November is Reader Appreciation Month at So You Want To Teach? Today’s featured reader is Pamela.
Occupation: Elementary Teacher, Reading Specialist
Blog: Blog may be coming soon, but none yet ;-)
Tell me some of your favorite things about your job
Some of my favorite things about teaching: I enjoy sharing my love of learning and my passion for certain topics. It goes beyond just teaching the material…it’s about making a personal connection with the students. Along those same lines, I love sharing the excitement of a good book. When I introduce it and starting talking about it with excitement, the students can’t wait for me to start reading. When it’s time to stop reading and begin our next lesson, they beg me to read “just a little more”. I also like seeing many of the cross-curricular connections students make, as well as the “light bulb” moments, when something clicks for them.
Tell me some things you loved about your favorite teacher(s)
When I think back on the teachers who I remember most, they all made a personal connection with me (and many other students, I imagine). Some of them were mentors or club advisors outside of class. My french teacher took us to France several times, so she really had a lot of time to get to know us outside of class and to share her passion with us. The personal connection I had with these favorite teachers made me want to work harder in their classes, because I knew they cared about me and my success. Consequently, I didn’t want to let them down.
List some of your most effective classroom management strategies
- Try to make a personal connection with each child. Find out what their interests and activities are. If you know they have a game coming up, wish them luck, or ask how it went the next day. Ask them if they had a good weekend, or share what you did. Students love to hear about your personal life. The older students may not show it as much as the younger students, but it’s still an opportunity to connect with them. You might mention a quilt you finished for your grandchild, and it reminds them of the quilt their late granmother made for them. The older student won’t say this out loud, so you may never know this connection was made, but it’s still important and will affect how the student views and relates to you.
- ALWAYS review your expectatons and go through the “What if…?” scenario list before assemblies, field trips, guest speakers, substitutes, etc. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve discussed it before. Having it fresh in their memories and going through specific “What if” scenarios will almost always ensure that the students meet your expectations. It’s better to take a few minutes to do this beforehand than to spend time filling out pink slips and handing out consequences after. Besides, if you don’t do it beforehand, you’ll usually end up doing it after the fact when you tell them why you’re disappointed by their behavior. The “I’m so proud of you” speech is always a nicer way to end the day. ***For very young students, this method can be used everytime you leave the classroom, at least in the first 6 weeks of school. “What if the person behind you isn’t looking at where they’re going and bumps into you or steps on your heel? What will you do? Is that why it’s important to face front and not talk to the person behind us when we’re walking in line?”
- Speak to students with respect, even when they are not acting respectfully toward you. Don’t yell…or at least do it VERY sparingly and know that it will carry a lot more weight if and when you do. For example, saying “Don’t take that tone with me” to a disrespectful student will often escalate the situation. Instead, say “Excuse me??” with a calm but firm voice. Include a hint of incredulousness in your voice and a puzzled look -maybe even glance around you (as if to say, “Is this person really talking to ME in this tone of voice, or is there someone behind me?”). Follow that by a brief pause and then, “Let’s try that again with a more respectful tone of voice, please.” That way, you’re giving them no choice…if they don’t rephrase their objection more respectfully, the conversation won’t continue. I’ve never had a student NOT rephrase respectfully following this exchange, but if they continued to be disrespectful, I would probably just calmly let them know that I’ll be happy to hear their concerns when they’re ready to speak in a respectful tone of voice.
- Continuing in the same vein as the previous idea, find ways to correct students with as little distraction to your lesson as possible. Moving around the room during a discussion is a great method. Rather than interrupting the lesson or discussion to tell Johnny to put his toy away and pay attention, just shoot him “the look” or walk by his desk and pause until he corrects his behavior. (If necessary, silently put your hand out for the toy, then walk over and put it in your desk.) Older students know “the look”, but for younger students, you need to have a class discussion and explain that if they see you staring at them during a lesson, this is a warning. They need to think about what behavior (or lack of) needs to be corrected, because if you actually have to interrupt the lesson to say something, it will no longer be a warning.
- One last idea along the anti-yelling theme…use silence or whispering to your advantage. If you want to make sure they pay attention to the directions, whisper them. The sudden change in noise level will force them to focus more closely on what you’re saying, rather than treating your voice as “background noise”. If the entire class is getting chatty or restless while you’re talking, just stop. The sudden silence will get everyone’s attention just as effectively as yelling, if not more so. Students are uncomfortable with unexpected silence. There will always be a few students who don’t immediately look up when you stop talking, so other students will start nudging them and pointing for them to pay attention. When all eyes are back on you, ask, “Are we ready to continue?” with an “I’m not very amused” look on your face.
- Keep impeccable records. Keep copies of all notes and emails you send to parents and administrators. If necessary, have parents sign and return notes, papers/tests with low test scores, etc. and keep a copy on file to prove that the parents saw these notes and papers. Develop a system to make sure you follow up on those who DON’T return these items, because inevitably those are the situations where you will need this documentation. When parents are upset by a report card grade, a punishment, etc. they can often develop selective memories. There have been many times when I’ve had to tactfully pull out the file to gently prove that, “Yes, I did inform you the last two times your child cheated, and I clearly stated that if it happened a third time the administration would suspend your child.” Believe it or not, even administrators sometimes have runny memories. If you’ve ever had an administrator advise you to do one thing, only to call you on the carpet for doing that very thing when faced with an irate parent, you’ll be happy you kept a copy of the email advice.
- Be generous with praise…but make it specific. Instead of saying, “You guys were so good at the assembly!” tell them you’re so happy they all stayed flat on their bottoms and listened quietly to the speaker. Go on about how you’re sure the students behind them appreciated being able to see and how you’re sure the speaker is going to go home and tell his family about how this was one of the best schools he’s been to, because the students were so respectful. People like to hear exactly what they did “right”, and this is also a chance to reinforce (for the one or two that didn’t exhibit the desired behavior) your expectations and the reasoning behind them.
- Teach students -even the youngest ones – to be responsible for their own learning. Let them know that you expect them to use their class time for learning. If they don’t understand something, they should feel responsible for asking questions and getting help. Set up a private way they can do this in case they’re shy. I always encouraged them to leave notes for me in my tray. “Use your time wisely” is one of my most often repeated phrases. If they finish their social studies assignment early, rather than talk or fool around, they should think about what other assignment they could work on, what skill they could practice, etc. A good way to encourage this, at least with elementary students, is to praise students who are using their time wisely. At this age, they like to be singled out and praised for making good choices. For example, you might say, “I’m really happy to see that since Angelina is already practicing her multiplying by 4 facts, since she knows we’re going to have a test on those next week.”
- Be firm, fair, and consistent. Don’t make idle threats.
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