Sunday, November 21, 2010

What should beginning teachers focus on?

We have been fortunate at my school to have been asked to welcome student teachers on a fairly regular basis.  As these beginning teachers come into the school I think back to my experience and what I wanted from my sponsor teacher and what the different principals where I did my practicums did for me.  I enjoy going into the classroom and observing them.  I love the passion, energy and creativity that they bring into the classroom.  As I watch them teach, or am one of the interviewers for the district for Teachers on Call, I think about the qualities that would make me want to recommend them or hire them.  What is it that I expect to hear and that I expect to see?

How well did you get to know your kids?
Do you know what your students like?  Can you look at each child and know what their favourite areas of interest are?  Do you know when they might become anxious?  Do you know what their triggers are?  Did you take the time to get to know them?  Could you tell me which students need more time to do their work because they are slow and methodical versus those who do not understand but are finished quickly?  Can you tell me which ones are bored and acting out because the work lacks the challenge they need versus the ones who are frustrated and acting out because they do not understand the material? A good read is here: Bring Forth What is Within.

If you only know how your students are doing at the end of the unit then there are some serious questions that need to be addressed.  Do you actually know what formative assessment looks like?  It drives me nuts in interviews when I hear that there are 3 forms of assessment, of, for and as learning, and yet when we are discussing what their teaching units look like in the classroom they seem incapable of describing what it actually looked like in the classroom.  I also hear the words rubrics, self-assessment and peer assessment thrown around like candy, but again with very little substance in terms of examples.

Should we not be getting student teachers to be actively assessing on a regular basis? What kind of feedback are they giving the students?  Do the parents know how to help?  Do they know which areas in which the students require additional support?  Do their math assessments only look like Mad Minutes, repeated drill and kill sheets with no real problem solving, no math journalling?  How can you know what your students actually know or do not know if there are only drill sheets being used to assess?  If you do not know what I am talking about, this is a good starting point: Grade Less Assess More.  How are you adapting your lessons/assignments to meet individual needs?  Are you allowing their creative spirits to grow or are you constraining it? Changing Education Paradigms

How is technology being used in the classroom?  Are you using powerpoint the same way my grand-parents used slides?  If it is no different than listening to a boring narrative of someone standing next to the Statue of Liberty in 10 different ways then it is a $2000 waste of time.  Are you using it the same way that your teachers used to use the overhead projector?  Then it is a $2000 waste of time.

When I walk into the computer lab what am I going to see?  Is the computer lab being used as a no-prepping block or is it being used to engage and promote learning?  I have seen wikis being used at grade 2, blogging in grades 3-5.  If there is more that you would like to do, do you know where to go to ask for help?  Is your computer block just typing tutor/basic computer skills and using the computers as a fancy typewriter or are you using it to deepen the students' learning and bringing their learning to life?  If you are more comfortable in this domain than your sponsor teacher, are you willing/able to spend time with them to help them integrate more technology into the classroom?  If you are not sure what this should look like go here: Technology enabled choices, or here: Real World Editing.

Classroom management
Is your classroom management based on punishment/rewards and frequently looking at consequences?  Are the students fearful of stepping out of line as in this example:soccer team?  At the end of the day are you thinking of all of the kids who have sabotaged the lesson or are you reflecting on how you could have engaged them better?  Are all problems based/blamed on ADHD?  Do you stop and reflect when kids are focused and on-task versus when they are not?  If you have noticed a pattern of behaviour, how have you modified your lessons.  Have you changed up the type of activities that you are doing or do you have a few tried and true lessons that you revert to?  Are you teaching the way that you were taught or are you teaching the way that wish that you had been taught?  While there may students who struggle with their behaviour, the majority of students, when engaged, rarely demonstrate negative behaviour.  Working Hard for Smart Teachers Makes the Whole Difference is a prime example of this.  Have you created a community of learners and worked on self-regulation?  Have you worked on modeling the behaviour?

Community Building
The school goes beyond the 4 walls of the classroom, it includes every adult that works in the building. In includes the teaching and non-teaching staff, the parents and the neighbourhood schools (especially the feeder schools).  A vibrant school has an amazing energy to it, and this is because the kids are not just busy but actively engaged at their school and they love coming to school.  There are leadership groups, sports teams, intramural activities and clubs.  There are many adults involved making these activities happen, especially the teachers.

There was a time early in my teaching career when there was job action and there were no extra-curricular activities offered.  The pulse of a really great school dropped remarkably and the students and staff both missed it.  It really changed the climate of the school.  We all understood the reasons why it was done, but we could see its impact on our students.

It is a great way to get to know the kids and a great way for the kids to get to know you as well.  I loved the classroom, but I also loved being in the gym coaching volleyball and basketball, helping out with track and being involved in club activities as well.  It is important to be involved in the school community, because it creates amazing opportunities for the kids, but it also a lot of fun.

Lifelong Learning
How are you furthering your learning after you have completed your teaching degree?  What courses are you taking, what books are you reading?  How are you reflecting on your practice? Where are you looking for answers when you are struggling?  Great teachers never stop learning, never stop reading, never stop asking for help.  I have my support network through Twitter is how I have worked on building my own personal learning network and learning community and blogging (also here) is a part of my regular reflection.  What are you doing?

You are going to make mistakes.  I remember in one of our workshops a teacher saying that the day he taught the perfect day was the day he was going to retire. I know that you are going to make mistakes, what I am really interested in, is when you make mistakes what did you learn?  What did you do?  What did you change?  How did this inform your practice?  Teaching will always be a work in progress because every class you get is different than the one before, every school you will teach at will be different than the one before.  You need to keep reading, keep reflecting and keep discussing.

These are just some simple ideas that only begin to touch on the complexities of teaching and I know that there are many more elements.  At the end of the day you need to ask yourself "Am I the teacher that I wished I had or loved being in his/her class or are am I the type of teacher whose class I did not enjoy because I felt he/she did not care?".  Be honest with yourself.

Other Good Reads:
My 25% Pro-D
Kids do Well if They Can
The Curiosity of Children
My Role as a Teacher
Ted Talks Demystified for Teachers

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