What Have You Learned From Teaching?
At the end of my first term in a High School classroom full-time, I wrote a post about five of the things I wish I’d known about teaching before I’d started.
Since that time, I’ve finished a school year and am preparing for another. It hasn’t always been easy. Reflecting on that post from December 2014, I’ve made some changes. Education is a work in progress for both students and teachers. This is what I’ve learned from teaching in the last year.
Sometimes, it is about you:
As much as each student will bring their own day into the classroom, you also bring yours. If you, as the teacher, don’t want to be at school today – why would your students? This came up for me personally while I was being observed by another teacher. I was tired and it showed. The students were bored, and the lesson left some things to be desired. I try to remember this by thinking about as much as I might be tired and wanting to go home, it’s even worse listening to someone that is tired and wants to go home.
While in December 2014 I was figuring out the essentials, assessing what was achievable and then making lesson plans, today I would emphasise skill building and learner autonomy. If you can help students develop a way to learn new vocabulary on their own, or revise material they’ve learned in class, or cope with parts of a text they don’t understand, they will be much more confident as learners. Unfortunately, most teachers don’t get that much time to focus on each student’s strengths and weaknesses. Help students identify where they need more work, and strategies to support themselves. Be open and available to support where necessary.
This past summer term I had students use Quizlet and make simple paper flash cards to review important vocabulary and themes for Social Studies. For a lot of students (myself included), repetition and review helps. We made some flash cards together and reviewed them in class. It was pretty monotonous, but students knew they were remembering things, and we did it for nearly an hour.
Leave the room
Counting to 10 is an effective strategy to keep your cool in a stressful classroom situation. Sometimes you need to count to 20, sometimes you need to leave the room for a minute. For whatever reason, leaving the room for a minute seems to be especially effective with adolescents (within reason – I would not do this with a class of 30 Grade 9’s). I think that this might be because they are mature enough to understand that they aren’t behaving appropriately in a situation, and if you’ve built a good rapport with them, they genuinely feel bad about making you angry enough to leave a room.
Don’t Lose your Cool
If you resort to yelling at students one time, you’ll be yelling at students for the rest of the term. Modelling the behaviour you want to see from your class is very important (and sometimes incredibly difficult). Losing your cool will quickly escalate into a “you versus them” classroom situation, and there are usually many more students than teachers.
If you are interested, students can be interested (*sometimes)
There is a limit to what students will be interested in, and sometimes it is nearly impossible to understand what that will be. Don’t take it personally when a lesson you’ve gotten excited about falls flat and you have to move on before people start falling asleep. Sometimes, it isn’t about you. For me, this means I will have to read about some elements of Canadian history at home, and force conversations on my friends and family. While the classroom presents a captive audience, don’t abuse it.