Every Freshman Needs To Hear This

If the quality of a credential program were determined by the sheer volume of paperwork and busywork, mine would be tops.

Before we’re allowed to enter the on-campus teaching job fairs, we’re required to provide for inspection our resume and paperwork, but also to author a philosophy statement about teaching. It should address a number of topics, none of which I care to list.

They usually turn out pretty sappy. I’m not going that route. I’m taking my philosophy statement from the introduction of my generic syllabus — the administration should be able to figure out what they need to know by reading it. I have a great lede.

This is by no means an easy class. Welcome to high school.

You will do a lot of work. Eventually, you will do a lot of quality work, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The importance of this work is not simply learning the subject. To be sure, you will correctly place Qatar on a map and you will rank the top five economies of the world by gross domestic product, but this class means more to you than such simple knowledge.

You will set goals. You will pace yourself. You will want to succeed. You will be well on the way to having an independent, self-sustaining work ethic. Whether you retire at 32 or work as a janitor until your dying breath, and whatever you forget about the Ural mountains or Pakistani-Indian relations, this work ethic will stick with you and you will be respected for it. That’s the basic importance of school, and that’s the importance of this class.

You learn how to write by practice. You learn how to read by practice. You understand the interlocking role of different cultures within and between countries by practice. Expect to practice. If you give up, if you drop out of this class because you don’t want to sweat a little or put forth the big E for effort, you sell yourself short. Do it, and your parents will find out what I think about your future career as a fry cook. Accept the challenge — this is by no means an easy class — and you will be well-rewarded.

Everyone in this room could graduate from Fresno State, Harvard or — God forbid — USC by 2016. If you think you lack the smarts to get there, you underestimate the power of a great work ethic. I don’t know how many of my high school friends were offered a Stanford or UC Davis scholarship because they had the work ethic to earn a weighted 3.8 grade-point average. There were a lot.

I’ll help when you ask. I won’t do your work, but I can explain ideas and concepts, advise on courses and teachers. By simply asking, I can and will act as a mentor with you, though the rest of your education career and at least until you graduate college.

That’s eight years from now. Let’s get started.

Moral of the story? Given reasonably high expectations, students will approach them. Given a regular routine and strict deadlines, students can be given free time and will end up working with little goading.


  1. How’s this working for you?

  2. I haven’t tested it yet. In theory, it will help me establish effective classroom management in the first few weeks.

    The problem with student teaching is that you’re essentially forced to follow your master teacher’s lead on classroom management and routines. The toughest part of teaching — or so I’ve heard — is establishing control over your class in the first few weeks. Student teachers don’t get to experiment with this, although that can’t really be avoided.

    Parts of this approach are directly taken from my master teachers’ ways of doing things, and other parts are improvised.

    I think there’s enough positive encouragement outlined in that philosophy, though veiled in toughness. Nearly everything past the first sentence is a repetition of the “you can do it” mantra.

    I use tough love in my classroom all the time, and students respond to it. I find the trick is to smile at the same time.

  3. I thought the importance of school was to increase student knowledge and understanding?

  4. Consider the audience.

    Knowledge and understanding is a bit too froo-froo for high school freshmen. They’re out for big money, if they can get it. Therefore, I drew from the oldest cliches about modern business leadership — work ethic and organization super omnia.

    Student knowledge and understanding — in a hypothetical geography course — is covered in the Qatar bit, anyway. Freshmen, by now, are tired of that approach.

    They’re more interested in the money.

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