An Interview with B.C. Tozer: The Four C’s of Successful Teaching

Aug 29, 2013 by

Michael F. Shaughnessy

1) First of all, how long have you been teaching, and what grade levels and subject areas?

I am starting my 9th year of teaching this coming school year (2013-2014). I teach 5-12 music. which includes, Beginning Band, Middle School Band, High School Band, Jazz Band, Marching Band, Pit Orchestra, Beginning Guitar, and Percussion Ensemble. I am also certified to teach 7-9 social studies.

2) Let’s examine each one of your ” C’s “—Consistency—why is it important? And how can teachers focus on consistency?

Consistency is extremely important. Unless you are consistent you cannot properly understand if your methods of teaching are effective or not. Consistency is also the backbone of classroom management. If your students do not consistently know what to expect when they walk into your classroom it will be hard for them to feel prepared for your class. When I think about consistency, I always consider Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity which he states, “Insanity: Doing the same thing and expecting different results”. Many times when I speak to teachers about why their classroom and students are difficult to manage and plan for, I find they are consistently inconsistent with their approach to starting their class.

3) With increasing diversity, and increasing heterogeneity in the schools- how can teachers REALLY be consistent with such a wide variety of students?

Teachers can be consistent by providing a high quality product (their teaching skills and knowledge) day in and day out without allowing outside factors to throw off their methods. Many times we can allow issues from our hall, bus and cafeteria duties to affect our mindset when we enter our classroom. That is not to say teachers should ignore differentiation and teach all students the same. You need to adjust your delivery of the content to your audience (your students). But if you state in your syllabus that you will be checking for a materials grade at the start of every class and you stop after the first 3 weeks you can’t complain in the faculty lounge about why your students never bring a pencil to class. The idea of consistency is more about the structure of your classroom than the delivery of your content.

4) Compassion—we need teachers to be compassionate—but we also need to be sure that they have mastered reading, writing, spelling, math, and social studies, and perhaps a bit of music and art. How do teachers juggle this and how can a principal make sure they are being compassionate while clearly and concisely keeping to standards and the Common Core?

I think many people have a warped sense of what compassion is and I think that is mainly the fault of our society. When a parent issues the punishment of grounding their child and assigning extra chores for intentionally damaging a neighbor’s window is that parent not using compassion to teach their child about the consequences of inappropriate behavior? When I speak of teachers using compassion I speak of using proper compassion. Proper compassion is treating a student the way you would treat your own child. Your students are not your friends. Your compassion for the students should mean that you are teaching them and guiding them to become well rounded productive members of society. This means teaching them to master reading, writing, spelling, math, social studies, music, art, technology etc.!

That doesn’t mean that you are cold to a student who wants to talk about an issue. It is about knowing the proper time to do it. Have the compassion to stay after class for a few minutes to speak with the student in need of help instead of leaving as soon as the teachers are allowed to be dismissed. So compassion isn’t all fluff and fairy dust. Maybe in kindergarten and elementary, but once students reach middle school and high school the compassion they need is someone who is helping them to make the right decisions and not getting side tracked from becoming the best they can be. Children will have many opportunities to meet and make friends their entire lives, however they only have a few short years to meet great teachers who will always want the best for them even if it isn’t the easy road.

5) Courage—-The main feedback I get from teachers is that they are pushed, encouraged, cajoled to ” pass ” or socially promote students on to the next grade. How do they find the courage to say ” This child needs to repeat the 2nd, 3rd, or whatever grade?

The teacher must find the courage to stick to the rigorous curiculum and hold the students to the high standards that are being expected by the Federal, State and Local Legislators. If the teacher has the courage to teach and hold the high standards, treating all students fairly and maintaining a consistent, classroom that uses contigencies and compassion when things don’t always to as planed, than there should be no reason for a child to fail unless that child refused to do the work. In that case a teacher can only do what it is in their power and give the student the grade that they earned. Which in this case would be failing. If the student failed enough subjects to prevent them from being promoted to the next grade it now falls on the administration to show courage and do what is right for the child, even if it isn’t the easy thing. Of course, the administration could show compassion, giving the student the option of summer school to pass, but again, if the student doesn’t use the tools and opportunities available to succeed than the administration must use their courage to retain the student in the same grade for another year. As a teacher, there is little you can do if your administration doesn’t retain the child, all you can do at that point is use your compassion to understand the administrator’s reasons behind their decision.

