The Cult of Pedagogy Podcast, Episode 9

Transcript

Jennifer Gonzalez, host

[Listen to the audio version of this podcast.]

 

Jennifer Gonzalez:   This is Jennifer Gonzalez welcoming you to Episode 9 of the Cult of Pedagogy Podcast. In this episode, I talk to James Sturtevant, author of the book You’ve Gotta Connect: Building Relationships That Lead to Engaged Students, Productive Classrooms, and Higher Achievement. We talk about how important it is to build relationships with your students, what gets in the way of the process for many teachers and some really useful tips for exactly how to do it.

Before we get into the interview, I’d like to ask that if you’ve been listening to the podcast for a few episodes and you’re enjoying it, take a moment to go over to iTunes and give us a rating, or a review, or both. That will really help the show move up in the iTunes rankings and it’ll bring us new listeners who can benefit from the really interesting conversations I am getting to have with people about teaching and learning. Also, if you have questions about teaching, parenting or learning in general, go to cultofpedagogy.com/ask and send me your question. You can send a regular e-mail or do a voice recording, which I prefer. And if the topic is something other listeners would relate to, and I think a lot of things would, I’ll answer it in a future podcast.

Okay, one last thing, here is your teaching tip for this episode: Physically rehearse classroom procedures. If there is something physical in your room that students do, and it’s something that is not going well, it takes a lot of time — for example, the way they turn papers in. Maybe it always ends up getting very messy. Or for me personally, one thing that consumed a lot of time was getting students from sitting in their normal seats to getting arranged into groups for cooperative activities. So I got this tip in general from Harry Wong’s book The First Days of School, but I didn’t really believe fervently in it until I tried it myself. So the tip is have the students physically rehearse these types of procedures and this is how you do it.

I’m going to use the example of getting into groups. I told the students, “We’re going to take the next fifteen minutes of this class period today to practice something. We’re going to decide right now where the tables are going to go, where the the desks are going to go when we go from rows to groups. And so the first time we do it, it’s going to probably take forever because I am going to show you where to move your desk, and where you’re to move your desk. And it’s going to take awhile to get them in place. Then we’ll move them back into rows. We’ll time it and see how long that goes, but once everybody’s clear, then we’re going to do it again.

The first time we did it, it took about three or four minutes to get all of the desks arranged in the right way and to sort of choreograph how that was going to go. Then I said, “Okay, let’s put it back into rows.” This time, we’re going to time ourselves. I think maybe the first time, I didn’t even time them. But after that, I said “I’m going to time you to see how long it takes.” And so the first time I really timed them, it took about maybe a minute, okay, and they all thought that was terrible. They thought it took way too long, and some kids were yelling at each other. And I said “The next time we rehearse this, there can be no yelling, you’re going to have to do it silently. You’ll have to use hand gestures, or whatever.” And the next time they did it, it took maybe twenty five seconds. And then we would also time them on how long it took to get them back into rows. How quickly could they move the desks into the groups, and then how quickly could they get them back into rows. So, anyway, every time we did this, they got more and more motivated, and they got really proud of themselves for how quickly they could do this and how seamlessly they could do it.

And so every time, they said, “We can beat our time, we can beat our time.” This was middle schoolers. We got it down to about twelve seconds. From sitting in rows, to standing up, moving the desks and sitting back into those desk. It was amazing! It was really fun. They were so excited by it. And I realized that you could do this with pretty much anything in class, anything that involves physical movement of things, you can time it. We got to the point where if we had to do something that was group work, I would say to them, “Okay, let’s see how quickly you can do it.”, and we would start the timer. They would do it and there were always little kinks here and there, but it turned something that was kind of mundane and kind of a big time waster into something that was really fun and ended up being really fast. So, keep that in mind, if there’s some sort of logistical issue in your class that you think could be smoother, figure out a way to rehearse that with your students.

So, we’re done with that. Let’s go! Here is my interview with a teacher who is definitely worth your time, James Sturtevant.

[Music Playing]

Gonzalez: Welcome James Sturtevant! James is my guest. He has written a book that was just published this year, and it is called You’ve Gotta Connect: Building Relationships That Lead to Engaged Students, Productive Classrooms, and Higher Achievement. I have read his book and I love it. I think it would make such a good subject for a group study, and really I’m guessing that there probably are books about this somewhere out there, but I don’t know what they are and I haven’t seen them. My take on the book is that it is about how important it is to build relationships with your students and how that really is the basis of pretty much everything else that you do with them. So, I’m going to pass it over to James. First of all, thank you for coming on the podcast.

