheduled early in the year, so teachers can meet all the parents and talk about our goals and address any concerns that the teacher or the parent may have.  

One year, a mother told me during our parent conference that her daughter was really enjoying my class, and the mother was happy about this because the girl had some problems the previous year during third grade. I told the mother this shocked me because she was such a spectacular kid, very enthusiastic and a real joy to be around. 

Anyhow, fourth grade was a grand success for this kid — she made all sorts of wonderful progress, socially and academically. The mother expressed gratitude every time I saw her. 

A Knock on My Door

One morning near the end of the year, I got a knock on my door before school. It was the girl and her father, whom I had never met before. The girl was holding a gift. 

The father said, “Mr. Bray, my wife and I would like to thank you for everything you did for our daughter this year.” I invited them in and told the father that it was my pleasure to be around his wonderful daughter every day. 

I have never seen anything more beautiful than the love parents have for their children. Nothing I have ever accomplished on a professional level ever made me feel better than knowing that I played a small role in the life of this family. Like Ira Gershwin said, “They can’t take that away from me.”  

She Called Me Gramma

There are some kids at an elementary who shine so bright that everybody knows their name — all the kids, all the teachers, and even the parents and volunteers. Liliana (not her real name) was one such student.  

Liliana lived with her gramma, and she was always saying things like, “Gramma said this” and “Gramma did that.” One time I walked past Liliana’s desk as she was working on a project. She pointed at her work and said to me, “Gramma, look!” Then she raised her head and gave me and the class the funniest look I ever saw, as if to say, “Oh my God, I just called Mr. Bray Gramma.”  

It was the longest sustained laugh I ever experienced in a classroom. I had to sit down because I was laughing so hard. I was actually very flattered because I knew she loved her gramma very much. 

by Richard W. Bray 

Some Friendly Advice for Young Teachers in a World Poisoned by Power-Mad Bureaucrats and Clueless Billionaires

July 29, 2012

After I transferred from a junior high school to an elementary school, my former colleague Dave* asked how I liked working with my new colleague Walter*. (Both Dave and Walter were veteran teachers with decades of experience.) I reported how impressed I was by Walter’s remarkable patience and equanimity in response to a roomful of unruly kids. Dave smiled and said, “He wasn’t always that way.”

Years ago I heard former United States Secretary of Education (and raging hypocrite) Bill Bennett on CSPAN saying that the the best way to ensure quality schools in this country is to “hire good principals and allow them to do their job.” Oddly, Bennett and several other self–identified conservatives support intrusive (and blatantly unconstitutional) laws like Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind (NCLB) which inject the blunt, debilitating power of the federal government into the quotidian workings of local public schools across the county.

Before NCLB, for example, wise principals would often place a few of the more emotionally needy students at a particular grade level in the classroom of a more capable veteran teacher like Walter. (This practice is particularly advisable when one or more of Walter’s grade–level colleagues are newbies.) Such sagacious principals would constantly praise teachers like Walter for taking on this extra burden, and they would also grant Walter a little extra leeway as far as end–of–the–year test scores were concerned.

Today, however, thanks to an ill-conceived reform movement forced down our throats by ignorant billionaires and power-mad federal bureaucrats, principals no longer have such discretionary latitude. And experienced teachers like Walter who hope to hang onto their jobs would say this to a principal who wants to overload their classrooms with “challenging” students: “I’d like to help you, but the Secretary of Education wants to publish my students’ test scores in the paper and then punish me if those numbers don’t go up every year from now until the end of my career.” This is just one of many unintended consequences which result when education policy is devised by people like Bill Gates and Arne Duncan who don’t know shit from shinola about teaching.

Legendary college basketball coach John Wooden toiled at his craft for several years before suddenly winning ten championships during his final twelve seasons. When somebody asked him what happened he said, “I finally learned how to relax.”

It took me a while to figure out how to relax in the classroom. Watching teachers like Walter helped me learn that getting upset and raising my voice in response to unruly students only increases the rancor. It is actually more effective for a teacher to stop talking in mid-sentence and wait for the students to lower their voices than it is for him to try to overpower an entire classroom with displays of stentorian prowess.

The best advice I can give to young teachers is to relax, take your time, and learn from your mistakes. And don’t get into power struggles with your students. Never go to work in the morning full of vengeance over something that occurred the previous day thinking, “I’m gonna get that kid.” (Let it go, and never forget who the grownup is.) Endeavor always to treat all your students with kindness and respect under all circumstances knowing full well that this is a superhuman ideal, impossible to live up to.

A little respect goes a long way. I learned a lot on the occasions when I substitute taught at a “camp” school—camp is a euphemism for prison. Once when a student remained standing as I was preparing to start a lesson, I said in a firm but friendly voice, “Sir, would you please sit down.” He melted into his seat and turned to the kid next to him and said in a tone of bemused disbelief, “He called me sir.”

And as much as possible, try not to be too grumpy. It’s not always easy, but do your best. (And for all of you out there who would like to have a positive impact on America and her future, here’s something you can do to reduce teacher grumpiness—invite a teacher to bed some time. The world will be a better place for your kind work.)

* Not their real names

by Richard W. Bray

Rough Draft Peer Review WorkSheet and an Amusing Teacher Story

December 9, 2011


I have students bring two copies of their rough drafts. While the students are doing their peer reviews, I scan the other copy, looking at the structure of the essays rather than proofreading them. The students are free to proofread one another’s essays.


1. Turn in one copy of paper to instructor.
2. Take two Peer Review Worksheets.
3. Get into groups of 3-4 Students.
4. Take turns reading papers ALOUD to group.
5. Pass paper clockwise (or counterclockwise if you’re feeling rebellious).
6. Silently read another student’s paper and fill out worksheet.
7. Repeat steps 5 & 6.

Rough Draft Peer Review Sheet

Author: __________________________________________________


Paper Title:_______________________________________________

This paper is ______pages long (excluding Works Cited page)

This paper includes a Works Cited page in MLA format: Yes No

Thesis statement is in paragraph # _____

Copy thesis statement verbatim.

Two enlightening quotations from sources that the author utilized are:


Two notable sentences that the author composed are:


What is the paper’s strongest feature?

An Amusing Teacher Story

During a discussion about ESP, a student informed the class that he possessed a “sixth scent.” Miraculously, I resisted the temptation to say, “You’re telling me, buddy.” (Life rarely provides such a perfect straight line.)

by Richard W. Bray