Reflections in my Rearview Mirror
Sometimes I think back and wonder, what if I were a brand new teacher with all the knowledge and skills I’ve acquired from 25 years of teaching high school? What kind of teacher would I be? It would definitely be a smoother road, without so many wrong turns and construction zones. We are constantly learning from yesterday’s mistakes to avoid taking the same rocky roads. Here are five teaching tips I wish I knew cruising into my first year of teaching:
Every day is a new day!
Each day is a clean slate, a fresh start, a do-over, for you and your students. Let go of yesterday’s roadblocks, bad moods, technology glitches, photocopier breakdowns, student disagreements and negativity. Focus on shifting forward with new energy, positivity, and fresh ideas. Every school year should start with a positive mindset too, even with repeat students you’ve had difficult experiences with in the past. I saw a former student’s name on my class roster and I had my doubts. But I purposely sped into this school year without judgment. The former student and I have had nothing but great interactions and we’ve built a positive relationship. We left last year’s class in the dust and moved on. Students may mature and surprise you! Forget last year’s traffic jams and go with the flow of this year’s open road.
Rotate the Routine
Just as car tires need rotating, class routines need rotations to keep a steady flow. Subconsciously, students like routines so they know what to expect. Bell work gets students focused on the content and settled into their seats. It’s great to start each class with a routine, but don’t be afraid to switch up the style. I enjoy written warmups, but sometimes it’s a verbal partner activity. Students could rev-up their minds with a partner Turn and Talk, a review question from yesterday’s lesson, or an interesting video clip that relates to new material. Bell ringers are a healthy habit to ease students into a lesson, but a different sweet treat will keep students curious and engaged in lessons.
Partners Build Class Trust
Many experts say the key to classroom management is for teachers to build relationships with students, but students also need to build relationships with each other. A class is simply not one teacher interacting with many students. Students need to learn to work with others outside of their friendship circle. In order to build class trust, students should be able to work with anyone in the class. I change assigned seats every 6-8 weeks to give students the opportunity to work with a fresh group. Students also get a voice in their partnerships by picking 6-12 “clock buddies”; I roll a die and the number tells which partner they work with for an activity. If seating arrangements are stalling student learning, don’t be afraid to mix it up. You can easily shift assigned seats and seating configurations. More class partnerships throughout the year create more interpersonal student relationships that respect and support one another.
Movement Moves the Mind
In high school, many students sit for long periods of time. These delays will lead to boredom that will crash your brilliant lesson plan. Some of my favorite activities involve student movement around the room: 5-8 stations for a variety of short activities, Four Corners, where students choose a corner of the room that represents their answer, and Quiz-Quiz-Trade, a Kagan strategy where students quiz each other around the room with large flashcards. They quiz each other on vocabulary terms, then trade cards so they are continuously reviewing and practicing vocabulary. The Easter Egg Racing Game, where the plastic eggs contain questions that partners answer together, Trashketball, where students shoot hoops for points after teams answer questions correctly, human bingo boards, and gallery walks. Music minutes relax the mind so it can be filled up with new information. My Spanish students learn interrogatives by singing to the tune of Jingle Bells and days of the week to the Addams Family beat. Songs help students memorize material, and who doesn’t enjoy a fun song while stopped at a red light or taking a class brain break?
Share Personal Stories
We ask students to take risks all the time - by answering questions aloud, working with different partners, and sharing their thought processes. Teachers should also be willing to be vulnerable by sharing some stories about themselves. Students love to hear random, entertaining stories that relate to class topics. It shows our humanity. Teachers are people with cheesy jokes, road trip stories, family traditions, favorite foods, funny mistakes, and interesting childhood stories - share them! Be willing to share your silly stories so students will be brave enough to share their own. Students want to get to know you as a person, not just the teacher behind the wheel on cruise control, coasting through material. Detours make learning a fun adventure! Your random stories will help connect students to the content. I’ve shared many travel adventures with my classes to connect them to different cultures. My favorite stories are swimming with large sea turtles in Mexico and being warned of a nearby shark, traveling with students to Italy, France and Spain, and hiking Machu Picchu in Peru, where I learned the locals call it Mapi. Students will remember your exciting personal stories more than book facts!
I hope these teaching tips help teachers avoid some roadblocks and dead-ends. There’s no exact teaching map, but it never hurts to ask veteran teachers for some directions. Their advice will lead new teachers down the road toward student success.
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