This past month of September, I had one of my best months of teaching. As I sit home on my first day of maternity leave, I’m thinking about what made it so great.
The Basics of Lesson Planning
First of all, my lesson plans were for me. I spent the limited time I had at home focusing on what I wanted to teach, and how to get the students engaged in the lessons. What was missing from my plans were the following items that are now supposedly required elements: Each question I would ask the students, followed by the Bloom’s taxonomy level of the question; an explanation of how I would differentiate the lesson for different learners; a section on how I would assess the students at different points throughout the lesson; an explanation of the AFL (Assessment For Learning) strategies I would use; and of course, the state standards that went along with each component of the lesson. To be clear, my lesson plans included some of these elements; I did list a few key questions I would ask students, and my lesson was differentiated. I just didn’t spell out things that I already knew. My plans were for me, not to prove to an outsider that may come in that I knew what I was doing.
Ignoring the Common Core
Secondly, I didn’t think twice about the common core. Knowing my students, I made lessons and a “curriculum” that would benefit their learning needs. The courses I was given were “U.S. Journalism” and “Global Journalism,” English electives geared toward helping students pass the U.S. History and Global Studies Regents exams. I took some time to look over these exams (not being very familiar with them since I’m really an ESL teacher) and picked out the elements I thought students needed the most help with. This quick study is what guided my instruction. I went on to teach students how to make observations of a photo (leading into analysis of political cartoons), how to distinguish between fact and opinion (including key words like “bias” and “point of view”), and how to decode the often difficult to comprehend Document Based Questions. I taught the social studies regents exams through the lens of an English teacher.
Spending Time on What Matters
Finally, and this is something I always try to do but has become more difficult with all the new demands placed on teachers, I made time to get to know my students. Day one began with a survey called “getting to know you,” where I had the students answer questions that would help me determine their learning needs. Another day was spent having the students set goals for the course. When teaching my mini lesson, I elicited examples of goals from students. When a girl in one class said her goal was to become a tattoo artist, I took it seriously. We had a class discussion on how we could help the young lady make an action plan to reach her goal.
An Anecdote of an Amazing Transformation
Students who are notoriously misbehaved suddenly had very little trouble in my class. One young man who was known for spending more time wandering the halls and wrestling his friends on the floor, became a star student. How did this happen in so short a time? I took him aside the second day of the semester, after two class periods of him walking in and out of the room, and I made a deal with him. In my class this year, I made my own procedure regarding the bathroom pass, deciding what my students needed was to be treated with respect and given personal responsibility. I decided students shouldn’t have to raise their hand and ask to leave the room, which often disrupts the flow of the lesson. If the pass is on the table, they may act like the mature adults I expect them to be and leave the room without asking. When explaining this procedure, I let students know that if they took advantage of this by leaving for too long or too often, I would speak to them and they may lose the privilege. I made a special arrangement with the young man I mentioned. I told him I know he has trouble sitting at a desk for an entire class period, and I empathized with him about how difficult this can be. He had permission to leave once per class period, for a few minutes. He tried to test me, but after one incidence of him leaving twice in a period, I spoke to him, and it didn’t happen again. I also called on him any time I needed some leg work done…collecting papers, erasing and writing on the board, and even picking up something I dropped once (being 8 months pregnant).
I was amazed at the student he became, staying in his seat, and raising his hand to participate. Unbelievably, he became the student to which I had to say, “you’ve helped a lot with our discussion today, I’d like to call on someone else.” Administration didn’t come in to my classes at all this month to see this transformation, but on my way out the door yesterday, a fellow teacher who sometimes used my room, commented on how impressed she was by this student, and how much she enjoyed listening in on my classes. I’m not saying my classes were perfect, but the transformation of this one student was truly nothing but amazing.
The Bottom Line
I think what meant the most to me this past month was that I remembered to have fun. Teaching, learning, and school itself should be fun. Kids are no longer taught or expected to automatically like school and respect their teachers. We, the teachers, have to instill that in them. When the star student I wrote about earlier got out of his seat once to visit a friend on the other side of the room, he left his work there by mistake. I whispered to the friend to hide it. When it came time to go over the work, I intentionally called on him, and hid a smile as he looked everywhere for his paper. This “strategy” wouldn’t work for every student, but the look he gave me when I handed him the paper said it all. This silly moment was one of my first breakthroughs with this student.
I don’t think teachers should be friends with their students, but it’s okay to have fun and make learning an enjoyable experience. Unfortunately, this is becoming more and more difficult as teachers begin to hate their jobs given all the standards and requirements. If we dread coming to work every day, there is no way we can instill a love of learning in our students. It’s really a shame because no matter how high we set the standards, if kids don’t like coming to school, they simply aren’t going to succeed.