Into My Classroom

Fourth Year Biology Teacher Sharing My Musings With The World

Book Review: Never Work Harder Than Your Students & Other Principles of Great Teaching (Part I)

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Never Work Harder Than Your Students & Other Principles of Great Teaching by Robin R. Jackson is the book that has been assigned to our faculty to read.  Normally, I would look at the books with disdain as there really does not seem to be enough hours in the day, but the title of this one has me hooked.

Last year, I felt as if I worked harder than ever before and my students performed at the lowest levels I’ve seen since my teaching career.  I feel like this book may possess the secret to solve all my problems!

One thing I like about this book is that it is interactive.  By that I mean that there was a quiz in the introduction to determine what type of teacher you are and the chapters have sections titled “Try This” where you stop and reflect on what you just read.

Chapter One – Start Where Your Students Are

This chapter is focused on getting to know your students.  Not only in the sense of favorites or family life, but getting to know what their values are and what particular traits they have.  Jackson writes about teaching your students how to take a trait that may be negative and teach them how to use it in a good way.  I’ve seen this first hand, as students that may be very disruptive do a complete 180 once they have a specific role in the class.

Another takeaway from this chapter is the “Activity Bag”.  Students bring in 5 items that represent themselves and place it in a bag.  Throughout the month, randomly select a bag, go through its contents and see if the students can guess who it is.  Then the student comes up and explains why they chose the 5 items.  I feel this is a good way to help instill community in the classroom.

Chapter Two – Know Where Your Students Are Going

This chapter emphasizes focusing on the standards, similar to unwrapping the standards as mentioned in the book by Larry Ainsworth.  Last year I was very overwhelmed by unpacking the first nine weeks and never finished the year.  Reading this chapter has encouraged me to unpack one unit at a time.  That way, the task won’t seem as daunting. One interesting mention in this chapter is to lower your standards for students.  This struck me as odd initially because we want our students to reach for high expectations.  By setting the performance standards lower, students actually have a chance to reach above and beyond what is expected.  Of course, in order for students to excel beyond the given standard, they must KNOW what the standard is.

Chapter Three – Expect to Get Your Students There

This chapter has very little to do with teacher expectations of students and instead focuses on teacher expectations of ourselves.  Do we really believe that we can teach students and move them to proficiency despite their shortcomings.  Are we honest enough to realize the difficulties and weaknesses of our students.  This chapter reminded me of how I felt when my AP Environmental Science Students did not do so well on their test.  I actually wrote about it here.  I mentioned that I felt they should have excelled and that their background should not have influenced their performance based on how they did in my class.  An excerpt from the chapter that really spoke out to me…

Many teachers suffer from the same misplaced optimism.  The same false hope that comes from believing that they and their students will be successful without also confronting the brutal facts of their current reality.  We cannot hold onto high expectations for students without also considering the reality of who they are and what they are able to do.

Another important part of this chapter is the mention of not accepting failure in the classroom.  This reminded me of the NMS (not meeting standards) grading policy of our district.  There were many teachers in an uproar regarding the policy, but I favored slightly because it prompted discussion among teachers, students, and parents.  Parents and students were now concerned and asking about grades where before they would receive an F and accept it as if it was the normal grade to receive.


Written by Ashley Erin

August 15, 2011 at 5:00 am

2 Responses

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  1. I might look into this book based upon the title alone – thanks for the overview.

    I remember I was leaving one night at about nine o’clock, and my department chair came out of his classroom across the hall from me. “Son, I’m not one to talk because I’m here, too, but you look like you’re being run ragged. What’s going on in class?”

    We talked about it for a while, and he figured out that my class was running me rather than the other way around.

    I was setting up a lesson plan every night, and dancing for the students to keep them entertained all day, rather than motivating them and getting them to learn and teach each other and accepting my role as facilitator.

    This is probably a lesson that everyone learns in their first year or two, but once I got the hang of it I was pleased to be able to focus my energies more productively. I didn’t actually end up investing less time – but I was less exhausted and I was investing my time more wisely.

    On the topic of books, I can recommend:

    McKeachie’s Teaching Tips. It’s targeted to postsecondary educators but there’s great stuff in there for everyone.

    A Framework for Understanding Poverty by Ruby Payne. Excellent book for anyone working with socioeconomically disadvantaged students.


    March 25, 2012 at 9:03 pm

    • I will definitely check out those books and thanks for suggesting them! While I felt very positive at the beginning of the year, things changed soon after and my days have been downhill since then. This year has been the most challenging year for me.

      Ashley W.

      March 27, 2012 at 9:42 pm

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