Online appointment scheduling is getting wider and wider use in the education space. Universities use it to let students schedule meetings with their professors, advisors, and career counselors, or book alternative test taking times and arrange their course schedule for upcoming semesters. K-12 uses it for parent teacher conferences, meetings with guidance counselors, and volunteer opportunities.
This past week I spoke with a few teachers who called needing some support. The school year’s starting up again soon and they want to make sure everything’s set to go. One commonality between each conversation was how long it takes to get back in the groove after summer. The students coming off summertime highs of staying out late, not having to worry about assignments, and not being cooped up in a classroom for 8 hours.
It’s an unfair battle – these teachers need to get knowledge and the ability to manipulate that knowledge into students’ heads, but they are competing with recent memories of being able to sleep in until noon, watch television marathons, go to the pool, hang with friends, and generally not being told they have to complete an assignment. But I’m here to tell you there’s a hack. It may not work with every student, but I’m confident it will at least herd them to a path:
1. Make Students Future Thinkers
Every year that passes from college graduation is another year added to the chasm that separates “adults” perception of the world from “kids/students” perception of the world. Time moves slowly for students whereas each year somehow passes faster and faster for adults. Students have a reset button that’s pushed every August or September while adults have to ride out mistakes. Students get a recurring promotion each year whereas adults might have to wait 5 before they move up and take on greater responsibility.
I mention this because it’s easy to forget how well drawn out a student’s life is compared to that of an adult (and I’m generalizing here; this is obviously a different story for adult students). A student can see a really clear path of what gets them all the way up until 18 or maybe even 22. An adult doesn’t have a path like that, that millions of other people have also walked on. This forces adults to be forward thinking and planning for the future. Students, on the other hand, are almost always just making it to Friday.
A good practice for teachers would be to remind students that a future is coming where they won’t be sitting in rows of desks, learning theories and trade skills. In the routine of turning in homework for a teacher’s grade and maybe a parent’s reprimanding or praise, depending, can hinder students’ ability to see the bigger picture. A regular reminder of what kind of future they’re preparing themselves for will get students grounded and in turn motivate them to stay focused.
2. Explain What’s Being Taught in Relation to How It Will Benefit Them
I remember in 10th grade when we read Mark Twain for the first time in English. The first sentences from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn were: “Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot. By order of the author.”
At that point we had a rather rousing debate where the students were arguing that we shouldn’t analyze literature because authors just wanted us to enjoy the story. My teacher at the time, however, put it all in perspective.
She told us that many authors don’t start out writing with the morals or themes of their stories already baked up, but in the writing the themes unfold out of them and it’s the interpretation of those themes that adds to greater human understanding. Further, she said, almost anything can be argued about a book, so learning how to argue the sides of a story will give you greater skills in analysis and critical thinking for anything you want to do.
The same thing goes for math. It wasn’t until Mr. Dan’s calculus class that math had actual meaning to me. Where we had to shoot spitballs at the chalkboard and understand their impact based on where collateral spit landed around it. Or we launched rockets and understood where it was going to land based on its trajectory. Math became very real in that class, very applicable. The more you can bring the subject your teaching to an applicable level, the more attention you’re going to get.
3. Use Stories to Hold Attention
This doesn’t need too much explanation as I think everyone knows the power of a story instead of just recitation. But too often, in history class it’s a repetition of facts. In English class it’s a repetition of plot and then recitation of already discovered themes. In math class it’s one equation after another, rarely understanding the whole from its parts.
If you can start each day with a story, one that has an arc and an exciting ending that maybe you won’t get to until the next class, I guarantee you’ll jump the students out of their summertime distractions much faster. And use your hands when you tell a story. Don’t stand still – gesticulate!
4. Treat Students Like the Age They're Acting
Every day is a new day and that means every day the students walk in your classroom is a reset. Whatever trouble one of them may have caused the day before, forget about it. It’s a new day, let that be so.
But, as soon as they talk back or talk over you to someone else or be disrespectful, treat them like the age they’re acting. If it’s a 7th grader who had decided he’s too cool to listen to what you have to say, speak to him as you would speak to a 5 year old that doesn't understand that he’s in school and listening to you is the only thing he has to do right now. Not in an abusive, talk down at you kind of way. But in a high pitch I’m-talking-to-a-kindergartner type of way. No student will want to be spoken to like that in front of his peers but the calm, kind embarrassment will be enough to make him start paying attention.
5. Give the Foot Locker Comparison
Teaching is a job that has to put up with a ton of distractions and interruptions before you start talking about student induced distractions. If you compare students to customers of your classroom, no customer would walk into a Foot Locker and knock the shoes off the shelf or yell at you from across the store. Why should a classroom be any different than a Foot Locker?
Students often forget, though, that teaching is a profession just like working at a store is a profession. Their familiarity with the teacher can make them unafraid to interrupt. Giving a comparison to a similar situation where they would be the customer (ie – in a store) and not dream of being rude or disruptive can help shed light on a new perspective for them.
Online Appointment Scheduling for Office Hours
Finally, put your office hours up online for students to be able to book themselves to come talk to you if need be. They will appreciate you being into technology having them attend office hours can help students still feeling distracted by summer figure out how to concentrate. There’s a lot of other uses for online booking software in schools and with instant notifications and automatic reminders it may really increase your day to day efficiency.