Archive for December, 2007

The Teacher as The Planner

Cartoon flowchartTeachers are planners. This is the essential role of successful teaching. Before all else, the teacher must develops a “flight plan.” Like any good flight plan, it must lay out a destination and the path to that destination. Of course, the pilot has to know when she has reached that destination. A well conceived plan is fundamental to a successful learning experience. Without a good flight plan, the inexperienced teacher crashes. Then they must pick themselves up and go on to the next flight. Each crash helps the teacher get closer to better plans. The beginning teacher first becomes a manager and then a planner. As any veteran teacher will admit, crashes lead to successes; successes, to experience; and experience lead to the happy veteran teacher.

Planning is preparing a course of action to achieve specific objectives. There are three levels of planning. The curriculum is planning over a year or years of learning experiences. It is the overall course of action within a district or a school or a classroom for an extended period of time. On the next level is the unit. The unit is a section of the curriculum that deals with related material. The unit usually is designed to last for weeks or days. The practical working level of a unit is the daily lesson plan. It is the course of action for the day.

THE CURRICULUM

The school curriculum is a long-term plan of action. It is the combined total of what a student should learn and when he should learn it. Well developed curriculum have two dimensions each composed of two elements. Curricula are horizontal, referring to what aspects are needed to be addressed within a level (2nd grade), and vertical, meaning what students should be learning from one grade level to the next (reading, science, etc). Both of these dimensions involve scope, what is to be taught, and sequence, the order it is to be taught in.

In some schools, specialists in curriculum develop the curriculum. In other schools, committees made of teachers, parents, and students develop the curriculum. Unfortunately many curriculum become dust catchers. Effective curriculum are “living” instruments, that is, it is in a constant state of flux. Teachers and specialists work together to respond to changes in student learning styles, creative approaches and new materials. These working curriculum are functional. Teachers are able to use the curriculum to aid in their planning and use their planning to improve the curriculum. It is a vital tool that is in a state of constant revision. Far too many schools have showcase curricula.

NCLB has created a new challenge to school curriculum. State standards have been a mainstay in Education for the past twenty years. Schools have wasted many resources (time, money and energy) to develop curriculum to meet the state mandates. After a few years of one set of requirements, the “powers-to-be” create a new design and establish a new deadline to meet the new standard. The curriculum now is guided by the “standardized test” mandates. It is a living instrument in a constant of flux but no longer driven by the needs of the pupils but rather by the mandates of tests, politics and finger pointing.

THE UNIT

Teachers’ involvement most often begins at the unit phase of planning. Units are just that, they are units of the curriculum that teachers can work with. These manageable blocks of a curriculum can be adapted for lessons taught over a segment of time, weeks or months. A unit might be Multiplication or The Cell. Teachers often assign catchy names to their units: The Power Plays (study of energy transformations in the cell) or Slope But No Slide (Unit that studies graphing). Experienced teachers often use two types of units: the resource unit and the working unit.

Resource units are storage folders or boxes or cabinets that contain resource materials for units. For example, a third grade class might have four science units- plants, animals, sounds, and colors. The teacher would then have four resource units set up to store materials, ideas, pictures, worksheets, etc. The management and learner roles of a teacher play a factor here. Teachers are always looking for new ideas for material that they teach. A file system to store these ideas is necessary so that the teacher can pull the file once in a while and develop revised unit plans.

Revision serves two purposes. First, it helps keep the learning process alive and active. Teachers are constantly looking for a better way to teach something. When a unit is completed, the teacher evaluates the unit and tries to improve or strengthen those areas that need revision. As teachers grow professional, they discover new approaches to try. The second purpose for revision is simply an avoidance of “burn out.” There are many factors that affect teacher “burn out.” One of these is the “rut factor.” Teachers are inundated by a myriad of tasks, duties and other demands. It is far too easy to let the primary job of the teacher take a back seat to other involvements. Teachers who try new methods, new ideas and new approaches tend to be more satisfied and happier in their capacity as a teacher. There is no scientific study that this writer can quote, it is a personal belief. Teaching is an active experience that needs constant new adventures for both student and teacher. It emphasizes the learner in both students and teachers. It maintains an excitement to the adventure of learning.

The working unit is the actual plan that will be implemented this year. It is a short-term plan that offers a direction for the daily classroom efforts. Units tend to play to the personality of the teacher. Prepared units always need to be adjusted to the individual teacher in order to work. Teachers are all different. Same as students are all different. Adjustments to anything are necessary. A teacher teaching a unit must decide the basics of “what, how and when.” WHAT are students expected to learn? HOW are they going to go about learning it? WHEN will they know they have learned it? Units require time to design but once designed properly, they can be easily and quickly revised. Again this is what separates the inexperienced teacher from the veteran. Veterans have units prepared. They just need to revise them occasional. The inexperienced teacher has to start from scratch. Developing good working units require several years of revision to get to a decent working unit. Once established, working units need occasional updating. The shell of the unit is used as a design for learning year after year.

WHAT are students expected to learn? In educational jargon, these are the objectives. In present terminology, standards and benchmarks are the buzzwords. Standards are broad outcomes of learning. The standards are used to develop specific objectives that can be implemented in the unit plan. A benchmark is what the standard outcome should result in terms of student accomplishment. A unit should contain the objectives that a teacher expects his students should accomplish. An objective contains two main parts: an action verb and an expectation. For example: A student will be able identify the four parts of a plant (stem, leaf, root and flower). “Identify” is the action verb. The teacher may qualify this by adding “on a diagram,” or “in a student-drawn diagram” or “on an actual plant.” These qualifiers are important when it comes to the When part. Well written objectives help in both the How and When aspects of the unit.

