It angers me when I feel like I have to ‘give up’ on a student because my colleagues and I cannot find what brings them back to learning, what brings them back to appropriately participating with their peers, what makes them care about something or someone. I prefer the frustrating failed attempts at finding what makes that student connect with something or anyone, but only if we can figure out what that something or who that person is at a later date; I hate that feeling of making repeated attempts only to find nothing: no hint of progress, no sign of interest, nothing.

But that’s the kind of frustration I’m going through right now, along with my colleagues. Trying to figure out what kind of discipline works with this child (while being told that ‘positive’ discipline works, which is pretty applicable to most people), trying to find functional strategies by asking for help of people who are better equipped to handle these students (but being told that there’s nothing they can tell me until the family takes the first step to do something), and trying to be patient when all this student does is harm those around him (by ignoring and overstepping boundaries, through manipulation) has made me exhausted.

It makes me not look forward to that particular class, and it infuriates me because that one student consumes so much energy that I barely know the other children he’s spending his time disrupting, distracting, and harassing. He makes me so angry because I should know more about the other students, but I’m trapped with so few available options: stand over him and redirect him to complete things or kick him out repeatedly to benefit the others.

There are no good options right now. It’s not for lack of trying, but it’s for lack of options until someone else at another step does something. It’s not for lack of desire to find solutions, but it’s for a lack of consistent structure in the institution we’re working with. It’s not for a lack of wanting to keep the others safe, but it’s for a desire to improve profits. There are so many things working against allowing this child to function in the classroom, to create appropriate relationships with his peers, to even care about those around him.

I know all teachers have that moment where they feel like they can’t do their primary job: connect with students. This is one of mine; this is the most overt and obvious example of my inability to connect with a student.

But it’s not because I haven’t tried, it’s not because I don’t care. It’s because I’m lacking the support I need from so many angles, just as my colleagues are. I don’t want for us to “find ways to make him less disruptive;” I want to figure out how to help him care about something. Mostly, I want to find ways to make him care about other people.

Except I’m not sure how.

It has recently come to my attention – by which I mean, has annoyingly re-entered my consciousness for the umpteenth time and reminded me how absurd everything is – that our workplaces are not nearly as accepting of people who have personalities that are seen as “less appealing.” And ridiculously, this happens way too much in my field of work: education.

At first glance, it might seem that I mean we should be defending people who have a “difference of opinion” when it comes to talking about people of different races, cultures, religions, genders, etc., but I’m not. Those people are typically the bigots who, honestly, either need to learn that you cannot have opinions on whether or not someone is human or go away or be fired.

What I’m talking about is the continued hyper-focus on characteristics that are particular to extroversion, the lack of consideration for individuals with social anxieties and any range of mental illnesses, the lack of inclusion of people who have hidden disabilities and learning disorders, and the perpetual myth that we are inherently responsible for “feeling excluded” because we “haven’t tried hard enough.”

In a conversation with another colleague, I was made aware that my exclusion from the team was the result of things that were largely my fault and that “people who do not know me should not be expected to include me.”

In this discussion, she stated that I:

  • did not actively make attempts to engage groups of people;

  • did not appear noticeably interested or engaged with conversations or things that people would talk about;

  • did not take the initiative to attend after-hours get-togethers that were planned by other teachers and posted in a group on WhatsApp;

  • did not actively seek out a particular teacher who may have been helpful for a particular situation.

For the record, all of this was said to me by a teacher. I find that disheartening, especially since we’re supposed to be in the profession of teaching our students inclusion, but our own staff can’t even do it on a superficial level.

Anyway, all of these are things that I can see, from another perspective or entirely in a vacuum, as being true to an extent. They are also things that have correlating responses that were never considered at any point in our time working together. Here are responses that I had in general terms:

  • Did that group of people ever think to actively engage the individual people who felt excluded in any way? If not, why?

  • Did they consider that someone could be uncomfortable with spontaneously approaching a group of people? If not, why?

  • Were they aware of how social anxiety can negatively impact the way a person thinks or perceives group dynamics? If not, why?

  • Did their body language show that they were willing to include someone? Or did it show that they were happier building walls and discouraging others from engaging with them?

