Teaching to Your Strengths

When I was a child, a number of conversations with my single-parent father went something like this:

Me:  “Whiiiiine.  Whine, whine, whine.  Whine, bitch, moan.”

Father:  “Teach?”

Me:  “What?!!”

Father:  “Stick a sock in it.”

I have now adapted my father’s parenting techniques as my main form of classroom management.

For example, I was teaching Intro to Spanish today when, apropos of nothing, one of my Goobers raised his hand (which, while being a huge step in the right direction does not in any manner indicate that he will wait to be called upon) and shouted, “Hey, Teach!  If you ever get married, I’m going to be in your wedding!”

“Excuse me?”

“If you ever get married.  I’m going to be in your wedding.”

“Goober, if I ever get married, you’re going to be nowhere near my wedding.”

The rest of the class snickered.  Goober seemed entirely unfazed.

“Yeah!  Yeah!  I’m going to be that one that carries the stuff…and stuff.”

I’m trilingual.  Fluent in English, Spanish, and Teenager.

“You mean the ring bearer?  You want to be the ring bearer at my wedding?”

“Yeah!  And I’ll walk down the aisle and stuff.”

“Goober, let’s say I do get married.  And let’s say I do give you the ring.  That means that you are the one responsible for carrying the object that is going to symbolize my marriage for the rest of my life.”

“Oooh…” Goober paused thoughtfully.   “On second thought, maybe that’s not such a good idea…”

“And while you’re at it, Goober, why don’t you give me the answer to the next question?”

“Answer to what?”

“Number three.”

“Number what?”




“Shut it.”

“Right.  Sorry, Señora.”

It’s usually sometime around here that the Uptight Party Poopers of the World holler at me about “not engaging with students.”  I’m including some of my fellow teachers of the world in the UPPW category as well as a wad of folks who couldn’t keep control of a classroom of thirty kids to save their life but like to voice their opinion anyway, as if anyone cared.

“You shouldn’t engage, Teach.  That child is distracting your lesson.  He’s blurting, he’s off task and you need to set an example by setting the standards and sticking to them, not engaging in the students’ agenda of derailing the class.”

Well, UPPWers, I must admit that after much thought and consideration, I can definitively tell you that you are, indeed…

The ones who can go stick a sock in it.

If you’re a new teacher, sit straight and pay attention.  This is where a whole lotta you go wrong.  There is only one way to run a classroom.

You have to teach to your strengths.

A Brief List Of Things Teach Is Not:

  1. Overly organized.
  2. Overly uptight.
  3. Detail-oriented.
  4. Soft-spoken.

Number four sticks out in an especially notable way.  I’m so damn loud that I don’t even realize I’m loud, which has resulted in a lot of students actually taking a step backwards when I think I’m answering them in a normal tone of voice.

“Hey, Teach, can you help me with this activity?  I don’t really understand what I am doing…”


Startled jump.

More quietly:  “Sorry about that.  I just totally shouted in your ear, didn’t I?”

“Um…yeah.  That was a bit much.”

I’m obnoxious.  My classroom is semi-chaotic. (Straying, on the occasional pre-vacation day, into full-blown chaos.) We are constantly moving, talking, shouting and when things get really insane, I have a full blown piercingly obnoxious referee whistle I use to get the kids’ attention. And they friggin’ hate it. Which, of course, I find fantastic.

I cannot maintain the type of classroom where everything has its place and everyone knows what that place is.  I will never be the scary teacher kids dare not disobey for fear of the consequences.  I will never have a silent classroom where students diligently work quietly and raise their hand, without fail, every single time they want to talk, nor will I ever be the one who tracks tardies to the minute and assigns detentions for every infraction.   It’s too much damn work.

And it’s just not me.

But I’ve got a wicked sense of humor, a Ph.D in sarcasm, and an appreciation for fun.

So that’s how I teach.

I could lecture the Goobers of the world until I’m blue in the face.

“Goober!  That has nothing to do with what we’re talking about!  You know the rules of the class and we’ll have a chat once the period is over about what appropriate behavior looks like.”

What a stinky wet blanket.  Likely all that’s going to happen there is that:

  1. Goober will hate me.
  2. He will check out even more than he already does in class.
  3. Having shamed him in front of his peers, he’ll escalate the interaction requiring me to follow up with, approximately, a crapload of disipline.
  4. I’ve just wanted my own precious time.

But when I banter with him, he likes me.  Kids do a lot for teachers they like.  The banter refocuses the attention of the entire class on me.  When I end the banter and start teaching again (having lost a whopping ten seconds of my class) they’re all looking, listening…and grinning.  It’s a scientifically proven fact – kids learn more when they’re grinning.*

*Basing scientific-provenness on twelve years in the classroom and the fact that it sounds good.


I lost no more time in goofing off with Goober than I would have in disciplining him.  But now he likes me and the kids think class is fun.

Still, mayhem is not for everyone.  One of the best teachers I know somehow magically terrorizes her children in to being on time, even if they’ve lost a limb.  At least once a week, I see a child hauling ass down the hallway three seconds before the bell rings shouting, “Aaaaaarrrrrrrrgh! Smith’s claaaaaaass…..”