HOW are students going to learn these objectives? This is commonly referred to as methods. The method used by a teacher is often dictated by the objective. If a student is going to identify the parts of a plant from an actual plant, then he will need to handle the plant. Activities designed for the student to handle plants are called for in this unit. Activities are often synonymous with methods. There are some distinctions but for practical purposes here they are used the same. Will students socialize in groups to study this plant? Will a group grow a plant? Will an individual grow the plant? Will they do it in school or at home? Will this be a demonstration by the teacher or an individual student or a group of students? This is only the start of the questions. The list continues to grow. Again experience aids in the questions to be asked and answered. In developing the unit not only is the teacher deciding what needs to be learned but how it will be learned.

WHEN will students know they have accomplished the objective? Assessments are vital to allowing the student to recognize his completion of the objective. Assessments must be authentic, that is, they must fit the objective and the method. If a student has never seen a plant, the teacher cannot expect the student to name its part on a real plant. If a student is to accomplish an objective the assessment has to fit the objective. Criteria or assessment is sometimes included in the written objective. Students who are expected to learn basic addition facts in vertical columns should not be assessed using horizontal expressions. The assessment is designed for the student to recognize that he has achieved the objective. These assessments, of course, are used to evaluate a student and a unit.

The working unit is vital to the success of a teacher. Updating the elements of a unit are needed to maintain the unit as an effective teaching instrument. The three basic parts of a good teaching unit is the objectives, the methods (activities) and the assessments. Other things can be included, such as, a list of needed materials, technology needs (web sites and videos), worksheets to be used, tests or rubrics, bulletin board ideas, etc. The “other things” are organizational aspects of a unit that help to save the teacher time by all the needs of the unit in one place.

THE LESSON PLAN

The lesson plan is a plan for the day. It is specific and time sensitive. Listed in the lesson plan is the objective, the activities and the assessment. The activities are the prime part of the plan. The activities should be laid out in sequence of their occurrence and the approximate time to complete the activity. Timing is a key to success. Inexperienced teachers point to this as a major problem. Lesson plans are too short or too long. It takes a few months for the new teacher to hone their skills at timing.

Daily lesson plans are the “bread and butter” of the teacher. A clearly stated objective will clarify the assessment. Well thought-out activities that develop the objective will lead to the assessment. The well-planned lesson reduces classroom management difficulties. The greatest difficulties arise in classrooms of the teacher who has not planner well. Students need direction. Students who are left to design their own plan will probably do just that.

The importance of daily lesson planning cannot be stressed enough. Any experienced teacher will tell the new teacher to plan out every minute of class time. Teachers do not have to be talking all the time or directing every activity. Students do need to be actively engaged in an activity designed by the teacher. Teachers need to be aware of what is happening in the classroom and why it is happening. This is referred to as control. Teachers who control their class are directing activities and children are not creating their own adventures unless this is the teachers’ activity. Loss of control (a classroom management issue) is often the result of poor planning and is probably the single most frustrating aspect of the teacher’s job.

In conclusion, a teacher who plans well will succeed. Inexperienced teachers find this the greatest challenge. Sound planning will only come with time. Teachers must plan curriculum, units and lesson plans. The majority of a teacher’s time is consumed by planning. With time, the teacher finds themselves planning in their mind as they eat dinner, watch TV, drive their car or as they fall asleep. Good plans equal good teachers. Creative planning equals effective teachers.

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December 28, 2007 at 2:43 am 7 comments

The Teacher as a Learner

critical thinkersLOVE AND MARRIAGE- GO TOGETHER LIKE A HORSE AND CARRIAGE….”

Teaching and learning are processes that are inseparably linked together. Teachers are professional learners. Good teachers are able to incite students with a desire to learn. Effective teachers are able to stimulate students to learn specific types of things. You cannot learn somebody something. Teaching is guiding another person to opportunities for them to learn something. Designed properly, these experiences will result in learning with the desired outcome. There are a number of factors involved in designing the learning experience. Most often teachers need to rely on their own instincts to develop these learning experiences.

I teach- you learn. It sounds like “caveman” talk. You can “teach” all you want but without the pupil involvement, there is no learning. Pupils have to be sold on learning. Teachers are salespersons. As any good sales person will know, there are four steps to a successful sale. First the customer must realize they have a need. Second, a means must be shown to satisfy their need. Third, the means leads to this particular product as the product that best fulfills the need. Finally, the salesmen must show that the customer needs this particular product now and close the sale with a purchase.

Teachers perform these basic four steps of salesmanship. Teachers must convince their students that they have a need. Education can satisfy the need that they have. Learning this particular aspect of education fulfills their need. And learning it now closes the deal. This goes to the heart of an educational principle: All children have a basic human drive to learn. Like the person who has their heating system fail in the middle of winter, not much is needed to demonstrate that they have a need. A child is not very much different, this child has a basic need to learn. A salesman convinces that a furnace fulfills that need and this brand of furnace will be just right. The teacher’s job is to convince the student that education fulfills that need and learning in this classroom is the brand of education needed Both the salesman and the teacher has to sell the “customer” that the solution is now and here!

Parents, friends and teachers mold what children learn. The age of the child determines the relative influence of each group. In the past thirty years, television and the Internet have to be added to the list of influences. Recent research has indicated that these electronic sources may have a greater influence than what is desirable. In this writer’s opinion, the human influences far outweigh the electronic influence. When the human influence is lacking or inadequate, the electronic influence dominates. In order to be effective as teachers, these electronic influences must be incorporated as learning tools. Both TV and the Internet must be exposed for what they are- phenomenal opportunities for learning when used properly.

Children are sitting in the classroom eager to learn (whether they know it or not!). Teachers must now provide the opportunities for these students to channel their need into a constructive learning experience. Teachers need to understand the age group that they are teaching. Principles of learning theory are instrumental for teachers to create successful experiences for their students. It is important that the teacher understands how a student learns. Piaget has become a “buzz word” in education. This Swiss psychologist provided a framework of appropriate levels of learning. Vygotski’s Social Development Theory indicates a cultural twist to Piaget and provides the social aspect to learning. Good and effective teachers are aware that there are many theories of learning. These theories were developed for the most part by psychologists. Successful teachers are aware that no one theory has all the answers. Teachers utilize whatever aspect of the learning theories work for them and their students.

