Teacher’s Lounge Blog

Learn more about teacher preparation, test tips, online learning, professional development, and a variety of other valuable teacher topics.

Effective Teaching – Measuring the Immeasurable

December 5th, 2018 | Comments Off on Effective Teaching – Measuring the Immeasurable | Teacher's Lounge Blog, Teaching Licenses

Article from the Series: Essentials for Effective New Teachers

“Development of effective teachers” has become a common goal in education—I would even say, it is a catchphrase. Internet lists of teacher qualities inspire us; merit pay motivates us; mentorships instruct us; administrators inspect and evaluate us. Responsibility for and expectations of “effectiveness” have been heaped upon us teachers.

When we turn the calendar page to June and reflect on the school year, would any of us be so bold as to say, “I was an effective teacher this year”? The ageless question haunts— “How would I even know if I had achieved this enigmatic quality of ‘effectiveness’?”

As an educator, I have wrangled with how to gauge my own effectiveness against the measuring rods of the stakeholders—the students’ expectations vs. the research.

When Pearson surveyed students ages 15-19, they found that students value a teacher’s “ability to develop relationships with their students; patient, caring and kind personality; knowledge of learners; dedication to teaching” etc. https://www.pearsoned.com/top-five-qualities-effective-teachers/ Educational research indicates that effective teachers have a broad base of knowledge, plan, communicate, measure learning, create an environment for learning, and behave as professionals. http://www.ascd.org/Publications/Books/Overview/Qualities-of-Effective-Teachers-3rd-Edition.aspx

Caring, understanding, and dedication are hard to measure; so, I’ve started looking at what I can measure.

Is it possible that the most loving, most caring thing I can do for my students is to start class on time all 180 days?

When I’ve required and evaluated weekly milestones that led up to a synthesized final project, have I demonstrated my knowledge of learners?

Does my ability to avoid getting sidetracked demonstrate that I love teaching and I love my subject matter too much to surrender my class time for an inferior cause.

Does my strict adherence to the highest standards of ethics show students the proper boundaries of the teacher/student relationship?

When I hear out my students without over talking with my agenda, have I demonstrated that communication is both speaking and listening?

I’m not sure…

Becoming “effective” can feel unattainable; however, I can start class on time; I can give assignments that set students up to succeed; I can keep class engaging and fast paced; and I can behave ethically. I can learn effective teaching practices.

When I measure my effectiveness as an educator by observable and the measurable practices, I can see where I’ve failed and where I’ve succeeded. Then, I become the learner and start working again on consistently demonstrating the teaching practices that work.

Effective Teachers Organize

September 17th, 2018 | Comments Off on Effective Teachers Organize | Certification Prep, Teacher's Lounge Blog, Teaching Licenses

Article from the Series: Essentials for Effective New Teachers

Any healthy list of “Factors that Overwhelm New Teachers” is incomplete without a mention of “the stuff.” The combined accumulation of what you bring to the classroom and what you inherit from your predecessor may have you spiraling. You’ll need to get organized for the sake of your own efficiency, but most of all for the sake of your students.

If you find yourself standing in the middle of your classroom asking, “Does this stuff exist so that I can organize it or so that my students can use it to learn,” it’s time to make a change. Let me assure you—there’s a better way. It is not a sin to throw deadweight educational resources away. You may not want to purge too much your first year, but no one wins a prize for the storage closet with the most stuff.

Let’s look at the why and how of organization.

  1. Believe in the value of organization. If all new teachers really bought in to how vital classroom organization is to student learning and behavior, you would have no problem investing the time to get meticulously organized. Think back on the annoying issues you dealt with in student teaching. Not the giant issues such as fights—but the daily problems that wore you down and ate away at your effectiveness. How many of those could you trace back to poor organization? Were you able to solve any problems by rearranging desks or systematizing a transition?

For many students, breakdowns come in transitions. When transitions feel less like transitions and more like routines or habits, students feel safe in knowing the next step. The room stays calm and peaceful and is less likely to erupt in chaos.

  1. Create obvious spaces. At least half of your students, and more like three quarters, will not have a natural bent toward organization. For many students, a file is a file, a tub is a tub. Organizing books by reading level or matching scissor bin #1 with table #1 is not intuitive. You’ll do everyone a favor by making your organizational system simple and eye-catching. Think through traffic patterns. At first glance, it may seem obvious that you would keep all the scissors together on one bookshelf. However, if you observe that your “supply helpers” tend to congregate and get into mischief when sent on their mission to secure scissors for their tables, you may want to re-organized. Keeping all supplies for each work station strategically place in opposite corners of the room may turn out to be a better strategy. Avoid clutter. Students lack the ability to discriminate between one heap of clutter and the next. Avoid clutter.
  1. Walk through your day. Think through all your normal procedures; for example, passing in homework. If you say, “Pass in your homework,” you can expect to see papers flying through the air, kids bonking the student in front of them on the head, kids up out of their seats taking a stroll. You’ll wonder if you said, “Please mutiny,” by mistake. Instead, think how to minimize confusion and get the job done—Homework on the front desk before class begins? Wait for the homework behind you and pass the stack up together? Choose a strategy that works for you. Model it. Enforce it until it becomes routine.
  1. Find an organizer. If you’re not by nature an organizer, borrow the skills of someone who is. Remember the dad, Mr. Gilbreth, in the old classic book Cheaper by the Dozen. He was obsessed with efficiency—to the point of having all twelve children’s tonsils removed at the same time. You don’t have to go to that extreme with your students, but it may be worth talking to a seasoned teacher or your mom or…

