A common theme among new teachers is wanting to develop their teacher craft. This is something that makes you the unique teacher that you are and so I can understand why it feels important. It is! Without a doubt, it definitely takes time, but it also needs to be something you are intentional about. With all of the latest programs being thrown our way, scripted lessons and obligations set by administration, it can be easy to find yourself just trying to stay on top of everything. If you’re also dealing with classroom management issues then you might just be trying to survive each day. Regardless of your situation, you are able to develop your craft if you are willing to dedicate some time to it. My first year of teaching I dealt with scripted lessons and a classroom full of kids who I thought hated me. I know that if I was able to find pockets of time (and energy) to dedicate to my teaching craft, then anyone can. And… because you are here reading this article, I know that you are at least interested in trying to do this for yourself and your students as well. By implementing some of the strategies I’ve come up with, you can start to feel more confident in your teaching and enjoy your job. I promise!
It's no surprise that teachers encounter all kinds of personalities in their classrooms and have to navigate different methods of dealing with all of them. When new teachers ask me what is the best advice when dealing with student misbehavior, I say, it depends. There are so many different things I have tried over the years that to say "this works" and "this doesn't" is nearly impossible. Instead, I thought of a few different methods I've used multiple times over the course of the years.
I explain the behavior I was experiencing with several students and tactics I used that worked in those situations.
The other day I was talking to a friend who I have known since the very first day I became a teacher. We were discussing how much has changed, not only in the classroom, but with schools and students in general over the past 15+ years. But as the conversation progressed, we realized that there is SO MUCH that has not changed and probably never will.
Oh what the first year of teaching would have been like had I known what I know now….one can dream of being that confident and successful their first year. Or one can read this article and be given some really great advice from a veteran teacher ;)
Over the years, I have had many teacher friends who left the profession. The most recent two who left this past school year seem to be happy, but both miss something from their teaching days. One misses the critical thinking aspect and the other misses the creativity. The grass is always greener, but I can’t help and think that maybe if these teachers had better support they would’ve stuck it out until they got over the, what I like to call, “the new teacher hump.” There are tons of benefits to being a teacher that have nothing to do with actually teaching….can someone say summers off?! Then there are the benefits that do relate directly to teaching and that is the difference you get to make in children’s lives every single day, the creativity and the problem solving.
The sad reality is that even with all of the benefits, teachers are leaving the profession in droves. They say if you can make it past your 5th year of teaching then you will most likely stay for the long haul.
When I sit back and think about my first few years of teaching, there are a lot of things that I wish I had known. Things that would have helped me to sleep better at night and things that would have made the day to day more bearable. Below is that list curated just for you!
I will never forget when I was in my first year of teaching, I would get kicked out of the building at 6:30pm because that is when the custodial staff left and I wasn't allowed to be alone. I would race home to then finish my work by around 10-11pm. Somewhere in between that, I ate dinner, then I'd shower before going to bed only to be up a few hours later to do it all over again. I NEVER felt like I was caught up on anything.
During my second year of teaching things improved for me because I was allowed to stay as late as I wanted! So that meant, getting home between 7-8pm, shoving dinner down my throat and then getting a shower before bed and doing that all over again. See how I gained 2 hours there?
It took me 10 YEARS to realize that life was not good like that and then about another 2 more years to figure out how to change it. Below is an abbreviated list of things I wish I knew my first few years of teaching to save me some time and energy and allow me to have a life outside of school.
One thing I am asked about often is how to grade the work students complete in Socratic seminars. I like to think of it more as tracking and assessing rather than grading. It’s more important to track progress than it is to give students a grade because Socratic seminars are designed to meet students where they are in terms of the many different skills needed to have a successful seminar. In order to monitor progress, I track student participation. For a more traditional sense of grading, I use a rubric to score their writing responses (to the seminar). Using both of those methods, I am able to really assess a student’s understanding of our class novel and identify areas in which they need more support.