Sturtevant: Oh, Jennifer, my pleasure, love it.

Gonzalez: I would like if we could just start –if you could give, for the sake of our listeners, what is your overall message with this book.

Sturtevant: Okay, very good. It’s funny, I think that every educator probably wants the same thing for their students. Hopefully they do at least. They want them to do well on standardized tests, succeed at the college level, compete with young people around the world, and find happiness. But here’s what I believe. I believe that all those things are so much more possible, so much more likely if there’s a strong bond between teachers and students and that’s why I wrote this book. You know, I have sat all day in professional development, so I might be totally primed for this question. We focus so much on the manufacturing process of learning, so much on content and pedagogy. And those things are really important, but ultimately this is a people business and we can’t lose sight of that.

Gonzalez: Fantastic, that was really well put. You’re right, there is a lot of attention on the mechanics of this and how to sort of refine the teaching. When you don’t have the relationships, a lot of that doesn’t even matter.

Sturtevant: I want to add one thing to that. I wrote this book, it was published in March. And a local superintendent read the book and he was really enthusiastic about it. So, he calls me up and says, I want you to become familiar with a man called John Hattie, who wrote landmark book called Professional Learning which came out in 2008, [Note: Sturtevant is referring to Hattie’s book, Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement which many of your audience is probably familiar with. The heart of this book is a list of 138 influences on student learning]. Number one on the list was students being allowed to evaluate their own work. In other words, students do really well when you hand them the rubric and say “Go through your assignment and see how you did,” and I’ve seen this at work.

Number 138 is student mobility, kids who move from school to school. I’ve seen that too. Child moves into my class in October and she’s gone in November. That’s devastating for a child’s education. Student-teacher relationships is number eleven out of one hundred and thirty eight. It’s far ahead of a lot of things that we might think are more important. Professional development scores number nineteen, which is high. It’s what I did all day today, but many people would be shocked to learn that student-teacher relationships is in front of that. I think that socioeconomic status of the child is in thirty second place. That’s a long way down the list. So that was a real eye opener to me and it was an affirmation of what I did. It’s kind of one of those things like you have a conversation with someone and you wish you had added something, but you forgot to. I wish I would’ve known about John Hattie’s work before I wrote the book.

Gonzalez: Well, you know, I’m going to be linking people to your book in the show notes for the podcast and I will find that book and I’ll link them to that also, so that everybody can sort of…

Sturtevant: I can give you his website. [Here: Visible Learning]

Gonzalez: Okay, that would be great. I’m sure he would love to be added to this conversation. The thing is, I think it’s good that somebody is finally bringing kind of this out into the open, because I am not sure how much research has actually been done on the importance of these relationships.

Sturtevant: Well, if I could add one more thing to that. It’s kind of interesting. I think it’s becoming more prevalent. I’m from the state of Ohio and Ohio is a kind of typical state; I like to tell people from outside of the state that I live in the most average state in the United States.

Gonzalez: That’s how I think of Ohio too!

Sturtevant: It’s a wonderful place to come if you want to do a focus group. I think I’ve been in four of them. The state of Ohio has determined that this is very important, which I give our state a lot of credit for. We have a program for young teachers called the Resident Educator Program, which I’m sure a lot of states have. But, I have a quote here, let’s see if I can find it. Resident educators have to go through a pretty lengthy process to demonstrate their abilities in the classroom, which is important but one of the areas of focus is — and I’m quoting directly from the Department of Education’s website — “Teachers will be required to show that they build relationships with students by establishing and maintaining rapport, evaluate each student as an individual while avoiding the use of biased stereotypes and generalizations.” I was so impressed with that! So the state of Ohio is saying this is very important, and if Ohio is doing it, I’m guaranteeing you other people are as well.

Gonzalez: Yeah, it’s nice that that’s actually written into the language now.

Sturtevant: Yeah, and they have to prove it. They have to prove that they do it. I’ve worked some with the resident educators and a lot of them do it intuitively, but they don’t realize what they’re doing. A lot of them need some work there.

