Five for the Weekend

The comments of my last post have turned into something of a boy’s club, with Stephen and Todd tossing out some anecdotal material that did me right, especially here at the end of an eighteen-hour teach-and-plan-a-thon. Obliged, fellas.

Rick Schreiber Scheibner had something useful:

At almost 40, I’ve lost some of that generational link with my kids, but it’s been replaced by the wisdom I’ve gained in being able to connect with them in other ways, too. It’s definitely a trade-off, but one that inevitably happens.

I can’t help but want to have it both ways. Is it possible to stave off that inevitability?

There’s no way it’d be easy — teaching at age 40, coaxing a comfortable, peer relationship out of a culture that, in a lot of ways, defines itself in opposition to us. That relationship has been a boon to my instruction this year, though, so I have to at least ask: has anyone who’s been in the game that long seen any success here? Is it even worth pursuing?

As a reactive step towards this end, I keep Urban Dictionary on retainer and toss in my class’ befuddling slang. Keeping up with the shifting vernacular (I swear “cold” made the leap from pejorative to complimentary in less than a year) diminishes that gap somewhat, but it’s only an ex post facto attempt to keep up.

Five for the Weekend is my most proactive attempt to “get down” with the culture I serve. (Please take the scare quotes ironically, please please please.)

An irregular feature in my classroom, I’ll solicit five singles from each class, listen to them over the weekend, and then bring back a) a discrete scoring

1 = listened to it more than once

0 = listened to it once but never again

-1 = couldn’t finish the track;

and b) a brief but formal critique of the selection.Since I can’t leave math alone, I also keep the records running.

The higher your ranking, the more inclined I’ll be to select your hand out of the dozen-or-so waving around. It’s been great to find out my kids aren’t just into the usual thug-aggrandizing garbage.

They dig the feature. Harshing some of their tastes only makes them more rabid to recommend. It’s minimal investment on their end and their ROI is a teacher who’s taking them and their tastes seriously. Five for the Weekend has helped me get down, which has played a part, I’m positive, in keeping motivation high and class management easy.

My portfolio is diverse but I’ve got heavy holdings in the youth market. Is this investment strategy sustainable over a career?

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. I hope you don’t mind a lady weighing in before the boys. I love the idea! Did you try 5 for 1? You take 5 and give them one of your own? You can see how you fair with the kids.

    As for your questions, I lack personal experience, but would conjecture that how much you succeed will largely depend on your personality.

  2. e,

    Some weeks I’ll tell ’em it’s off because I’ve got, like, five new great albums to get through. Never once do any of them ask which ones. Never once do I get offended. It’s just how it is. The world is so immediately about you when you’re in high school.

  3. Thanks for the mention, Dan. Just for the record, I didn’t try to imply that something mystical happens at 40. However, I have noticed that gap getting wider for me the last few years. Maybe that’s why I’m heading into administration.

    I know some teachers who are out of touch at 25. I know some who connect really well into their 50’s. It’s just a matter of who you are, I guess.

    Oh, and it’s spelled S-C-H, no “R”, E-I-B, N-E-R. But you did get the link spelled right, so that’s the most important thing. :-)

  4. Chris says, “Kids care more about whether or not you listen to them.”

    Rick says, “It’s just a matter of who you are, I guess.”

    Neither response is all that analytical, probably owing to the fact that you guys have figured these things out, incorporated what you could into your practice, and then counted the rest off as collateral.

    I’m interested in how to listen to them and what do you do with what they tell you. I don’t cotton much to the idea that “who [we] are” in this world is immutable. I’m pretty impatient, but for the sake of my job, I’ve worked at it. I’m just trying to figure out what else to work at.

  5. Dan,
    I think your 5 for the weekend is a great idea. it is one of those ways to build a relationship with your students.

    The teachers that I have seen in my short (13 year) career that work the best are the ones that can build a relationship with their students. The kids aren’t necessarily looking for a friend just someone who cares about what they are doing (outside of homework). You don’t have to be living their culture just know some of the in’s and out’s. To this end it is imperative that you keep up on whats going on in the teenage world. Doing the music thing is great. I surf the internet to keep abreast. And at 36 it is getting harder.

    However, in administration, I have noticed that when I am on lunch duty or I see a kid between classes it helps to start a conversation if I know what kind of clothes are cool, what brand they are wearing, or what that logo on their hat means or as you are trying, what the latest and greatest song is. If I don’t know then I ask. 9/10 kids are obliged to reply and thus a conversation starter.
    Unfortunatley Rick I would have to say that it may be more important to know what’s going on with the students culture when you move into administration since you don’t get one or two hours a day to build that relationship. Therefore you need to do your own “research” on what is cool :)

    Just being brave enough to talk to them is the easiest way to be engaged in what they are doing. Since I am at a junior high it may be easier because most of them are still smaller than me. I don’t know about high school.

    I do know that I am going to check out that music thing. It sounds very interesting.

  6. Brian: Point taken. It’s something I kind of do instinctively after being almost 18 years working with kids and schools. Whatever “coolness” is, I still have kids of all walks of life wanting to hang out in my room at break time.

    Dan: Listening breeds trust. The more you listen, the more they trust. It’s as simple as that. Some kids trust quicker than others, and maybe some never get to a point that you would like to see them at, but you are building it along the way. My guess is that that is happening in a big way in your classroom.

  7. Dan,

    I know it has been a over a year, but….
    I am a mid 30’s just starting to teach. This whole relationship with students thing is not about control or being their friend. It is all about treating them as people who have important things to say. Listen to them, they listen to you. It is about (not to sound trite) the golden rule.

    Also, I agree with Rick. My husband of 40 still has great rapport with his students and will always have that. He is easy going, but tough when he needs to be. And, there will always be those that you just might never win over, but, I am confident that you will never be one to let them fail because of that. After all, doesn’t that just encourage us to work harder?

    BTW, really enjoy all the comments, they help me continue to feel alive as a teacher.

  8. Thanks for your perspective, Elena. These comments on old posts prod me to revisit things I thought I knew, which is extremely valuable.