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!
Observe other teachers; try out what you see and like and decide if it “fits”. If you are able to, I suggest you take time out of your prep (I know! But it will be worth it) and observe other teachers in your school. But who do you observe?! Start by noticing the ones who’s students walk quietly down the hall and listen to their every word. The teacher who corrects their old students at recess or lunch and the students listen. The one that laughs with the kids, but still maintains authority. The ones who when they enter the room, the students pay attention. Ask your current students who their favorite teacher is. These are the teachers you will want to observe in their classrooms. Then take it a step further. If these teachers are willing, ask them if they would be willing to come into YOUR classroom and teach a lesson. I cannot tell you how beneficial it has been for me to see veteran teachers interact with my students. You can note how she approaches the students who have been a bit difficult for you. Note how she engages the class, how she keeps their attention and how she structures her lesson. Be sure not to let this discourage you. Most likely, this teacher has years upon years of experience and you cannot be expected to be as confident and successful, but you can LEARN from her. I cannot stress enough how much this helped me within my first 5 or so years. Afterwards, bring her a coffee the next day or a doughnut or write a handwritten thank you note. Anything to show that you appreciated her taking the time to help you. Teachers are naturally people who like to help, so my bet is that when you ask these teachers, at least one will be happy to assist.
1.) Start noticing the veteran teachers in your school. Make a list of those who you consider really great at their job. Email these teachers and ask them if you can observe and if so, have them send you their schedule. Make a plan to observe the teacher. While observing, take notes. Ask if you can record the lesson so you can refer back to it when you need reminders.
2.) Use this same list and send another email a week or so later. This time, tell them how wonderful it was to see them in action and that you want to continue working on your craft and believe that having them in your classroom, with your students, would help you immensely. Send them your schedule and ask if anyone is willing to come and teach a lesson to your class. Remind them that you understand how busy they are and that you would really appreciate the extra support.
3.) Get a coffee, doughnut or write a handwritten thank you card to the teacher who comes to your room to teach.
Incorporate your interests into the lessons. Students do not need to know about our personal lives, but they do need to connect with us and as a teacher, we need to figure out how we are going to do that. I love to share about my dog, Lloyd. Mostly because he’s the cutest pup in the whole world, but also because kids are like magnets to dogs. The best is when I am able to find a reason to show a picture of him. Because I teach writing, I am often modeling for students how to write and I will use Lloyd as a character or my son (which is also fun to show his photos of). I will write about an experience I had that is appropriate to share with my class. I love sharing books I’ve read that I think students would enjoy. I also like to share motivational videos that help keep me positive when things get tough. One year, I would share a motivational video each morning and students would journal their reactions. This was just something I came up with because I wanted my students to see these videos and be inspired. I thought it was a great way to start their day! One year for Christmas, I received a “5 minute journal”. I loved the structure of it so much that I had my students do it each morning. These are all ways to incorporate your interests and parts of your life into your teaching. This will make teaching feel more authentic for you.
Your Task Think about the lessons you have coming up. Brainstorm how you can incorporate your interests into these lessons. Decide on what might work and try it out. If you can carve out 10 minutes once a day or once a week, think about something you might want to do with your students that isn’t necessarily a part of the curriculum, but would be valuable to them.
Think about what you loved when you were a student and decide if you can do some of those things now that you’re the teacher ( see if it “fits”). When I was younger, I LOVED when teachers would do special things for the class. I remember we had a stuffed teddy that each week a student was allowed to take home for the weekend. During the week, the bear stayed on the teacher’s desk. When I taught younger students, this was something I incorporated into my teaching. I also remember a teacher who was very organized with his notes that we would copy and then use to study. The consistency and organization was something I thrived on as a student and something I do in my teaching today. I used to really enjoy when teachers had posters in the classroom and would refer to them while teaching. I do that often during my lessons. I have a candy jar on my desk. Sometimes it has mints or chocolates. When a student goes out of their way for me or someone else, they will be offered a treat. It’s fun!
Your Task Think about the next unit of study you will be teaching. Text a teacher friend and ask her if she is willing to chat with you for 10 minutes or so about it. Plan a time to talk specifically about that and make it the objective of that phone call. The idea is to make this a sort of conference call.
Reflect. I would argue that this is important to your teaching craft and your overall effectiveness as a teacher. Reflecting on what went well and what could have been improved is something that should be routine. In the past, I have dedicated journals to my reflections and I love when my principal observes me and we can reflect on a lesson together. By assessing how well you articulated and got across the information to your students, you are able to see changes that need to be made either for the next lesson or the next school year. I remember one year my principal told me that I say “yeah” too much. I never would have noticed that and was thankful for the feedback. If you have a principal whom you have a solid relationship with and who you highly respect, this could be a great option for feedback and reflection. If not, I do not suggest it. Maybe try asking a colleague you are close with instead. When I reflect, I ask myself: What went well? What could have been improved? If I had to do it over again, what would I do differently? Did my students succeed in learning the objective? How do I know? What kinds of questions did the students ask during the lesson, if any? Were students engaged? How do I know? Not only should we be reflecting on daily lessons, we should also be thinking about units of study, the routines we’ve implemented, books we are assigning and projects for students to complete. All of these parts of teaching deserve our discretion and analysis to ensure we are doing our best and honing in on our unique teacher craft.
Your task: Dedicate a journal to reflection. At the front of the journal, copy down a list of questions that you can think and write about. Make a point to write in it at least a few times a week.
6th grade Humanities Teacher, Writer, Resource Creator, Curriculum and Course Developer