  • Were they aware that language learners needed context and that conducting conversations entirely in a language other than the common language of the workplace would require more work, such as providing context (which promotes learning of the other language)? If not, why? [Example: In an international school where the common language is English but the local language is Italian, not all teachers will be immediately fluent in the local language and will require context clues to be included.]

  • If groups on WhatsApp were created to plan after-hours get-togethers, did you ensure that all teachers were included within a reasonable time (days, not months)? If not, why?

  • Were the get-togethers diverse in interest? Or were they all the same activities, meaning that people who don’t feel comfortable in those environments for any reason are still excluded? [Example: If you constantly are planning things for bars where drinking is happening, you’re going to alienate non-drinkers, anyone who is uncomfortable with drinking, or recovering addicts.]

  • Did they ever make attempts to check-in on people at any point throughout the year? If not, why?

  • When asked for assistance by the ‘excluded individuals’ (who were simultaneously told to ‘seek out relevant people’ and made attempts to do so), did they actively make attempts to help them in any way at all? If not, why?

Now, in a work environment, I do not consider it the responsibility of the staff to take charge of building the community. I do consider it their responsibility to ensure that they are supporting and perpetuating systems that actively encourage inclusion, but it is by no means their responsibility to ensure that ‘team-building’ happens.

I consider that to be the responsibility of management. That isn’t to say that management needs to monitor and develop my friendships with my colleagues, but they need to provide numerous opportunities to ensure that every member on the staff feels at least somewhat comfortable with the others. This could be through optional weekend excursions to somewhere relevant (and, as a teacher, almost everywhere is relevant to my job); it could be through having two or three teachers with particular skills work together on developing a workshop for the others, showcasing another way of doing something. They could also ensure that the programs we develop for our performance days are more diverse and showcase multiple talents instead of opting toward the same few skills: children who are singing and dancing while a teacher hosts; this would get a range of volunteers for different activities instead of the same two or three people.

There are so many ways to foster a community that initially start entirely with management modelling them and also providing the funding to do them. As teachers in my high-priced tuition school, we develop residential trips so that the students create connections with each other. Why don’t we do that together? Why aren’t we modelling what we claim to (and in the case of some, actually do) teach our students? If you’re creating an environment that involves showing how to act instead of telling how to act, our issues decrease significant (both in terms of staff interactions and student behaviour).

Instead, my current management opted for this so-called ‘natural team-building’, which really was the development of friendship groups that turned into cliques. I do not consider having friends at work to be detrimental; in fact, having friends at work is frequently shown as being helpful (as long as they don’t stress us out). The problem with this form of ‘natural team-building’ is that, while some people were able to gravitate toward others who they were more likely to feel comfortable with, it left a few people in a position where they were seeking out others for survival; they were seeking out spaces that would allow them to work together and feel even a modicum of comfort. In short, ‘natural team-building’ in an artificially created environment doesn’t exist at all. It’s a cop-out for doing nothing, for being lazy, for not managing anything.

That isn’t to say that those friendships that were forged starting in survival rather than choice are bad; those friendships can be equally as strong (and maybe stronger, due to shared frustrations). Maybe these people actually end up with others who they’d have originally gravitated toward in the first place, or they learn to like and stick up for each other.

However, the entire structure only highlighted the lack of cohesion and the extreme division between the groups. Who can they trust? Probably those in their immediate circle. Can they trust the people who they perceive as excluding them? Maybe, but they’re not sure so they feel really insecure in their position and with their colleagues. How do they figure out who can be trusted? Perhaps they choose not to trust anyone and keep to themselves, or they go full-on and try to trust people in the other groups (getting mixed results), or they play games and feed information to one person to see where it ends up.

None of these are healthy for a workplace, especially if that workplace is a school. And they’re all so easy to deal with.

But only if you have the structures in place to do so.

Being a good manager is difficult, but it’s not difficult because the job is inately hard; it’s difficult because the skills required are not inate to many people, and they have to work hard to have them. This is particular to three skills, in my experience.