6) Courage with parents—what do teachers need to be able to say to parents about their parenting skills, or lack thereof?

Far too many times teachers see it as an “Us versus Them” attitude when it comes to parents. That we have to “fix” all of the things the parents do “wrong”, but that is the wrong attitude when it comes to parents. Teachers should not be giving parental advice to parents and parents shouldn’t be giving teaching advice to teachers. Instead of working against one another, parents and teachers should be working in tandem to achieve success for the child. As I state in my book that a school district is supported by the Four Pillars – Administration, Students, Students’ Parents and Teachers. Each pillar must work to carry its own load. If we concern ourselves with a pillar that isn’t our own, than while we criticize the weakness of the Parent Pillar we miss the small cracks in the Teacher Pillar that soon become large problems. Parents are our partners in the success of students, not the enemy. There are always going to be those students whose parents seem to be poor examples of the ideal parent, but there may be some factors that are unknown to the district, let alone the teacher. So when you encounter a student who you feel has a poor parent, instead of using your courage to attack the parent, use your compassion to help the child. Maybe if the parent sees there is a teacher that really cares about the success of their child, more than they care about critiquing parenting skills, they may feel more welcomed to be a part of the child’s educational experience.

7) Contingency- teachers need to have contingency plans for students that are foreign language learners, for students who are chronically absent, for students who require massive amounts of remediation. How does the average teacher do this?

The average teacher can’t do all of that, at least not on their own. Luckily for the English Language Learners (ELL) and English as a Second Language students (ESL) the schools are beginning to get the resources needed to help those students but sometimes that still isn’t enough. Same goes for the students who need the remediation and chronically absent. Resource teachers and classroom support personnel are able to help those students and give them the extra time. But when those systems that are in place still feel inadequate I have always found the answer to be in technology.

For the ELL and ESL students there are many free online translator tools where you can copy and paste the English text and it will give you a myriad of language translation to choose from. From there you can then copy and paste the translation into your letter format to make the new letter to be sent home. For the students who need remediation and are missing lessons because of chronic absences teachers can record their lessons and turn them into podcasts and upload them onto their classroom website. Also, on the classroom website teachers can upload their documents and worksheets for students to download at home. That way even if the student is not physically in your classroom you still have an option for them to acquire the materials and even hear the recorded lesson they missed.

8) You do not have ” Communication ” as a ” C ” but you talk about it in your book fairly consistently. Could you discuss this a bit?

When I started to write my notes and outlines of organizing my book I never thought of communication an important “C”. It wasn’t because I didn’t think communication was not required or something only to use if we are lucky enough for it to work. On the contrary, the reason I didn’t include Communication as one of the “C’s” was because I thought it was already understood by all who read my book that it was required. Originally the epilogue was entitled the Real Gatekeepers. It wasn’t until a friend of mine who I asked to read the rough draft of my manuscript asked me about communication. She noted, just as you did, that I hint at communication all through out my book but I never addressed it head on. That is why I decided to add it into my epilogue and call it “The Forgotten C”. But I think that many people do forget how communication is the foundation of everything. We are so used to almost instantaneous communication with the internet, cell phones, and text messaging that we know how to tell people what we think, but we don’t always know how to use the two way street of communication. When I use the analogy of the school district being supported by the Four Pillars – Adminstration, Students, Students’ Parents and Teachers, you must imagine those Four Pillars all resting on a solid foundation. That solid foundation is communication. Without communication everything will crumble. No organization, school district, army, or family can survive and be successful unless they have clear two way communication, where not only do all parties have a voice, but they also listen.

9) What have I neglected to ask?

I feel your questions were rather through. The final thought that I would like to leave with is that while I highlighted many ways that you can improve your teaching and find success when you work, you should understand that it is all built on strong communication. Do not be afraid to speak when something needs to be said. Do not be afraid to ask a question when you do not understand. Be the example of open communication and you will see others follow you. When you communicate to anyone, consistently, with courage and compassion you will begin to find you rarely need to worry about many of your contingencies.

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