August 27, 2008

The Students Return

Tonight was Freshman Orientation at the high school and Meet the Teacher night at the middle school. I really enjoy the energy that the students bring to the building, and I enjoy interacting with them.

At the high school today, I saw a few kids who I had in class from when I was student teaching here two years ago. They were all excited to see me, and it was great seeing them. There is a lot of positive energy at this school. Students are really excited about DECA and the school store.

Don't Chase Perfection
I'm getting to the point where I feel very comfortable as a teacher. "Teacher" is a word that I can internalize and completely identify with. Being a teacher feels totally natural. I have a lot of experience with this; I've really been teaching in some form or other from the time I was 13 years old.

Of course, there is always room to grow. In the past week and a half of workshops, we've been told everything that good teachers are supposed to do. I try my best at all of them. But I'm not, and I can't be, doing all of these best practices 100% all of the time. I'm much better at some areas than others. I'm definitely still learning.

And, what I've realized is that I'll always be learning. There will never, ever be a point in time when I'll know all there is to know and do everything perfectly. There's a great line from The Martian Child by David Gerrold:
"While I was spending my time trying to figure out how to raise an eight year old, the eight year old turned into a ten year old."
Things change; skills can always be improved; your inbox is never empty. Great teaching is a journey. Learning how to be a great teacher is not about trying to hit some target in the future; it's about continually doing the very best you can right now. The only time we really have is the present.

August 25, 2008

Essentials of Teaching

Having been out of school for about a month, I’ve had some time to finally digest the massive amount of information that I’ve learned. Teaching can be simplified into a few basic concepts. Here are the pieces of advice that I think are most important to give to a new teacher or someone considering entering the profession.

Respect and courtesy earn courtesy and respect.
If you follow this rule, you’re 90% there already. Students really appreciate this. It means treating them with dignity and not talking down to them. When you treat students with respect and courtesy, they will act the same way.

Be prepared!
You need to know your content, and you need to know it well. Your job is to teach, and you won’t be effective unless you have a strong grasp of the subject you’re teaching. This does not mean staying a week ahead of the class in the textbook; it means having a strong foundation before you even begin planning the curriculum.

You also need to know what you’re doing every day. A well-planned lesson is the best prevention for behavior and discipline problems. Being unprepared is extremely unprofessional. Proper prior planning prevents poor performance.

Maintain high expectations and unconditional positive regard for each student.
If you let thoughts like, “she’ll never get this” or “he just doesn’t care” enter your mind, your actions will follow your beliefs, and you will fail as a teacher. It’s true that not all students have the same ability, and it would be wrong to assume that they do. Maintaining high expectations is simply a belief that each student is capable of great accomplishments. Your job is to show them the way.

You will have students that are challenging. They will test you and, at times, annoy you. Teachers need to look through this behavior and see each student as a human being. Start each day with a clean slate. If a student made you angry yesterday, you should be delighted to see him today!

Teach kids first and content second.
Delivering content is only about 20% of a teacher’s job. When I look through my journal entries, I notice that I didn’t write about my lecturing style or teaching methods or assessments. I wrote about the other 80% of what happens in a classroom. Teenagers are really fun people to work with. But, if you don’t like kids, you won’t like teaching.
This article was originally written shortly after my student teaching experience.

August 18, 2008

What If We're Still Doing This When We're Fifty?

The movie Office Space changed my life!
Peter: What if we're still doing this when we're fifty?

Samir: It would be nice to have that kind of job security.

Actually, it wouldn't be fair to give the cult classic all the credit, but the film was a pretty good mirror of my own career at the time. I left college with a degree in Information Systems and got a cubicle job staring at a computer screen. Not a bad job; I just didn't want to still be doing it when I was fifty. :)

Now I'm teaching a career exploration class, and one thing I'll say about careers is that they have to fit the individual. Teaching certainly isn't for everyone. It requires a unique combination of talents. If you don't like kids, you won't like teaching. If you can't multitask, you won't like teaching. If you're indecisive, you'll have trouble teaching. My problem was that I was in a career that didn't really match my talents. Steve Pavlina has developed a simple system for choosing a career. He says that the luckiest people are those who can find a career that they enjoy, are good at, meets their financial needs, and makes a positive impact on society. It's easy to find a job that fills two or three of those criteria, but finding one that fills all four is difficult. For me, it's teaching. It might be the career for you too.

About Me
My home is in the upper Midwest. I did my student teaching at a suburban high school, and my first full time teaching job was at a rural high school. I taught there for one year. You'll read some journal entries that I wrote from both places. This year, I'm returning to the same suburban high school where I did my student teaching.

I've taught quite a variety of classes, including: computer programming, keyboarding, web site design, computer graphics & animation, computer applications, career exploration, workplace skills, investments, sales, marketing, and business law. I enjoy them all, but I'd have to say that the business law class was my favorite so far.

August 14, 2008

Teaching Technically

Two years ago, I made a career change and decided to become a high school business teacher. Since then, I've been keeping weekly journals on my experience, some of which I will share on this blog.

My motivation for publishing the journals is to help other beginning teachers and people thinking about becoming a teacher, especially those for whom teaching would be a major career change. Here, you'll find detailed accounts of what actually happens in a modern high school classroom. You'll learn about the students I've worked with and what it takes to motivate them. You'll read about the challenges, frustrations, rewards, and joy that go along with being a teacher. I'll include some thoughts on teaching as a career, as well as contemporary critical issues in education.

Of course, my motivation for writing isn't entirely altruistic. I write for selfish reasons too. I've found that keeping a weekly journal helps me improve my teaching skills, which ultimately helps student achievement. The act of writing about events forces you to think about them. Journaling lets you examine what you did well, what you did poorly, and how you can improve next time. Experience without reflection does not provide the same benefits. The best teachers are reflective teachers who are continually evaluating and improving their classes.

About the Blog
You'll mostly be reading articles that I wrote a couple of years ago. The time delay is primarily intended to protect the identities of the students. I write anonymously for the same reason. Additionally, all references to people and places have been either generalized or changed. Some of my thoughts about teaching have changed since I wrote the original journals. Articles will be posted at least one per week.