Entry 20 – The Biggest Impact on My Teaching

Entry 20 – The Biggest Impact on My Teaching

This week’s prompt:

What/who has had the biggest impact in your teaching approach and why?

I’ve got a few people, quotes, and books that have shaped the way I approach teaching.

Rafe Esquith

Esquith is best known for his book ‘Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire.’  He’s a retired 30-year, 5th grade teacher and really embodies everything I hope to be as a teacher.  It’s incredible the things he was able to do in the low-income school he worked in all his years.  He held an after school program where students read and performed Shakespeare (once joined by Ian McKellen).  His management style was not one of punishments and rewards, but one where he taught students to adopt a civil code of behavior.  He taught students guitar during lunch.  He taught students how to play baseball; like actually breaking it down to pretty in depth strategy.  He had students reading (and understanding) ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ and other texts beyond most 5th graders.  I mean, look at this kid who has tears in his eyes as he recites a letter written by a Civil War soldier to his wife.  Talk about depth of understanding.

The biggest takeaway I had was his classroom economy system that I’ve adopted.  He was also the only teacher I had read about who had students call him by his first name (a practice my school embraces).  Rafe taught the same grade in the same school in the same classroom for 30 years.  Talk about seeking mastery in your craft.  When I think of greatness when it comes to education, Rafe Esquith is top of mind.  You can see his Ted talk HERE where his students perform Shakespeare mixed with thematic rock songs that are sprinkled into the performance.

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics

While not as inspiring as Rafe Esquith, the NCTM has really shaped my math pedagogy.  The heart of the pedagogy it is having students struggle through the math, seek out patterns, and really teach to give them an opportunity to understand the concepts, not just memorize the algorithms.  The two NCTM books that helped me the most and walk through how to actually do those things in your classroom are Principles To Actions and 5 Practices For Orchestrating Productive Math Conversation.

Steve Reinhart Quote

On the same token of getting kids talking in class, there’s a quote by Steve Reinhart that I try to adopt as much as possible in my classroom:


The heart of it is that if students are going to learn math, THEY have to be the ones explaining the math and the teacher should be the one listening.  Reinhart shares more of his thoughts on it HERE.

Harry Wong

Wong and his wife wrote ‘The First Days of School‘ which says that a large portion of effective teaching comes down to having routines and procedures in place.  Doesn’t sound super exciting but this was huge in helping me refine my classroom management and really helped me in my first years to think through ‘what do I want the students to do, how do I want them to do it, why do I want them to do it that way, how can I ensure they always do it that way, etc.’  While I don’t have as many stringent procedures as I did in my first few years, my classroom is still highly structured and routined and students know what to expect.  I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from students in regards to this aspect of our class culture.

I was recently reminded of the magic of developing a routine and practicing it until it’s perfect with my robotics class.  One of the most hectic parts of robotics is going downstairs to grab the robotics kits at the beginning of class and returning them at the end.  The chaos in the past has led to students dropping kits and having pieces all over the place as well as disrupting other classes.  This semester, we went downstairs, lined up, and waiting quietly while one student at a time got their kit from the closet.  If there was any talking while waiting, we all went back upstairs and tried again.  The process is now one of the most calming moments of class.  It’s quiet, orderly, and everyone gets what they need.  Students said they didn’t like how strict it feels but said it was reasonable in order to not disrupt other classes.

Wong also talks about the importance of wearing a tie 🙂 “As you are dressed, so shall you be perceived; and as you are perceived, so shall you be treated.”  I also learned the significance of greetings students at the door through this book.

Liz Stover

Liz was my mentor and colleague my first three years of teaching.  She’s the Rafe Esquith that I actually got to know.  All the things that you think of great educators being, she was.  Creative, kind, personable, and completely with it.  I think what was most impressive was always seeing the grace in which she handled some of the most challenging students.  The relationships she developed with them were so genuine and even when they were being absolutely out of their minds, she always handled the situation where the student’s dignity was still in tact.  Just about every good idea I ever had when it came to teaching reading and writing in 5th grade was stolen from her (I was terrible at teaching those things).  Thanks for supporting me in those first few years Liz; you helped me gain the confidence and skills I needed to really see education as a career that I could pursue and love.


My first year of teaching was the hardest.  I remember driving to school everyday spending about 10 minutes praying for wisdom in every facet of teaching; wisdom in lesson planning, wisdom in developing relationships with kids, wisdom in classroom management, wisdom in assessment, wisdom in engagement, wisdom in time management, wisdom in presentation skills, wisdom in questioning skills…literally as many things as I could think of.  I think in that first year, I realized that I COULDN’T do it on my own as I was pretty much a fish out of water.  It put me in a position where I really had to depend on God in a manner that I hadn’t before.  I do think the time of prayer shifted my mindset as I drove to school everyday and I do believe that God granted me wisdom to finish the year without it being a complete botch.  He also made Liz my mentor so that helped too 🙂

By Thom H Gibson

I help middle school STEM teachers create meaningful & memorable experiences for their students. Teacher, podcaster, YouTuber. Two-time teacher of the year

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