2 School 4 Cool: Making Intelligence the Popular Culture (Teacher’s Guide)

By - Nigel Walker On May 05, 2014

2 School 4 Cool: Making Intelligence the Popular Culture (Teacher’s Guide)

As a solution to what is now the growing topic of discussion, Georgia’s State School Report Card, I do hereby publically request that we begin a new initiative for education called “2 School 4 Cool.” Just as simple as the play on words to the common phrase, “Too Cool for School,” it is a statement that exemplifies the idea that what is needed in our society is a complete reversal in popular thought and the priority of education. Due to the fortune of the popular culture, prior experiences of past generations, and a seemingly natural development of millennial apathy, education has become the enemy.

To say that education has become less of a priority seems cliché due to its exhaustive expression; but the fact has remained so, and no definitive solution has silenced the thought. One problem is similar to the predicament of stereotypes; when one falls into the preconceived pattern of behavior, it perpetuates the stigma for the entire population. That reigns true in the education profession as well. Most of the complaints of a less prioritized field are addressed by those who work in field. However, when the news plasters test cheating scandals, inappropriate relationships, or mishandled conflicts in education over the media outlets, it casts a shadow over the entire profession and creates a false sense of justification to lack of trust in the education system. From there, generations ahead of the current begin to lower the importance. Viewing the discussions on Georgia's recent report card, I have yet to see anyone dig deeper into the background of the students to see if they are even motivated to succeed from home, or if education is even on the radar.

Coming from the at-risk population as a student, I see the point; so as a teacher, I want to be a change agent in getting the trust back into the community that education is the "great equalizer," which gives everyone options for the future no matter race, gender, socioeconomic status, or any other marginalizing subgroup. In fact, it is the purpose that I became a teacher and a speaker. I was first the believer and the over-comer. Not to bore anyone with details, I will say that I went from being in a single-parent family of eight kids in public housing projects to a published poet, author, teacher, and speaker. I owe the credit to the instilment of being educated from my mother. Now as an educator, I stand to be a role model that not only is intelligence important for having a choice for future endeavors, but I also seek to show kids that it can be cool to be smart. I aim at putting intelligence back into the popular culture.

This journey has been very methodical; and although I am still actively on this odyssey, I share the method to my madness in hopes that others will get on board and help transform the face of education. As an educator that is on the "front lines" of direct everyday interaction with the students, I feel that it is my duty to be that change agent. Media is to entertain or inform, parents and family are to nurture, community is to support, and school is to develop. Part of the development is actually developing the passion, motivation, and drive to excel. I know I am playing the devil's advocate by placing such responsibility on the teacher when the common sentiment is that if there is no support or motivation from home, the student will absolutely not comply. The advice that I offer is that we can only change what we can control, and if we do everything in our power to invoke change, there is usually no fault that can be placed for those that feel that we "did not reach."

In my experience, I have earned the respect from so many of my students that even though teaching can be a great challenge, and I feel that I have so many other talents that could take me in so many other directions, I continue to educate. I truly care and hope to inspire others planning to go into the teaching profession to just care for what you do and the rest will fall into to place. However, not to leave with the overly optimistic, but empty declaration of good hopes, I have compiled a list of seven strategies that exists as part of my professional attributes that has helped gain the respect of the students and helped students value their own education a little more. The following is the list strategies for educators to motivate your students to become 2 School 4 Cool:

  1. Take a personal interest in your students. Find out what they like and what they like to do outside of the classroom. What are their extracurricular activities? How do you relate to their interests? Sometimes the best conversation you will have with a student will be one that is not on subject, but it give you experience on holding conversations with them, period.
  1. Be human. Let them see that you can make mistakes. More importantly, let them see how you resolve mistakes. One of the greatest walls put up between teacher and student is the authoritarian method—the “I say, you do” method or the “I’m right, you’re wrong” method. That makes you the enemy. However, it is not to say the alternative is trying to be their friend either. It looks more like a mentor method—one who has their best interest in heart, guiding them through structure and expectation; not a salesman or dictator.
  1. Be respectful. This is a hard one. In today's society, there are not many who use or believe in the use of yes or no, sir, please or thank you. Such is even rarer from an irate student. However, I try to remember that even in the heated moments of reprimand or request, I will use respectful language. I also remind them that before they respond, I used respectful language and deserve the same.
  1. Share your story. Most people have a reason for choosing education that resonates with students. Mine just so happens to be similar to a rags-to-riches type story that gives me leverage to relate so similar students.  Also, I use the fact that write poetry and hip hop songs and share my hobbies and interests with the students. I have also been able to use those interests as teaching strategies. You can image that a good number of students look up to me as being a "cool" teacher, so I make sure that add how being serious about education made my successes possible.
  1. Be upfront and honest.  I do not tell my students untruthful statements. I do not volunteer unnecessary information either, but when I say things, I make sure that they are not things that the students cannot call me on later. It may not matter much to the adult, but it matters more than you think to a student. It also keeps them honest. I tell them how discipline is going to work. I even tell them the mannerisms that made them get caught. Many do not agree with that method because they think the students will adapt, but in my experience I have had more students respect me for being upfront. I can also see them turning their opportunities to be sneaky into opportunities to self-correct.
  1. Be a cheerleader. Believe in your students. Tell them that you believe. Sometimes you have to turn around and cheer them on right after you have reprimanded. It shows that consequences are not personal, but learning opportunities. Root for them in class and even outside of class. It reinforces the personal relationship.
  1. Be consistent. If you are going to use the strategies, make sure it is genuine and consistent. Stick to your expectations and be fair. Make any strategies you use part of who you are. Use your gifts and talents. I use poetry and music because it comes natural for me. If you put on an act, the students will figure you out. Part of a student's purpose in life is to be entertained, but you putting on an act to get them to comply do not amuse them. Even more, when they feel that you are not genuine, it feels like a trick to them. That also makes you the enemy.

The teaching profession is a complex profession like all others. There is no quick fix or “Dummies” guide. However, start with your own personal qualities and you will see change exude from within. It is going to take the spread of such effort to restore education as a priority. We talk about international or state rankings, but they seem to reflect the priority rankings by the country—the whole country, not just the professionals in the field and people in office. We all must stand on a united front and let students know that it is okay to be 2 School 4 Cool.

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