Last week we agreed that students dislike altogether too many teachers because they deny them three critically important needs: acceptance, belonging, and success. So when I began teaching in civilian life I tried out a simple teaching method I had dreamt up to see if it would change things.

It wasn’t anything dramatic; all I did was encourage the kids to sit with a friend and work together with him or her while doing class work. The two kids shared the work on worksheets and brought them up to be checked. From my very first day in the classroom almost all of them were 100% correct, but with the few of them that weren’t I simply asked the kids to correct their errors.

As each pair turned in a correct worksheet, I said, “Thanks! Go relax.” It was easy to see how amazed they were to discover that, “Go relax,” meant, “Do anything you want, including talking, as long as you don’t bother anyone who isn’t finished.”

I used that simple method of getting class work done for the next 22 years as I taught in civilian life. Wow! You should have seen the kids flying through those worksheets!

Why? First of all, that simple, but amazingly successful, method showed the kids that they were being accepted as kids, instead of being forced to act like grownups. It gave them a sense of belonging. And, of course, they were immediately rewarded for their success, so they made sure they succeeded.

Frankly, I was the one who was most amazed. I had thought up that simple method with the idea that it might make a small difference in how kids responded to class work – and to me, of course. However, I didn’t realize it would produce such a group of happy, hard working, successful youngsters.

Their grades on both my tests and the district final exams showed that I had stumbled upon a near miracle. My kids did great, and my failure rate was zero.

I moved here to Arizona after eight years in Texas so that Lolly could be near her sister and brother-in-law, who had just emigrated from England. Up till then I had taught high school kids, but in search of a greater challenge I applied for a junior high science position in Mesa.

What a happy choice! Junior high kids are wonderful! In my 7th, 8th, and 9th grade classes I used the same “work-together” method, but added in additional things that kids could do if done with their work. For one thing, I added some large round tables where five or six of them could sit chatting if they were done. I also added board games they could play; books they could read; paints, crayons, and poster board on which they could paint or draw; and – when computers came along – computers they could use.

I even wrote a special program on which kids who were done working could write encrypted messages to friends in my other classes. The trick was – only I and the two kids involved knew how to access their secret code. My! Did they enjoy that!

Since the worksheets had made homework unnecessary, I also put a book in each desk and told them to leave their books at home.

Folks, if you want kids to learn, let them – within reasonable limits, of course – be themselves, so that they can enjoy a genuine sense of acceptance and belonging.

You’ll be setting their feet on the path to success.

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