Monday, July 27, 2009

Strange Noises

When I moved in to my new place a week ago, my friend Jeremy asked me if there were any weird noises that I had to adjust to. I went to bed on that first night feeling pretty good and pretty lucky because things were blissfully silent. In fact, our walls and floors are cement so I have yet to have a problem with pipes, neighbors, miscellaneous squeaks, etc. That is, until tonight. Tonight I am typing as I sit awake at my computer table counting the minutes and listening to the most earth shattering shriek I have ever heard. For tonight, my dear friends, is the the night of the first storm in my new apartment. I live in a back corner apartment in our building complex and apparently the combination of the direction of the wind and the location of our little corner creates a perfect little wind tunnel. Wind finds its way in and upon trying to escape takes on the otherworldly sounds of a strangled horse-like creature.

In any case, I'm wide awake. And the question of acclimating oneself to strange noises got me thinking.

As many of you know, I'm starting a new job this year. I have three weeks before training and four full weeks before my first full day with students. If you are saying that it is WAY TO EARLY to start worrying about teaching then you are awesome and I want to be like you. Unfortunately for myself, I'm a thinker and a planner. And I haven't even been given my teaching manuals yet (and I'm teaching two grades simultaneously) so I'm really starting to panic!

As I think about weird noises, however, it reminds me that every new school year is kind of like my new apartment. You come in, work as hard as you can to put together a nice place for yourself. You adorn the walls and arrange the furniture for aesthetics as well as practicality. But eventually, your students (the strange noises) show up. That's when you have to start to adapt. There are some noises that will startle you and make you jump almost every time you get surprised by them for the rest of the year. There is the idle hum of the refrigerator that will barely receive much notice after a couple days of routine and habit. In any case, you start to make a comfortable place together and adapt to each others quirks, and if you work hard enough, you start to appreciate those noises because they are familiar and they mean that you are in a good place, a safe place, that you are home.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Let Them Fall

This post was inspired by my mother and the post Helping Students Navigating the Torrents of Change at Cool Cat Teacher.

The other day while we were driving in the car, my mom made the statement that she wouldn't have wanted to protect her children from all of the hard things they have gone through in life. Not that she would ever wish any pain on us, but that she knew the importance of letting us make our own mistakes, deal with our own challenges, and find our own way when the situation called for it. The truth is, if you spend every moment holding your child's hand and protecting them from "danger", they will never learn to fend for themselves, never learn any coping mechanisms, and never understand how to deal when they find themselves confronted with the real world.

The same thing works for school and the classroom. In fact, in a society where the role of teacher is an ever blurring line which takes on the function on parent more and more, many of the same attributes apply. I find it very tempting to hold my students hands when times get tough. I also find it almost impossible not to make exceptions for good kids who have a bad day.

I have found, however, that there is something to be said for consistency. Students who know the rules and what is expected of them will learn to accept responsibility for consequences and will rarely have that bad day again. Failing is a part of life. Making mistakes is a part of life. Not allowing our students to do either of those things is crippling them and giving them false expectation for their future. We need to instead be teaching them strong lessons and equipping them with the tools in their arsenals to rise again after failure, mistakes, or simple life unfairness have dealt them a low blow.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

A System That Works

I sat down to dinner with a fellow bilingual teacher last night and we started to share some of the successes that we have had with classroom management over the past year. As we talked I realized that I was nervous about being a part of a school that doesn't have a school wide behavior managment program (though they are starting something this year and I'm excited to be a part of that.) It is one of the things that I think worked wonders in my former school (coupled with No Excuses University which I personally think everyone should get on board with.) As we talked I began to try to rework my personal classroom system because I am always trying to get better/more efficient. Born from my coworker whose room I have shared for the past two years, my system involves individual sticker charts (grids of about 25 squares) that students must fill before they can visit the prize box. Stickers are given every morning at the beginning of the day for homework and then sporatically throughout the day for awesome deeds and participation. While students are getting ready for lunch I open the prize box for less than five minutes for students whose charts are full. This system works way better than anything I've done before and so, with everything else that is changing this year i've decided that it is the one thing that will remain constant. Just let me tell you why...

1. It is interactive. There is something to be said for interactive teaching and I'm a fan of anything that gets you moving around the room and connecting face to face with students even during whole group instruction.
2. It is not obtrusive. Students leave their charts on the desk and you can come over and reward them without even stopping your lecture.
3. It teaches responsibility. Students are required to keep track if their own charts and must start over again at zero if they lose theirs.
4. It minimizes classroom crime. Students have names at the top of their chart and stickers take some effort to peel off so students are forced into an honest situation.
5. Students recieve immediate reinforcement. Instead of waiting until the end of the day or the end of a lesson, students are reinforced for positive behavior as it occurs.
6. It is a good motivator. If I am having a rough class with students who are slow to volunteer I have only to pick up a sheet of stickers and their eyes and ears and hands perk right up.
7. It is low maintenance. Sometimes I even allow other students to be in charge of stickers if it is going to be cumbersome for me. The prizes are quick to distribute and it is not something that needs time slotted for it even daily (charts take a while to fill).

This year I noticed that the system turned a little but stale toward the end if the year. One week we put away charts, took out some ziploc bags, wrote their names on them and did the exact same system using flat marbles. The marbles had a monetary value and at the end of the week I pulled some of the prizes from the box and we had an auction. It was really fun and even reinforced the value of money. So what I'm saying is...

8. It is versatile: easy to adapt and make new again.