Most teachers are aware of Pavlov, Skinner, Gardner, Gagne and the list goes on and on. Teachers are artists and scientists. They put these scientific theories into practice in the classroom and observes what works for them and their pupils. The artist in the teacher creates the environment that these scientific practices can work in. Of course, the salesmen in the teacher sells the pupils that what they are doing will work. When the teacher puts it all together it will result in a amazing miracle- a child learning!

Teachers are the expert learners. They must transfer their abilities of learning to their students. The single most important consideration to keep in mind is that students do learn in different ways. There has been a wealth of studies performed about this idea. Teachers have always known that students do learn in different styles. Multiple Intelligence, Right-left side of the brain, constructivism- the list goes on and on. Each of these theories carries something of interest for the teacher. Gathering little pearls of wisdom from each theory the teacher is able to develop a personal learning theory that works for them and their pupils. Teachers have been accomplishing this for years.

Teachers must also remember that a classroom is a social setting. It is designed for human interaction. Utilizing the basic human instinct of socialization, the teacher can forge this to the advancement of learning in the classroom. Social skills vary widely in children. Cultural, genetic and family conditions strongly dictate an individuals social ability. The teacher must become a teacher of social skills. It is an underlying aspect of effective teaching. Teaching the curriculum through the development of social skills elaborates a student’s learning capabilities.

Children enter the classroom with basic knowledge that the teacher has to build upon. An effective teacher can tap into these past experiences and help a child construct a broader concept. Learning does not begin with a blank mind. This is a point of many classroom difficulties. Children who lack a concept of letter shapes cannot be expected to learn reading until the letter recognition is present. Any good teacher knows this! Yet the demand for “standardized test scores on level” have created a pressure to assume that this has already been constructed and the teacher begins building a foundation-less structure. Teachers need to be careful not to be swayed by the external influences to achieve successful learning in their classrooms. Given valid opportunities, children will learn.

Children learn through experience. Today’s buzzword is “hands on” experiences. This is hardly new, as are any of the learning theories. Good teachers have practiced many of these ideas for years. Children learn by doing. How did a teacher learn their material so well, they taught it! If a person wants to learn something, teach it to someone else. They learn by doing. Children learn to read by reading. Children learn math by doing math. Children learn to think by thinking! Children learn social skills by socializing. Students learn through experience!

In conclusion, the role of the teacher is to effectively excite a captive audience to learn. Teachers are actors. They perform each and every day in front of a captive audience of another generation. The teacher is a learner each and every minute of their life. Listen and observe your pupils and learn. Years of teaching has shown that I am still learning.

December 24, 2007 at 10:04 pm Leave a comment

The Teacher as The Communicator

teacher at boardTeachers are communicators. In fact, communication is what teachers do! Successful teachers go hand in hand with good communicators. Effective teachers communicate in more than one way.

What is Communication?

Communication is the exchange of information between two humans.(Of course, in today’s world, computers communicate but that’s tough! Humans rule!- I hope!) Of the two communicators, one who will receive the information (listener) while the other provides the information (speaker). Standing in the middle of a forest explaining one’s personal philosophy of education is like the proverbial sound that no one hears. There are many teachers who suspect that they are standing in that forest each and every day! Communication is sensory; that is, it is based in the senses. Information can be exchanged through five dimensions: auditory, visual, tactile, aromatic and flavorful. Communication is the exchange between two people in one of these five ways.

How do Teachers Communicate?

Since at least two people are involved, social skills are required. Teachers are expert communicators because they have excellent social skills. Teachers convey academic information to students in a social environment. All teachers, by their nature, are teachers of social skills. Inexperienced teachers often fail to realize this and are doomed to frustration as a result. Sad to say, some veteran teachers still have not realized this basic idea. Primary level teachers have known all along and, as a result, children learn at a phenomenal rate. That first grader steps into the classroom on the first day of school barely knowing what a book is and by the time June rolls around, she is able to read it. Primary teachers more than any other teacher use many means of communicating. Learning is accomplished when communication occurs at several levels. The role of a teacher is to help a student learn. This is often accomplished through communication in several different dimensions. Each learner is different. Some learners are better at visual while others are better at auditory communication.

Although flavor and aroma are less familiar means of communication, they are forms of communication. If a class of high school teens return from a gym class, there is a communication transmitted. Most of these forms of communication are best left for the teacher’s lounge discussions. They do not play a major role in learning communication.

Tactile communication is vital in learning Braille. Tactile communication was important in the regular classroom at one time. A touch often emphasizes a point. A student unconsciously tapping a pencil can be stopped with a gentle tapping on the shoulder. Teachers, in the past few years, have moved away from tactile communication for obvious reasons. Touching is no longer an appropriate means of emphasis. A pat on the back or a handshake is still a strong enforcer of important feelings. Children still need hugs and kisses but in today’s world, the reality is that this needs be left to the parents only!

Visual communication is commonly used among humans. Artists communicate abstract thoughts in their paintings. Mona Lisa’s smile says a lot. A picture is worth a thousand words. The Internet began as a visual means of communication. The written word is potent, as in; the pen is mighty than the sword. Teachers use textbooks, handouts, worksheets, posters and bulletin boards to communicate. Teachers use hand signals and body language more often than realized. An incorrect answer often results in a facial expression in response from the teacher. A teacher’s hand in the air requests quiet or raise your hand to answer. Body language and hand signing are extremely effect means of communication. The teacher needs to be aware of this and use it to teach this form of social skill to the students.

