"Give them the gift of words"


Chad Manis Speaks to Educators at www.DailyTeachingTools.com

Categories: ESL Vocabulary, SAT Vocabulary, Vocabulary Resources |

If you think about the teachers who have inspired you in the past, you’ll soon realize that they had at least one thing in common: a love of teaching. People who bring enthusiasm and energy to the job of education will communicate that positive energy to their students, and foster a love of learning. But even the most inspired teachers need some help and reinforcement sometimes, especially with today’s overcrowded classrooms and “teach the test” curricula. At www.DailyTeachingTools.com, educator Chad Manis creates and collects the resources that busy teachers need.

UV: One of the sections of your website is about motivating students, helping them to get focused and work together for both individual and class goals. With all the pressure and time constraints they face, what are some ways that teachers can stay motivated themselves?

CM: I don’t think any educator anywhere would disagree that kids work best when they are properly motivated. And yes, Daily Teaching Tools has an entire section devoted to exactly that. My thinking is so geared to driving student achievement that I’m having to force myself to focus on your question–how do teachers stay motivated themselves?

When it comes to teaching, and I suspect when it comes to doing pretty much anything else, too often praise is the absence of criticism. We know that we’re doing a good job because no one is jumping down our throats every time we turn around.

But, let’s face it. Our students are not the only ones who need positive reinforcement. We teachers do too. And how do we get that positive reinforcement? I would suggest that we start by looking within our own classrooms—you know where I’m going here.

That light of recognition that flashes wondrously in the eye of the kid who finally gets it. Those eager hands thrust exuberantly into the classroom air in hopeful anticipation. The student who stays uninvited after class to ask one final question. Who amongst us can fail to be motivated by epic moments like these?

Self-satisfaction for a job well done, of course, only goes so far. But let’s get real. Monetary compensation for going above and beyond the call of duty is scarce and meager. I think you’ll agree with me that this scenario is not likely to change in the foreseeable future. So what else can we do?

Support each other. Celebrate the fact that we are teachers engaged in a noble endeavor, performing optimally in difficult conditions—persevering and even excelling in spite of it all. Acknowledge the efforts and creativity of our colleagues and rally around each other as well as we can.

If we don’t do it, no one else will. We teachers didn’t pick the wrong profession; everyone else just chose the wrong heroes.

UV: Reading and writing are essential skills that underlie nearly all other aspects of study and learning, and your website devotes a lot of sections to resources that teachers can use in this area. We especially like the one on “context clues” where you provide lessons on learning to figure out a word’s meaning from the sentence and paragraph it’s used in. Do you recommend that teachers and students also spend time on vocabulary development?

CM: The short answer is, unquestionably.

For students, it’s a must, and not just because it’s stressed in the Common Core State Standards. It’s all part of becoming a more sophisticated reader. With a more expansive vocabulary comes a more extensive understanding and a greater capacity for empathy, tolerance, and humanitarianism.

It’s our destiny as people to become all that we can be, and as educators, it is incumbent upon us to facilitate that process. For example, the context clues lessons that you liked offer a practical set of strategies that can be employed for vocabulary acquisition.

However, students must know that life has surprises in store for them. They will find, as we teachers have found, that most new endeavors involve unfamiliar vocabulary. I guess what I’m trying to say is simply this. Life is a process of learning. When we stop learning, we are merely passing time. And time is something that none of us can afford to waste.

UV: One of the best ways to learn more vocabulary is to read more books, and helping kids get a love of reading is one of the best things a teacher can do. You’ve got links to good reading recommendations, but are there also ways that teachers can use classroom time to promote reading skills?

CM: I constantly use a significant portion of classroom time to promote reading. But, like anything else, when it comes to justifying the purpose of an initiative and how it impacts the lives of students, I try to demonstrate why reading is so important and how pervasive it is in our lives. I have found one particular activity, discussed in detail on the motivation page of Daily Teaching Tools, to be effective in doing just that.