At the beginning of the year, keep things simple. As students (and you!) master the simple, add more complexity. A commitment to organization, efficiency, and peace will make a measurable difference in your and your students’ days and year.

Effective Teachers Evaluate

July 17th, 2018 | Comments Off on Effective Teachers Evaluate | Certification Prep, Teacher's Lounge Blog, Teaching Licenses

Article from the Series: Essentials for Effective New Teachers

Is it fair to say that every on-the-job minute of a teacher’s life is spent evaluating? Never a moment passes that a teacher is not called upon to evaluate student learning, classroom atmosphere, lesson delivery, behavior, and more. Based on these evaluations, teachers are expected to use their quick wits and their long term planning strategies to optimize student learning in the moment and over time.

Let’s consider a teacher’s responsibility to evaluate.

Assessment of Student Learning

In both traditional and modern settings, a high priority has been placed on determining how well students have learned their lessons. In recent years, this process of evaluating student learning has fallen under the broad heading of “assessment.”

Teachers are responsible to assess individual students. Teachers assess before and after teaching. Teachers are deemed to be more effective when they use a variety of assessment tools from informal self-assessment to peer evaluations to highly-structured standardized testing.

High stakes educational testing has increased the pressure to ensure that students can demonstrate their learning on state tests. Results of large-scale assessments typically get back to teachers after instruction for that year has ended. The tendency then becomes to look at the group results and wonder what went right or what went wrong. The answer lies in the individual results. Class results can only be improved as individual students achieve. Take a minute to look at the results of the individual, and then consider what led select students to soar under your care.

For a new teacher, authentic assessment can be a greater challenge that state testing. It calls upon the teacher to have a clear picture of proficient work. For example, a second-grade teacher may know that students need to have a command of language. Does that mean they need to use plural possessives ending in s correctly in writing? How many supporting details in a descriptive paragraph should be expected of a second grader? In order to accurately evaluate, a teacher must have a clear picture of proficiency at the grade level.

Evaluation of Teaching Strategies

Teachers are wise to reflect on each lesson, that is, to analyze the effectiveness of communication in taking students from the known to the unknown. To teach effectively, you need to take a close look at formative assessment results. Discover the students’ prior knowledge and get busy structuring a lesson that will convey the student to the new content.

You may have the privilege of teaching the same content to several different classes. If you find that one class embraces your teaching and one struggles, you could draw the conclusion that your teaching is fine and the problem lies with the students. A more mature (though exhausting) outlook is that now you must specialize your lessons so that all classes can learn. You may have to design different activities, enrichment, or additional practice for your classes. While your primary responsibility during a class period may be instruction, evaluation is your constant companion.

Reflect and Modify

The most important piece of evaluation is what you do with what you’ve learned. Whether your powers of discernment are geared to students, classroom environment, your delivery, or some other aspect of education, your next step is to process your findings and decide what (or who) needs change and what will flourish with more of the same.

Licensure Tests: Prepare or Procrastinate?

July 3rd, 2018 | Comments Off on Licensure Tests: Prepare or Procrastinate? | Certification Prep, Teacher's Lounge Blog, Teaching Licenses

For the first time in decades, teacher licensure has become easier rather than more difficult in multiple states. Teacher shortages have pushed legislators to re-evaluate the high scores that have been required at various levels of teacher preparation. It’s not too difficult to imagine returning to a time when candidates were deemed qualified for their first year of teaching by completing course work, a single basic test, and student teaching under a master teacher.

Once upon a time, your only ticket into a teaching career was to pass licensure tests. Now, you’re looking at the reality that you may not have to pass as many licensure tests—or at least not with a score that required selling your soul for a year of grueling preparation.

Given the potential for more reasonable requirements, are you wise to prepare or to wait it out? I’m going with the unpopular answer of—you still need to prepare and work for the highest score possible. Let’s consider some reasons.

Economics:

Educators and legislators alike suspect that one factor driving teacher shortages is money. The level of attention being given to teacher salaries, benefits, and retirement plans is unprecedented. Ideally, the attention that teacher compensation has attracted will result in greater revenue. If that happens, more candidates with higher qualifications are likely to be drawn to teaching. At that point, states may be able to revert to or maintain high requirements and still keep their teachers. Securing a high test score makes sure you’re qualified not just during a temporary teacher shortage, but for the long term as well.