Auditory communication is perhaps the most recognized form of communication. Sounds in the form of language or music convey information. The most common form of a teacher’s method is lecture/discussion. This involves speaking and listening. Teachers who use this method must teach listening and speaking social skills: look at the speaker, raise your hand before speaking, look at the person being addressed, listen, and speak clearly. Failure to teach students these social skills results in chaos during lecture/discussion sessions. The best way to teach this, and many other skills, is by modeling. Practice what you preach!

Effective teaching requires the use of more than one form of communication. Combining auditory and visual signals increases the opportunity to communicate with more students. It is the basic idea behind multimedia. The Internet has exploded in popularity with the addition of sound to the visual presentation. Teachers who use the overhead or chalkboard or PowerPoint presentation are increasing the scope of communication. Use of tactile communication emphasizes a visual or auditory expression. Effective teachers use more than one form of communication and these teachers often use them simultaneously.

Why do Teachers Communicate?

Teachers communicate to perform six necessary functions:

Set direction for the learning (goal setting)
Provide relevance for the learning (motivation)
Guide the learning activity (methodology)
Indicate when the learning is successfully accomplished (assessment & evaluation)
Manage classroom environment
Engage in social activity

First, teachers have to convey to students what the teacher expects the student to learn. Effective learning needs to provide a direction to the learning activity. Imagine the football coach who fails to tell his team that the goal of the game is to score more points than their opponents. Each set of plays is designed to result in a touchdown. Each play within that set has an objective to gain so many yards. Like the football team, the students need to have a grasp on what they are expected to learn. The teacher sets the learning goal and informs his students.

Next, in order to accomplish the learning, it is necessary to have some reason to learn. “If I was interested, I would try harder.” The teacher must provide the interest. Motivation is the key to successful learning. Effective teachers provide the motivation that will carry students toward learning goals. Motivation takes many forms and is not always the same for each student. The overriding motivation used by teachers is grades. You learn this and you get a good grade. That works well for many students. Many students ask how is this going to help me in life? Good question in many instances. This writer asked that question quite often in High School Geometry. The teacher never provided the answer. Years later the logic of proofs aided in understanding the contract bargaining issues. It is vital that teachers motivate in as many different forms as possible. This increases the chances of motivating many different students. Don’t overlook the easiest yet, in many cases, the most sought-after motivation- “Good work!

There are students who can learn on their own. Given a goal and a reason to strive for the goal, self-learners can be left on their own. However, most students require direction. These students need guidance to reach the planned goal. Teachers in most states are required to take the “methods course” as part of their preservice training. This is where the ideas learned in those courses should be applied. Methods used by teachers vary greatly. A future posting will deal specifically with methods. It is far too broad a subject to take up in this post. The most common method used by teachers to guide their students toward the learning goal is lecture/discussion. It is not always the best method but it is efficient.

Teachers must provide feedback as students are learning. This is a means of helping the student know that he is on track and when he has reached the goal. When the football team scores, the fans cheer wildly. Feedback can also be used to redirect the student toward the desired learning goal if the student has gotten off-track. Another old adage: Once learned it is very difficult to unlearn. The teacher will have to unteach the erroneously learned goal and then try to reteach the desired goal. Teacher monitoring of student learning and providing feedback will help keep the students on track. There are a variety of ways of monitoring feedback. The quiz is one commonly used method. Spending time going over errors with the class as a group or individually with a student provides feedback.

Teachers use communication to manage the classroom. Besides learning issues, teachers need to provide directions about movement or seating or behavior or other informational items. These are management issues. A common management communication example is redirection to different learning task. Redirection can use various communication styles. A look, hand signal or even a bell can cause a redirection. When the teacher wants students to close their textbooks, a hand sign is useful. When it is time to move to a routine to end class, a bell or light or hand in the air will signal the start of an established routine. Students are easily distracted during learning activities. Teachers need to continual watch to maintain the student’s focus. Teachers are ever vigilant for students who need refocusing. The proverbial “eye in the back of the head” is a reference to the need teachers must have to maintain the focus on learning activities. Management communication is necessary to keep the learning activities flowing in the direction desired.

Finally teachers use communication as a social tool. Teachers talk to students about non-curricular things. “How did you do in the volleyball game last night?” This type of communication demonstrates an interest in the student as an individual and not just a learning machine. Teachers need to listen to students. Far too many teachers hear but fail to listen. Listening is a social skill that is vital to survival as an effective and concerned teacher. Students are more than just sponges thrown into the classroom to absorb knowledge. They are real human beings with feelings, concern and abilities. Teachers who get to know their students have a better chance to find the best method or motivation for that student to learn. Social communication provides opportunities for students to develop social skills.

Communication is a skill that separates a mediocre teacher from the professional educator. Effective teachers are skilled at more than one plane of communication. Communication occurs at various planes as indicated in this article. Teachers use communication for everything that occurs in the classroom. The role of the teacher as communicator is vital to the success of that teacher.

December 24, 2007 at 5:11 am 1 comment

The Teacher Role: The Manager

Boss logogif“Boss” “Chief” “Sir” A manager by any other name still smells like a manager. (Opps! That does not quite sound right!) Managers handle people, events, materials and time. Teachers are managers. This is the teacher’s first and most challenging role. Classroom management is probably the most common cause for a first year teacher becoming frustrated and turning to a new field of endeavor. It is also accounts for second, third and fourth-year teachers leaving education. Classroom management is perhaps the least significant role of the teacher but it is the role that allows teachers to teach. Being a manager stinks, but it is necessary to survive as a teacher.