Gonzalez: Yes. So, that actually leads me right into this next piece. I have underlined so many things in your book that I thought one good way to frame a part of our conversation would be for me to just tell you what some of those were and have you elaborate on some of those points that you made. So the first one that really stood out to me was this one on page 43. It says Identify nostalgic ideas that keep you from accepting students. It was the first time I’d ever seen anybody call teachers out on the nostalgia problem, and name it that. I’d never even thought of it that way, but gosh it’s a huge problem. So, go ahead and talk about that.

Sturtevant: Sure, a big part of my message is that you just have to learn to accept your students and that’s really hard to do, man, because a lot of times people equate acceptance with endorsement, which is really unfortunate. If you accept your kids, you just have a firm grasp on reality, which is always the sane way to go. Doesn’t mean that you have to get something pierced, if you don’t want to. Or wear yoga pants all day long, which I think would be pretty comfortable. But, one of the big barriers is people tend to pine for the good old days. I’m not talking about just old people like me. I was walking out of school one day, I was walking with a colleague who was in her late twenties and she was complaining about student behavior in the parking lot, and I thought to myself “Wait a minute, I had you in class just about ten years ago. Everybody in your class acted the same way.”

So I have something here that’s just wonderful, and I hope I can find it real quick. It’s a quote. Oh, here it is. Jennifer, you’re going to love this: “I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on the frivolous youth of today for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words. When I was a boy, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly wise and impatient of restraint.” I think your audience can probably sense some irony coming. This was Hestia, the poet in Ancient Greece, in 700 B.C.E.

Gonzalez: Oh goodness!

Sturtevant: That’s 200 years before Athens’ golden age. So, if you just recognize that generation gaps are just always there. They can just be this huge barrier between you and your kids and they happen really fast. I’ve heard student teachers complain about the way kids are acting, which is like, well, you aren’t that much older than these folks. And it’s funny, when I do some presenting, when I work with groups, one of the things I do is I have them make a list of everything about the present generation that they find distasteful. Now, I love kids, I love my job, I love connecting with kids. I have no problem compiling that list. It filled up immediately. And then I challenge the audience to go through the list and you need to eliminate everything that you probably don’t have a lot of control over. And what I find is that their list just dwindles down to almost nothing. Often these things that we eliminate are the things that we complain about the most. So, if you can recognize those things like generation gaps that you have no control over, you can eliminate those from your aggravation list and you can do a lot to connect with kids.

Gonzalez: Yeah, I think and there was something else in that section. I didn’t write down the page number, but you were talking about how a lot of people who go into teaching were good students themselves. And so, we didn’t hang out with the academically uninclined. We may not have run in the same circles as them. We may not have had classes with them. So, it could be that a lot of these teachers that have this nostalgia really don’t know know what it was like back then because those weren’t the kids they hung out with and now they have to deal with everybody.

Sturtevant: You’re a good reader. You do well on retention, that’s outstanding. Yes, one of the biggest benefits I had was I was kind of a slacker in high school.

Gonzalez: It helps. It’s a bonus.

Sturtevant: It’s finally paying off! Another thing I do when I present is, the Germans have this work called Weltanschauung, which means worldview. And a typical German word is really long; they just take a bunch of English words and slam them together. And so I ask the audience, you know put up your hand if you graduated from high school with over a 3.0. Almost everyone puts their hand up. Put your hand up if you played a varsity sport. Lots of people put their hand up. Put up your hand if you were in the National Honor’s Society. Remarkably there are a lot of people who put up their hand on all three different occasions. And that, unfortunately can be a real barrier between them and the students who are not motivated, because they just don’t understand their worldview, their Weltanschauung.

Gonzalez: Right, right. So how can a teacher like that–and that describes a lot of teachers–how can they understand these kids?