The first is developing genuine communication skills. The second is developing inclusive environments. The third is showing adequate appreciation for everyone‘s work, effort, and time. (And yes, the third could probably be included in genuine communication, but it’s a particularly specific issue that is often neglected.)

Note: As I am a teacher and am currently focused in secondary education, that’s the perspective I’m writing this from.

In the 15 years that I’ve been working various jobs in different industries, ranging from the Ponderosa Steakhouse that’s been closed in my hometown for years to two family-owned farming businesses (including one belonging to my grandparents) to teaching in a variety of schools internationally, I have yet to work for a single manager who either already had these skills or even bothered to work on having them. As a result, I constantly work with people who are miserable and unhappy. If they’re not that far gone, they are intensely frustrated with management while simultaneously loving their job (which, upon reflection, I think only applies to those in my current field — education).

The people who become managers (or are hired to be managers) often forget that, while they are responsible for making decisions and ‘being in charge’, the employees they manage are other humans. As a result of working with humans, these humans have needs and often engage in situations that may require mediation of some sort. Instead, some managers act as if they are working with robots who will just tolerate the decisions being made without complaint. Even if this isn’t the belief they openly hold or genuinely adhere to, they still often internalise the kind of management that has been failing everywhere else and making great managers so rare. And these people, whether they admit it or not, are a huge factor in employee engagement and retention.

Humans, for better or worse, often have issues with other humans. Part of a manager’s role is to help mitigate and mediate these, often working on ways to prevent it from happening in the first place. If any employees have made it known that they are feeling left out of decisions and excluded from projects by other staff, it is the manager’s responsibility to find out how to rectify this problem.

There are a number of questions to ask when doing this: When did it start? What allowed for these rifts and divisions to exist? Were there signs of this happening? If so, what were they? What steps can we take to fix this problem? How can we better encourage and teamwork among our staff and promote the inclusion of everyone? (This last point is particularly important for educational institutions, which often claim they want ‘collaborative teaching’ but rarely do much to enable it.)

Humans are not robots, and they often have other responsibilities beyond work. As much as I wish I were Data, the unfortunate fact is that being human means I have my limits.

Say there is a project in a school that is incredibly time-consuming and requires a lot of data input of 400 items, and one employee has volunteered to completely set it up and work on it in their free time (meaning non-teaching and non-planning hours). As the manager, you recognise that it is a large undertaking; however, you don’t know all the intricacies of the task, as you delegated it to this employee. You ask the employee to complete it within 20 hours spread over two weeks.

The employee, however, responds with concerns. First, their access to required resources is blocked by another employee. When they run out of materials, they have to then wait on someone else to grant them access to more. Sometimes this takes hours, other times it takes days. Second, they state that it is nearly impossible to do in that timeframe because they have to manually input all the data for each item; they tell you that the average time for one item is 15 minutes. If they have to manually input the data for all 400 items, that’s 100 hours, and that’s also assuming that they won’t have to restart computers and never take a break for anything at all. They request additional hours (paid overtime) or a decrease in other required functions; they also state that, for every time they are required to take additional hours (events, duties, or substitutions), they need to given additional time to complete the task.

As a manager, what do you do?

Do you argue with the employee and get defensive over the decision you made? Hopefully, not. If you do, you’re only going to make them distrust you. In all likelihood, they’re going to disengage with work and tell you “Yeah, sure” and do whatever work they feel like at that moment. The other alternative is that they try their best to meet the expectations and become over-stressed for fear they might lose their job. You might even get a combination of the two. Either way, they feel insulted, like you’re not listening to them, and that you don’t care.

This is, as a whole, a poor form of communication.

So do you stop to listen to the employee and recognise that they might have more expertise on the project than you do, as they are the one responsible for setting it up? I hope so. If you do this, you’re spending time asking questions and trying to better understand the project. You’re showing that you’re willing to understand why it’s taking so long, what work is involved, and why so much of it has to be done manually. If you do this, you’re far more likely to be open to discussion and compromising with this employee; you’re also able to properly express why it needs to be completed. As a result, the employee is going to feel like you care about them and are willing to be flexible enough to help them finish the task.

