As the first semester draws closer to an end (6 weeks for me). Teachers reach that moment where they start to reflect on their classroom teaching or the 90 Day reflection. As many of you know, I returned to the classroom this year after serving as an administrator and enrichment teacher the last few years. I went from reaching a large range of students in a small capacity to teaching high school students in six different sections on a Block Schedule. To say the least, it was not the easiest transition, especially taking the position just a little over two weeks before the new school year started. I was fortunate to have a portfolio from previous school years about the material that needed to be cover. However, after the first month, I felt that I wasn’t teaching the classroom the way I wanted to teach it. Don’t get me wrong, my new students enjoyed the fact that I wouldn’t lecture constantly, gave extra time to work on assignments instead of having extra homework. They also loved my XP Power ups (they still do). Yet something was still missing.
After my first teacher evaluation in September, one part that stuck out to me was asking more relevant questions during my lessons. This was a note that I had been struggling with in a few of my classes. While I had no problem asking questions in my Consumer Ed or Business Basics classes. Trying to ask more questions in my Multimedia, Intro to Computers and Computer Programming became a task. When you are trying to teach students how to use Photoshop or how to write Python Code. Most students are questioning just how something works instead of answer questions that are suppose to generate thinking. So, first thing I had to think about was how to find a question relevant to my lessons. Something that helped was the fact I was trying to relearn my lessons for computer programming. I hadn’t taught in Python or done flat out coding in several years. Since I was busy the last few years using chromebooks and iPads to teach students how to code with java and blockly coding for robots, drones and animation. So, I started doing the lessons myself by putting myself in the shoes of my students. I stayed up late a few nights and when a questions came up, I would write it down and went out of my way to find the answers. That was my first step, but then I ran into a new problem, I felt I was just taking old lessons, polishing them and trying to teach them, but not my way. As Tony Vincent put it: “I had to make it my own.”
Going over my books such as: Play Like a Pirate, Ditch that Homework, Spark and Teacher Myth. I started looking at my upcoming lessons or previous ones that had been in years past. I took Spark and started putting together a Google Doc with a two column table and instead of putting my lesson in one and then copying and pasting it over and marking what didn’t work. I put in how the lesson had been done in the past and then adapted or added what I had done in previous years and then created my lesson as a result. One type that came up again and again was doing searches on websites to fill out questions or find out prices to: buy a car, understand a marketing strategy or watching a video tutorial. Instead of giving instructions and having students try to find the information on their own. I started making a set of HyperDocs, where the websites or searches were ready to go on their worksheets and they could access them in class, at home or on their mobile devices. This started cutting down on a lot of hand outs and started utilizing our technology.
Now, while that started working more towards how I like to teach, new problems of course came up. Despite how well I put together a piece or explain a lesson, many students were just used to paper handouts and also didn’t see a need to use a new type of tool when they rather do a lesson and move on. So, I started giving the option of having students want a paper copy and turning it to me. However, I also did a few assignments where they HAD to do it using a digital tool or set up. This was a slow progression to get students use to my type of teaching. Which as many of you know that when you are the new teacher in a school, students have to warm up to you and that can take an entire semester to an entire school year. But as Joy Kirr wrote in Shift This, small changes can have a large impact on your classroom.
So, my next step was bringing in what I loved to teach into my classrooms. As said earlier, when you are the new teacher, it takes students time to get use to you, this includes personal space, classroom management and what is making students WANT to come into your classroom. The first two, I believe are the hardest to get going. Person space both for students and teachers can be very difficult. You are trying to set boundaries, know when you need to one to one with a student or when you need to step back and let them work. That leads right into classroom management, if you read my stories the last two years. Classroom management was always a struggle, knowing when to discipline or when to let a student learn in their own way. The first few weeks can be the most difficult as you are trying to get to know your students and when to know when they are engaged and learning or when they are being bored or acting out. I have to say the first time I sent a student to the office was one of the most difficult and yet relieving moments I experienced. Difficult because you want to be fair and I always tell student, I am a FAIR teacher, but there is also a difference between being lenient and not being aware of your students’ misbehaviors. However, when you get a student who not only wants to stay off task in the classroom, but also is being disrespectful, you have to put your foot down and they have to know that there are consequences to their actions. When you do this, the rest of the class starts to see that there are expectations and that there needs to be mutual respect between a student, a teacher and the classroom as a whole. I have to say when I started enforcing those boundaries more, there was a major shift in behavior in my classroom.
Once these changes were made, I started putting the focus on my third step, by bringing in more what I loved to teach into the classroom. For my Business Classes, I started bringing in more Project Based Learning into my lessons. I had students that just came to life when they could create their own businesses or make posters using Canva or Google Drawings. I had more engagement by having students learn HOW to use their GSUITE for EDU tools instead of just typing out another paper in hopes of scoring a 20 out of 20 points. When I brought Robots into my Computer Programming class and showed how our Python or Code.org programming and coding worked with real world operations I had several students who said: “Here I thought this class was going to be boring, now I love coming to this class.” I started using more interactive learning games in both digital and analogue form to be icebreakers for lessons and units, which lead more students to say: “I learned a lot today and I see how this works now at home.” It was these small shifts and bringing in lessons and items that engaged students that really started making my classroom the way I wanted it to be and what my students were looking for.
Safe to say, while these changes to showing students how I teach and how I want to teach have made the difference, I still have to deal with problems like any other teacher. I still have lessons that while well thought out and engaging can fall flat at times. Having tools, videos and speakers for your lessons might not always work out the way you have planned. Just because you have a good classroom management style doesn’t mean you don’t have students who forget sometimes and there are new problems that pop up from time to time. The trick is to not fall into a comfort of how you teach, there is always room for improvement. Take advice from your peers, PLN and especially your students and parents. It can not only help you in your classroom, but make you a better teacher as well. Take all criticism as constructive both the good and the bad and don’t get discouraged. When you are discouraged, your classroom will know you are, so the best advice is to keep your chin up, smile and breathe. It’s your classroom and your students, teach them the way they want to be taught, but also make sure you are teaching the way you want to teach. It’s not going to be easy, but in the end, it will be worth it.