Content Mastery:

Teachers have to be good at so many things. You need to be able to communicate, organize, motivate, entertain, and manage resources, just to name a few. Did I mention teach?? With so many demands, you don’t also want to be wrangling with the academics. You can take some stress off the daily demands by becoming a master in your content area. Mastery of the content was one of the intents of licensure testing. Push for that mastery now—don’t put it off until you’re in the classroom.

Career:

It’s hard to predict the next turn that will be made to guarantee high quality teachers who can provide an excellent education to American students. While requirements may shift at least temporarily, the future of teacher certification is unknown. Hitting the high standards of today may turn into one of the best career moves you could make.

 

Do yourself, your students, and your career the courtesy of meeting the high requirements of today. Be wary of an attitude that rejoices at lowering requirements for teachers. Strive to be the one that can earn a top score on the test and then transfer your pursuit of excellence on to your students.

Have a Great Summer!

May 29th, 2018 | Comments Off on Have a Great Summer! | Teacher's Lounge Blog, Teaching Licenses

Summer Break

“Have a great summer!” I love those words. They hold the promise of quiet, travel, and a break from the daily monotony of scheduled everything. But, can I tell you a secret? I also love teaching.

Despite feared transitions in the U.S. Department of Education, the staggering emphasis on testing, and teacher walkouts in multiple states, university students still flock to education majors. Why? Because surreptitiously behind closed doors, so many of us know that teaching is the profession where we belong—the profession where we find happiness.

Since teaching is in my heart and soul, here’s what I’ll find myself doing this summer….

I’ll pin classroom ideas. When I’m on Pinterest, looking for travel journal ideas, I’ll inevitably stray to education boards and start pinning ideas for my classroom in the fall. I’ll remember Dee Dee and how she struggled. I’ll come across another teacher’s strategy for empowering young readers, and I’ll pin her ideas.

I’ll shop for supplies. I’ll remember May when only my red dry erase marker still worked, when not one student had a pencil longer than his finger, and when coloring a world map was a group activity because each student had only 2-3 broken crayons. I’ll have a little stash of supplies so that when next May rolls around I can awe my students with a new box of crayons.

I’ll talk shop with my teacher friends. Some of my closest friends are my colleagues. We understand each other. We have the same interests that drove us to the same career. Now, we’re bound together as survivors; so, when we get together, we’ll share our passion.

I’ll rejuvenate. I won’t deny that teaching is exhausting—physically, but more so, emotionally. I’m so very responsible for the students. It takes a toll on my family, as I work long hours and short change family dinner. This summer, we’ll grill and picnic, and I’ll look long into their eyes, and I’ll find new energy.

Don’t get me wrong, I laugh at and connect with all the teacher summer vacation memes. I’m guilty of everything that is mocked. But, let’s own it. We have a great life. To my teacher friends everywhere, “Have a great summer!”

The Teacher That Students Appreciate

May 10th, 2018 | Comments Off on The Teacher That Students Appreciate | Teacher's Lounge Blog, Teaching Licenses

Education is not a thankless job. A special day has been designated as “Teacher Appreciation Day.” With our own calendar event, it’s worth asking, “What do students (and parents) appreciate in teachers? What merits appreciation?”

I’ve read some comments of students and thought about my favorite teachers. For starters, students appreciate teachers who…

Affirm Values
Teachers are trained to lead. Wise teachers recognize their power to mold the thinking of their students. They find a way to keep their classroom from being a place to push their own agenda, and they affirm wholesome values in others. They challenge their students to evaluate their positions fairly; then they empower those students to live out their values in real life.

Love the Subject
Even those students who could win an Olympic medal in scholastic avoidance appreciate a teacher who understands the nuances of the subject area. Who hasn’t fallen under the spell of a teacher who found his own subject area so engaging that he couldn’t help connecting every student-led attempt to get the lesson off track back to math…or literature…or finance?

Teach Till They Learn
By middle school, and arguably earlier, students recognize that learning comes easier to some kids than others. Students appreciate that teachers who can patiently come alongside the slow learner and at the same time facilitate genius. There are those teachers who make sure the lesson has something for the kinesthetic learner, the verbal learner, and that quiet introspective one. This teacher models hard work, commitment, and creativity through the mundane of the daily.

See the Potential
The distinguishing act that immortalizes teachers in the heart of a student is that ability to see the individual. Students and teachers alike spend a lot of time filling in circles, clicking boxes, and entering passwords. It’s easy to feel less than human. Students remember that teacher who made eye contact and then stopped to inspire the skilled hands, the quick mind, or the never-give-up heart.

This week, we haven’t celebrated “school appreciation” or “education appreciation.” We’ve celebrated teachers–the people who faithfully affirm, empower, and come alongside. Let’s remember who breathed life into us and aspire to use our position for the good of others.