Thursday, July 23, 2009

100 Things New Teachers Need to Know, 11-20

  • The last five minutes of every class should look like this: a quick review of that day’s content (either by calling on a few kids to answer simple questions about what was done that day, or quick written answers done on scratch paper and handed directly to you as they leave), a reminder about that day’s homework (you should also check at the door that they have this written down somewhere, preferably with a time set aside to work on it), and have them help you pick up the room by checking around their own areas for any garbage or materials that need to be put away.  When the bell rings, make a show of inspecting the room, then stand at the door and check their review work (if applicable) and homework reminders as they leave.  If it’s not satisfactory, send them back in to do it correctly.  They’ll learn quickly enough.

    Maybe for lower levels, but I'm not into babysitting Juniors and Seniors into reminding them of everything they need to do.  You should have some agenda on the board anyway that contains the homework.  Remind them of it briefly, but I don't think that leaving class should be this big of issue.  I'm teaching until the bell, and as always, the bell doesn't excuse students, the teacher does.  If they line up by the door, dock points, give them the eye, flog them, whatever.

  • “Inspirational” posters are worthless.  Decorate your room with some artwork and some things that reflect your professional personality, but mostly with excellent student work. 

    They are worthless, and totally cheesy.  Students like the real thing on the walls, like Gently says "reflect your professional personality".  I have old, famous newspapers on the walls, maps, replicas of famous documents, and student work.  It matches my personality and I can use in discussions. 

  • Make lots of referrals to counselors.  Best case scenario: students get useful advice.  Worst case: you can document an intervention that covers your liability if they get in real trouble.

    Be careful with this.  You might alienate the counselors by sending them every little problem, and you might lose rapport with your students if you constantly slide every issue to someone else.  Like anything else, use good judgement.  If it is something that is of any liability to your job, send it on and document. 

  • If a student submits work that is illegible, incomplete, or that didn’t follow directions, don’t grade it.  Return it to the student and tell them that they have three days to correct/finish it and resubmit it to you, but emphasize that it’s “on them.”  You won’t remind them again, and if they fail to turn it in, they will get a zero.

    I'll do this one time early on in the year, but I tell them that they have one day, not three.  After that, illegible, incomplete, or incorrect work gets graded down, maybe even not graded at all.  Within the first few weeks, I'll give a student the benefit of the doubt when doing something like completing incorrect chapter questions in the textbook.  After a month, I tell them that they need to focus better and that this is a learning experience.  Take the zero this time and get it correct next time.  Don't take late work.  It wastes your time and only sends the message that your original instructions are worthless.

  • Keep a file of IEP and 504 plans you’re given on students.  Highlight the things that you’re obligated to do.  Be sure that you implement them enough to justify compliance if the student still fails or if a parent complains.  This isn’t meant to be derogatory to those students or parents, but most of these accommodations, in my experience, are unnecessary and ultimately counterproductive.  Most of the useful ones are things that, as a good teacher, you do anyway.  However, some parents demand IEP’s and 504’s as ways of “insuring” that their children pass classes, and if they don’t, the parents will come for your head.  Since you can expect no sympathy from the staff at your school (these are, after all, legally binding documents) be ready to defend yourself.  If you can’t explain how you’ve complied with the requirements of a student’s accommodations, you’ll be hot water, and you don’t need that kind of grief.

    The worst experiences of my teaching career have been around 504's and IEP's, and in the end the teacher is held responsible for these documents.  Unfortunately, many students are enabled by parents who feel like every little thing a kid does must be a by-product of a mental disability.  Can't get up in the morning?  Must be an IEP issue that allows tardiness.  This makes a teachers job much harder in many cases, but only if you aren't prepared to justify.  For instance, our "Intro" level classes are for students that need a slower approach to content, and many IEP modifications are already imbedded in the course (extra time on work/tests, extra help, etc).  This eliminates a lot of issues with parents when they want a status report.  And yes, document every conversation, every issue with 504's and IEP's.  Remember, you are held responsible.

  • PC Myth #2: “Students must be comfortable with their environment to learn.”  Horsefeathers!  Learning entails growth and change, which demands sweat.  You don’t need to purposely embarrass students, but you do need to hold them accountable to high standards.  This might take the form of pop quizzes, oral quizzes, or making them re-do poor assignments.  If students fail to turn in an assignment and the class is ready to move on to the next one, make the “slackers” do the first assignment before they’re allowed to progress. 

    I think "comfortable" is not a good term here.  Students need a safe and open place to learn.  It is vital for student growth.  However, students should definitely be pushed out of their comfort zone, even if they protest (and they will).  Your students will respect you if you have high standards.  So will the administration.  But once again, I don't like re-do's.   

  • As soon as possible before school starts, ask the counselors for a student aide.  Every day, have him or her grade at least one set of papers, but make sure it’s something simple: questions from the textbook with concrete answers, or worksheets or quizzes.  Don’t give them writing assignments or anything especially creative to grade, or projects.  Don’t worry about “having one more kid to babysit;” a good student aide is priceless.  Be sure to get him or her something for Christmas and their birthday.

    Good student aides are excellent.  They will save you hours by grading and imputing information.  Treat them very respectfully and don't worry about giving them challenges to meet.  It builds their character.  At the same time, don't choose just anyone.  I end up saying "no" every year to people I can't trust.  You don't need to worry about your class information from a slacker, and you don't need to babysit a distraction. 

  • When possible, segregate boys and girls.  Separating students by grade level, race, income, etc. is pointless, but separating them by gender always gets academic results.  If the teacher next door teaches the same subject, consider collaborating on some lessons, and each of you takes all the students of one gender.  Sorry if this offends anyone, but it works.

    Maybe this is a younger ages thing because I've never seen any benefit to separating students by gender.  They won't work separate in college or the workplace, so why do it in class?  Oh, and I don't know about other teachers, but my females are historically better students and it isn't even close.  They are more focused and more driven, and are more likely to grind out problems than give up. 

  • If some 17-year-old boy enters your class of freshmen, do not sit him next to some 14-year-old girl.  Her father thanks you.

    Bah, if it isn't a problem, don't make it one.  Be consistent and fair.  The 17 year old can sit anywhere he wants as long as it isn't a problem in my classroom.  If it becomes a problem, then we deal with it.  In my classroom, they will probably have to interact at one time or another anyway. 

  • Every subject should require a lot of memorizing.  Not just names and dates, but entire poems and speeches, etc.  You’ll know it’s valuable because they’ll complain bitterly.  It’s when students are complacent that you should worry.

    Yeah, when did memorizing become taboo?  I hear all the talk about how important it is not to get kids to memorize and focus on critical thinking, only I don't understand how critical thinking works without relevant information.  You can discuss Constitutional issues all night long, but if your opponent has the Articles, Amendments, and court precedents down cold, you are going to look like a fool and the opponent will look professional.  Know the information.  It's not good enough just to skirt the issue and "analyze".

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