Blog #5: Classroom Observations

During my planning periods over the past two months, I’ve observed five different teachers, most with a couple decades’ advantage in teaching over myself. They have a pretty clear idea of how to manage a relatively unruly classroom.   Each lesson begins with clear instructions what materials to get or what page to turn to; earth science teacher Donna Matthews counts as Tardy any student who didn’t do starting procedures quickly enough.   During the lessons, steps are carefully stated one at a time, and repeated.   Disruptions such as talking while the teacher is talking, or sleeping during a movie, are addressed immediately but calmly with a warning (and the second time, they are sent to the principal).   On the other hand, computer teacher Paul Apfelbeck lightens the mood with some humor (claiming the next step will be hard when it’s no different from the others; one step “for the hearing impaired’ followed by shouting, etc.).   Typically lessons are closed 5 to 10 minutes before the bell, with a discussion of homework assignment and answering questions from the students.

The start of class is certainly the biggest “transition,’ and begins in every class with students immediately receiving work — either getting calculators and opening notebooks to solve problems written on the board; being told to open a specific page of instructions in the textbook; or being handed a worksheet.   In the case of multiple worksheets or assignments in one class period, the next transition, between assignments, comes with a five-minute warning, a one-minute warning, and then instructions how to clean up and put materials away; art teacher Katie Galauska handled this well.   Finally, Mr. Apfelbeck offered two-minute restroom breaks every half hour, and in one case, he led all his students to the gym and told them to race the length of the basketball court and back.

Mr. Apfelbeck told me an interesting story that I may apply to my class at the start of this next semester.   A class he was teaching in the past, writing or journalism (I forget), he greeted students at the door on the first day with a copy of the final.   They did the best they could and got full points for the day.   The last week of class, he handed them the same final (a fresh copy), and they took it again.   Then he showed them both versions and they got to see how they’d improved over the year.   Some students cried, that’s how moving it was.   (I’m not expecting that level of emotion, but it made me realize I’d never given a beginning-of-year assessment to figure out what my students already knew.)