First – Thanks for the good discussion and your thoughtful comments and feedback on yesterday’s c-section post. You guys are the best!
Last week I posted a little call for reader questions and got a few related to teaching… I’m working on* longer posts related to my faith in the classroom and my “strategies” for behavior management, but today I’m answering five quick questions:
1. What are some aspects of teaching you hate but are also guilty of?
BUSY WORK! I really try to avoid giving students assignments just for the sake of taking up class time or keeping them busy. (Who has class time to spare anyway? And, besides, those things have to be GRADED after all!) BUT, it happens to the best of us and there have definitely been (plenty of) days when I give too much in class “reading time” or show a movie because I’m just totally swamped and that’s literally all I can manage. #trueconfessions
Also, probably “teaching to the test.” Just like every other teacher in America, I’m held to certain standards and my students take end-of-the-year tests to show that they have mastered particular skills etc. I try not to ever be defined by those test results, but there is a good bit of pressure surrounding them, and I want my students to perform well – for both of our sakes. This happens more on the AP Exam (as opposed to state standardized tests) because my students are really very smart naturally, but it is a struggle to avoid teaching concepts and skills exactly as I know that they will appear on the test and, more or less, expecting them to memorize for test day. Again, not something I’m proud of, but the ugly truth sometimes.
2. What part of teaching gets easier each year? How has your teaching changed each year?
I don’t really reuse exact plans from year to year, but having a framework for what I want to teach, how I want to structure my lessons, and the basics like assignments/powerpoints/quizzes/etc. after the first year makes a HUGE difference in all subsequent years. I find that once I have that basic outline for a class, I’m much more willing to take risks, try something new, and make changes because it isn’t quite as overwhelming. I still spend a lot of time planning from year to year, but the actual “getting started” is A LOT easier.
I also think that as I get more confident in myself as a teacher from year to year, all aspects of teaching get a little easier – especially standing up in front of a room of teenagers and speaking with authority etc. I’m able to manage my classroom better because I actually believe that I am “worthy” of respect, and I have systems in place to handle issues. Confidence has been KEY for me.
I think I am a lot more relaxed now than I was when I first started teaching… I used to take TONS of work home, but now I value my time off and realize that that makes me a better teacher so I do very little on the nights or weekends. (My first point about having a basic framework for plans etc. helps with this too.) I’m also more relaxed with my students – able to really put in the effort to build relationships with them and show my human side a bit more. This is, in part, because I have more time (see above), but also a little bit with age and experience and just knowing more clearly my own boundaries etc.
3. How do you balance formative vs. summative work?
I definitely prefer formative assessment, but I recognize the value of summative too. One tangible example of this… When I assign a novel, I rarely ask students to answer study guide questions or take quizzes (more so in the lower level grades) on what they read. Instead, I rely on their honest feedback about a work in the journal, participation in simple class discussions/activities, and their contributions in a final Socratic Seminar to assess whether or not they are actually reading and how well they understand it. I might have a more formal summative assessment as well, but the bulk of their grade comes from the more formative things. I actually find that this works a lot better and discourages things like overusing Spark Notes or reading so closely for tiny details that they miss the overall value of the work as a whole.
4. What’s been your favorite day this school year?
This is a hard one and my answer is probably “cheating,” but… Any day that I see kids really engaging with content, participating in discussion, getting exciting about what we are learning is a REALLY good day! A few weeks ago we did a public debate against students from another program at our school, and I was beaming with pride for how well prepared, well spoken, and generally intelligent my students were up on stage. I also loved seeing the whole class come together for a common purpose and learn some things in the process.
5. What do high school kids read for fun these days? Do you read what they are into so you’re “in the know”?
My students are really into the futuristic/dystopian literature that is all the rage lately – Divergent, The Maze Runner, etc. The girls REALLY love John Greene and basically any love story/ teenage angst book that will later be turned into a movie. 😉 They actually read a lot and have pretty varying interests, so it is hard to keep up with it all. I WISH I was better about reading what they are reading, but I usually try to read just one or two BIG ones each school year. (For example, last year I read The Fault in Our Stars over Christmas break… I’m not sure what this year’s “big book” is yet.) More to come on this topic later this week when I share a little more about YALLfest!
Have another question for me related to teaching? Leave it in the comments, and I’ll try to answer it there!
*By “working on” I mean I typed the title into a draft on WordPress and am thinking about a post. 😉
P.S. I’ve had several requests for some advice/tips on how to prepare for maternity leave and a long-term sub as a teacher. The truth is, I don’t really have any!! (Those of you that have been around awhile might remember that Sam was born in the summer, and I ended up taking a different position for one year in the fall.) I’ve put out a call for help on Facebook and would love to gather some of your experiences and wisdom for a compilation post in the next few weeks. If you’ve been there done that, please email me with your best pieces of advice at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!