Routine, routine, routine– this is what makes teachers successful and allow teachers the chance to teach. The quicker the routine is established, the quicker the teacher can do the task they most enjoy- teaching. Most teachers have heard the adage: “Don’t smile until Thanksgiving!” That may be a little extreme, but the idea is important. Teachers must begin the year somewhat businesslike. This is the time to establish the needed routines. Every grade level has different routines that will need to be established. There are some common threads: entering the classroom, leaving the classroom, fire drill directions and conduct, when student conversation is allowed, where books are expected to be, when students can leave their seat, and student classroom conduct. Each teacher is different. Each teacher has to establish their own individual routines that they feel comfortable enforcing. Beginning teachers have a tendency to not establish routine. In which case, the students will establish routines. Once a routine is established, it becomes very difficult to change. Experienced teachers have learned this the hard way and will usually establish their classroom routines in the first few weeks. No smiling until the routine is established!

How do you establish routines? There are probably as ways as there are teachers. However, there are some common practices. The first few weeks of school are critical. It is during this time that the routines, acceptable or not, are established. A teacher will greet the students at the door on the first day and begin to set the pattern for students entering the classroom. Teachers need to start the day or class in the same manner. For example, a set of directions on the board for students to start a task, a quick quiz, a check that texts are open to a certain page or simply children sitting quietly in their seats. (Quiet is always good to start the day). Routines must start from day one. The teacher must be very watchful in these early weeks for violations of routine. A student stands to sharpen a pencil during a class activity. The teacher gently reminds the student that pencils are sharpened at such-and-such time. This not only reminds that student but also reinforces routine to the entire class. The “old guard” refers to this as the test. Students are testing the teacher. It is usually not a conscious act, although there might be some teachers that disagree. The routine is being tested. Gentle reminders now establish routine and avoid confrontations later. Vigilant efforts by the teacher in these first few weeks are rewarded by established routines that avoid problems for the rest of the year.

We will examine the four realms of classroom management: materials, events, time and people. These are grouped in order of management difficulty from easiest to most difficult. Regardless of grade level, teachers are faced with management tasks. How well the teacher deals with these tasks often determines how effective the teacher will be.

A Forest

There was a very large school district that was experiencing financial problems some years ago. One of the desk jockeys at the district office estimated that they could save money by reducing the copy paper available to each teacher. He wrote a short memo.

Teachers and all personnel

Due to the increased cost of paper, we ask everyone to conserve on paper.

Thank You,
Ass. Superintendent so-and-so

This was distributed to every district employee on a piece of 8½ x 11-copy paper.

As a teacher, there is a large bulk of materials that will need to be dealt with over the course of the year. These include but are not limited to the following:

Report cards Office Notes
Parent Notes Progress Reports
Attendance Reports Record Keeping Reports
Lesson Plan Forms Lesson Plan Book
Attendance Book Seating Charts
Substitute Folders Student Folders
Student Note Textbook Forms
Library Overdue Notices School Newspapers
Activity Announcements “Post This” Notes
PTA Newsletter Fund Raiser Notes
Notes about notes Reports about reports

An entire forest has been cut to supply the paper used by a single school district. The paper used is fantastic. This does not even include the worksheets, tests and reproduced reading materials prepared by the teacher. It is not a mountain; it is a forest.

The key to success with materials is organization. Rarely are courses offered in organizational skills during pre-service preparation. A teacher must be prepared to deal with this “paper chase.” Some of the materials are expected and the teacher has time to prepare before the anticipated date it will be due. Progress reports and report cards are usually expected on a certain date. Teachers must be aware and prepared to turn in the required grade reports on those days. Attendance is a daily task and the teacher should establish a routine to take attendance and report or record it. Notes or reports or other materials that appear unexpectedly interrupting class activities must be dealt now! The teacher needs to have anticipated how to handle these interruptions. Perhaps put it aside until time presents itself. The danger, of course, is forgetting about it. Irate PTA members are not fun. Use of student aides can help in some cases. The key is to be organized and anticipate interruptions due to notes, reports and material things.

Worksheets and tests and notes home to parents have to be duplicated and collated. In most cases, the teacher is the one who has to take care of this mundane task. Time and energy and availability of school machines must be taken into consideration. Prep time, if a teacher has any, or after school or before school, if you don’t have meeting, are times that teachers use to duplicate materials. This intersects somewhat with the time management section but management is a interwoven activity.

Bee Invasion

Events happen. Some events might be anticipated. The superintendent or principal will be evaluating your teaching on this day or that. Tuesday is a fire drill. The chorus will be out on a particular day and that’s half the class. Most events are unanticipated. It’s fall and the temperatures have escalated. It’s hot in the room and the windows are open. The bees invade sending pangs of panic through the children just as a group of the principal’s colleagues stroll into the classroom. The Fire Alarm sounds. Children swatting the air scream and charge the visiting entourage. Many events are unexpected. Anticipation is the key to success in management of events. Common sense and quick thinking are definite assets in cases of event management. (My first year introduced me to the bee invasion!)

Every teacher has a book filled with tales of unexpected events. A sense of humor is definitely an advantage in dealing with the unexpected. Panic or fear on the teacher’s part is quickly conveyed to students. This could be dangerous. Take, for instance: A knock on the classroom door distracts the flow of a great lesson. Standing at the door, an anxious assistant principal stood. He looked at the students and called the teacher into the hall. “There’s a bomb that’s going to explode in five minutes. The fire alarm will signal an evacuation. Get them out quick and take them to the football stadium.” Having given that tidbit of information, he left. Quick thinking and a sense of humor help. Not only is the lesson ruined but also it is important to get students out of the building quickly and be accountable for each and everyone. Stuff happens.

Unexpected fire alarms, the child that vomits, the power failure, the unexpected visitor, the arrival of a new student, the appearance of a parent: these are events that a teacher needs to anticipate and have some type of plan in mind. They may never happen but if they do the teacher needs to be prepared.

clockTick Tock

Management of time is crucial to teacher survival. Awareness of time is needed to accomplish a planned activity. Too much time and the plan is without a conclusion. Too little time and the teacher needs to be ready with the next activity. Timing of lessons and time awareness comes with experience. Pre-service teachers can attempt to practice timing of lessons but only time in the actual situation will provide the necessary abilities to manage time. This is a very strong argument for teacher intern time. Student teaching is a chance for the pre-service teacher to develop timing.

