Friday, July 24, 2009

100 Things New Teachers Need to Know, 21-30.

  • A quick turn-around time on returning graded work is a must.  If this means grading some assignments on completion (which is OK sometimes, if the nature of the assignment is such that simply doing it necessitates doing it right), so be it.  Some assignments can be graded on every other question, etc.  As I said before, keep writing assignments short.  If students get work back in a timely manner, they’re more likely to care about it.  If an assignment comes back after about two weeks and they don’t even remember it anymore, it’s worthless.  Only return assignments that a) they’ll need to study, or b) they put a lot of effort into (or should have).  Not all work is worth keeping track of.

    My weakest part of the classroom is getting work back in a timely manner.  It must get better.  Gently is right about students caring more about students caring about their work if it gets back quick.  I also agree with handing back only assignments that are necessary.  Lots of quizzes in my class, and those go in an outbox for students to collect at their leisure, which most won't.

  • Keep some blank greeting cards in your desk to scribble notes on for students who need cheering up or special congratulations, etc.  Get Thomas Kinkade covers if you can.

    Cool idea.  I try and cheer them up verbally or lend some vocal support, but a card might be a little better.  Just be careful about the message.  Caring is ok, but be professional. 

  • When studying a play as a class, do not assign parts and have them read out loud.  They’re terrible at it, and it will kill the play.  If your department doesn’t have audio performances of the play for them to listen to while they read along, your public library will.

    Interesting.  Audio book are becoming more and more of a fixture in our library.  I can totally see where English classes can take advantage of them.

  • Please, please, please don’t show a lot of videos.  Whenever you do, make sure there’s a graded assignment tied into it, even if it’s just listing ten facts from a documentary, or filling in a Venn diagram comparing a film to a novel.  No work = no accountability = no learning.  I can’t think of any good reason to devote more than three hours per quarter to videos. 
  •  I'm guessing that this is full videos, because I show multimedia like crazy, and I'd tell new teachers to start collecting video clips right now.  Obviously, full length features have limited value for a variety of reasons, and I rarely show them (usually only during AP week for AP students, since the class is usually half-full, and I show Inside 9/11).  However video clips and short documentaries are incredibly valuable.  First of all, I show the news summary from the Newshour with Jim Leher every day.  It is vital.  Then I incorporate all kinds of clips, usually no longer than 20 minutes, into class time.  Talking about the Great Depression and the FDIC?  60 Minutes had a great short on the FDIC taking over banks in the present.  Or what about showing a 2 minute West Wing clip to start a class?  Or School House Rock?  Yes, multimedia is good.  Make it relevant, make it interesting, make it work.

  • Avoid group work.  They’ll usually just copy or play around.  Or both.  People who insist that students need practice “cooperating” and “working with others” are wrong.  They already know how to manipulate such systems and blend in.  They need practice being focused and responsible.  If you do give group work, please make sure that each individual has a specific product or element of the whole for which to be responsible and graded on.
  • I hate making group work for the sake of making group work.  If I do group work, I give everyone peer evaluations and very specific instructions.  Don't pull your weight?  Get nailed on the grade.  My final Economics project (basically making their own business plan) is group oriented, and I do occasionally have problems.  But the end result of group work can be amazing, with different modalities coming together to create superb output.

  • If you’re teaching punctuality, or if you simply want to lessen your load of papers to grade, don’t accept late work.  However, if your priority is educating students about the content of your field, then you must learn to deal with it.  Of course you’ll only accept it one day late, and for half credit, but even then you should be willing to make exceptions.  It’s not fair to you, I know, but if you cared about fair, you wouldn’t be a teacher.
  • And I would argue that if you are simply teaching content to students, you are doing them a serious disservice.  A past assistant principal once told me that accepting late work is one of the worst things a teacher can do.  It enables them, makes more work for you, and usually the effort put into the second draft is half ass.  The way I look at it, I'm teaching life skills through the vehicle of social studies.  Do I really give a damn if the students come out of Government class knowing all the Federalist Papers?  Of course not.  Do I give a damn that students go out into the world and are successful because they are on time and produce quality work.  Absolutely.  Follow the school rules for accepted late work, then say "no" to the rest.   Oh, and I mean "no".  That means that work turned in five minutes after I ask for it (say for instance that you are tardy), is late, and therefore unacceptable.  Remember, don't just teach content, teach to succeed.

  • PC Myth #3: “All students can learn.”  Well, maybe they can, but many won’t.  Everybody loves an underdog, and you’ve probably been inspired by some movie where a misfit teacher doesn’t give up on some slacker with a heart of gold until said slacker unleashes their amazing hidden talent and excels.  In the real world, we can’t afford to dwell on those who choose to fail.  In any given class, about 5%-15% of the students will be unreachable.  Don’t waste your time trying to “save” them.  Meanwhile, the majority of your students are getting C’s and D’s when they really should be getting A’s and B’s.  Those students, the fat middle part of the bell curve, should be your priority.  Teach them.
  • Yes and no.  I find that the number of the "won't" is closer to the 5%, and they will slowly stop coming to your class is they don't want to learn.  Mostly, if they are coming, they want to know.  The problem is that it is quite exhausting to get them up to standard.  Seriously, teaching Advanced Placement students might take more time, but getting under-achieving students (that want to understand!) to "get it" consistently is the real energy drain.  One slip of attention and it takes time to get them back.  A lot of time, and patience.  Work at it, and the kids will reward you with attention.  Alas, there are the 5% that will be adamant to leave the fold.  Like Gently said, let them.    

  • Administrators might insist that you have your lesson plans ready far in advance, which is pointless.  It’s too easy to look a month ahead and plan something so ambitious that it will never work.  Then, when that day comes, you’re stuck with a pipe dream that you can’t actually implement.  The best lesson plans are written two days in advance.  I suggest preparing some pages of generic lesson plans ready to show off at a moment’s notice so they’ll think you’re jumping through their hoops.  Life is just too fluid and unpredictable to plan further ahead than that and set details down in stone.  Be ready to adapt and improvise!
  • I figure that the day that admin starts asking for daily lesson plans is the day I quit teaching.  I have a calendar, I have a plan, and like Gently stated, it is constantly evolving.  Plus, we have assemblies, Homecoming week, Club's Day, and multitude of other distractions that are impossible to plan for weeks ahead of time.  Be flexible, and I guess a bunch of generic lessons for show would come in handy.  But I hope that it would never come to that.

  • However, you should plan your year like this: before school starts, chart out which novels, units, projects, major objectives, etc. you want to hit each quarter.  As that quarter approaches, add detail to your chart by breaking it down into each of the nine weeks, and add more specific goals and assignments at this time to build toward the major ones you outlined before: this is where you pencil in the smaller assignments that eventually become daily lesson plans.  This will make your “two days ahead” planning much easier.
  • However, like it is stated here, prepare, prepare, prepare.  It will only make your year easier if you know what you are doing and then add on.

  • Have routines: every Friday morning is for independent reading, every other Tuesday is for literary response journals, Monday is for grading last week’s work in class and returning it, every Friday at the end of class is for notebook checks, the last two days of the first half of each quarter are for reviewing for unit tests, etc.  This will help big time with lesson planning.
  • I have the news at the beginning of each day, except quiz day when we start with that.  I also have a Jeopardy review before the test, then the test, and then a day of review of the test.  Otherwise, I don't have a lot of routine.   

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