Sturtevant: You know, that’s a great question. Here’s the way I’m going to answer that. I taught in a class back in the dawn of my teaching career that was nothing like me. I’m a white dude. A lof ot them were African American, mostly poor. They had very little interest in what I was teaching, which was 9th grade Civics, which most people don’t have lots of interest in. You know, I really struggled with them. I struggled connecting with them. Everything I had tried with kids before wasn’t working with them. And I had a Eureka moment. One day, I was just over, I was listening in on the kids talking about their home lives, which were just chaotic. I finally came to the conclusion that it’s a rational action on those kids’ parts to be standoffish toward me because here I am, another adult trying to work my way into their lives. Many of the adults had been pretty irresponsible. From that moment on–and this is a great piece of advice I could give anyone–I just relaxed more. I took each one of the interactions with these kids kind of interesting game in which I was this kind of removed observer. Once you pull your ego out of things like that, the interactions between people becomes this interesting game and fun. And I’m not saying I don’t have an ego. I probably have one that would lay waste to Tokyo. But I’ve learned that it can be a real obstacle in terms of connections. I have to learn that over and over again. But I would say for those teachers like that, if they could recognize that that’s a barrier. Remove their ego and then kind of watch as an objective observer their interesting interactions with kids. They’ll go light years.

Gonzalez: Yeah, that’s wonderful.

Sturtevant: And it’s fun. It’s fun to do that!

Gonzalez: If you can just pull outside the situation a little bit and view the situation as an observer, I do, I believe taking things personally can just wreak havoc on a classroom, especially if a teacher is in that mindspace.

Sturtevant: I don’t want to come off as too zen-like. I have to do this on a daily basis. I have to remind myself of this all the time. I mean, I am not above letting my ego mess things up.

Gonzalez: Right, but see I think that part of it is knowing that’s what’s going on. It can help you snap yourself out of it, maybe a little faster than if you didn’t understand the mechanism behind it.

Sturtevant: True that.

Gonzalez: Okay, so here’s another one. Here’s another quote. This is just a few pages down. This is one of the questions where you’re asking the teacher to do a little self study of their attitudes towards students. I thought that this was such an interesting question. You said How often do you show approval towards a certain student that clearly shows disapproval towards other students?

Sturtevant: Yeah, oh my gosh.

Gonzalez: That dynamic, I don’t know if many people ever have that pointed out to them how damaging that can be.

Sturtevant: Yeah, and again some of writing this book was, I don’t know, therapy. You have to guard against this yourself all the time. I’ll tell you that a lot of the things I’ve learned in connecting with kids were obviously mistakes I’ve made. I want to tell you about a success. This was going along with what you’re just talking about, right now. I actually enjoy working with student teachers. I had a really good one a few years back. He was a kid. Otterbein University, just up the road, small liberal arts college. They send up a guy. He was this really good looking dude, football player. He comes walking in the first day and automatically the girls are like “Woah, this is a massive improvement from Mr. Sturtevant!” So, they were all onboard. I had a lot of athletes in class, and they were drawn to this guy. but there was a handful of kids, not more than five, but you know that’s a significant minority. They were thinking “Oh boy, we’ve got another jock Social Studies teacher. Why do they keep doing this to us?”

So I pulled him aside pretty early on. Actually I think probably the first day. And I said, “You know, I can teach you the content, we can talk about lesson plans, and all that stuff, it’s easy. The hard part is building relationships with those kids that are standoffish.” So, we went to work on that very things that you said. There are all kinds of ways in which you can reach out to those kids, in which you can show approval to those kids. You’re probably going to meet with some resistance, which you might have that resistance for some time. You just have to be patient and keep working at it. Pull your ego out and look at things as an observer. Over time, winning over those kids will be a great accomplishment for you. But more importantly, wonderful for those young people.

Gonzalez: Now was he doing that? Was he doing that complimenting certain kids for certain qualities and then…

Sturtevant: Yeah, I think like as, yes, yes, I think like as a twenty two year old guy coming up here, who’s used to a lot of affirmation. You’re going to be drawn to the people who seem receptive to you. The good news for everyone involved is that Charlie, who teaches right across the hall from me, is a perceptive individual. When I told him this stuff, he thought “Game on man! That sounds like a lot of fun. Let’s see if we can win them over.” He was a lot more mature than I was when I was twenty two years old. I probably would have had my ego screw that situation up.

Gonzalez: One of the other messages in here as, we’re getting a little closer to the end of the book, is you say Embrace the class clown. So talk a little bit about that.