One of the biggest struggles I’ve had in the past and (it still comes up now and then) with students is getting them to respond authentically to each other. I know that when we first start teaching kids how to have a group conversation, we tell them that it’s important to always recognize the person who just spoke. I practice this all the time with my students, until they get it right. In the past, I have given them sentence starters such as, “I agree,” or “I disagree”, etc.
I noticed that yes, it does help to provide those, but then I started to have kids saying things like, “I agree” and start talking about something completely different or even agreeing to an opinion that, after they start talking, I realize they didn’t actually agree at all! I remember feeling like I failed in a way because the kids were just spitting out the responses I told them to say. They didn’t really know how to respond to each other authentically and the conversation wasn’t a conversation at all.
One of the biggest struggles I've dealt with during Socratic seminars was getting students to discuss the book at the beginning, before anything interesting or important has happened yet. It always felt like there wasn’t much to say until about a third of the way through the story after already meeting for a few weeks. The conversations were dull until the main character started to be developed more or the problem/plot started to build.
Below is a list of strategies to get the Socratic seminar going before the book becomes really engaging:
Today was an interesting and good reminder for me that I need to explicitly be teaching students that Socratic seminars are not a place for debate, but discussion.
My 6th graders are currently reading Maniac Magee, by Jerry Spinelli. If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend it for all students between the ages of 10 and 12. It tells the story of Jeffrey Lionel “Maniac” Magee whose parents died and he was forced to live in the most unhappy of places - with his Aunt Dot and Uncle Dan who hate each other. One day, Maniac can’t take it anymore and he runs away! He crosses the racial lines that divide the city of Two Mills and quickly becomes a legend or a myth. No one is really sure.
We’ve only just begun the story, but my classes have been studying the civil rights movement, so they are already making connections and some good predictions. There is a part at the beginning of the story, where Maniac is being chased by bullies and he heads in the direction of the side of town that no white kid has ever gone. At night and for no reason, nonetheless! The bullies comment that they are going to just let him go because he will end up in worse shape, heading into a part of town that he doesn’t belong. In the book, the author writes: “He headed to a part of town that white people are afraid to go to.”
For me, teaching online since March has really taken a toll on my enjoyment and the fulfillment I usually get from teaching. I remember when we were first shut down and asked to stay home for at least 2 weeks, I was thankful for the break, but still excited to return after spring break. After I realized that we were not going to be saying goodbye to our students in person and head into the summer, I was devastated.
Since then, I have gone through what I consider different stages of grief that eventually led to acceptance. I accepted that teaching is not what it used to be and I've accepted that looking forward at what I can do to make it enjoyable for my students as well as myself will look very different than what I am used to.
I know you have heard this before, but it's important to repeat. Happiness is a state of mind. IF we can control our mindset, we can control how we feel (to an extent). So what can we do to find FULFILLMENT in teaching while doing so online and never actually having physical contact with our students and colleagues?
Below is a short list of things I do that sometimes help me to stay positive in our very stressful, stale and fragmented teaching environment. Perhaps some of these ideas you can try and make your school year a bit more of a positive experience for everyone.
So it is official that I will be teaching my 6th graders online, at least, for the first 6 weeks of school. Of course, the first thing that came to my mind was “How will I ever get to know 60 students if I never get to actually meet and be around them in person?!” and then “How will they get to know each other?!” It has always been my top priority to build relationships with kids as I feel that is the number one way to begin to effectively teach them anything. So my challenge to myself is to do just that - build relationships. Online. With 60 pre-teens who know way more about technology than I do.
As Humanities teachers, I feel that we have an advantage, in some ways. In other ways, definitely not. We can assign tasks that allow us to get to know our students while having them practice writing and reading skills. Below are some ideas that I hope will give me a place to start with getting to know my students. Feel free to borrow these ideas, tweak them to make them your own if need be and share with me about how they go. I would love to hear and see what others end up doing!
6th grade Humanities Teacher, Writer, Resource Creator, Curriculum and Course Developer