Planning is key…but be flexible.

You have probably already learned that planning your lesson is extremely important if you wish to be an Effective Teacher. This is certainly true at any level of education and any subject that you may teach. However, there are many ways to plan a lesson. Teacher education programs spend a lot of time on teaching the form that a lesson plan must take. School districts and states also have certain criteria that teachers are required to follow to ensure that each teacher is planning adequately. There are apps and websites and books and online courses that will teach you how to do a lesson plan. Each principal I have worked under has had specific requirements of the lesson plans he or she would like the teachers in that school to follow. What is most important here is that your lesson plan reflect what you plan to teach, how you plan to teach it, and why. When I began teaching, the emphasis seemed to be on the first two; what I taught, and how. Today most educators understand that knowing WHY you teach is very important. No longer is it acceptable to simply say “I am teaching this because it is required by the state course of study. ”

For teachers of core curriculum classes; meaning language, science, social studies and math, each state has formulated courses of study which teachers are expected to follow. Because educators are increasingly required to document that they are indeed teaching, lesson plans are essential for communicating with administrators. The need for documentation seems to have increased each year because educators must prove that they are worth the money spent on education. Perhaps this is a cynical way of looking at the need for documentation. However you choose to interpret the need for documentation, there is undeniable benefit of explaining a lesson to yourself and to another educator. At some point in your teaching career it will no longer become necessary to explain the theoretical underpinning of everything you do in a classroom. As a newcomer it is very beneficial to understand what methods you are using and why you think those are the most effective. Most teachers I have spoken to agree that what is in the lesson plan frequently does not match perfectly with what actually happens in the classroom. This is okay. Good administrators understand that even the best teachers cannot predict and plan for every aspect or possibility of what could happen in the course of a lesson. Good administrators, in my opinion, understand that effective teachers know why they are teaching in a specific way. To spend hours on each lesson plan is not an effective use of time. And time is very valuable to any teacher. However I have learned that successful lessons are always planned. Success in the classroom, like success in most endeavors, is related to planning. It is not is not random.

Ignore your students??

I have not written in a while because we are in the thick of the semester at my school. Extra projects, basketball games to attend, “STEAM” project planning, grading papers, etc. Luckily for educators, the Pilgrims sat down with Native Americans many years ago to give thanks for the fact that they (the Pilgrims) were still alive. Or so I was taught in history class. I think the truth of the event is a little more complicated than that…. but because we celebrate this occasion, I have some time to breathe, and write.

Like the original Thanksgiving, my topic is complicated, and possibly controversial. What effective, dedicated, caring educator would ignore his or her students? How often have I heard “Students don’t care what you know until they know that you care.”? How does ignoring any student enhance classroom management? I started the profession believing my job was to do my best to reach each and every kid that came into my classroom. At some point in my first year I began to re evaluate that concept.

As harsh as it sounds, I learned to ignore my students.

Just to clarify: by ignoring, I mean not acknowledging every statement and action I heard and witnessed. As an elementary school teacher I learned the effectiveness of pretending not to hear inconsequential requests, minor complaints and unrelated statements. Kindergarteners, for example, love to report all sorts of events and details of their lives to everyone in the room. They have yet to learn all the spoken and unspoken norms of school. Ignoring such behavior helped to deter it. I also learned what most experienced teachers know; that certain students need more attention, and some less. Often the ones who need the most attention are the least likely to seek it in constructive ways. Instead they either disrupt the class in various ways, or they become almost unresponsive and so quiet that they go unnoticed.

I learned that the longer a student has been in school, the more likely it is that they have learned another unspoken norm: testing and challenging the teacher is the duty of every student. By third or fourth grade many students begin to learn the fine art of distracting and delaying the teacher so they can get out of doing difficult assignments. By middle school, distracting and delaying attempts are vocally praised and applauded by many of the students. In such situations, I have learned to ignore much of what I hear and move onto the planned assignment.

It’s important to notice what is going on in the classroom, what’s being said and who is saying it. I think awareness of a situation is more important than knowing every detail. I learned that student behavior is often predictable, but never completely predictable. The better I know a student, the more likely I am to have accurate expectations of that student. In this way I learn how to best respond in each situation.

