The Incredible Power of a Teacher
“The Incredible Power of a Teacher” is enough to change lives and change the world, according to former high school teacher and motivational speaker Larry Bell.
Teachers can do that through creating high expectations. “It doesn’t matter what race you are or what status you have. All of God’s children can teach all of God’s children!” he said. Bell focuses on developing teachers who can inspire 100 percent of their students to pass their course and 100 percent of their students to pass state standardized exams.
Bell told some 350 teachers from across Louisiana assembled at Louisiana College in Pineville that they will have to be audacious and inspire their students to be successful. Bell showed plenty of audacity in his day-long presentation sponsored by A+PEL. Bell ran the seminar much like he did when he was in the classroom. He had the teachers laughing, crying, and learning lots of new techniques.
Bell gained national recognition when he took tough kids who were failing and soon had them outperforming the gifted and talented students in 67 schools in the district.
Bell started the seminar by meeting some of the teachers in attendance. “What’s your name?” he asked. If the teacher said, “Mary,” Bell would say, “That’s MY Mary! Mary, you are wonderful!” Then he’d turn to the other teachers and ask, “Who’s wonderful?” They dutifully answered, ‘Mary!’” Bell said, “That’s right, MY Mary!”
Then he went to Richard, asked his name, and called him “MY Richard.” He said Richard was “brilliant.” “Who’s brilliant?” he asked, and everybody said, “Richard!”
When he got to Carla, he said, “That’s MY Carla! Carla, did you know you’re my favorite?” “No I didn’t,” she said. “Well you are! Who’s my favorite?” And everyone said, “Carla!” That’s right!
One by one, Bell took ownership of the teachers. He made each one feel special, said something uplifting about each one, and made them his. “How do they know they’re special? Because I told them, that’s why! How does Richard know he’s ‘MY Richard’! Because I told him!”
“It’s not about race!” he said. “It’s not about how much money they have or don’t have!” “All that matters is if we can show that child how much we care. When he knows how much you care, it’s on!”
“And it’s on now!” he said.
“My babies were the tough guys. They came from black gangs or they wore Confederate flags on their shirts. Some were rich and spoiled. And some of them were special ed students. It didn’t matter.”
“You’ve got to push somebody! It’s the little things that make the difference. It’s not how tall you are or what school you went to. Be a connoisseur of minutia. Do the little things right everyday, and the big things will take care of themselves,” he said.
“There’s a child thinking I sure hope I get my dream teacher someday. Yes, these kids have it bad, but they have YOU for a teacher! The difference is YOU!”
Bell said, “It is an egregious mistake to think you can teach them anything. You have to be their heaven. Amanda will misbehave in one classroom. She’ll be a terror over there. But in another she will be perfect. She knows there’s a different set of expectations in there. This teacher cares about her. It’s the little things that transcend race, income, special conditions, or the class favorite. It takes audacity, audacity, audacity.”
Bell said, “Too many teachers are swimming in blessings and drowning in complaints.” He said, “Some teachers say, ‘I never do motivation!’ Oh well, then you’re not a teacher! It’s about you and your future! No! It has to be about the student, not the teacher! And it’s not about the grade.”
Bell said the 100 per centers — the teachers all of whose students pass the course and pass the standardized tests — all use motivation and inspiration. He said there are more 100 per centers right here in Louisiana than anywhere else!
Bell said, “Do the best with whatever you have right where you are! Provide inspiration with the information. Get them to like you. If they don’t like you, they’re not going to work for you. We need every child to be successful.”
“We don’t want feel-good dummies. We want people of real achievement. Ask yourself, why shouldn’t my classroom be a 100 per cent classroom?”
Bell said teachers have to give their students power at the expense of their own power. “At risk kids have a lot of promise,” he said. “Inspire yourself, so that you can inspire somebody else. Be the reason that some child gets up in the morning. You have to be the model for the enthusiasm of others.”
“Don’t sit down. You have to move around the room and involve people. I don’t want them just listening to my words. I want them observing my actions. Get people to repeat what you say back to you.”
“Emerson said, ‘A man becomes what he thinks!’ What did Emerson say?” And the audience said, “A man becomes what he thinks!”
Bell said he has developed a series of short, simple, systematic strategies to help turn kids around. “They are developed with kids like me in mind. My dad couldn’t read or write. You do not get fewer brain cells because you are poor. IQ is not based on your Zip Code.”
When a child does poorly, Bell says, “Richard, this is not one of your papers. You’re better than this.” Or he might say, “Carla, I expect more from you because you’re wonderful!”
