“Take note great teachers do this …”


My daughter just turned six years old. Although she had looked forward to her birthday for quite some time, she knows by now that when this time of the year rolls around, so does a trip to the pediatrician – for her annual shots!

We love her pediatrician. But I’d be concerned if this doctor never maintained a record on my daughter. A record that documents my daughter’s visits. Her medical needs. The doctor’s prescribed actions.

Could a doctor be great without keeping good notes on their patients? Probably.

And certainly what makes a doctor loved by their patients is not the ability to take and maintain good notes. Rather, it’s the doctor’s competence, coupled with the feeling that they care.

Regarding the latter… When someone cares, they’re intentional. Intentional with their words. Intentional with their actions.

Taking good notes 一 it’s an intentional act.

And great doctors take good notes on their patients’ health, not because they have to, but because they care. Because they’re intentional.

Like great doctors, great teachers are intentional too.

Unlike doctors (who have their own share of challenges), teachers have 20+ “patients” in the same room with them. I believe this makes taking and maintaining good notes a challenge, which is why there’s likely a better chance of finding a great teacher, rather than a great doctor, who doesn’t maintain good notes.

Still, good note taking is a challenge that can and should be embraced by teachers, not because the teacher has to in order to be great. But because the great teacher cares.

Found below, my principal, Dr. Paul Semendinger, who writes personal musings and words of inspiration to his staff on a weekly basis, some time ago shared his thoughts on the matter (emphasis added throughout):

Before I begin this passage, I am compelled to write two disclaimers. These disclaimers are super important. These disclaimers must be understood before the reader reads any further. Without understanding these two main points, the reader might not fully understand the main message of the piece:


1. We must keep records. Record keeping is an essential element of teaching. Quality record keeping includes maintaining logical, coherent, and detailed records of each student’s progress including graded assessments, examples of student work, and conferring notes.

2. Every teacher must maintain student records to support their grading of each student. These records must be maintained in case, even years later, a grade or assessment comes into question. There is a legal aspect to our jobs that we cannot ignore and record keeping is part of that.

With the disclaimers out of the way, please read on:

Last summer, I attended a baseball game in Atlanta with my sons Ethan and Ryan. By some good fortune and lucky timing, we were at the ballpark during a special “homecoming” celebration. As part of this, fans (like us) had the opportunity to collect autographs from former Atlanta Braves baseball stars. I suggested that we wait on line to meet former first baseman Chris Chambliss – who (selfishly) also happened to be a former New York Yankees star. (In 1976, Chris Chambliss hit one of the most famous homeruns in Yankees history.)

Since we were on a long line, I shared some of my Chris Chambliss memories with my sons to pass the time. In this, I told the boys how Chambliss’ Yankees career came to an end when he was traded for Rick Cerone after Thurman Munson’s tragic death in 1979. I then said, “In his first season as a Yankee, Rick Cerone hit .277.” Ethan immediately reached for his phone and looked up Rick Cerone’s career stats. He then gave me that look – half smile, half befuddled amazement. “Dad,” he said, “I don’t know how you do it.” (Rick Cerone hit exactly .277 that year. I was 100% accurate in my storytelling.)
A few months previous, Ethan and I were talking at a restaurant. He said, “I bet you can’t tell me how many homeruns Graig Nettles hit in 1977.” I looked at Ethan and said, “37.” That brought the same expression to Ethan’s face. (Look up the stats if you don’t believe me.)

I don’t know every baseball statistic. In fact, as the saying goes, what I don’t know can fill volumes. Truth be told, I know a lot less than Ethan gives me credit for. It just so happens that sometimes I can tell, with precise accuracy, a player’s batting average or some other random statistic from a particular year.

How is this possible? Why do I know all of this?

It’s simple, I know those things because I care (or, at least I cared enough as a kid to store some meaningless information in my brain).
All of this used to frustrate my mother to no end. “How is it, Paulie,” she’d ask (with no sense of amusement), “That you can tell me every single team that Lou Piniella played for, but you can’t pass a Spanish test?” (The answer was readily apparent. I cared about Lou Piniella. I didn’t care about the irregular verb ser: to be.)

We remember what matters.

When I was a teacher, and I taught approximately 100 students a year, I knew each kid’s grade before I ever calculated them on a spreadsheet or a piece of paper. Of course I did. I taught them every day. I marked their papers, I graded their tests, I observed them daily, and I inputted their grades into my grade book. How could I not know their grades? How could I not know how they were performing?
I hear this all the time from teachers. They can tell me, without looking, what levels their students read at, who is struggling in math, and who tends to miss the most homework assignments. Teachers just know. Teachers just know because they care.