I divide the class into small groups of three or four students each. I give each group a portion of the alphabet. Group number one’s task is to brainstorm all of the things that we read that begin with the letters A, B, or C. Group two has D, E, F, and so forth. I have a free graphic organizer that I use for this activity available on the site.

Nothing we read is too small to include on the list of things that we read, I remind students. The manufacturer’s label on the inside of a T-shirt, for example, is something that we, in fact, can read.
Although some people can read palms, there are no actual words in the palms of hands. Tattoos are okay. Some tattoos contain words. You get the idea.

The brainstorming continues until we compile the results at the end of the activity. Then, students see for themselves, as a result of their own observations, just how pervasive reading is in their lives.

Of course, that’s just one activity. Whenever I display text to the class on the classroom projector screen, I make it a point to celebrate the explosive nature of language–how it reverberates with power and beauty simultaneously. That’s really why I became a language arts teacher in the first place. I love the English language and I wallow in its multiplicity and potential.

Kids pick up on that, believe me. If you love reading, they’ll be more inclined to follow your lead. There’s much more I could say regarding this topic, and I cordially invite your readers to come by the site for exploration.

UV: More and more students are using computers to write their essays and papers, and less and less time is spent on developing good handwriting. What’s your opinion on typing vs. longhand skills?

CM: When I was a freshman in high school, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I took a one semester class for beginning typists. We used standard, upright, nonelectric, Remington typewriters with blank keys and long, one-armed, carriage returns.

I didn’t know it at the time, but that one elective class would be the most useful class I ever took in all of my years of schooling. At the dawn of the Age of Information, I was unwittingly prepared to tackle the keyboards undaunted and fearless.

Flashback a little further, if you will, to a young fifth-grader who had just won the class cursive handwriting prize from his favorite teacher. I was so proud. My parents were delighted. Given these two circumstances, you can imagine my ambivalence regarding this question.

To tell you the truth, I don’t even know whether cursive handwriting is still being taught in the schools. Regardless of that, I do know that students will have to fill out job applications, credit card applications, and a plethora of other stuff that doesn’t leap immediately to mind.

Even before we evolve from Google Glass to Google Cerebellum, banks, lawyers, car dealerships, and pretty much anybody else that will demand a signature, will take anything that they can get.

No. Longhand cursive writing skills belong to another age altogether. I’m not celebrating its demise; I’m simply suggesting that we get over it and move on to something that is more worthy of our attention and focus—reading leaps to mind.

UV: You mention that you’re hoping to get back into active teaching to continue to share your love of learning with more students. Will you still continue to expand and update the website even after you return to the classroom?

CM: In all truthfulness, as corny as it might sound, I dearly love teaching. I miss making crucial connections with kids, touching their lives, and being a part of what they are to become. For those reasons and more, I am actively pursuing ways to get back into teaching—not on a full time basis, however. I’ve spent 33 years in the classroom, and as they say, been there, done that.

I’ve also said on many occasions that the longer a person is out of the classroom, the less connected they become with the real everyday struggles and challenges that make the classroom unlike any other experience in life. I want to reestablish that connection.

I would be delighted to serve in a limited capacity of one type or another–perhaps as a part-time tutor, teacher’s assistant, or maybe even a substitute teacher. Except for the latter, as you can imagine, opportunities are extremely limited for positions such as those. Still, I keep my eye open.

In with this mix, of course, is Daily Teaching Tools, as you correctly noted. For just a little over three years now, I’ve been working on this site every day of every week 7 to 9 hours a day–sometimes more. I have no intention, regardless of my circumstances, of abandoning ship. I’m in this for the long haul.

Fortunately, I have been blessed with good health, and I’m robust and actively committed to making Tools one of the best teachers’ resource sites available anywhere. As long as I have anything to do with it, this site will continue to flourish and grow–thanks to all of you who may have stumbled upon it and those of you who may come by to visit, for allowing me to become a small part of your professional lives.

Best wishes always to you and your kids.