Stephen Sroka

Tips from the Trenches: Teaching

During the last few months, I have had the chance to talk with several speakers who strongly affected their audiences. I started to think about the remarkable leaders with whom I have worked over the years and how they have made huge differences with their incredible wisdom, insight, and actions. I contacted some of them and asked them to comment on working in education in these difficult times. I asked them to share some take-away messages, so that, if they were speaking, what would they want their audience to remember? Read the other installments in the series: school safety, student services, and administration.

The bottom line in education takes place when the teacher shuts the door with the classroom full of students. Some say that teaching is a science and some say it is an art. Many educators know that students do not care what you teach, if you do not teach that you care. Here are some "Tips from the Trenches" from those who are or have been in the classroom.

Marvin Marshall, educator, writer, lecturer, and author of Discipline Without Stress:

  • "The key to effective classroom management is teaching and practicing procedures. This is the teacher's responsibility. Discipline, on the other hand, has to do with behavior and is the student's responsibility."
  • "Teachers practice changing negatives into positives. 'No running' becomes 'We walk in the hallways.' 'Stop talking' becomes 'This is quiet time.'"
  • "Choice-response thinking is taught—as well as impulse control—so students are not victims of their own impulses."
  • "Since a person can only control another person temporarily and because no one can actually change another person, asking reflective questions is the most effective approach to actuate change in others."

Ric Loya, coordinator of the Condom Availability Program for the Los Angeles (Calif.) Unified School District, health education department chairperson at Huntington Park High School, former mayor of the City of Huntington Park, founder and vice president of legislative affairs of the California Association of School Health Educators, and legendary health educator:

  • "So much of the nation's ills could so easily and effectively be dealt with by providing a quality school health education semester-long course taught by qualified teachers."
  • "[In a quality school health course,] we could deal with violence issues, mental emotional health issues, suicide, substance abuse, major chronic and communicable disease, and so many other life issues."
  • "The fiscal savings would be enormous since health education has proven to be very cost effective."

Sharon McFadden, founder of The Jacob foundation; mother of Jacob Ryan McFadden Schmidt, who died at the age of 27 from H1N1; and high school teacher in Honolulu, Hawaii:

  • "As human beings, we need to realize that we might be the last thread of hope for the person in front of us. I personally embrace life by kicking fear in the teeth. I embrace my life everyday with the mentality that I am on a mission. I don't always know exactly what it is, but when the door opens, I see that opportunity and embrace it. Never forgetting, but for the grace of God, there go I."
  • "My mission is to have a compassionate heart and to share that with others."

Marianne Dennstedt Sroka, special-education teacher for the Cleveland (Ohio) Metropolitan School District:

  • "Respect. Always treat students as you would like your own children to be treated by a teacher. And speak to parents as you would like to be spoken to. People don't always remember what you tell them, but they do remember how you treated them."
  • "Listen. It can be difficult to find the time to listen to each of our students, but I believe it is one of the most important things we can do for them. Allowing them to voice their fears or hopes is sometimes the only way for them to deal with life stresses. A child should know you care enough to listen."

Franklin Schargel, author, consultant, motivational speaker, dropout prevention expert, and author of Dropout Prevention Fieldbook: Best Practices from the Field:

  • "All children can learn—they learn at different speeds and in different ways. For many of them, we do not know the 'switches' that turn them on, so we accuse them of being at-risk. Traditional teaching and learning techniques do not work with these nontraditional learners. If we are to succeed with them, we need to learn and use nontraditional teaching and learning techniques."
  • "We believe education is expensive. It is not. Ignorance is expensive. Eighty percent of all prisoners are school dropouts. We either pay for education upfront or the lack of education downstream. And prison now costs about $40,000 a year. No school district spends that much."

Sean Slade, director of whole child programs at ASCD:

  • "ASCD believes a whole child approach to education is the best way to prepare today's generation for college, a career, and citizenship."
  • "It is an approach that does not see youth as empty vessels to be filled with narrowly defined content knowledge, but as individuals who each have great potential to grow and develop socially, emotionally, physically, mentally, and civically as well as cognitively."
  • "Key to this is an understanding that relationships (teacher-student; student-student, etc.) and connectedness to one's school, education, and community—which aid the development of a positive school/class climate and a sense of belonging—are fundamental."

And, finally, a few of my own thoughts:

  • "Education is like a four-legged chair, where one leg is the student, one the parent, one the school, and the other the community. If you take one leg away, the chair falls. Schools cannot do it alone."
  • "There is no magical solution. There is no program that works with all students. If students don't learn the way we teach, we must change the way we teach."
  • "Relationships and social-emotional learning are keys to academic achievement."
  • "Educating the head without educating the heart is no education at all."
  • "Safe and healthy students learn more and live better. We may need more metal detectors, but we must have more mental detectors. We need to focus on mental health services to help prevent violence in and out of schools. We need more school counselors, nurses, social workers, psychologists, and resource officers or we will leave more children behind in school and life."
  • "I believe that the efforts of one person can make this a better world. This is why I teach."

© 2013 Stephen R. Sroka, PhD, Lakewood, Ohio. Used with permission.

Stephen Sroka, PhD, is an adjunct assistant professor at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio, and president of Health Education Consultants. He has worked in schools for more than 30 years. Connect with Sroka on his website or by e-mail at

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