After seven years of being in the trenches of the classroom, I’ve decided it’s time to venture into another realm of education. I’ve greatly enjoyed my students’ successes and my own. Not to brag or anything, but my Chemistry students in all their adolescent awkwardness, ROCK!! All 75 of my sophomores from last year passed their state examination. Eleven of them passed with perfect scores and 44 others passed with advanced scores. Everyone else in the county suffered a drop in scores due to unexpected changes to the test. I can’t reveal all my classroom secrets in this here blog, but I will share a few.
You walk into my classroom, and you’ll find something different going on. Textbooks are on the bookshelves, and not on student desks. Students are in groups chatting and snickering while plugging away at their calculators and marking up their periodic tables. On lab day, kids are madly writing and re-writing, measuring and re-measuring. No two kids are doing the same experiment, yet everything is totally under control. I’m at my desk managing an assortment of tasks and checking on their progress periodically. There is learning going on, but the burden is not on me. Students are happily doing what they thought was impossible, and I’m giving them space to grow… and flounder a little.
What I’m talking about is a culture change. Secondary classrooms everywhere have become overrun with state standards and RTI initiatives. (I’m screaming inside!!!) There’s little we can do to change what takes place on the administrative level, but the classroom…. Well, that’s yours! And I want to inspire and encourage you to foster and re-foster an environment where learning takes precedence to student scores and every child is free to become their best.
Greet every student at the door every class period every day.
This is extreme, I know… but it’s truly a seed that reaps great rewards! I started this practice during my second year teaching. I think back to the first day of classes, and as some of the kids approached room 62 at Henrico High School I’d think “Boy, I hope that kid doesn’t come into my room.” Those jokers walked right through my door… Every. Single. One. And over time I fell in love with each of them.
One young woman in particular comes to mind. She had dyed her hair pitch black, wore horizontal-striped stockings & short skirts, and was pierced for days. Turns out she was incredibly brilliant and loveable and honored me long after she graduated.
Greeting your students at the door says to them “I’m happy to see you. You’re welcomed, safe, and wanted in this space. No matter what happened earlier today, you are free to be excellent right here, right now.”
If you’re working in a low-income school, chances are your students work late hours, take care of siblings, and carry a significant burden for their families. While we know this situation is not ideal for learning, we can’t change what is. We can change, however, our approach to helping these students succeed. I found myself giving less homework and more quizzes with my at-risk students. If at all possible, the last ten minutes of every class (we have 95-minute blocks) were devoted to completing homework. Diligent students could finish their work in the allotted time, but everyone knew to expect a quiz every day. Prior to giving the quiz, we’d review the significant concepts and how-to’s. Some still didn’t perform, but over my 7 years of teaching only 4 students have failed to pass their state examination for Chemistry. Four students out of over eight hundred? Not bad…
Let your students know you’re on their side, and they can trust you to help them through as long as they put in effort and remain focused.
Don’t answer every question asked.
A seventeen-year old boy came to my desk after class one day and said “I didn’t do well on this quiz, and it’s your fault because I don’t feel comfortable asking you questions in class.” Knowing this kid’s ego was far more fragile than he let on, I replied “Well, honey, you shouldn’t feel comfortable asking me questions. We’re in unit 8, and you’re asking questions from unit 3.” He danced around the fact that it was MY job to answer every question he ever had about everything I taught since September. Certainly that is NOT my job, nor is it yours! As teachers we must show the students how to come to a sensible answer, even if it involves a risk. Should a kid solve a gas law problem incorrectly, the world won’t implode. Should they solve it correctly, they won’t be awarded a Nobel Prize. So tell the kid to do the dang problem. Then do it again. And again. That’s their job.
Our children have become so accustomed to being spoon-fed. Their parents do it, and other teachers do it. Help yourself, and make them accountable for learning.
There’s so much more I wish to add, but classroom culture doesn’t change overnight. But you, being the master educator that you are, can implement at least one of these items. Reflect upon last year and choose one of the above items to try to correct an issue that you had. Continue to reflect. Continue to make appropriate changes. Before long, your classroom will be a place where kids will be excited to prove their best to you, and eventually, the world.
With love, sincerity, and hope for excellent school year!
Photo Courtesy of Thomas Favre-Bulle Creative Commons
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