Saturday, January 31, 2009

Teach to YOUR Students

As a student teacher a couple of years back, I was a dynamo at producing lesson plans. Unfortunately, my university prepared me so well to make lesson plans with exactly the right components, that I didn't know how not to follow them to the letter. If I didn't hit every single aspect, I wasn't doing it right so the lesson was going to be deficient, right?

Well, let me tell you: My cooperating teacher always used to say, "A teacher's middle name has to be flexibility." If you are not, odds are, you will end up failing your students, because you are too busy being perfect to pay attention.

I recognized the contrast yesterday morning. I had been out of math the day before and the students had taken their test with the sub. I came into school and got out all of the information for the next lesson and even made up a little sheet that would help them organize their work in the multi-step fraction problems we were embarking on. In short, I was prepared!

When my students walked in, however, they looked bedraggled. The test had been too hard for them and they weren't ready. In a full hour the day before some of them hadn't even finished. In that moment I simply scrapped the entire thing. Something that has taken me a long time to learn is simply this; There is always Monday. That lesson isn't going anywhere, but for now, my students needed some support. We spent the first half of class retracing our steps, doing example problems together and getting them back into the routine. When I could tell they were getting confident I gave ALL of the students their tests back (even those who had finished) and they spent the rest of the time finishing or reworking problems so that they could be confident in that final product.

When you look around, and see a classroom full of blank or (worse) frustrated faces, it is not time to move on and get them in over their heads. Assess the climate of your classroom, and teach YOUR students. It doesn't matter if the rest of the classes are already starting geometry, it doesn't matter if you had a schedule to follow, if they are not getting it there is no point. Your job is to teach them, not to be the best ever schedule follower.

Here is my advice:
1) Look around the room and ask questions often. If your face is lost in the pages of a lesson plan, you are not seeing what is actually going on.
2) If you are experienced enough, scrap the lesson plan altogether. You might need a little outline to help you remember, and I understand that, but there are some occasions where it is perfectly ok to start teaching and paying attention and finding out where the students want to take you. If they are engaged, their questions and ideas will start to form the lesson for you.
3) Be flexible. Don't rush to get in information as if you are on a deadline. How will it help your students to have a partial understanding on a lot of different things. Let them really grasp a concept and feel good about it, so that they're excited about the next thing they learn, not discouraged.
4) Have a great attitude. When I come into my class and tease my students about how we are going to learn something REALLY hard but I know they are all super awesome brilliant students who are going to prove to me that it is actually really easy, they take it as a challenge. Their eyes are bright and they are ready to learn. There is nothing wrong with being silly or making it fun.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing such a thoughtful post. I've featured it on my blog as one of The Cornerstone accolades for February 2009.