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Star-Worthy Teaching
Posted 03/01/2018 11:44AM

Middle School English teacher Mike Roberts authors new book on stellar classroom-management techniques

Distance-yelling homework assignments down the hall as the bell rings. Synchronized laminating. Lost-and-found challenge (match the item to the student). These are the #TeacherOlympics. Or at least, they're veteran eighth-grade English teacher Mike Roberts' hilarious contributions to a Twitter hashtag trending among educators during the PyeongChang Winter Olympics. A peek into Mr. Robs' classroom—or his Twitter feed—proves his uncanny ability to seamlessly weave pop culture into a lesson. And that's just one way this award-winning teacher bonds with his students. Mr. Robs' new book, Hacking Classroom Management: 10 Ideas to Help You Become the Type of Teacher They Make Movies About, is a fast, fun read with practical tips on running a classroom. We at Fine Print interviewed Mr. Robs to learn more about the book and what inspired him to write it.

So, why did you write this book?

I started teaching some college classes to early-career teachers a few years back, and every week, it seemed like they were most interested in figuring out how to engage students in a way that is both active and productive. So after a while, I started sharing some of the methods that I've used over the years as the starter activity for the class. And after hearing the other teachers talk about how successfully these ideas worked within their classes, I thought it might be worth throwing them all together for a larger audience.

How did you get connected with the Hack Learning Series?

I was actually looking for a new textbook to use in the college class I teach on classroom management, and I stumbled across the Hack Learning Series. When I saw that they didn't have a book on classroom management in the series, I contacted them with my idea. A few emails and sample chapters later, we created a timeline for the book, and away we went.

Why was it a good venue for you?

All the books in the Hack Learning Series follow a similar format, and I found that their structure really worked with my way of thinking. Each chapter proposes a problem, offers solutions to that issue, discusses any kickback from the potential solutions, and then shows the concept in action. It's all very logical and orderly...two things that fit with my style of teaching.

Tell me about the movies referenced at the end of each hack. Where did that idea come from?

I've done a presentation based off of movie teachers for years, so it was an easy tie-in.

Are you a movie buff or do you just pay particular attention to movies about teachers?

I love going to the movies! My fiancé and I try to go every couple weeks or so.

Tell me about why and how you weave pop culture into your lessons.

Students love pop culture, and if a teacher is able to weave it into the lesson plan, it creates some easy buy-in from the class. I'm a believer in having the teacher adapt to the strengths and likes of the students (rather than the other way around), and pop culture is a simple yet effective way to make this happen.

There are plenty of teaching books out there. What sets yours apart?

When I was in college, I learned a great deal about the theory behind why students act like they do, but I received very little "real world" advice that could be easily implemented into my teaching. So when I set out to write this book, I intentionally left out all elements of theory and focused only on practical strategies that would work across grade levels and subject matter.

What's your elevator pitch for it?

My elevator pitch is that classroom management isn't about doing that one big's about doing those 100 little things!

You give a lot of great examples and suggestions in the book. Can you give me an example of when you tried something—either a more traditional classroom-management technique, or something original you cooked up—and it failed spectacularly? What did you learn from it?

The biggest thing I regret about my first few years of teaching is with regard to how much lecturing I did. When I was growing up, that was how it was done, so when I started teaching, I fell into that same trap. But as I started seeing students disengage from the learning, I began to realize that I needed to break away from the centuries-old "teacher-centered" method of education. So as I began to experiment, I soon realized that the more I empowered my students in the learning process, the better the classroom experience was for both the students and me. It blows my mind that, even after all these years and the recent research, so many teachers still use lecture as their primary method of teaching.

In the book, you suggest getting involved in students' extracurriculars. You're a volleyball and basketball coach here. How has coaching enhanced your experience as an educator?

Coaching gives me the chance to form a relationship with my players a year or two before they ever become my students. I get to learn about their personalities, their strengths and weaknesses, and just their overall view of things. And they get to learn the same about me! So by the time they walk into old room 202, we both already have a sense of what to expect from one another.

Summarize your teaching philosophy in one sentence.

I try to push students to learn more about others, themselves, and the world in a way that is both fun and engaging.

You've had an accomplished career. What's been your proudest moment so far?

I know it's silly, but it always makes me proud when a student writes me a really heartfelt note at the end of the year saying how much they enjoyed my class. I always try to create lessons that will be meaningful for students, and it makes me feel good to know that I hit the target every now and then.

Why did you get into teaching, and specifically teaching eighth-grade English?

I really stumbled into Rowland Hall by accident. It was the summer of 1999, and I was scheduled to graduate in December. To get a sense of the job market, I used to check the classifieds in the paper every Sunday morning (anyone remember doing that?). One day, I saw that some school that I had never heard of (Rowland Hall) was looking for an eighth-grade English teacher to start in January. Now to be clear, at this point I hadn't even done my student-teaching yet, but I thought I'd apply simply to see what it was like to interview. I figured any practice I could get would help me once I "really" started looking. So without knowing what to expect, I threw together a teaching portfolio and mailed it in.

A week or so later, I received a call asking me to come interview. Still new to this whole interview concept, I really had no idea what to expect, so I walked in the door and just decided to be myself. I really enjoyed the interview, and as I sat there, I got excited about the thought of working at Rowland Hall. And by the time I left an hour later, I knew that I really wanted the job.

Long story short...I got the callback, presented a sample lesson, and a week or so later, I signed the contract. Nineteen years later, and here we are.

How did you know this is what you wanted to do?

When I decided to be a teacher, I was 100% convinced that I wanted to teach high school. But after presenting that sample lesson during my interview, I just knew that those eighth graders were "my people." There is just something super-awesome about the energy and excitement that eighth graders bring to the classroom. They get me fired up for teaching, and this helps me get them fired up about learning. It's just a really great fit for me.

Run any good races lately?

It's the off season right now, so I'm just doing some easy maintenance runs. My first run of the spring will be a slow 50-miler in March. :)

Did the book cut into your running time at all?

Not at all. I'm a big believer in making time for things that are important, and both the book and running were important to me.

English teacher Mike Roberts does a fun activity with his eighth graders.

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