Managers actually have to set guidelines and communicate information effectively. Recently, I watched some teachers put together an absolutely fantastic event for school. They put a lot of work and time into putting it together, but they kept hitting obstacles and roadblocks from management regarding different elements. But why?

Because management did two things: One, they kept changing their mind on how to handle certain aspects of the event right up until the very last minute. Two, the teachers had provided a full range of ideas for what they wanted to do through meeting minutes, but management did not disseminate relevant informations (policies, laws, guidelines) and did not address what the teachers had already submitted. In short, management was so scarcely involved that when they finally did or said something, it frustrated the people who were putting in hours to make sure a school event went smoothly.

It’s obvious what should have been done here: Management should’ve been far more interested in what was happening, rather than waiting until that final second. They should have provided guidelines for activities the teachers wanted to do, rather than suddenly hit them with “We can’t do this because of reasons” a mere 24 hours before. If management had been more engaged in the planning process, the levels of frustration would’ve been so much lower.

Managers are responsible for hiring decisions, which also means that they’re responsible for appropriate training of employees. A lot of jobs hire people who aren’t perfectly qualified; that’s normal. For teachers, sometimes there are systems that they have to learn (curriculum, online gradebooks, school-wide classroom technology programs) as they work.

However, it is not the job of other employees to train their fellow employees on these systems. We do it both out of kindness and necessity, but it is not our job. Ensuring everyone is up-to-date on skills is the manager’s job, and it is also their job to ensure that training is available.

Now, if you delegate this training to an employee who is capable, you need to create a structure to do so. In a collaborative school environment, this could be having each teacher (or a pair of teachers) do a training day on an app or a specific teaching technique. You could also create mentorship programs within the school, pairing teachers who lack certain skills to those who have them. Some schools my friends work in have mentor programs where veteran teachers are paired with new teachers to help them get acquainted with the profession, the school, and classroom management; this is done on a rotational basis per year, so people don’t feel overburdened or used.

But you also need to acknowledge the time these employees give up to be trainers or mentors. You can do this by decreasing duties elsewhere (recess duties) or providing a ‘mentor bonus’. In applicable schools, my friends’ mentors would have received an additional bonus to their salary for doing this. However, because they were required to on a rotational basis, the salary was not the only reason they became mentors; it just ensured that they made time for it. (And mentees who felt their mentors were not engaging with them could talk to management about it.)

All of these scenarios involve one or more of the three skills that managers should have. There are so many ways to try to develop inclusive, communicative environments where people value the work of others. It shouldn’t be so hard to do this, but so many people focus on the so-called traditional management methods that they neglect to find that many of them don’t work and negatively impact everyone involved. And it seems that it’s largely due to the fact that our managers aren’t even trained to manage people, which is a whole other problem.

Previously on “I Was A Video Game Addicted Teacher:” MMORPG markets provide interesting places to manipulate prices by flooding items… Or supply and demand.

It’s not often that there’s a game available that could possibly allow me to attempt teaching teamwork to students. In fact, I remember teachers using instructional “games” that made you do some sort of task when I was in school. It didn’t matter if you failed or not, but it was supposed to make you “work together” with your team members. In reality, most kids shoved it off on one or two people who didn’t want to fail. That person was usually me.

So when my students started exhibiting a lack of desire to work together (residential drama, general disgust with each other, whatever), I decided that something had to be done. No one wanted to participate in anything, and they really only wanted to argue among themselves. Many of them, I would later find out, didn’t really want to do anything in any class. Some cited boredom with the topics while others just assumed that, well, what they learned at school didn’t matter. To some extent, it made sense why they thought that because most of them were from environments that didn’t encourage it. So how were we supposed to engage them in learning while also teaching them how to work as a team rather than frequently fighting?

Team Selection screen for League. Or pre-game hell with the wrong team.

That’s where I brought League of Legends into my classroom. Having played it from the beginning, I was already intrigued by the mechanics that made all players learn to work together. I figured that it would be a great environment to express why teamwork was important: There was a visible goal to achieve, it was interactive, and it was competitive. It really played on their collective personality and was a way to teach them to cooperate if they wanted to succeed.

