“It’s your grade!” I barked at Sammy in a voice just shy of a yell. If I had said it any louder, I wouldn’t be able to justify to myself that I wasn’t shouting, though all of my students would have agreed that I was. If learning were a commodity and relationships a currency then my class was suffering from the great depression. Coupling the lack of intellectual stimulation and the non-existent teacher-student relationships with the bars on the windows of my southwest Fresno classroom gave the impression that my 14 & 15-year-old 9th graders were in a maximum security prison and I was the inept warden. It was January of 2017. We had been suffering for 5 months. At this point, I wasn’t sure which was the worst position – mine or theirs. All I knew was that something needed to change.
That’s when I got a bad case of “the Jons”. Though it sounds like a rare, nasty, necrotic disease, “the Jons” is actually the simple yet affectionate name that I have given to Jon Morse and Jon Corippo – two of my now-mentors. At the time they were just a couple guys who’d been in the game a few years longer than me, but eventually, they’d become two of my biggest advocates and greatest teachers in this education adventure I had up to this point called “my big mistake”.
It started with Jon Morse, an accomplished educator of 50+ years and an adept influencer of young people. Jon and I met over Christmas break and became fast friends. “Nate,” he said after a long conversation over fondue, “how about I volunteer in your classroom next week?” “I’d love that!” I said in an excitedly nervous tone. Truth be told, I didn’t want him to see how bad I sucked at teaching. Nevertheless, my desire to get out of the hell I called a classroom was greater than my desire to not be caught in the act of sucking at teaching. So, come Monday morning, Jon M. rolled in with a little thing called “choice theory” in his proverbial pocket. To make a long story short, Jon M. taught me the fundamentals of human interaction through the lens of a famous psychiatrist and educational theorist, William Glasser, the founder of “Choice Theory”. Who he is and what his theory is called makes little difference to me. The facts are these: his theory is simple and it works.
As relationships in my classroom began to improve, we began to emerge from our hellish prison. I began listening to my students, understanding their needs and building class structures that met those needs. But we still lacked the intellectual and academic rigor. I’m a novice intern teacher with less than a few instructional tools in my belt, and while Jon M. gave amazing advice on socio-emotional issues and student-teacher relationships, the instruction was less his strong suit. Enter Jon C.
“You HAVE GOT to meet this guy, Nate!” Jon M. burst through the windowless green door of my 60-year-old classroom practically dripping with enthusiasm. “We took a quiz on Nintendo and then IRON CHEFFED!” he proclaimed zealously. “OK, Jon… What does that mean?” I said with skepticism in my voice. The last time I had heard the word “Nintendo” I was visiting my 42-year-old cousin who still lives with his parents. He proceeded to describe in detail Jon Corippo, at that time the CUE Chief Innovation Officer and former Fresno State Nose Guard. A week later I was ditching department PD and eating BBQ with Jon M. and Jon C. Two things I remember from that meeting: 1) Jon C. had the instructional piece I was missing, and 2) he had the hookup for Chromebooks.
Over the next two months, we corresponded about the value of Twitter, instructional protocols, and tempo in the classroom. After a weekend PD with Jon C. at Zephyr Point in Tahoe, it became clear to me that these protocols were going to allow me to get what I wanted: engaged students who were actually learning. Jon C. gave us the experience of the Frayer Model, Quizizz, an Iron Chef slide deck & presentation, the mini-report, Socrative, and more. I was sold. So, from day 1 of class this year we have not ceased to utilize these protocols.
The results speak for themselves. Students who did not work last year – literally did NO WORK from August through June – are asking if they can spend more time on their slide decks. “When are we going to Quizizz again, Shankles!?” is a line I hear at least once a week. In a recent parent, student-teacher conference one of my 10th graders said: “Mom, our class is straight up like a family.” More than one student has described our classroom in those exact words. And then, just this morning, out of the blue and over the background music provided courtesy of the Rolling Stones, I hear another student proclaim, “Shankles, we seriously have the most fun class on campus. You are the BEST teacher I’ve had here.” While fun isn’t the end-goal, it certainly aids student-learning. Not only are students more engaged, but test scores have increased, project quality has improved and overall student growth has gone up.
I do NOT claim to be a great teacher or even a good teacher, but I do claim to have a few GREAT tools in my toolbelt thanks to two GREAT mentors and a bunch of GREAT students. Were it not for a bad case of “the Jons” – Jon Morse and Jon Corippo – I would not have the happy, productive and learning-centered classroom that I have today.
Nate Shankles is 30 years old, from Redding, CA. Married to the most beautiful woman alive, Ashley, who’s currently in the Fresno State education program. I have lived in Fresno for the last 3 years, started substitute teaching in 2015 at MUSD and CUSD, and started full time teaching in 2016. Before teaching I was a sales rep at a textbook publishing company for 4 years in Redding, and prior to that, I managed a bank branch in the Bay Area. I enjoy running, reading, hiking, fishing, and hunting. I also preach part-time at the Coarsegold church of Christ in Coarsegold.