Teacher’s Lounge Blog

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

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.

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!”

Effective Teachers Deliver

April 19th, 2018 | Comments Off on Effective Teachers Deliver | Teacher's Lounge Blog, Teaching Licenses

Article from the Series: Essentials for Effective New Teachers

Instructional delivery is the method that a teacher uses to transport the students from the known to the unknown. Complex analyses have been conducted to determine the best teacher practices to maximize student learning. Instructional delivery is a point of profound vulnerability for beginning teachers; because, even if you excel in all other areas of the profession, failure to deliver a lesson that educates your students means that you have not done your job.

Let’s consider three potential pitfalls.

Technology: Every 21st Century classroom has been impacted by technology. You are in a position to determine tech’s role for your students. You may go old school—producing your own lessons from scratch and requiring tech-free responses from your students. You may go with a high tech, inquiry-based method where students have freedom to research questions posed by the teacher. More likely, your classroom will be a balance of tech and tech-free learning.

A bit of caution:

  • If you found the worksheet on the internet, your students can find the answer key.
  • If you want your students to generate original projects, the YouTube video you downloaded last night is probably not an appropriate way to model your expectation. You need to display more creativity and originality than you expect from your students.
  • Tech can be a time sucker. Avoid spending three hours looking for the perfect 2-minute hook to capture your students’ attention.

Practice: A rigorous lesson in any field requires practice and reinforcement. Arduous lessons must be supported with arduous practice. Watch out for the review game that eats up half of the class period with activity that is unrelated to your lesson objective. Factor in how long it will take to pass out devices, wait for them to boot up, and get all students on the right page, etc. Some days, a simple tic tac toe game with rapid fire questions will bring you closer to your goal.

Provide scaffolding as needed. If your final objective is for students to write a cause and effect essay on an event in history, consider that students will first need to know the facts of history. Consider using a Venn diagram in which you provide the main points and require the students just to sort the points between causes and effects. In your practice, provide all the information in matching, sorting, or multiple-choice questions. Move to fill-in-the-blank, then ease on over to short answer. After you’ve modeled the task a few times, hand over ownership for the learning to the students. Guide them gently from known to unknown, being careful not to introduce new activities or projects with new content.

Cumulative review plus some opportunities for students to acquire the learning without punishment are known to be components of an effective delivery.

Grit: As a new teacher, capitalize on your idealism. You may be surrounded by teachers who have become jaded. The battles that wage war in the lives of your students may leave them with no energy to focus on a lesson on misplaced modifiers or conditional probability. For you, however, disillusionment and fatigue are not an option. Your personal life is a non-factor during the school day. Every day, you must be the hardest working person in the classroom; and as a new teacher, you may be the hardest working person on the property. It’s your story to tell.

Structuring the pace, content, activities, and methods of your delivery day after day will be a colossal task, but it will be rewarded. Your student will benefit, and you will grow as a professional who can do one of the most important tasks on earth.

Delivery will be the core of your visible success as a teacher. Your knowledge, planning, organizational strategies, and overall professional behavior will feed into your successful delivery; but they cannot compensate for failed delivery in the classroom. If delivery is an area where you struggle, don’t despair. Research, scrutinize your lessons, find a mentor. You can become a teacher with an unforgettable delivery.

Effective Teachers Plan

April 9th, 2018 | Comments Off on Effective Teachers Plan | Teacher's Lounge Blog, Teaching Licenses

Article from the Series: Essentials for Effective New Teachers

When we say “plan,” our mind naturally turns to lesson “plans” in which we state our objective, outline the content, and plan an activity or assessment. Certainly, planning lessons is vital to effective teaching. However, if all we have done is plan the lesson, we’ve failed to plan. Consider some other aspects of planning.

Plan for your physical needs: You need food, water, rest, and a clear mind. You may have days in which you teach back-to-back classes for 4-5 hours. After that, you may go straight to coaching, tutoring, or professional development. You’ll need to healthy, sustaining nutrition. While seasoned teachers may be able to munch on a candy bar and drink a soda during class, don’t try it your first year. Students tend to resent watching their teachers do what is forbidden to them.

Plan your classroom environment: Oh, the power of an effective seating chart! Strategically grouping students with consideration of their behavior and learning can make the difference between a room where the students can actively learn and a room where the teacher throws up helpless hands in surrender.

Plan for the trouble spots: By the second week of school, you’ll be keenly aware of the place where learning breaks down. Is it in transitions? Is it when you lose your at-risk student in the content? Do you run out of stuff to do at the end of class? Plan specifically for a way to conquer the trouble spot.

Plan with colleagues: Value the insight of other teachers. You may be privileged to collaborate vertically across grade levels in a content area such as science. You may be able to collaborate within your grade level and find out how other teachers have organized their time and space and how students are performing for other teachers. Listen, learn, and don’t be afraid to contribute to the conversation,

Plan your communication: The very essence of teaching is that you to convey students from the known to the unknown. This conveyance happens much more smoothly when the teacher is personally equipped with accurate knowledge and skills. Study ahead so that when you stand before the class, you won’t make mistakes on the facts or practice problems. Plan the specific questions you will ask students in discussion which can guide further instruction rather distract. Don’t be satisfied just to know the text or task, go on to plan the most effective means to communicate so that the students can master the lesson.

If you’re thinking, “All this planning sounds like it will take hours,” you’re right; but, you’re not just teaching these students for this moment. You’re immortalizing the lesson. You’re establishing your reputation. You’re creating life long learners. It’s worth it!

Essentials for Effective New Teachers

April 9th, 2018 | Comments Off on Essentials for Effective New Teachers | Teacher's Lounge Blog, Teaching Licenses

Are you new to teaching? New to the grade level? New to the school system? New to the curriculum? New can mean a lot of things in the world of education. Just ask teachers with twenty years of experience how their first year with Common Core State Standards went, and you’re likely to hear the word new. When new is the word you use to describe your teaching situation, work on some essentials for success.

Articles in this series: