I write this on a week that I struggle to grade ninety mid-semester exams, revise a week’s worth of lesson plans based on the pace students are learning, try to do chores at home for my family, order clothing and car parts to endure my first Alaska winter, and catch up on overdue UAF assignments. I sit down to read the articles “What I Wish My Professor Had Told Me’ and “Let Care Shine Through’ and realize an unfortunate truth: It may not get any easier.
Well, okay, once I have a curriculum built for my first year I can use it in successive years, and I will be finished with graduate school two years from now, and I’m told that the reputation I build with students this year will be passed by word-of-mouth to next year’s freshmen. But “Let Care Shine Through’ reminds me that I need to address the class with the understanding that the world has been cultivating negative perceptions of the students and wearing down their sense of self-worth, and it’s up to their teacher to turn that around for them. (For each student, I share that responsibility with seven other teachers, but for 90 minutes every two days that student counts on me.)
“What I Wish…’ explains that there’s no such thing as the “perfect’ lesson plan, and that the content is actually of secondary importance to forging relationships with students and understanding what they need but are unwilling to say. That intimidates me more than anything. I mean, I think I can be honest about my own personality, goals, shortcomings, and aspirations when a student inquires, but I won’t claim that the ability to connect and empathize with someone on a deeper level comes naturally to me. It’s nice to know, however, that my unofficial mentor at the school sees in me the desire to help every student, no matter what it takes.
The methods I’ve learned from training with PEAK Learning Systems (Performance Excellence for All Kids) are meant to make kids feel completely safe in learning. Most people, of all ages, are almost paralyzed by the fear of being publicly wrong or appearing stupid, which means (for example) that calling on an overachiever to answer a question shuts down everyone else who doesn’t want to put themselves out there. I use systems where students work in pairs and share answers with each other, where students swap cards anonymously containing the things they remember from a lesson, where no answer is ever called “wrong’ but it informs what the teacher feels the need to clarify.
Here are some more strategies, both long-term and quick-fix, to help students get interested and stay engaged in class: https://www.edutopia.org/blog/big-and-small-classroom-management-strategies-todd-finley