There is a new English teacher at my school who is working with the freshman. I love her! She has done so well – especially coming in halfway through the year and working hard to establish great procedures. But like all new teachers, she is overwhelmed.
I have loved talking with her and remembering my own first year teaching. I am doing my best to help her not succumb to the same worries and temptations that I did – or, at the very least, to be aware of them.
One we were discussing recently is new teacher temptation #1:
The idea that unless you are talking the whole class period and exhausting yourself, you are being a lazy teacher and your kids aren’t learning.
Or, it can also manifest itself this way:
The idea that if your kids are working silently for long periods of time and you are not talking to the whole class, you are being a bad teacher.
Both of these ideas are completely false, but they are chronic worries for the new teacher and sometimes even for the more experienced teacher.
These tempting but utterly misleading ideas arise for many reasons. One is that some teachers, who merely pass out worksheets all day and sit behind their desks while the kids do them (or don’t do them), are being bad teachers. If that practice is your modus operandi, there is something seriously wrong. I saw this practice occurring a lot at my old school and I wanted to be as different from that as possible — and so I thought that it was my job to be the entertaining center-of-attention in my classroom.
If you google “teacher cartoon” on google images, you’d see how most of the pictures look like this, because this is what society thinks teaching should look like. Teacher talking, chalkboard behind him or her, and coffee.
But that’s not always true.
New teachers: the center of attention in your classroom should not be you. It should be student learning.
Whatever methods get you there are good methods.
Sometimes that means you, as a teacher, need to do most of the talking during a certain lesson. Other times that means the kids need to do most of the talking. Other times that means nobody needs to do ANY talking for a certain period of time.
The point is, you want to find the most helpful and efficient way to facilitate learning in your kids.
This is a nice picture, but I bet you very little actual learning is going on here:
I mean, how could it be? The blonde boy will have an aching neck in a moment, the girl with the pig tails can barely see the text, and the boy with his mouth open in astonishment is pointing at a conspicuously huge and picture-less volume that is probably not as thrilling as the picture wants you to believe. Only the girl on the right seems to be reading.
I mean, these pictures look a lot more realistic to me, albeit less glamorous:
My friend, the new freshman teacher, was wondering if it would be okay for her to spend a few days having the kids read a challenging text individually in class (since they probably wouldn’t read it outside of class) and answer questions about it. I gave her some further ideas about how to differentiate.
“Are you sure that’s okay?” she said. “I mean, it’s going to be really quiet in my room for the next couple of days. It’s okay to have them read during class? By themselves?”
I affirmed that it was, indeed okay – in fact, wonderful – because it was the simplest way for her to help her kids achieve the learning goal.
I couldn’t help but think of Harry Wong saying “Get to work! Get to work! Get to work!” in his video on classroom management. But he is right. The point is not to make yourself work (although, inevitably, that will happen). The point is to make the kids work:
Here’s an example of a choice I made today that I would have had a very hard time making my first year:
We’re starting a new unit (our last unit!) on Dante’s Inferno. Here is my objective:
SWBAT explain historical context and background information for Dante.
My first year of teaching (and my second… and my third…) I would have felt it was my responsibility to give the kids information like this. After all, some of them haven’t even heard of Dante, and none of them know more than one or two facts about him. So I probably would have made a guided notes sheet and a power point presentation where I used “direct instruction” (translation: teacher talking, students listening and taking notes) to get the important facts about Dante into the kids’ heads. After all, “explain” is a very low-level Bloom’s verb and so taking on the more active role is not a bad idea.
But this year I realized that this method was not the most effective way for my kids to learn about Dante’s life and times.
So instead, this year, I created a packet with critical questions and suggestions for helpful websites. Then I took them to the library and they researched Dante’s life themselves and answered the questions, citing the sources. All I did was walk around, observe, keep them on track, and help them when necessary.
Tomorrow I will briefly go over the answers with them just to make sure they have their facts straight.
My classroom was not only quiet today, it was empty.
And the library was pretty quiet too.
But the point is, it was much more powerful for the kids to find the information for themselves rather than merely receiving it from me. They will be more likely to remember it, too.
I still felt a little guilty. That New Teacher Temptation made me want to explain myself to our librarian, to assure her that I wasn’t just taking the day off.
But I resisted.
New teachers – trust yourselves. Pick the method that will help your kids learn — not the one that makes you look good.