Saturday, March 5, 2011

How to Not Be a Terrible Teacher

OK so that title apparently got your attention. The picture helps as well(this is too easy). In that sense we at the Underground are as traffic hungry as some media outlets but much more ethical in our quest to attract readers. Since you were unfortunate enough to find your way here you might as well read a bit.

When I was new to the job I should have been let go. In fact, I was...three separate times, when I received my reduction in force letter(RIF). For reasons I still cannot fully explain I kept coming back for more and was rehired each August. During that time a more experienced teacher once said to me "Get better or get out." OK...I made that line up but I wish someone had said it. Because that's kinda how I feel today. Despite what seems a coordinated and organized effort to demoralize America's teachers we stick around. And despite what you hear, many of the problems in our schools can't be just written off to "bad" teachers. Certainly a nebulous and political charged label in today's climate. The "good" teachers, the people I respect the most at my school, share a common trait, a continual desire to improve things and do better. So how does one go from surviving as a new teacher to really growing as a professional? Admitting I have much growing left to do, this is not a discussion of the growth-model value-added data driven edujargon reform currently proposed and supported by individuals who will never ask about what I have learned in teaching. Take it or leave it, here's some advice:

PERSONALITY MATTERS-A great deal of research tries to point out that in fact anyone can be a good teacher...and at least in principle I agree. I also believe strongly that as in any profession, when you expand the pool of people you hire, you also acquire those less able to perform. Like most places of employment, we've got those that work hard and make things better, and well, then we've got those that don't. One factor in that is personality. Teaching high school is unique. In how many other jobs do you interact with a hundred or more people(ones you see regularly) in more than just a minimal way? There are a few that come to mind and with them I know personality matters. Many other jobs involve very limited and simple interactions. In teaching you engage with many more folks in greater depth.

STEAL-The old re-inventing the wheel line still applies. While flashy PowerPoints and technology integration contribute, in most subjects it is still about content and basic lesson. White boards and markers work as well as a Promethean board. Why can't people get that? The digital age has ushered in many changes and as schools go 1 to 1with computers, I hope people recognize how that could potentially complicate what might otherwise be simple. Computers are great, until they start designing and building themselves. Yikes. I digress. Older teachers have more stuff, so steal from them! Resources, ideas, unit plans, etc. I did in fact have a more experienced teacher once tell me "teaching is sharing". That stuck with me. Remember to give and take.

KIDS BEFORE CONTENT- Remember you are teaching people, connect to them and make them matter. You never know when something you say can change the direction of a day or even a life. Smiley faces, positive comments, casual conversation before class all help create connections. Think about their lives and reach out(not on facebook), maybe even try to make their experience a positive one....

ARRIVE EARLY, LEAVE LATE-This is pretty much the norm but you need to put in the legwork to succeed. Yeah your family and relationship will suffer but hey you are a teacher...stop complaining. No one one in a position to do anything about it seems to care.

DO SOMETHING BESIDES SITTING IN THE CLASSROOM-Find other ways to get involved, sponsor stuff, coach, stand in the hall, volunteer. Speaking and Interacting with kids in a different setting can be as rewarding as anything else you do.

FIGURE OUT WAYS TO DO SOMETHING BETTER-Reflect and do things better in the future. You don't need data to accomplish this. I know for a fact that my 1st period classes might get short changed because it is the first time I attempt to do stuff. When 4th period rolls around my delivery is polished and fluid. I've worked out the kinks. Practice makes perfect.

ASK KIDS FOR FEEDBACK-They are brutally honest. If they all say you stink. You probably do. Consider appealing to their interests and changing up to something that works.

INVOLVE PARENTS-Parents are your best ally or worst enemy and sometimes both. Which would you prefer? E-mail updates about the class can go a long way in helping people feel connected. Include what the class has been doing, upcoming assignments and even some info about the school as a whole. It only takes a few minutes I get more thanks for this than just about anything else.

SOMETIMES YOU MIGHT HAVE TO PUNT-Don't be scared to use a movie once in a while. Use that time to grade or get ready. Just be sure you make the movie useful and relevant or the kids will see right through the effort. Another way of saying this is some teachers make the mistake of feeling like they need to be up in front "teaching" for things to get done. Mix it up.

RED DOTS MEAN SOMETHING-Grading is not always a science and there isn't a rubric for everything. When listening to a song you know within the first 10 secs whether something is good and student responses can be much the same. Once you realize its good...Use red dots. Provide the needed feedback and move on. Example: 1 essay x 140 students x 5 mins each essay = 11+ hours of grading. Good luck with that.

THERE ARE NO SHORTCUTS-You may work really hard and still not be any good. Welcome aboard!

TREAT STUDENTS LIKE THEY ARE YOUR KIDS-They are the most precious thing in the world to someone. Most young teachers don't yet have kids. Imagine entrusting your kid to someone else you barely know. You have to live up to that responsibility

BE A LEADER-Schools need competent, concerned and involved people or all the those that bash our schools will be proven right.

STAY MOTIVATED BY MOTIVATING OTHERS-There are few professions where each and every day so many depend on you. No you are not a pilot, nurse, surgeon, soldier or saint. But you are important. Find ways to make that mean something each and every day. Easier said than done. But fear not, for now most systems still have this thing called summer. :) Then you can just call your friends and gloat.

AVOID BURNOUT-Worry about and focus on one of the few things you can actually "control", your classroom, Don't worry about all the other stuff. If it deals with education don't watch too much news, read too much of the paper, attend too many meetings or read too many blogs(except this one).

In appreciation for our low morale we at the Teacher Underground are considering a series of posts to lighten the mood.

In the meantime share some of the tips those of you out there have picked up?

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