Time management also involves the use of prep time and before and after school times. There is much to do in order to accomplish the needed tasks required of the teacher. Many teachers find that this time is just not enough. Teachers may give homework to their students but this creates greater pressure on the teacher to use home time to check that work. With experience, teachers learn to utilize time in school more effectively but chances are that there will be still things that will need to be completed at home.

Many schools expect that teachers be involved in non-curricular activities. Student athletics, the school play, the Christmas pageant, the debate team competition, the PTA carnival, and the list goes on and on. Teachers must manage their time effectively in order to have time with their own families and friends. Teachers are in great demand for more than just the classroom.

Good time management requires the use of the word “No!” Unfortunately, Teachers are too often evaluated on extracurricular involvement. Beginning teachers are especially vulnerable to such criticisms. There is no simple answer. Teachers need to balance their time and that requires good time management skills.

Hey Teach

Of all the management issues, people management offers the greatest challenge to the modern day teacher. There is a wide assortment of people that impact on the teacher and their management skills. All the management issues mentioned are important but it is this issue that provides the greatest of frustration to most teachers. Some of the people teachers interact with include:

Students Students from other classrooms
Principals Superintendents
Other Administrators Counselors
Nurse Social Worker
Special Education Lunchroom Staff
Aides Secretaries
Janitors Other Teachers
Parents Community

Teachers are responsible for managing students. Some teachers refer to this as “control.” The most common issue that is managed with students has to do with students adhering to the routine established by the teacher or policy established by the school. “Disciplinary” confrontations are usually minor if routine has been established and school policy is clearly stated and observed by the teacher. There are numerous plans presented for teachers to construct a model for their “discipline code.” The important aspect to any discipline policy is simplicity, fairness and consistence.

In most cases, a simple look or the “teacher’s eye” will end any unwanted activity. The “teacher’s stare” is used for a failed glance. Interruption of a lesson to chastise a student usually is the least productive method. Confrontation is to be avoided where possible. Losing face is a very poor diplomatic exercise. Diplomacy is important in dealing with people. Students are people. Occasionally a teacher might refer to the students as animals or the enemy. They are neither. The teacher is not their enemy. The teacher is neither friend nor enemy. The teacher is the teacher. The teacher can be friendly but cannot be their pals. This is a common mistake of the beginning teacher. Students respect teachers who respect them. This is an excellent footing to establish a discipline policy in a classroom- mutual respect for everyone.

Teachers need to know the characteristics of the age level that they deal with on a day in, day out basis. Each age level has its own difficulties and needs. Effective and experienced teachers are aware of these foibles of their students. Understanding the individual and the age level helps in developing a rapport with a class of students. The effective manager uses this to build a positive working relationship to accomplish the goal- learning. Teachers specialize into: Preschool, Primary, Intermediate, Upper Grades and High School Teachers.

Today’s classroom seems to have more students that carry baggage of social, family and personal problems than in the years past. Teachers are expected to deal with students who carry this added weight. Anger, fear, socially maladjustment, low esteem, suspicion- are just a few outside factors that affect teacher-student relationships. These students may lash out unexpectedly at another student or the teacher. These are not personal attacks. These are children who do not know how to express their feelings. The teacher must be aware that the child is not attacking them personally. It is a manifestation of an inner conflict. The teacher must be able to manage this situation. Sometimes the teacher notes the problem before it becomes a nightly news item. The teacher will need to seek support staff assistance if it’s available. Notify the principal, seek help from another teacher, and talk to the parents- the teacher will need to act. Other times the situation explodes unexpectedly. The teacher’s reaction is very important. Calm, cool, and non-threatening action is needed. The student needs to be isolated. He will need a cooling off time. This can be a most difficult situation for a teacher to manage. Even experience does not always help.

Managing people is the most difficult task to toss aside as the teacher drives home to the family. Teachers need to develop techniques to put aside classroom or school issues. Stress is magnified a hundred fold when difficult issues cannot be set aside. Stress in teachers is common and most of it can be recognized as classroom management related issues. Perhaps a fifth management factor that might be added is stress management.

Issues

Inclusion, Technology, multiculturalism, alternative scheduling, standardized testing, standards, outcomes, integrated curriculum– many are good issues but they strongly effect the teacher’s classroom management plans. Education is a boiling pot of change. Teachers are often left out of the decision making and planning stages of new issues or practices in education. They are brought in at the implementation phase. Often they are told- here you go, implement it. Managing new programs adds an entire new aspect to classroom management. Future postings will need to address the effect of these issues.

In Conclusion

Classroom management is the least important aspect of teaching but it is the foundation needed to teach. Failure to address classroom management issues leads to frustration, ineffectiveness and failure. Pre-service programs in teacher education programs rarely address these vital issues. Methods courses supposedly incorporate some classroom management skills but rarely enough. In this writer’s experience at teaching on the college level, there has been little attempt to address the issue of teacher survival. Pre-service teachers are told to plan a good lesson and everything will be all right. Surprise! Surprise!

December 23, 2007 at 8:29 am 18 comments

The Roles of the Teacher

listen aniTeachers are very poor sources of information. After 40 years of teaching I have discovered that I am actually a pretty stupid person. I am learning new things all the time. In the past few years, my degree of stupidity has actually grown exponentially. The technology advances that students are exposed to today give them access to more information in a shorter span of time than what I had an opportunity to access in my eight years of college efforts. (Eight years because I went on for post-graduate work, not because I am that stupid!). It used to be that I could proffer up my chest and speak like the voice of authority. After all what did those little ignoramus know? Occasionally that brilliant child would raise his or her hand and present a challenge. I would use that “teacher look” to quell the intellectual revolution on the spot followed by an arrogant question like “What’s your source?” Today the look works but they have a “.com” for a source. Today I have resigned to the fact that I am not the number one resource.

