Wednesday, July 22, 2009

100 Things New Teachers Need to Know, 1-10.

Gently Hew Stone has posted 100 important facts that new teachers over the last few years.  I'd figure that I'd comment on them, since the list is very comprehensive, and being in my ninth year of teaching I can give a perspective that isn't burnt out and still fresh.  The bulleted comments are from Gently Hew Stone, and my comments are in bold and italics.  

  • Sit your desk in the front of the room, not the back: the thinking that students will act more maturely if they don’t know if you’re looking at them is wrong–they couldn’t care less.  Also, make sure there is enough room by the back wall for you to walk around behind them if you need to.  Letting students sit up against the back wall, with no other access than from coming down an aisle, is asking for trouble.  “Creative” seating arrangements, except in rare circumstances like class discussions and debates, don’t work: just arrange them in ranks and files. 
  • Sit your desk where you can best monitor the students.  My desk is on the right side of the classroom, but I'm almost never sitting in it.  That's what helps in good classroom management.  And yes, "creative" seating in regular circumstances doesn't really work. 

  • As the year starts, you’ll be overwhelmed by the paperwork and routines your administrators demand.  Ask a couple of people who have been at your campus for a while what’s really important to them: most of that rigmarole is just your administrators doing what their bosses told them to do; they don’t care about it any more than you do.  Veterans at your school can tell you what you can safely ignore.  You have enough to worry about without jumping through hoops for the office.
  • This is incredibly vital.  I had a teacher that nearly every morning guided me through all the land mines of public schools, including the huge amount of paperwork that is "necessary" at the beginning of the year.  Remember, the most important thing to do at the beginning of the year is prepare your classroom. 

  • Kids will complain all the time, about everything, and there’s not much you can do about it.  Learn to screen out the groans, the whining, the muttered complaints of “boring” and “sucks.”  Don’t take it personally, because they don’t mean it personally.  They’ve been trained by the media and their hormones to automatically hate everything at school.  Just go ahead with your lesson anyway.  They’ll be fine.
  • It goes in cycles.  Note that by the end of the year, everyone will want out.  This teacher has it right, don't take it personally, because it will only serve to make things work.  The best thing you can do is make your lesson relevant and engaging.  Your students will still complain, but they will find your class worth going to.  I've had comments from complainers like, "Feel honored Mr. Silva-Brown, your class is the one that brought me here to school today to complain".  It's a compliment. 

  • Every time you get a note or an email from a parent thanking you–or saying anything positive at all–print it out and save it in a file where you keep things like your teaching license, contract, and resume.  When somebody complains to your supervisor about how you do your job–which, if you’re doing it right, they will–providing copies of such recommendations might come in handy.
  • Not only that, but hang on to them for those times when you doubt yourself or when the times are tough.  I have teaching and coaching "Thank you's" that I still read from time to time.

  • All “staff development” and “teacher in service” days exist to promote fads.  If you get to attend a really useful one every two years or so, count yourself lucky.  You might have to go through the motions of adopting some gimmick presented at one of these meetings, but don’t worry–everybody will forget about it soon enough and go back to normal.  Don’t feel bad about skipping some of these if you can get away with it so you can do something actually productive: planning rigorous lessons and editing papers.
  • Not all, but most staff development days are pretty pointless.  Unfortunately, the longer you teach, the more you will realize that staff development gets in the way of actually prepping for the year.  And yes, "fad teaching" does exist, and a whole lot of it is pretty poor teaching methodology.  Incorporate things that make your classroom better and throw out the rest.  If you are taking heat from the admin, document (creatively) how you use it in your classroom, even if you really don't use it. 

  • I say “editing papers” because it’s more constructive than “grading papers.”  Written assignments should be graded like this: Read through them and mark the first five grammatical/mechanical errors.  Grade the paper based on that much: the style, voice, organization, and, of course, how far you got in the paper before you found five errors.  If five errors appeared within the first half page, make them do it over before you give it a grade. 
  • Great papers are a joy to grade.  Poorly written papers ruin the weekend.  I don't make students rewrite papers over again because then the students think the first draft can suck, expecting to be able to rewrite later.  However, the first paper does tell you a lot about what to expect.

  • Resist the urge to try to edit every error in every paper: there just aren’t enough hours in the day.  For this reason, short assignments are better than long ones, most of the time.  They need drilling, not marathons. 
  • Quiz, quiz, quiz.  I don't at least 3, usually 4 a week and the students grade them.  It creates higher attendance and reinforces the idea that something is being learned and assessed in the classroom.  Then the quiz questions are on the test, which gives students the understanding that you are not screwing with them.  Consistence is key. 

  • As much as possible, provide written directions for your assignments to students.  Oral directions alone are worthless, and just putting them on the board isn’t much better.  Students today seem to work best when they have individual copies of instructions, especially if they can keep them.  Also, you’ll be surprised by how many students will understand directions better if you simply explain them directly to them, one on one.  Even if you only repeat exactly what you just said to the whole class, some kids will “get it” better. 
  • In this era of budget cuts, handing out directions to every student might not be an option.  I have no problem writing it on the board, or writing it on a Word Document and putting up on the projector for people to copy.  Students need to be able to follow directions, including copying things down from the board.  Then, ask for questions and wait.  If someone asks, ask for questions again and wait.  Scan your eyes across the length of the room at least twice before you move on. 

  • No matter what you teach, read out loud to your class.  A lot.  Most students these days have so little positive experience with reading, and so little ability to realistically “hear” a story in their heads as they read, that this training is truly essential, at any age.  Even for teenagers, move around and use dramatic or silly voices as you read; again, such exaggeration models the kind of active screening of written words that they probably lack.  Your poorest readers will want to watch you instead of reading along.  I used to be a stickler about making them look at the pages of their book, but I’ve since come to think that this is counterproductive for them.
  • This is a beautiful comment and so correct.  Even Seniors love my impressions of Jefferson or Nixon, enjoy a good story of Jackie Robinson, or will sit up straight when reading the majority opinion of Texas vs. Johnson (flag burning).  Teacher voice, tone, and energy make all the difference in the world.  Contrary to popular opinion, lecturing and discussions are very effective.......if you have the energy to do it right.  Reading out loud is the same.

  • PC Myth #1: “Don’t worry about the smart kids.  They’ll take care of themselves.”  If I had a nickel for every time I heard this lie in college, I’d be able to supplement my income enough now to live like my friends in real estate did a few years ago.  The problem with this line, and a lot of other popular thinking like it, is that so many teachers subscribe to it now that the smart kids have almost nobody left rooting for them.  Their intelligence often gets wasted in our schools, with so few of us willing to challenge and expand it.  Please, do not ignore the smartest kids (even though they may be among your most annoying students).
  • In credential programs we learn so much about bringing the bottom kids up, and teaching the English Language Learners how to understand content, that we forget that there are kids that want to be pushed, need to be pushed.  About three years ago I realized upon reading my "teacher report cards" from students that I was really dumbing down content to the point that the more academic kids were becoming problems in class.  I changed to that the bar was set higher and I spoke up to kids, not down to them, expecting that lower level kids needed to step up a notch.  What I found is that plenty of kids want to reach that bar, you'll just have to help them out a little more.  And if that bar is set high, and the really academic kids know that you are trying to get others to reach it, they'll be more patient with you as well. 

    More later.

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