Tuesday, February 24, 2009

One of the most common areas of concern for teachers is classroom management. Every one seems to be looking for a perfect way to control students while they try to teach.

While I sometimes I have problem students who do not conform to my expectations readily, usually, my classroom runs smoothly. Shhh... don't tell anyone else, and I will share my secrets with you!

The #1 way to keep your classroom under control is to have a well organized plan for the day. Know exactly what you want to accomplish, how you want to accomplish it, and what materials you need in order to pull it off. Don't wait until the bell is ringing to whip off copies. Don't wonder what to do if the activity takes less time than you thought. Always have a backup plan in mind. It is said that a dog can smell fear. Students can smell disorganization. Its scent spurs them to churn and churtle. Don't let it happen in your classroom! A few extra minutes spent planning will make your day smoother and easier.

Teach students your expectations and expect them to meet them, every day, every hour. "But in Mrs. Smith's room we can..... " is met with "we don't do that in this classroom". Have something to keep students busy and engaged every moment. Students like to know what to expect. If they know what is happening next, they will be ready and waiting for it to happen. That repetition in your routine is comforting and sets the tone for every day. Walk in, grab your notebook, do the problems on the projector, group activity, partner time, independent learning time. Some days may vary but there is comfort in knowing things will be the same.

Keep it fast paced and interesting, shifting from something quiet, to something active, always changing things up. Realize that all students learn differently. Some work better with a partner, some work better alone. Some like music, some like quiet. Try to meet the needs of all with varied activities.

Have a sense of humor in all that you do. One boy I had asked repeatedly to be quiet once day responded, "I bet you want to strangle me don't you." I laughed and responded, "Do it yourself so I don't have to!" He wrapped his hands around neck, made gurgling noises, bugged his eyes out. We all laughed, he settled down to work, and all was good. That kind of good natured teasing and rapport with students goes a long way in keeping control.

When faced with defiance, repetition can be a lifesaver. Do not argue or engage the student. Simply and calmly repeat your request, wait time, repeat your request, wait time, repeat your request. By this time, most students will have complied, and you can move on without engaging in battle.

The last and most important trick is to be human. Allow yourself to make mistakes and allow your students to make mistakes. Mistakes can be laughed off, and learned from. Let your students see you as you learn and grow from your own debacles and they will be more likely to take their own in stride.

A classroom should be a home, a place of comfort and consistency, one you and your students all enjoy being. Don't let managing it manage you!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Someone in a different education forum posed the question: Should teacher leadership courses be included in a preservice teacher's classes?
Here is my answer, in part:
Being a leader in your building or district is NOT about the title. All teachers, new or experienced, have the potential to become powerful leaders. Empowering preservice teachers with those leadership skills and aspirations should be a critical component of the teacher prep process.

What does it take to be an effective teacher leader?
~ a strong personal vision of your own goals and the conviction to stand by them
~a willingness to listen and learn alongside those around you
~the courage to be right, the courage to be wrong
~a dedication to empowering others - a non-need to be the one in control/with the title, but a desire to manifest change
~commitment to modeling professionalism

All teachers can and should be leaders in some way. It might be curriculum work, technology, working with students outside the structured school day in sports or extracurriculars, or simply leading by professionalism.

Given this necessity for all to be leaders, yes, teacher prep programs should teach and prepare for leadership roles.
Often, the most effective leaders, the ones who make the most positive changes in a school, are not the ones with the "power". Let's work to facilitate this skill!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

It is the time of year we start planning for 7th grade camp. Along with the obvious planning - class schedules, staffing, etc... the subject of who to take and who not to take comes up.

The initial philosophy of camp was always to take everyone, and part of me agrees 100% with that.

However...... what about some accountability for students? Is it OK to get suspended over and over again, for a variety of issues from truancy to fighting to insubordination, and still be allowed to go? For some of the students, the issue is fairly clear cut - too many issues, period. End of discussion.

For others though, the question rides a wavery gray line for me.

Is it a matter of the ones I like and the ones I don't like?

Should it be based on what our predictions will be for that student's success while at camp?

Should it be based only on past performance at school behavior-wise?

Is it acceptable to not include a student because you know s/he will not survive the experience because of maturity issues?

Can exceptions be made for those who are showing dramatic improvement, but had serious issues early on?

Should we create more clear cut black and white rules to enforce?

Every year I struggle to think through these questions for the students I love dearly and want to take along but for reasons outside my realm of control, are being excluded.