Teachers are guides and explorers. The pupils and students that they are charged with tag along for an adventure in learning. Teachers are challenged today with a generation that desires to learn in unconventional ways. Today’s teacher must be prepared to meet the challenges of a true wilderness of learning. It is filled with predators and prey, bugs and mice, rapids and pools. Each turn in the river of learning is an adventure. In order for the teacher to survive he or she needs more than just intelligence. They need perseverance, stamina, fortitude, ability to withstand abuse and resourcefulness. Teachers are charged with the responsible of guiding a child from one cycle in life to the next. Teachers need to survive to pass their proteges onto the next path in the journey of learning.

Teachers are mandated to educate the youth of today’s society. Today’s children have a pretty distorted image of society. They see society through the eyes of TV. This view is often fast moving, twisted and cynical. From the obnoxious TV judge in the afternoon to the flippant nighttime talk show, TV is filled with hedonistic and misanthropic perspectives. The nightly news is a two-and-half-hour extravaganza of violence, sexuality, and amorality. This is followed by degrading reality shows, cutesy sex comedies, and blood-gore-cop dramas. Too often the parents are too busy or too tired to overview the TV shows. In many cases the parents are “into” the dramas as much or more than their children. They fail to point that these shows portray only one side of life. There are good people in this world! You don’t need to degrade yourself to make something of yourself. Teachers, lawyers, and politicians are not all incompetent crooks or perverts. Parents are themselves sold on the hype of horror that our society is so decadent that it will collapse and maybe that’s not so bad. Apathy is an increasing impairment that is being passed on to our children. As a result, the responsibility of preparing children for the stewardship of society has fallen more and more on the shoulders of the school. Education is intended to pass on the great ideas and knowledge of yesterday to today’s children to make a better tomorrow. This is the challenge that each teacher must take up in a changing world.

Teachers have split personalities. They have their classroom persona and their real personality. There is always a split but the less the split the more sane the teacher remains and the better he or she can do their job. As a result, teachers are always thinking teaching. It never seems to stop. As time passes, successful teachers learn to turn it off at times for the benefit of the world around them. Teachers must know themself and have the confidence in themself to realize that the pupils are clients to be guided. They are not friends or your children. They are different from you and from each other. They cannot be boxed into categories. You cannot control the pupils but you can control classroom “turf.” Once you have created your “turf” then you can allow more of yourself to penetrate into your class persona and you can teach. In order to be successful in teaching, you must control your “turf.” Control means integrating the roles that successful teachers must perform in the midst of chaos. Teachers are actively absorbing, processing or conceiving ideas about these roles almost continuously.

Teachers are managers, communicators, learners, planners, assessors, and evaluators. Effective teachers have perfected all of these roles. This is why experience becomes an invaluable asset to teachers. First year teachers may be strong in one area or another but rarely are proficient in all areas; that, only comes with experience. Individuals who are “trained” to teach can usually perform well regardless of the subject matter. All of these areas require skills that can be learned. Most teachers can tell tales of utter failure from their first year of teaching. Why do most new comers to education leave after a few years? They fail to develop skills that enhance these roles and the ability to balance all the roles.

The postings to follow will examine each role as the writer sees them based on his forty years of experience. Experience is the best teacher. Live and learn. Welcome to the school of hard knocks. I offer these as ideas and thoughts. Not everything I express will work for everyone. Each teacher must find his or her own persona.

December 23, 2007 at 3:33 am 1 comment

So You Want To Be a Teacher

Learning Styles gifTeachers are salespeople! They sell their students learning everyday. There are four steps to good salesmanship: Need for a product, Need to get the product here. Need to get the product now. Need to close the sale with a sale. Needs! That what its all about. Teachers serve the needs of children. Like the salesman, the teacher must convince the pupil that he or she needs to learn and this is the place to learn it and now is the time to learn. The teacher has to encourage the pupil to learn. Only the pupil can learn. The teacher knows he has closed the “sale” when the pupil smiles the smile of satisfaction signifying an accomplishment.

Teachers are jugglers! They must be able to juggle many tasks at one time. Teachers take multitasking to new levels. Good teachers are learners and communicators. They are socially skilled and fair-minded. The teacher must take attendance (by law that’s all they have to do!) and accurately keep a daily record of it. They must supervise pupils in the classroom, coming into the classroom and in the hall outside the classroom. Teachers must maintain order and maintain acceptable noise levels (in some schools, that’s silence!). Teachers must create a transition from arrival chatter to class talk into the daily lesson. Teachers need to establish routines! (In grade school, there’s also the coatroom, lunch money, signed notes, book money, etc). Thank the good lord- I teach high school!

Teachers are believers! Teachers must have the three great virtues: faith, hope and love. Successful teachers practice the three great virtues. They have faith that students will learn if given the opportunity. They have hope in a future that will contain their students. They love learning. Teachers are enthusiastic if they believe and hope in education as a means of improving the future. Teachers who love learning can excite their students to love learning.

Teachers are scientists and artists at the same time! Teaching is a complex field in which the technical aspects of education are laced with the artistry of teaching. Teachers must plan a lesson based on proven strategies and incorporate new ideas limited only by their imagination! The artist in the teacher allows him to approach new ideas to sell students on learning what they don’t think they want to learn but really do want to learn. Confusing? Wow! Teachers are brilliant! NCLB demands that teachers have a college degree. All teachers have at least a BS degree. (We know what that is!) NLCB Qualified teachers have a MS degree. (That’s more of the same!) Some even have a Ph.D. (That’s piled high and deep!) Teachers must balance the technical aspect with the artistic. Creative approaches offer fresh perspectives to learning situations. While understanding the scientific aspect of learning (e.g. cognitive learning styles, learning disabilities and their identification, computer skills, etc), teachers use artistic skills to create learning situations. Now that is BS!