But this is the teacher who color-coordinates her wall decorations and hangs them all using a tape measure and a level.

A level.

The only thing a level is going to be used for in my room is to whack the desk of a sleeping student to see if I can scare him/her into falling on the floor.

So if you’re fresh to the classroom, or even if you’ve been in there a few years, take a step back and think for a second.  How true are you being to yourself?  Because one of the greatest gifts you can give your kids is teaching them to use their strengths.

Fart jokes and referee whistles most definitely included.

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24 Responses to Teaching to Your Strengths

  1. Very funny post. My kid’s best teachers are always the ones with a sense of humor and who do engage with the kids AS THEY ARE. You’re right, it changes the dynamic completely, in the same amount of time it would take to lecture them.

  2. Beck says:

    As a teacher who’s more like Smith than you (though I’ve never used a spirit level!), I still 100% agree. Work with your strengths and embrace your quirks. When I use some self deprecating humour and say to Year 12s, ‘Now you all know what a control freak I am so you won’t be surprised I’m handing out a plan for exactly what we’re doing all term.’ they can smile about it and focus on how it helps their organisation because I’ve given them permission to find it funny, just as you give your students permission to engage. And if we give ourselves permission to be ourselves, then that’s some of the best role modelling we can do. 🙂

    • singingpigs says:

      Well said! I certainly don’t expect everyone to be like me, but what kills me is when I see potentially good teachers trying to imitate other teachers because they think that’s how it “should” be done. It just comes off as fake and wrong and the kids pick up on it. The kids like the more strict teachers as much as they like me…as long as it’s natural. A very good lesson for students to learn themselves, indeed!

  3. Krista says:

    I love it when you have a snappy comeback to some smart-alleck senior who thinks he has you, only to find the rest of the class saying “OOOOOO….she got you” and he slinks off not sure what just happened.

  4. Pops says:

    Well said, Teach. No sock needed.

  5. You are just so refreshingly right … you don’t have to listen to the UPPWs of the world, even if they are your line managers, even if they appraise you as crap because you are chaotic; what a tonic: you’ve made me think – just for a second – that I could go back into the classroom again

    • singingpigs says:

      I have hope for you yet. 😉 As rough as it seems you had it in education, my guess is that you could still rock it. And I do believe in the fairly-tale lands of schools where MOST of the teachers are crazy like me.

  6. ymartblog says:

    OMG! There is someone else like me teaching out there! Organized? Ha…..What day is it on the timetable? Umm….which class is? (My front row students are in all three of my classes) Testy boys trying to test out their power? Use humour! So instead of a blow out we had a laugh out! Thank you so much. I teach art at an academic school. My son has ADHD. It has taken me since I started teaching to realize that I have to accept each student for whomever s/he is; just like I want my son to be accepted. Consequently when I lost it in the class room and am on sick leave the students, of course not all, care about me. And some even miss me! I think the hardest thing is life it to accept oneself and to accept others. No modifications desired.

  7. Erika S. says:

    perfect and great advice. I need to ignore those UPPWs more often.

  8. Indeed the best teachers teach with their strengths–humor, sarcasm, wit, reliable strictness…. Whatever–When I first started teaching I did this. Then I took some classes and thought I had to do it “the right way.” All the classroom management books say “NO SARCASM” HA…if I didn’t have sarcasm my classes would be so damn boring. If I didn’t wear goofy hats and tell corny jokes—kids wouldn’t make fun of me. (AND in turn eventually love and idolize clean jokes, and the spirit of individualism!!) AHHH… I absolutely LOVE LOVE LOVE your BLOG!!

    • singingpigs says:

      I know exactly what you’re talking about. I regularly do SO many things in the “Never Do This” category of education textbooks, it’s ridiculous. Uptight weiners. You totally made my day with your compliment. Thank you SO much. And please, in the name of competent non-uptight-wiener teachers everywhere, pass me on. My goal is to get a serious following of real teachers and make some waves…or at least throw some whiteboard markers at the ones we don’t like. 😉

  9. David Hazen says:

    I miss your humor at lunch each day; I think of the crew often. Hope lunch is still a time to laugh! It was the healthiest teacher’s lounge in all of my years in education!

  10. AsheX says:

    “I’m trilingual. Fluent in English, Spanish, and Teenager.”

    Love this line. 😀

  11. I start my first full year of teaching (11th and 12th graders) in a week and am currently flipping back and forth between your blog and my syllabus-writing. You are so encouraging and funny, and give me hope that I CAN DO THIS. (I know I can, in my heart, but I’m still fighting feelings of terror. Laughing helps). So thanks for your blog–you’re pretty much my new favorite person!!

    • singingpigs says:

      Well. 1) Thank you for stroking my ego. 2) Teenagers are TOTALLY the best age group (even though I occasionally try to pander…poorly…to the teachers of other levels and 3) Humor is your best weapon, so you’ve likely got this teaching thing in the bag. You’ll screw up occasionally this year (we all do) but the best thing you can do is own it. (The kids have a surprising amount of respect for this.) Then distract everyone in the room by making fun of someone/something. Generally, I make fun of myself in order to not traumatize some poor, insecure adolescent. Works every time.

    • singingpigs says:

      Oh, and good luck! Holler if you need anything. Seriously!

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