Clear your headspace; get ready for a trip to the past! OH YEA!!!
Envision yourself as a first year teacher, the world is yours, you are ready to make a huge difference in every child’s life! YES! #teachergoals #lightingafirenotfillingapail
Those old crusty teachers? You will show them what engagement looks like!
Standardized tests? BAH! Not important in your class, because your class is all about learning and engagement, poo poo on those test scores.
What about your classroom management? Well, you see, I am young, so kids will relate to me and not give me any trouble at all, I am what you call, “relatable.”
Fast forward 8 months, for most of us, that vision has been tweaked after we realized that education is not all rainbows and unicorns. After all, unicorns are not real, and there are no pots of gold at the end of the rainbow (I have checked, sorry kids). At this point the class is probably not going 100% as planned, you set up collaborative activities only to have groups Snapchatting with their friends in other classes instead of talking about your super engaging reading. Out of nowhere, Jack throws a wad of paper at Marcy, you try to intervene in a cool, non-authoritarian way and Jack tells you to pound sand. On top of all of this your evaluating administrator is asking you why your winter test scores are so low. It is just loss, after loss, after loss. Everyone needs a win every once in a while, but for some, finding a win is elusive.
BUT FEAR NOT! Victory is still yours, you just need to redefine what you are looking for and keep everything in perspective. To do this I have a few guiding principles outlined below!
Think at an Individual Level
The classroom is an ecosystem, in no class in the world is every single student perfect 100% of the time. You have students who like being there, students who hate being there, students who are poor, students who are wealthy, students who know English, and students who are learning English as an 8th language. You have kids who love your content, kids who hate it, and every imaginable permutation in between. Show me a class where all students are meeting or exceeding the teacher’s expectation and I will show you a teacher that needs to raise their level of expectation.
With so much variation in class, it is hard to identify wins as a whole class. I advocate, instead, for focusing on individual students. Rather than starting each day saying, “Today all students will _______________________,” teachers are better served by saying today I will work on ___________________________ with _____________________________________.
One side effect of looking for victories on an individual level is that teachers are forced to work one-on-one with students. Teachers do this by engaging them in conversation, tailoring the class to the individual rather than to the class as a whole. One-on-one learning in turn, builds rapport between the student and the teacher. Linked to this is classroom management. Positive relationships with students are not a guarantee of good management, but they certainly are a foundational element. When students have a good relationship with their teacher they are willing to engage and take risks much more frequently than if they hate their teacher.
Start With Your Toughest Students and Think Small
Each day you should begin by seeking out your biggest pain in the ass students and thinking, how will I find success with this student today. That is all. Start there. Note that success does not mean putting the student in a corner so that they are quiet, success means having these kids add to the class in a meaningful manner. For some kids, maybe you just got them to smile at you, maybe you talked about their future plans for 5 minutes, or maybe you were able to give them a small leadership role to help a struggling student. The point is, instead of pushing “problem” students to the side and trying to contain them, you are better served to allow them to be part of the community. In doing this you are certain to find small victories, maybe Jose, who usually is all piss and vinegar, is able to help John on one math problem. This is a victory.
By starting with your toughest students it makes it very easy to find victory in other students in class. Of course victory for a student who loves your class and doesn’t cause problems is different from the student described above. Often it is harder to find true victories in the high achievers because they do all of the little things right already. These students are ready to be challenged with bigger tasks, like taking on leadership roles. Don’t be fooled by these students, compliance from them is not a victory.
Always See the Glass Half Full
Looking at your students through a positive lens is critical. When we start class with a negative mindset we are creating a self fulfilling prophecy, nothing will be as good as we want, no student will meet our expectations. Be positive, relentless positivity is contagious, your students will pick up on it (some co-workers will find you annoying) and they will pay it forward. There are many small issues that we blow up into big issues some examples are:
Of course, all of the examples above I would work towards perfection because, punctuality, preparedness, and production are all important skills. However, by being positive with the student first it opens the door for a critical conversation later. They go like this, “Analicia, I am happy you are here but this is the 3rd time you have been late to class, we need to problem solve a method for getting to class on time.” A conversation like this is much more productive than greeting the student with anger. Rather than getting upset and negative, we need to keep the glass half full and control what we can control, always remembering that we are the adult and part of teaching is teaching kids to be more adult-like.
After trying these ideas I highly recommend journaling or some other form of reflection to really make your daily victories tangible. I keep track of “Daily Wins” and goals in my personal journal. You will surprise yourself with how many wins from each day you can identify, it really makes a difference in my mental outlook each day. I also recommend identifying students that you would like to connect with each day, this ensures that all students receive some personal connection and it further enables you to document your small victories.
Do you have suggestions or advice to add? Please use the comment section!
English Language Development teacher attempting to bring some truth to the table.
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