Teachers are actors! The classroom is their stage. There are teachers who love to be the center of attention while others are the directors behind the scenes. Each teacher injects his or her personality into the learning environment. It is a part of the implicit curriculum. All teachers are producers. The production is designed to create that ideal learning environment. The interaction between teacher and student is the opportunity for learning. Teachers can then step to the next level of learning by letting student to student interaction. Interactions are always happening. Teachers have to control these and turn them into learning opportuni.

Above all teachers are human! They have emotions. They make mistakes. They cry and laugh. They get distracted. They carry home problems with them. They are vulnerable. Good teachers have to control the human side of their life. They have to allow pupils a chance to glimpse the human in the teacher only as a learning opportunity. Teachers need that human side but it has to be protected by a suit of armor (tough skin). Teachers are close by and easily targeted for pupils to vent. Home issues, friend issues, health issues, any issues for that manner are triggers that explode in the classroom. Sad to say the attack on the teacher from frustrated or angry children is expected while the attack by parents, communities, politicians, or media is indicative of lack of support. Suit up- it is a daily battle in the war on ignorance.

The demand from the political arena is that only the “best in a field” should become teachers. Each reader (that’s you!) has had the experience of schooling. Many extremely intelligent educators have been the poorest teachers. Intelligence is definitely an asset to quality teaching but it is not the essential ingredient. The most effective teachers are those that can clearly communicate the joy of learning in a managed learning environment. Teachers must have a true love of learning. It is the essence of education. Teaching is a social skill that communicates abstract ideas and concepts. A teacher must motivate their students by exciting the basic human desire to learn. Teachers are able to accomplish this by managing the environment in which this occurs. Intelligence does not always support these vital teacher traits. Communication, good management and learning require patience. Good teachers, like successful physicians, have lots of patience.

Teaching is a social interaction. Good teachers need to be developed socially. Social skills are vital to the learning process. Teachers need to develop student social skills in order to accomplish the goals of their learning plan. Fair-minded teachers who are able to practice positive social skills will be able to communicate their learning plan to the student. Fairness is the quality most often identified in good teachers.

Teaching is a field filled with frustration. Teachers need to be willing to try new approaches. Some techniques work and others are dismal failures. When methods fail, the teacher must shrug it off and try again. Failure provides a path to success. Education may be measured in test scores today; but the ability of a student to love learning will be the measure of the future. Teachers are human with a strong belief that what they are doing today will benefit the world tomorrow.

There are many good and great teachers in the classroom. This is the first in a series of articles dealing with the technical and artistic aspects of good teaching.

December 22, 2007 at 5:26 am Leave a comment

The School: Part 6 Influences

Image

Today’s schools are influenced by so many factors that is very easy to overlook many. For the sake of understanding, influences are factors that affect learning. Part of the reason for successful school is controlling as many influences as possible and aware of the ones that cannot be controlled. Schools that are aware of students loss of interest in reading with an increase of interest in technology offers the school an opportunity to attempt to control this influence. Strategies can be developed to redirect pupil interest in reading and provide technology as a means to an end rather than the end itself. This is a situation in which controlling requires educators to operate as a team. Administrators assist in the “control program” by providing the time for teachers to work as a team. The school board get involved by allocating funds for such a program. The community aids in such programs by supplying the tax dollars needed to implement them. This is an example of an influence that schools can try to control. Weather cannot be controlled but being aware of the threats of severe weather can lead to safety strategies. In this Blog the different influences will try to be categorized.

First, there are internal influences and external influences. Internal are factors that influence learning are issues that result from what happens inside the school. As a result, it is the area that can be best controlled. A list of these factors follow:

Physical Appearance
Cleanliness, Paint on Walls, Lighting, Windows, Condition of bathroom, Smells, Noise level Decorations, Awards displayed, Motivational banners, Size of classrooms, Number of desks in each room, Hall traffic ?????

Classroom Activity
Number of students, Student appearance, Student/Teacher interaction, Classroom appearance, Activity Materials ?????

Human Factors
Age of Teachers, Appearance of staff, Verbal and nonverbal communication, Attitude, Interaction of staff ?????

Curricular Structure
What’s taught, How its taught, How it coordinates, How is assessed,
Relevancy ?????

Can you add to the list?????

Secondly, there are external influences. These are the events that occur outside the school building. The list is monumental. Just to name a few:
The School Code (Statues that govern schools), Support of the community (in tax dollars and respect), gang activity (both in and out of the school), home life, parental expectation and support, diet, genetics, health, self esteem or lack of, life goals, etc. This list runs on and on.

As an example, politicians often react to schools when things catch their attention. Political attention is usually accomplished by media pressure or horrendous tragic events. Recent school shootings lead to increases in school security issues including the installation of metal detectors in schools. Like tornado or fire alarms, schools had to develop “intruder alert” plans. Fears of excessive drug use has lead to random drug searches and random drug testing of students. Concerns of poor kids not getting breakfast or lunch has resulted in food programs. Fear of STD (sexual transmitted diseases) has led to including sex education in health or science class. (Some schools have even supplied students with condoms to exercise safe sexual contact. US students testing poorly on TIMSS. Given at the 4th, 8th and 12th grade levels, the US not only did poorly but actually seemed to loss ground. Science and Math scores showed the US on the bottom. This is one of the factors that lead to NCLB. There is a constant finger pointing toward schools, teachers and students. This has the greatest negative impact on education today as money is diverted from improving learning to creating great test takers. Tax dollars are in greater demand to meet the expectations of the external forces to improve certain aspects of the internal environment. The constant harangue directed toward the school systems make taxpayers less like to pass needed referendum to raise money to maintain schools at just status quo levels.

More of each of these topics will be discussed in future Blogs.

December 2, 2007 at 5:47 am 2 comments


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