Sturtevant: Sure, you know, I like to think that I was the class clown. Well, I was a class clown. I enjoy class clowns, but they can be very disruptive. They can be, I don’t know. They can just throw you off your game, poison the well,and just undermine everything. There’s a couple of things that you have to do with class clowns. You have to be careful that they aren’t abusive to other students. You have to quell the sarcasm, which is poison in a classroom. You have to do those things, but whenever you reprimand a class clown, or redirect a class clown or discipline a class clown, you have to make it your mission to develop a relationship with that kid. If you can do that, you will be amazed at how their humor becomes less destructive and actually adds to the atmosphere in your classroom. Boy does that take you taking your ego out of it and just chilling out and just being patient and just going with things. You need to be persistent in “Hey, How you doing?” “What’s going on?” “What’d you have for dinner last night?” “What was the last movie you saw?” You need to be building a relationship with that kid and they might not allow that to happen very quickly. They might give you a rough road to go for a long time. But, you’re the adult, come on man.

Gonzalez: Right. Boy, I think about that a lot, you’re the adult. So, it sounds like you’re saying that you develop the relationship with the class clown at times when they are not attempting to distract the class.

Sturtevant: Yes, definitely. I mean, you know, you have to maintain order and there’s times you have to come down on kids. You have to, because teaching is an important job. But, whenever that happens, that’s when the work begins. That’s when the work begins: Okay, I got on to him, or to her. Now I’ve got to pat them on the back some. Now I need to to develop that relationship. You know what, I’ve been through, this is year number thirty for me. I’ve been through a lot of kids and there’s just a handful that I’d say. I mean come on, there are thousands of kids who have come through this door, I’m sure that some of them didn’t care for me. I can think of a lot of students who were standoffish, like Charlie, my student teacher’s situation, that I won over. And you can if you just keep your ego out of it and be persistent. Be a friendly person and things will work out. Just be interested in kids.

Gonzalez: Yeah, that’s really key. I was going to ask you about some of the actual how-to’s in terms of the connection, just being interested in them.

Sturtevant: I’ll give you a great how-to. This is interesting. Teachers are often lectured, “Get to know your students.”

Gonzalez: Yes.

Sturtevant: That’s not easy to do. A lot of them can be really closed down and if you try to get to know them before they’re ready, that can be really counterproductive. So, I propose reverse engineering the problem. I’m going to become familiar to my students, and one of the ways I do that is I tell stories about myself. So, when I say this to people, I immediately get this response: Well, you’re going to take away instructional time. Or, That would be ridiculous, my kids are going to look at me like I’m an idiot. But, you have to understand that in this online generation, they inform their peers constantly about trivial things. They tell everyone who they’re attracted to, what television shows they watch. They post massive photo albums of themselves constantly online.

So if you walk in and put up an image of what you made for dinner last night on your Smart Board, or if you come in and put up an image of your dog getting a toenail trim, or you put up an image of before and after pictures of your last haircut, or where you like to work out, or a great restaurant you went to, you will have students come up to you after that have never spoken to you and say to you “Guess what I had for dinner?” or “Let me show you a picture of my dog.” or “Guess where we went out to eat last night?” All of a sudden, you become approachable, interesting. And then, you can start to learn about them. So, if you’re having a hard time with kids, one thing you can do is just become more approachable. You can tell some stories about yourself.

Now when you do this, you have to be prepared because you might have a student in the front row say “This is stupid. What’s this have to do with Social Studies?” They don’t speak for everybody. There are a lot of kids in the back thinking, “Hey, this is pretty interesting.” So, just because that one kids expresses that negative comment, doesn’t mean that they speak for everyone. And also, you’ve probably just identified the person you need to work on relationship with.

Gonzalez: Right, right. What do you say in that moment though, to that one kid?

Sturtevant: Well and that’s when you just have to be the adult. You have to say “Well, I’m just trying to share a little bit about my life and hopefully I can learn a little bit about you in the process.” That’s just a pretty non-threatening way to diffuse the situation and then you move on. I’ve had that happen to me, but it doesn’t prevent me from doing it in the future. I’ll tell you what when it’s happened, a lot of times that kid is the one up there telling you about their dog.

Gonzalez: Well, because it’s probably making the strongest impression on them. You know that answer surprised me though, when I asked you what you would say to them. I was really expecting that you would say something about humor, because you emphasized humor a lot. It’s interesting that you went with a more sort of sincere approach, which sincerity can be really disarming to a kid who is trying to get a rise out of you.