Classroom management differs from classroom control. In years past, teachers often controlled every aspect of the classroom, or tried to, in order to establish a rules-based, authoritarian environment in which educators bestowed knowledge and students accepted it. This paradigm of education has been largely abandoned for many reasons, but there are many situations in which the teacher must be in control. As a beginner, I had to learn when to be in control and when it was best to let it go.

Sometimes it’s best to “let go” of what a student says or does, in other words, ignore it.

Is teaching your vocation or your job?

The purpose of this post is to explore the motivation that one might have for becoming a teacher. A s a college student or high school student you may have been asked to explain your plans for your future. Teachers, counselors, parents, and concerned friends will ask questions about what would you like to do after you graduate. If you are reading this blog you have answered that question by saying that you want to be a teacher. For beginning teachers it is important to clarify your reason for wanting to be an educator. Most people in this country today would remind you that you will not get rich being a teacher. However, for many young people, considering a career often has more to do with one’s interest than one’s paycheck. Many educators I have spoken to say that they felt called to become a teacher, or that education was their vocation. Vocation implies that you believe that teaching is your destiny or reason for being on this planet. Perhaps you think God wants you to be a teacher because you will be using your god-given talents. Another reason I often hear for choosing education as a career is about giving back to society or making a positive difference in the lives of others. Some young people speak frankly about the need for a stable job with good benefits and a reasonable expectation of job security. Although the starting pay for teachers in the United States is not high compared to other careers, there are variations depending on geographic locations and the economic well being of a community. There is security of income in the sense of getting paid a predictable amount every month. However there are very few situations where teachers can increase their income by working harder or longer hours. The exception to this is those teachers who also coach or sponsor extra curricular activities. In most cases the extra pay is small compared to the number of hours put in on a weekly basis.

Still others see teaching as a doorway to other positions such as managers, personel directors, counselors or administrators. In my experience new teachers who have a sense of mission or vocation are often happier and more willing to take on the difficult task of being an Effective Teacher.

During my student teaching I heard that most teachers only stay in the profession 4 5 years. I do not know if that is still true today, nor am I certain that it was true back then. I am sure that many aspiring teachers do not remain in the field of Education for very long.

Dynamics of a class

Although it is natural to view every class of a certain grade level as being pretty much identical, in reality every class has it’s own personality. Every class has its different individual students with a variety of personal characteristics and personal needs. Although most students are unaware of what they really need, most of them want attention, recognition and success in the classroom. Success in the classroom might be defined by some students as being that kid that makes all the other students laugh. Not every student judges success in academic terms. For some students success could be measured by the amount of work they avoided. School is also a very important social platform on which students learn to live with other students. School is not merely a place to learn facts and skills needed to be successful in a career. The effective teacher understands that students are also learning life lessons about how to get along with others.

There are personal dynamics between and among individual students that must be recognized in order for you to be effective in the classroom. In any group of 20 maybe even 30 people, disagreements and misunderstandings will happen. For a group of children still learning to get along with each other the possibility of conflict is pretty high. Conflict is guaranteed. Students sometimes disrupt your entire class because they are not getting along with their best friend. Sometimes one student is treated as an outcast, or a leader. In any school setting these students will most likely know each other from previous classes, or live in the same neighborhood, or play on the same sports team. While it is not necessary to know all the ways the students are connected, it is important to understand that the students may see you as an outsider or a stranger. Younger students usually like their teachers unless the teacher has been mean or unreasonable. However by middle school, most students see teachers as adults who will try to make them do things they do not want to do, such as think.

There are books and articles about classroom dynamics, but the best way for you to learn about this is to be aware while you are in the classroom. It is a good idea to be reflective in whatever way is most effective for you and talk to other teachers and staff about what you see happening in your classroom. I will address this topic further in another post.

More about bias

In my first post I discussed bias in a general sense. There is more to it than that, and it directs human interaction more than most would like to admit. This more subtle bias stems from the basic human need for belonging. We want and need other people around us, people who we can trust. In general people are positively biased towards others who are similar to themselves. In the classroom this means we look favorablely on students who appear similar to us in some way. If he or she has the same last name, or

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