Bell displayed a series of posters that had information he said will revolutionize students’ performance in any course. Some of them explained point by point how to read, analyze, and answer a complex problem or question.
He said, “A lot of kids don’t pass because of long passages. They have trouble unraveling them. These posters help them do that.”
Bell raised the issue of how to help students who are behind. “How do you help kids like I was catch up without slowing down everybody else? Take six minutes everyday to review what they should already know. If you’re teaching algebra and they don’t know how to add, get them to spend six minutes a day working on addition.”
“Somebody needs you! You have an extraordinary, unprece-dented opportunity. If somebody needs you, what are you willing to do? Tim Gardner of Southaven High School said, ‘If they are still human, I can work with them! He never sits down in class. He doesn’t even have a chair. And he’s a 100 per center!”
Bell told of Jennifer Collins Ragland, a first-year teacher who took the ones who weren’t performing well and got 100 percent to pass the course and pass the standardized exams. The administrators were so impressed they told her she was taking over the gifted and talented program. She told them, “No, you give me my babies or put me in another school!”
“‘Come to the edge,’ he said, but the people said, ‘We are afraid!’ ‘Come!’ he said. So they came. They didn’t know they could fly until they were pushed. Get to flapping, child!”
“If it was easy, everybody could teach, but it’s not easy. Do you have the passion and the courage?”
Bell cited a school in St. Charles Parish that uses his methods. Every year for the past eight years, every 4th grader and 8th grader has scored proficient or higher on the LEAP test. “If you will take a team down there to observe, I will give you $250 worth of posters free,” he said.
Bell said students should memorize each of the words or rules on his posters. “If they can memorize 99 rap songs, I know they can memorize these rules,” he said.
Bell said the problems of education are so massive, what difference could it make to save a few students here and there? “It matters to them, and it matters to me!” he said.
Bell gave several rules of great teachers:
• Celebrate the small successes
• Voice up
• Partner with the tough kid. “It’s strategic ingratiation!” he laughed.
• Display their work. Hang it on the walls and in the halls, in the library, and anywhere else.
• Praise them. “This is why I teach!” “Lord, thank you for giving me students like this!” He said,“You’ve got to know how to breath in order to praise properly!”
• Change your voice and entertain them
• Take ownership of your kids
Bell said, “I didn’t get kids to like me by letting them out of doing what they’re supposed to. No, I did it by showing I cared.”
“It’s about the relationship. If he disappoints me, I say, ‘Rick, how could you do this to me?’ or ‘Rick, of all my students, you hurt me today!’ or ‘Rick, I can’t believe someone as wonderful as you would do something like this.’”
Bell explained his rules for power names and praise. “Seven times an hour, we call the kids power names — wonderful, outstanding, hard worker, star, superstar. We speak it into existence! Say, ‘Come here, cutie!’ in front of everyone. Call them what you want them to be like. Then three times during the hour, we brag on them. ‘You mean you did all 44 homework questions? Outstanding!’ Lincoln said, ‘Everyone likes a compliment!’”
Fabulous Five Rules. Bell said it is so important to help built students’ vocabulary. Teachers should systematically improve the students’ vocabulary, using the Fab Five, five things to help learn a word:
• Say it
• Spell it
• Define it
• Create a sentence using the word, and
• Make a question using the word.
Always put the words where kids can see them, he said.
“People judge you by how you speak. Today I’m able to travel across the country speaking and enjoying a wonderful life. Do you know why? Because a great principal put 10 new words on the blackboard everyday for us to learn!”
Twelve Words. Bell said there are 12 words that every student must learn. These 12 words are used over and over again on standardized tests, and they tend to trip up at-risk students, who often don’t understand them.
The twelve words are:
Bell said teachers should help students convert these words to words that are friendly to at-risk students. He said teachers should make these words part of every child’s vocabulary.
Bell said never accept students’ excuses. “When someone doesn’t live up to my high expectations, I say, ‘I understand. It’s just that I expect better out of you.’ or ‘I expect better out of you! How could you do this to me. I talk about you so much, my wife wants to meet you.”
Bell said teachers should give kids the vocabulary they need. “The gaps in America have little to do with racism and sexism. They have everything to do with what kids are exposed to. Expose them to the right nomenclature, and you will see them excel.”
“It’s not where they come from. It’s where you going to lead them!”
Larry Bell will speak in New Orleans Feb. 24-25. For more on Larry Bell, including that event, visit his website at http://www.larry-bell.com.
For information on A+PEL, Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana, go to apeleducators.org.