Sturtevant: There’s a reason for that. That is because that is a classic set-up for a sarcastic statement right there. Boy, I tell you what, if you talk about a vice that a lot of educators have, it’s sarcasm. Like most vices, at the time, it feels really good, but the aftereffects — unsavory, man. Something else you have to understand is–I have witnessed this before, in a colleague’s class–a kid didn’t have their homework signed and the teacher made a flippant, sarcastic remark, which the kid immediately responded in kind. I thought to myself, man, that wasn’t smart at all because number one, you’ve just created this confrontational atmosphere in your class. Number two, you probably reinforced a lot of the insecurities this kid already had about himself. Granted, he gave some cocky, flippant response back, but underneath that, he might be going “Oh my gosh, maybe it’s true, I am stupid or I am irresponsible.” So in your response to that kid saying that about my little story, I’d be very careful not to respond back with humor, in that circumstance.

Gonzalez: Right, see I’m learning even more now than I learned from your book. That’s fantastic. Sarcasm really—it comes up quite a bit in your book.

Sturtevant: Yeah, and I’m not saying I haven’t done it. I’m saying it’s never ended well.

Gonzalez: No, it’s true. It’s tempting and yeah, okay, so I’ve got another question. Because you do, you talk a lot about smiling in the book, a lot about using humor and telling stories. I’m thinking that if anybody has an objection to this book it’s going to be somebody who reads it and says “No way, that’s weak. That shows weakness. The kids are going to run all over you if you’re smiling all the time. That’s not my personality.” So, what would you say to those objections?

Sturtevant: That’s a good question. Let me answer that in a couple pieces here.

Gonzalez: Okay.

Sturtevant: One of the pushbacks I get with this book when you talk about personality is, “Well, Jim, you’re an extroverted guy. You’re one of those back slappers, high fivers, hand shakers, finger pointers. You’re one of those guys.” And I am one of those guys, but there’s a lot of teachers who are introverted, who are incredibly successful at connecting with students. So when people say, well you’re either born with this or you’re not. One of my big mantras is: True, personality is important, but a lot of connecting is what you do, not who you are.

We have a lady in the guidance office. I teach at a place called Big Walnut High School. So, ten years ago this woman came to our school and she’s the opposite of me. She’s an introvert. She’s a quiet person. She’s very calm. And she’s not a very big person. I remember when she first came to our school I thought, “Oh man, I wonder if she’s going to struggle corralling these high school kids.” And she did at first. But, what I witnessed with her over the ten years is that she started to do the right things with kids. She was a very genuine person. She was a very available person. She was a very encouraging person. She was a very thorough person and very serious about her curriculum. What I saw–she just went into the guidance office last year, her name is Jeanne Collett–by the time she went into guidance, she was the most popular person on our staff. I talk about her wherever I go, because she’s the total opposite of me. Connecting with students is not contingent on being a game-show host or a Walmart greeter. You can be a very serious, calm, quiet person and really connect with kids. Boy, that’s important.

Now, as far as getting walked all over, just because–there’s an old saying, “Don’t let them see you smile until Thanksgiving”–remember that? I mean, really? I heard something funny. It said people who don’t smile until Thanksgiving probably don’t smile much after Thanksgiving either.

Gonzalez: No kidding.

Sturtevant: I mean, really. So, when I was in high school back in the 1970’s, they whacked you with boards. I mean, that was barbaric. I’m telling you right now, in my evolution as a teacher, students are not easily intimidated these days. When I first started teaching back in the 1980’s, some of the male teachers acted like bar-room bouncers, and they got away with it. You can’t get away with that anymore. If you come in and try to be a tough guy, and some kid calls you on it, then what? Then you’re kind of stuck. So, I think that as long as you have firm boundaries and expectations, you can be a friendly person and a humorous person. I don’t think that’s an issue at all.

Gonzalez: So, well let’s talk about that, because later on in the book you say—I wrote this down–I have no problem confronting students in these circumstances because such behaviors are totally inappropriate.” In the book you do come across very humorous and very relaxed and very friendly. So, what does that look like when you are confronting a kid for a real problematic behavior?

Sturtevant: That actually looks like “You have to stop that right now, and if you don’t, I have to go get an administrator and if that doesn’t work we have to go get the police.” There’s not a conversation. There are times when a student is being dangerous and that’s just point a or point b, man. You know, we can work on the relationship later. I gotta make sure you’re not going to hurt somebody. I can be a very direct person, and I’ll be honest with you on that. There was a little more directness in my manuscript and my editor toned some of that down some. So, that’s kind of interesting that you brought that up, because there was some. For instance, in the use of the word “warm demander,” do you remember that phrase in the book?