But, throughout my career, I have also heard from all sorts of educational leaders and have read in many books from (so called) experts that “Teachers can’t fully know how each child is doing unless they have it all written down.”

I’ve never quite understood that as it is contrary to my experiences. The teachers I talk to, the teachers I work with (and have worked with), just seem to know.

Maybe they know because in keeping records, the information is embossed into their brains. That’s probably part of it. But, I also think they know (I also think YOU know) because they care.

Back to the disclaimer – I am not saying that things shouldn’t be written down. They need to be, they must be. Every teacher must keep accurate records.

But, I am also saying that most often teachers really do know how their students are performing. They know this as much as they know anything else about what they do – probably even more so. Kids are our number one priority. This is what happens in great schools. This is what happens here. Teachers take ownership of the children. They invest in them. They love them…

Of course you know how your kids are doing. In a very real sense, they are part of who you are at school – just like all of you (and all of them) are part of who I am.

Which brings me, at least in a roundabout way, to a story about donuts…

Over the holidays, we decided to travel as a family to San Antonio. We’ve always heard great things about the city and we also thought that it would be nice to experience warm weather in December.

On our first full day in the city, on our way to visit the Alamo, we stopped at a Duncan Donuts to grab a quick breakfast. (Laurie and I, of course, have a large collection of Duncan Donuts gift cards that were put to good use on the trip.) After entering the store, we stood on a line and eventually reached the front where we placed our orders with a man who I believe was the store manager. Because of our vast gift card collection, Laurie decided to splurge and also ordered a box full of munchkins – chocolate only. The only disappointment in ordering came from Ethan whose requested meal of bacon, eggs, and cheese (on a ciabatta roll) couldn’t be produced because they were out of the special rolls.
Over the course of what was probably a busy Wednesday morning just outside America’s seventh largest city (look it up, I’m not kidding), only two days after Christmas, we were just some of the hundreds or thousands of people that probably passed through the donut store that day…

The next morning, a Thursday, we used some cards from our Starbucks collection to provide for our breakfast.

Then came Friday and the family consensus was to return to Duncan Donuts. We again waited on line before approaching the same man at the counter. He smiled as we approached. It seemed that he remembered us. The man looked at Ethan and said, “We have the ciabatta rolls today.” When Laurie said, “Let’s get munchkins again,” the man replied, “Chocolate only.” He also knew that we’d order waters to accompany our meal.
Not only had he remembered us, he remembered our orders. The Duncan Donuts man remembered the orders from an insignificant group of travelers who just happened to pass through his store two days previous. There was no reason to remember us. We weren’t regular customers. Even we didn’t know that we’d venture back to his store. Ever. Yet, when we arrived, he knew us – and he remembered our orders.
I checked all around him – the man didn’t have any conferring notes.

He just knew.

He just knew the same way that I know that Reggie Jackson hit his three home runs in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series off of Burt Hooton, Elias Sosa, and Charlie Hough in that order. (Look it up if you’d like, I don’t have to.)

He knew the same way that I pretty much know the order that your Lesson Plan Reports will be handed in each month and in the same way that I’ll know who will need gentle reminders.

And, he knew, most importantly, the same way that you know your students.

When people care – when they care, sincerely and with their hearts – they know things. Great teachers know their kids. They just do.

Now, back to the record keeping…

That store manager has a plethora of paperwork to manage. He has receipts and stock totals to keep track of. He has to monitor and report the volumes of donuts sold and their flavors. He has accounting ledgers to oversee and people to manage. He needs to keep track of payroll and people’s hours and vacation needs. I’m sure there are all sorts of precise rules about the famous Duncan Donuts coffee that he has to follow and tally. I am also certain he has to answer (more than he’d like) to the corporate offices. There are many records he has to keep.

But the most important things, it is apparent, he holds closer.

I know this after only meeting him twice. (And I’ll probably never see him again.) I know that this is a man who cares about people. He cares about their wants and their needs. He remembers. He brings focus and energy and commitment to his job. He cares about what he does. And, he knows what matters the most in his business – his clients and what they want or need.

That man at Duncan Donuts… his priorities are in the right areas. He knows in the same way that you know. And, while bacon and egg sandwiches on a toasted bagel or chocolate donuts sometimes help get us through the day, what you remember, what you know about the students in your classrooms is significantly more important.

Still, I have to think about that man. With the right circumstances, he would probably be a very good teacher. He might be one of the best. Why? Because he cares.

Just like you do.