The student who misses school so frequently he struggles to keep up despite being incredibly bright and working hard while he is there. I would love to take this little guy. He is so funny, so smart, so likeable. But he misses school so often. When he does come to school, most of the time he is tardy. But these issues are out of his control. It is a parenting issue. Does that mean he should be excluded from camp?

The girl who lives with grandpa and skips school more days than not. When she is there, she is amazing - bright, talented, a real knack for learning, pleasant, friendly. She does have some other issues - bullying, smoking.... But I like her, I enjoy her. Camp would be a wonderful experience for her.

Then the ones I simply do not want to take. The mouthy, sneaky one who seems to usually avoid trouble himself but is central to almost every issue in the class or hall. I *know* he will cause problems in his cabin at camp. He will be the one throwing food in the lodge at meal time, refusing to pick up trash on the greens, and jumping up to break branches off trees on hikes.

How do we justify camp, period? Is it truly a worthwhile educational endeavor anymore?

Not many answers..... just lots of questions....

Monday, February 09, 2009

Do you ever wonder if you are having an impact on your students? I think all teachers do. We wonder if we are getting our content across, certainly, but more importantly, we wonder if our students know we care about them, and will remember us as a teacher they liked having.

On those days students are annoyed with me for the work load, or my expectations for behavior, or the chunk of parent phone calls I made the night before, I often remind them I am not paid to be their friend, I am not here for them to like me, I am here to teach them, and I will do whatever it takes to make that possible.

In reality though, I am not that hard hearted. I want my students to realize how very much I do care about each and every one of them. I want them to feel like I tried to personally touch them in some way, even if they struggled academically in my classes.

I love Alfie Kohn's article, Unconditional Teaching. His message is important for all of us to remember:
"If some children matter more to us than others, then all children are valued only conditionally. Regardless of the criteria we happen to be using, or the number of students who meet those criteria, every student gets the message that our acceptance is never a sure thing. They learn that their worth hinges on their performance."
Every time I read Kohn's words, the faces of past students I am sure I have slighted come to mind.
"Teaching in this way is not just a matter of how we respond to children after they do something wrong, of course. It’s about the countless gestures that let them know we’re glad to see them, that we trust and respect them, that we care what happens to them. It’s about the real (and unconditional) respect we show by asking all students what they think about how things are going, and how we might do things differently, not the selective reinforcement we offer to some students when they please us."
I hope each day, each hour, there are enough of those countless gestures I bestow upon my students to help them understand how valuable each of them was to me.
"Imagine that your students are invited to respond to a questionnaire several years after leaving the school. They’re asked to indicate whether they agree or disagree – and how strongly – with statements such as: “Even when I wasn’t proud of how I acted, even when I didn’t do the homework, even when I got low test scores or didn’t seem interested in what was being taught, I knew that [insert your name here] still cared about me.”
How would you like your students to answer that sort of question? How do you think they will answer it?"
I know that some of my students know how very much I cared for them, but I worry about those few who slipped between the cracks. I worry that my frustrations with them overshadow the true feelings I felt for them.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Another teacher came to talk to me about the problems she has had with cheating in her classroom with our group of 7th graders this year. It was a timely conversation, echoing one I had yesterday with another teacher.

I think we have created a culture among students where they do not think sharing or giving answers is cheating.

The social aspect of learning has been at the forefront of education recently. We encourage students to talk it out; we establish group learning/projects as the norm; we seat students in closer proximity to each other trying to facilitate these protocols.

Have we gone too far? Are we creating students who cannot think independently? Where is the line between working together and cheating?

As a general rule, in my classes, students are allowed to confer when working on independent work. The only time I usually implement 'silence' in during a final assessment/test situation. I find students better able to explain to each other the problems they encounter, and it is obviously easier for me to not have to help each individual student. I know the students who are "teaching" are cementing the learning in their minds more securely, and like to think both parties are gaining from the experience.

However, I am begining to question my philosophy. Are the slackers just coasting along, stealing answers from the others? Are they really learning?

I find it more and more difficult to keep students quiet during an assessment situation. They are so intune to talking to each other, they seem to struggle to silence themselves. Is that bad? If they are learning in a social situation, should they also be assessed in that situation? If so, how will I ever know that Student A really does get it?

Students seem unable to differentiate between what is actually cheating and what is not. They think letting someone else copy their answer is 'helping' and showing them how to work a problem is just 'assisting'.

How do I learn to draw the learn for them, and for me? How can I ever be certain each and every child is grasping the content we cover if I am not assessing accurately?

Does it all matter in the scheme of life?