That, and it let me bring in something that kept me interested while trying to teach something that is already difficult enough for people to be interested in. It’s kind of like “image and etiquette consulting,” except people actually need to engage in situations to learn to work together. It was multi-functional!

Except I initially had no idea how I could possibly work it into a lesson, which either meant I wouldn’t be able to use it or it would be incredibly frivolous. Honestly, I didn’t want either.

So I designed something to cover two days. The first day would be the obnoxious “lecture” with boring slides in the background to provide them with typical “qualities” of effective team players (which really falls into about five useful categories, but people seem to put it into four thousand because being concise apparently isn’t part of that). The second day would be a 3v3 match as a mini-experiment to see how they felt about working together (and hopefully not explode at each other, if everything went to plan).

Conveniently, most of my tiny class had already played League of Legends, so I didn’t have to explain too much of it. There were, of course, a couple who had never had any experience with it. The handy thing with League, though, is that it’s fairly easy to see who is doing quite well and who is absolute rubbish (and anywhere in between). There are a few mechanics that would be helpful to know about – items, runes and masteries, and neutral minion camps being the major ones – that add more to the matches, but they aren’t really things that beginners need to understand immediately.

Discussing pre-recorded games, they had to identify bad team work in positive ways. That meant they couldn’t tell me that someone was an idiot – or worse, which was far more likely – without providing evidence for it and using more polite vocabulary. (Note: I can happily handle the use of “daft” or even an antiquated analogy like “a few cards short of a deck.”) They had to tell me why it was good or bad teamwork, then tell me how they would correct that person if they were playing with them (aside from flaming them for being stupid).

The discussion led to interesting points. My students were more likely to point out bad plays of all sorts, but they were only willingly to express appreciation for exceptionally great plays (or those that normally would have gone badly but were horribly lucky). Support roles were relegated to “pointless” because they were considered to be “space wasters,” supposedly providing absolutely no help in terms of damage and leaving their partner to fend for themselves. Finding this quite interesting, I provoked them to explore that in another situation. What about the people who supported them, directly or indirectly? Were they pointless? “No, they’re giving me an advantage.” So what was the difference?

Did they do this during the game? No? Well, good luck.

After discussing the stereotypical qualities in “effective team members,” I brought out the laptops (and their IVs connecting them to their electronics) and introduced League of Legends. They all started with basic level one accounts (well, level two since they went through the tutorial), ensuring that no one had an advantage over each other (except for prior knowledge). I split them into convenient 3-against-3 groups, placing two “veteran players” with one newcomer. After they were put into a custom match, I walked about keeping track of what they said to each other both between teams and within them. There was one stipulation: The couldn’t seriously insult someone, and anything of that nature would cause a loss of points in the project (because I’m just cruel like that).

In the end, most of them voiced frustration with team mates who wouldn’t work with them and forced each other to deal with it. It took about two games for them to realise that, in order for their teams to function, they really couldn’t ignore each other. They discussed item builds with “veteran” players started giving tips to the new players, allowing them an understanding of how certain characters or items worked in-game.

They were actually playing nicely with each other and connecting over something other than drama. This was a phenomenon in my classroom, where I was growing accustomed to listening to them verbally abuse each other. I could only hope they’d continue using those skills outside the classroom, but I was still glad to see that it had changed my classroom environment from profane to functional.

“What are some reasons for these prices?” (source: Vindictus)

While I was developing and teaching an marketing and business program at a high school, I was always looking for new ways to either introduce or explain concepts. I knew the students had about as much interest as I once had (and I grew up doing it), which opened my eyes to one simple fact: I had to find something relevant in the available material and make them connect to it. So what could possibly be relevant in agricultural marketing to a bunch of uninterested teenagers? Learning economics! How could I reinforce some of the basic principles? By using video games!

Wait, you’re doing this by using what?

I knew there had to be a way to connect with the students I instructed (or tutored, depending on the time of day) and that, despite a possible ten year age gap, I could connect with them if I really looked for similarities between us. Then it dawned on me! Taking the hint from University of Florida and other colleges, I remembered that it was possible to use video games as a form of education, including those not originally meant to be “edutainment.”

