Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Five Tips from the Retired

I've been thinking about all my friends prepping for school!  And I've joined a new group - a Facebook group for Secondary ELA teachers.  I know, right!?!  I have both math and ELA certification - although I never taught high school English.  I did teach middle school English and loved it.

Anyway, this Facebook group has a lot of newbies on it!  I'm so excited about new teachers and the joys ahead of them!  But I know, too, they will experience exhaustion, frustration, and will for at least a few minutes lose hope!

I learned a few things over 30+ years in schools.  I'm wondering if any of these thoughts might help the new and inexperienced?

Many, maybe even most students and parents appreciated me over the years. I have the "good" letters tucked away here and there. I still correspond with, and even meet up with students that I taught. But not all students and parents liked me.  In fact - some parents lobbied to have their students removed from my classroom before we even met. It hurt my feelings. I learned that my goal was to develop as positive rapport as possible with both students and parents, but to keep my focus on being the teacher, facilitator, guide, lifetime learner. I was teacher first, friend second if and when that became possible.

Not everyone student was engaged every day all the time. I learned to vary activities, to move about the room, to use humor, to even sing a bit (my favorite!). But most of all I learned to talk less and insist that students work more.  "Don't talk more than 10 minutes" became my motto!

There were times when lessons failed. It was a challenge to learn to let go, shift gears, do something else. But this is where my love for the planning of lessons helped greatly.  Don't persist in a lesson fail - do something else. Plan an alternate activity if possible. Or whip out the whiteboards, and practice, practice, practice!

Early on I realized that I needed to find a balance in the classroom - a balance of introducing new topics with time to practice. This was easier when I had daily classes.  I found the balance challenging in my last years with 90 minutes every other day. When I had daily classes, although they were shorter, I was able to build in a class period now and then for a catch up day.  In the rotating block classes, I worked on building in a catch up day now and then -  but usually for only 30 - 45 minutes.  Sometimes I even told students up front, "Today is an old fashioned worksheet day. I want you to practice, practice, practice." I paired such a day with working in partners or small groups so students could collaborate and check their work. Avoiding a frantic pace, finding time to breathe easier, and allowing time for the math to simmer ... tough but necessary!

I wanted students to have feedback daily so they could take ownership of their learning. I found using online quizzing tools (Google Forms, Socrative, Quizizz) were great for quick formative assessment.  Yes - they were multiple choice which often gets a bad rap.  But for the daily check for students it was good. Using the online tools freed up my time to work on lesson planning and to give better written feedback on quizzes and tests.

Teaching is hard!  It's also possibly the most rewarding job ever :) I cried some days, laughed others. Dragged myself home to bed many a day!  I made mistakes - some I couldn't fix. But each day was a new day ... an adventure in life and learning.

If you are a new and/or inexperienced teacher looking for a listening ear ... contact me at algebrasfriend at gmail dot com. I'd love to listen!

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