Gonzalez: Yep, absolutely.

Sturtevant: The editor didn’t like the word demander much, which I didn’t really think was an issue.

Gonzalez: The editor made you say that you didn’t like it, though!

Sturtevant: Yeah, I was forced to include that. We had a little disagreement on that, but she’s awesome man. Heck, she pulled my manuscript out of a haystack, who am I to complain?

Gonzalez: That is a good phrase. It’s a real juxtaposition.

Sturtevant: Yeah, it is. You’re right. My wife is one.

Gonzalez: She’s a warm demander?

Sturtevant: Big time.

Gonzalez: That’s a skill, man. You either have an excellent role model who is already doing it, or…

Sturtevant: You know it’s kind of interesting that you say that because when I do go in to present, one of the things that I have the audience do is I have them describe their warm demander from their past. I get a lot of fourth grade teachers. I get a bunch of fourth grade teachers. That must be a real formative time in a kid’s life. I like things like the angel and the devil, you know, on your shoulder. You’ve got your warm angel and your demanding devil, sitting on both shoulders talking to you.

Gonzalez: So remembering that person for the people in these groups, does that sort of help them create a role model in their mind?

Sturtevant: Sure, and then I always challenge them to go contact that person if they’re still alive. It can turn into some really good dialogues, man. But, yeah, I think it puts you in the right mindset. That heck yeah, there are role models in my past that I’d like to emulate. That doesn’t mean you have to become them. I certainly had. I can remember some football coaches that I thought, really inspired me, but were demanding. I had some college professors like that. I think I had a fourth grade teacher like that.

Gonzalez: So, if you had one hope, or sort of like a final message, one thought that you hope everyone comes away from this book with, what would be the one big final message?

Sturtevant: Sure, I’m telling you with the whole accountability craze in education–and there’s some good in that, the whole testing, I don’t know, mania that’s going on?–teaching, like I said before, is a people business. It should also be a lot of fun. When you’re interacting with people that you like, you bond with, you hold each other accountable, you enjoy being around them on a daily basis, that’s what makes life worth living. And this is a wonderful job, and it should be a lot of fun. I saw something that about half of the teachers get out of the profession in about five years, are you familiar with that?

Gonzalez: Oh yeah.

Sturtevant: It’s hard for me to believe that those fifty percent have wonderful relationships with their students. It’s hard for me to believe. I think that if you have great relationships with your kids, you’d be inclined to stay. So, I think that this is darned important. Obviously, I wrote the book. It wasn’t on my bucket list, it just kind of happened. I said, I should write a book on this, so that’s what happened. I wish we would focus more on it in the profession. And not that we shouldn’t focus on pedagogy and content. Listen, I love the title of your podcast, by the way. It needs to be considered as important, how’s that?

Gonzalez: Yeah, I agree.

Sturtevant: Connecting with students needs to be considered as important, because you know you might have fabulous ideas on what to do, but if that relationship isn’t there, you’re not going to succeed.

Gonzalez: And you can ruin all the best ideas by having a bad relationship with your kids, yeah.

Sturtevant: I mean didn’t you have some relationships back in school that you loved, but that maybe weren’t the great teacher? You know you just wanted them to succeed so badly. Well, think about somebody who really has their act together from a curriculum standpoint and can succeeds on top of that, well, that’s just an outstanding combination.

Gonzalez: Absolutely. So, Jim, tell us where can people find you if they’re looking on social media or online?

Sturtevant: Well, my name is problematic for many. So, it’s James Alan Sturtevant. jamesalansturtevant.com or my book’s available on Amazon, on Kindle and all that. I do have a website, which is kind of strange, that has my things on it. But, you know I really enjoy interacting with people. Anybody that sends me an e-mail it’s [email protected] – it’s P as in Penny, that’s my wife’s name and J as in James. [email protected], I’ll get back to you.

Gonzalez: Thank you so much for giving me this time. I know you’re in school, so, I appreciate it so much.

Sturtevant: I’ve got the door locked.

Gonzalez: You’ve got people banging on the door.

Sturtevant: We’ll see how long that lasts. ♦

 

[Listen to the audio version of this podcast.]