REAL CHALK on Classroom Jobs

real chalk archive Sep 24, 2017

This REAL CHALK post was delivered to our subscribers via email and is being archived here. This newsletter message is a revisit to our post HOW TO STOP DOING IT ALL.

The best advice I ever got in student teaching came on my very first day. I was certain I could win over my notoriously cranky cooperating teacher by being a great worker bee. And the very first time I tried to help, he yelled at me.


He took the papers I had been passing out, and without a word, handed them to a girl in the back row. She passed them out exactly as I had been doing. Really? He freaked out because I took a student job, by accident? And then he explained to all of us.

He made a very big deal of saying that passing out papers was beneath me. He expounded on my qualifications. On and on about my education, my life experience, my skill set, my wisdom, my status as a leader, and my professionalism.

“You are a TEACHER.”

 He said that I was, in fact, negligent in doing such a low level task as handing out papers. He explained that I was cheating the kids of precious LEARNING,  by occupying myself with busy work. He made it very simple.

“Never do anything in your classroom that a kid can do.”

Of course, we all know about the buy-in that students have with classroom jobs. Builds a sense of community, gives them good habits, a sense of responsibility, etc. That wasn’t it with this guy. Not at all.

He explained that every classroom is filled with busy work. Teacher busy work. At the expense of the high-level actual TEACHING. He suggested I ask one question, (which I still use today) before I do anything in a classroom:

“Can anyone else in the room do this?”

Mind you. Not can everyone else in this room do this task, but can ANYONE? The idea here is not to have every student feel included. The goal is a functioning classroom that frees up the TEACHER to be able to TEACH.  

That means you pick a student who is suited for this particular task. Then demonstrate the task, or explain the task. Then have the student show you how to do the task. Then, hand that task over to that kid. Every time that task appears again in the classroom.

Simple. It isn’t playing favorites, it is getting the distractions out of the way. Give it a spin in your own room, and you may find yourself with much less to DO and so much more time to TEACH.

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