Thinking back to UC Berkeley’s StarCraft class, I figured there could potentially be a million more options for using conventional games to educate students in any topic. Are there game mechanics that emulate things we use in marketing and businesses? Could I present this to them educationally or would it turn into a free-for-all gaming fest? Would the other staff receive it well or – wait a second, I didn’t care if they received it well; I only cared if it worked.

Teaching marketing or business (or both, in my case) requires, well, some basic knowledge of economics. Aside from “you earn money legally or illegally” and “you spend it on stuff,” my students really didn’t have a lot of experience with understanding the basic principles. Many of them just weren’t as straightforwardly obvious to the kids, and many of them had never taken a high school economics class. “Well, that’s just great,” I thought. I’d never before taught high school economics.

So when the topic of supply and demand came up, there needed to be a new technique to explain it. They were bored listening to whatever I had to say, and I was boring myself to death with saying it. Showing videos wasn’t helping, and they enjoyed that about as much as a tooth extraction. So when I was idly crafting and selling nonsense on Vindictus‘ marketplace, the answer slapped me in the face: This is what I was looking for!

“What might cause the Markeplace Standard Price to change?” (source: Vindictus)

I started scouring through the market, finding examples of what would fit my classes’ needs. I searched through everything, looking for cases of decreased supply causing increased prices or increased supply that decreased prices. I hoped to find samples showing a lack of demand causing low prices. Every time I found something, I made a screencap to create a presentation and an accompanying packet later. The final product had only five pictures. (Note: I hate packet work as much as everyone else, but it sometimes helps. I guess it’s the organisational capabilities.)

These graphics made it easy to create my first assignment; I made a short (and sadly crude) packet and presentation combination using the screencaps from the game. (Note: You’re either incredibly lucky or clinging to your knees while rocking back and forth because I was able to salvage the packet [PDF]. I have no idea where the presentation is, which might be for the best.) It was short of amazing looking because I had to implement it quickly, and I would’ve rather focused on the material.

I spent the whole weekend trying to figure out how I could implement using this game, especially with a few minor problems. At the time I was doing this, I didn’t have a classroom. This meant that I had no computers. So I decided to move my class to the Tech Center. Now this would’ve worked brilliantly, but their computers were all Macintosh. Let me belatedly point out: Nexon only runs games on Windows platforms (sad, I know – there are so many Mac users who would kill to be Maple Story addicts). How did I resolve this?

I brought my laptop and decided that it would be a projection-based lesson. Instead of bothering another teacher, I quietly “borrowed” (read: took over) a vacant room to hold my class in for that week. Rather than allow all of the kids to try to use the game all at once, we would work off the items that I had spent time collecting (primarily easy-to-collect items) as I went over them. We would look at crafting recipes for equipment and other items to explain price changes, later looking to see the cost of pre-made equipment versus the materials to craft it. The experiment was to watch the markets change of the week, seeing how static or dynamic prices could really be. However, I did have to negotiate that the last five or ten minutes of class would be time to have “serious game discussion.” Personally, I was fine with that if it meant they were willing to listen and learn.

As I paired this lesson with our lessons in supply and demand, it gradually started sinking in. When they saw the prices of Chieftain Leg Armor increase but that the number available remained steady, they realised that there was a significant market for them; they understood that this meant “supply remained steady but demand increased, causing prices to increase.” As they watched the price of Black Kobold Hoods topple from well over the NPC Sell Price to well below it, they knew that “supply remained steady but demand decreased, causing prices to decrease as well.” The basic principles were becoming clearer to them.

That whole week may have involved MMORPGs, but we explored parallels in real life. However, I was scared to try explaining the prices of gold because, well… Most adults already have enough problems understanding economic bubbles, and gold is a fairly large one. That doesn’t mean I shied away from trying; it just meant I had to look deeper.

Overall, it was successful in explaining basic economic principles to my students. It was convenient that they already knew MMORPG jargon without me sounding like the crazed and game-addicted teacher with a day specifically for teaching gamer vocabulary, but it was even better that they were willingly engaged in learning and actually are continuing to use that knowledge (in game, but they’re retaining it somehow).

Which, of course, meant that I was able to jump up with one exclamation: Result!