Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Reflections on teaching

In response to this post last week, Desert Mom of A Quotidian Life:

I always enjoy hearing about your teaching experiences and your impressions of classroom teaching. Other than the English teacher's attitude, which is obviously a big factor, what methods did the teacher use to direct, teach, and discipline? How did you differ in your methods. I know you are not one to toot your own horn but I would love to hear how you handled the class.

This English teacher did what many other teachers do prior to the students coming into the classroom. He wrote the day's assignment on the board. One of the first things he does every single day is to have the student's scan the daily newspaper (new daily copies are donated to every English classroom) and write a summary of two articles on a form provided for a week at a time. I think the intent here is good; it gives the opportunity for students to be familiar with the day's news. But, writing two summaries? Everyday? In my opinion, that is overkill. Most of the students I observed went straight for the column of news summaries in the newspaper. They just wrote something down. Nothing was ever discussed. It was just done. And the kids acted like they knew it was a wasted time of required busy work. It seemed like it was just something that the teacher could use as grading material.

These newspapers were all located at the front of the classroom on a rolling library cart to be picked up by the student and returned when finished ready for use in the next class. Rarely did the students pick these up as they entered the room, so there was a lot of up-and-down moving around to complete the assignment. If it had been my room, and if I had to incorporate that activity, I think I would have required the students to put the newspapers in / under their desks for the next class. Then the final class could have the responsibility to collect these. There was entirely too much movement in the classroom. Movement does not equal focus. And students need focus.

Thinking back on that week, I realize that every lesson / activity that that teacher did required the students to get up and go to that rolling cart for something. Not only were the newspapers there, but so were the books and materials for the poetry poster project and the class reading book.

Besides writing the assignment on the board, the teacher gave little further direction. The class was noisy and moving. Once in a while did the teacher make a comment about the noise level and about students who were sitting idly. Even when he made his comments, he never got the attention of the class; he just added to the clamor. The students had him tuned out from the beginning.

Whenever I have to give direction or make announcements, I will not proceed until the class is attentive and quite. I will not compete for attention. If a student chooses to flaunt the rule, he sees me in the hall. I have only had to take two students out. When I do, I explain my requirement and how I expect the student to respond. Then I require the student to give me his word that he will make every attempt to comply. If he chooses not too, and I always lay the responsibility on the student--it is his choice, I have him leave the class. That means a referral to an administrator which goes on the student's record. Once the students know that I mean business, I usually do not have any problem. That doesn't mean there aren't challenges to authority and under-breath comments, but I usually have control of the class.

If the classroom is not under the management of the teacher, then learning cannot take place as it should, or maybe not at all. But once under the right authority in a conducive environment, content learning can occur.

At times during the last, and most rambunctious class, I noticed that this teacher stood with a marker in hand as if waiting for the class to pay attention to him. (The problem, in my opinion, is that you don't wait for them to pay attention; if you do not command attention, they wipe their feet on you, and you are nothing more than a doormat.) Then I noticed that he would put a "5" up on the board. I couldn't figure this up until the end of class. Intercom announcements at the end of the school day dictate complete quiet in all the classrooms I've been in, except this one. (A few more "5"s went up on the board. I'm still perplexed at what he's doing.) After the announcement that seniors are dismissed, the teacher finally says, "You all have five "5"s up here; so that means 25 seconds."

Now, I get it. He will keep them 25 seconds after the dismissal bell. All is quiet. I mean not a sound was made. That was the quietest the room had been for ninety minutes. The students knew they couldn't afford to be late and miss their bus. The time I had that class by myself and they were too noisy, I told them right then that they had 30 seconds after the bell. After lots of bellyaching "You can't do that!" comments, I assured them that I could and I did, and I'd add 30 more seconds if they complained any more. I didn't have another problem. The kids will get by with as much as you let them. And they know that.

What bothered me the most throughout this class, though, was this teacher's detachment from the students. If the students chose not to work (and there were many who chose this), he left them alone. He did not encourage or question or push. He just didn't do anything. Well, yes, he did. When I asked him about certain of these students, he shrugged and said, "They've just given up." Yeah, right. They've given up because you've given up. If there is one thing I've learned late in life, if is that our attitude directly influences the student's attitude. We can accomplish a lot of things with our attitude. It rubs off. It influences. It determines, to a large part, the direction of the student. No matter how the student responds on the outside, the influence is there. I have been surprised among my own children just how much my attitude and opinions influence them. When I've been verbally pejorative (There! I got a chance to use one of my new vocabulary words this week! Don't know if I used it correctly, but I'm trying.), I often see the very same attitude coming out of them. Negative influence is a lot more contagious than positive, but both are communicable.

I must bring this to a close. I hope this is some food for thought. Last week, I had a wonderful experience in a different English teacher's class that I hope to share soon.


desert mom said...

Thank you for taking the time to share this, Janie. I agree with your comment about the news summaries. When I first read the assignment, I thought, "that sounds like a worthy assignment" and then when I read your comment I remembered something I heard SWB say in an interview about how it is easy to collect data (which is, I think, what a lot of modern education is about these days) but it is hard to understand. I talked about this with my 15yo today, who can easily slip into the data collecting mode to get the assignment completed.

Brenda@CoffeeTeaBooks said...

I was so busy last week, I didn't get a chance to comment earlier. I had to smile when you talked about taking Benadryl, my son and I have decided that is our family's "drug of choice". With the guy's allergies and my sinus problems, we can't get along without it.

I've also gotten sidetracked from the Spring Challenge but I should be back on track soon!