Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Being the Teacher Students Need Me to Be

I have spent much of my English teaching career experimenting,  gathering information, and reflecting on what it means to be a teacher the students need me to be. So here is a brief (to me long to you) list of my ideas.

1.  I go into new semesters being grateful for whichever students I am lucky enough to have in my classroom. These students are entrusted to me, and I take the responsibility of  nurturing students to the next level of their education very seriously.

2.   I know all students want to learn, so my lesson plans must be true to that belief. My challenge as a teacher is to design lessons that reach all personality types and all types of learners. Students need repetition without getting bored, practice with genuine examples, new information to avoid stagnancy, inspiration that reaffirms their goals, and a reason to accomplish what is asked of them.

 3.  I try to make sure all students feel at home in the classroom by learning names as soon as possible.  After all, the class is for them. To help with this, I assign a seating chart from day one so students never feel like they do not have a place to go in the classroom.  Also, I keep a box filled with each student's name on slips of paper.  I can quickly and randomly draw names to select a person to answer a question or to help me choose small groups quickly or to draw a door prize for a surprise.  The added bonus of this little step is that students quickly learn they are expected to participate, which makes it more likely they will do their homework and pay attention in class.

4.  I aim to use class time for students to practice and for me to assess. Reading aloud, practicing grammar exercises, completing freewrites, presenting information, thinking aloud, and identifying what is being studied in reading materials are all ways students can practice and I can assess.  Later I can redesign lessons to help students practice their weak areas or move on to the next challenge.

5.  My goal is to create win-win situations, not power struggles.  Sometimes that means I must laugh at myself. Sometimes that means I must reassess an assignment. Other times it means I must say with a soft voice to a complaining student, "It is time you do what is asked of you."

6. I allow myself at least three mistakes per class period which takes away the pressure for the students and for me to never err.  Instead, we can make mistakes together; we can learn together.

 7. It is my responsibility to make sure students are on task.  If I take the attitude of, "It's their loss if they miss this information," I am not doing my job. Granted, I cannot MAKE a student do anything.  Here is an example that creeps up every now and again.  If students are working on a freewrite and I see a student who is ten minutes into the task and has no words on the paper, it is my job to check things out.  Some students are thinkers and use mental time to organize thoughts--I respect that.  But other students will not ask for help, so I ask, "Hey, are you stuck?"  The student responds, usually yes or no.  If the answer is yes, I ask, "What is puzzling you?"  Most of the time in two or three seconds, I can clarify what is expected and the student can move forward.  If I would have never asked the question, the student would stay stuck the entire class period (I know this through trial and error).  I am the teacher.  I must act like one.

8.  I apologize when I make mistakes.  Ironically, even though I teach English, I have a hard time communicating what I am thinking.  Students often get confused.  I cannot hold my flaw against them. Instead I have found a way to counter that weakness:  modeling.  We constantly compare other essays, readings, other people's works, etc. . . that repetition allows students to see again and again what works or does not work and they learn what is required in that unit.

10.  Students must do the work or the class is for naught.  Here is an example.  If I truly want students to remember vocabulary words, I ask them to point out examples of that word in action.  For example, when we study appeals in persuasive writing, I will ask students to highlight where they identify logos, pathos and ethos. And they will repeat this in a variety of genres until the students are comfortable with those words in any setting. They need to know the words, so they need to be able to find them, to label them, and to discuss them.  Eventually as they practice, they gain knowledge and confidence in their skills.

11.  Ask students to do tasks that encourage them to go beyond the obvious.  Ask them to make connections they might not have thought to do otherwise.  Ask students to do their best so it becomes habit. Trust students to do what is asked of them, and if they do not, hold them accountable by making them redo it.

13.Finally, students must evaluate me, and I expect honest answers.  I use this information to better future classes.

There are so many ideas I want to interject; however,  I will stop writing for now, but I will never stop striving to be the teacher my students need me to be.

1 comment:

  1. It's like we are twins! I'm kidding...it's actually like I am working on adjusting my attitude so that I'm not so whiney. #5 and #6 ring true for me - thanks for sharing!