When My Kids Cry out, “Yo, Mister! Connect the dots!” I Know I’m Doing My Job

(Glenn Mason is a former CPA who spent over 25 years in a variety of roles in corporate America. He is presently a New York City public high school teacher. This is in his twelfth academic year in his newfound career and his second guest post with New York School Talk. Glenn’s first post is here.)

“Boy, you better stop that crying before I give you something to cry about!”

That was my father’s motivational catchphrase. A very effective one at that. It motivated my youthful behavior, and I mean quickly! But it stung me to my core. I made a vow as a little boy that when I had a kid I would never say those words, or anything like them, to get what I wanted from my child. I don’t remember ever having or using catchphrases as a parent. My daughter may disagree with this, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Now as a teacher, it’s an entirely different tale. Before we know it, teachers have catchphrases that we use to motivate our students in the proper direction. Whether it is to influence their behaviors in school or to inspire them academically, we come up with catchwords and expressions that we use repeatedly.

I work with a technology teacher who has a signature tag that she uses to maintain order in her classroom. I’ve heard it dozens of times, but never was its nature more clear to me than the day I had a visiting artist in my classroom guiding a roleplaying exercise with my students. The kids had to essentially pretend to be an adult in the building and the other students had to ask questions to narrow down who they were.

One young lady enters into the classroom as the adult she’d chosen. She stops at the front of the classroom, pauses and tilts her head to the side, places her left hand on her hip and says without yelling,

“I’ll wait.”

“Ms. Long!” the class erupts.

“I’ll wait,” she repeats

Respectful silence ensues.

Ms. Long uses this phrase to maintain order in her classroom. She especially uses it at the beginning of the period when the rambunctiousness of  the changing of classes takes place.

Ms. Madison uses a similar axiom – “It’s my time.” Ms. Cunningham uses, “Get on task.”

As for me, I find I’m much closer to my father’s stridency in eliciting order within my classroom,

“What part of no talking do you not understand?”

I guess the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree after all.

I’ve also been known to channel a nun’s motivational catchphrase in the hallway. Once in a while when I see a couple who should be walking expeditiously to class locked in too close of an embrace in the hall, I’ll waive my arm between them and say,

“Leave room for The Holy Ghost.”

But more importantly I’ve developed catchphrases to motivate my students to perform academically. You want to stimulate learning. I want them to be the best that they each can be. Yet I find that today’s young people have a hard time seeing the pattern and correlation of things. Whether it is history, science, mathematics or whatever subject, they quite often don’t see how things connect together. Or, rather, they choose not to see the connection within and between facts and ideas. I place part of the blame for this on the smartphone. I’ve been told more than once by a student,

“Why do I have to remember that? I can just look it up.”

My response to this is that one day you will have a job. Your boss, or a client, or a customer is going to ask you something and your response cannot be to pull out your cellphone. Being lackadaisical is unacceptable in the real world. You must decide to do two things, I tell them:

“Choose to think!” and “Connect the dots!”

One year in particular I used these phrases relentlessly throughout the school year. That June I came to hear something interesting through the grapevine about the Regents Examination in U.S. History and Government. Students were chatting on their Facebook forum that I was in their heads throughout the examination. They would read a question and hear a voice telling them to “connect the dots!” At essay time they heard “choose to think!” Days later when their scores were released I took great pride in that our school’s overall pass rate that examination was not only off the chart, but individual grades were likewise through the roof.

But I don’t stop there. I’ve also chosen a line from Judge Judy that I use from time to time on a particulate type of student. In my school girls outnumber boys four or five to one. As a result some young ladies spend too much energy on their appearance. Now, there is nothing wrong with wanting to look fine. But that should be a secondary measure of who you are in my book. So, when I encounter a young lady whose academic energies come in second place to her efforts at attractiveness I tell her,

“Beauty fades, dumb is forever”.

I want to motivate them to reorder their priorities – books first, looks second. I have one young lady who is currently a senior who once fell into this category. She is now a gifted writer. Yet once in a while she will begin to fall back into the old approach. At least to me she might appear to do so. But the moment I begin to try and use that catchphrase towards her will let me know,

“No, Mister, don’t say it, that’s not me anymore!”

Then again, there was the time I recently showed my Latin & Caribbean Studies class the motion picture The Motorcycle Diaries. I told them about how when I saw this movie for the first time at a free screening I didn’t realize until the end of the film that the Ernesto in the story was the Ernesto “Che” Guevara. Even though the protagonist was a young man from Buenos Aires in the 1950’s, studying to become a doctor, and had asthma, I didn’t piece it all together.

No sooner where the words out of my mouth when the class cried out,

Yo, Mister! Connect the dots!”

Did I mention to be prepared to reap what you may sow?

What do you think?

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