Author: bwidman

So… here is the real post for the week

I for some reason thought we were still doing whatever we wanted for blog posts… than I looked at Blackboard and realized I should have posted something relating to creating a productive learning environment. Here is what I got.

In any team sport, the players rely on proven, repetitive methods, strategies, and routines that have been proven successful over time. As an educator, and ‘coach’ of my classroom management, the part of my strategy for creating an effective learning environment must build on a foundation of proven methods developed on the success of veteran teachers.   In the book, The First Days of School: How to be an effective teacher, the authors note that “people who know what to do and people who know how to do it will always be working for those who know why it is being done.’ (pg. 29). By learning from the wisdom of others, many errors and pitfalls can be negated.

However, as in sports, a strategy implemented continuously over time yields bad results. A sports team will lose to their opponents if they keep repeating the same strategies.  Although a consistent, predictable classroom environment creates a foundation and sense of safety for students, the value in these practices will go nowhere if not continually developed.   If a teacher commits to doing an everyday, every year routine, inevitably, the learning environment will become stale.  My classroom management plan seeks to combine traditional, proven elements, and at the same time bring new elements in order that I might bring the best learning environment to my students.

They Brought a Cave Troll…

I’m sure most of you have realized by now that my posts put a very optimistic light on education. Mind you, I believe a positive attitude is critical to making teaching a great job rather than a burden. Yet, this attitude reminds me of some of the war accounts I have read. The typical young kid believes himself invincible until after the first battle, and then the reality sets in that he might not make it out alive.

As I started researching for my classroom management plan, I found the article posted below. The teacher gives a bleak outlook on the first day of school. The teacher titled the article “Why Children are Left Behind.” The article discusses how even before the very first day of school, a myriad of problems corrupts the school. These problems vary. The author mentioned how a Spanish teacher was switched to a social sciences position because there was no one else to fill the position. Part of the reason confusion resulted happened because the school would not hire the teachers needed because they believed the full amount of students who signed up for school would not show, making it unnecessary to waste the money on new hires.

To say the least, I began to wonder, what will the first day really be like? Our textbooks encourage us to make this perfect atmosphere for our students. I feel at times like the authors are saying “you have full control on how the first day goes.” The reality I am beginning to understand is that I can try and do as much as possible, yet, that does not guarantee that things are going to be just swell.

This reminds me of a little proverb I heard from an organization I worked with in high school: “blessed are the flexible for they will not break.” Even though there may be a hundred different things going wrong before the first student even steps into the room, flexibility will at least make the day less stressful. After talking to some of the teachers I observed, I also began learning little tips that help flexibility. For instance, its always a good idea to create a back-up lesson that you can pull out of your hat on short notice. Also, even though its good to keep bringing new, exciting materials to your lesson plans, sometimes the best idea is to just K.I.S.S. (keep it simple stupid). I figure my best shot at not falling completely on my face is to learn all the tricks that the veterans used to survive their first days and years.

Changing the Game

History is my passion and what I want to teach.  The problem is that many secondary students (not all) do not see how history is relevant. Either that, or they see history as just boring. I hope to change the game with my own unique spin. There are a lot of great history teachers out there and I plan to learn their strategies and then change it to use in my classroom.  I believe history is one of the greatest ways to teach students about life. The examples from history give the students examples to learn from.

The reason I picked this article (posted below) is because its about a history teacher in England trying to change the game. He believes that he can make history more relevant and interesting by incorporating television and video games, among other things. I do not necessarily agree with this approach, but I admire his intention. In this case, I would take the aspects of tv and video games and use it to my advantage. There are great documentaries that can HIGHLIGHT important events in history, but should not be whats teaching the class. That is my job. Video games, I would at first totally disagree with in classroom use. However, I think there could be a use for visual aids. Much like TV, you can use video selections from a game to HIGHLIGHT moments in history. Aviation, for instance, changed the how the world interacted. You can use sequences from flight simulators to give a 3D visual aid to air battles or even commercial use of airplanes.

I think video games and television can be away to also stay relevant. My view of education, for the most part, has been traditional. A teacher should be able to use a piece of chalk to open up a new exciting world to their students. I believe a good teacher needs to have the confidence to teach a classroom without any aid from technology because technology can be fickle. At the same time, I think technology serves as a way to further connect with your students especially since we live in a digital age. This class has opened my eyes up more to the idea of using technology as a tool. The trick than is not to make it a crutch.

These are ideas that I think can be used, perhaps not as much now, but definitely more in the future. I also think, as mentioned in previous blog posts that if technology is used, it should be used cautiously, and not take your place as the teacher. Technology is just one example of how I could use someone else’s ideas and tweak them to my classroom.

My Links from Spokane

I’m currently in Spokane, WA for a conference and here are some of the links that I found useful for education (specifically in the field of history).

This blog I found highlights all of the important issues that I think excellent classroom management needs. This blogger talks specifically about what she has learned over the past years. It is a re-posting of a previous blog, but since it was so popular, she decided it deserved to be put on again. She also lists some creative activities for the classroom.

This video is done by a highschool teacher. It seems like most topics on classroom management tend to focus on elementary ed. One particular part about this video that I appreciated was how the teacher coupled good classroom management with exciting lesson plans. Both need to go together to make an excellent class.

This last link is for a website. I think the part that grabbed my attention was in the first paragraph it mentions how half of a teacher’s time is occupied by discipline. To me, this  emphasizes  how important it is to have good classroom management. There were also some links for other sites listed.


What I, as a White, Westernized Alaskan think about Native Education… isn’t it ironic?

I find it ironic that this post is written by a white man and we are all white people talking about the future of NATIVE education. I don’t think its wrong for white people to talk about it but it made me laugh to myself realizing the irony. As far as the blog itself is concerned, I believe the author is well intentioned and does have some good points that he can back up with experience.

I agree with the author that there is some necessary changes that do need to be made in Native Education. I do believe that Native society is overly dependent on the United States government for money, housing and transportation. I believe, like anyone else in their situation, they took what was offered to them and now are blamed for being too dependent on government funding. Education I believe is fundamentally controlled by government and Western ideals and CAN be to the detriment of Native Alaskan students depending a lot on the teacher who is put in the village. As far as his advocacy of placed-based education, I think I would agree that this would be a good step in the right direction, especially if the results, as he says, “blend the Western and Native educational traditions.’ At this point in the game, you really can’t have one without the other.

I believe that Westerners have set up a system in education for White people to more easily become teachers in the villages. First off, you have to gain your degree or at least a teacher certification. Right off the bat, many Native Alaskans are at a disadvantage for getting a teaching job because they live out in the bush. Unless they are very motivated, they most likely will not complete a college degree because many still live out in the villages. I think a larger majority of white people have good opportunities right in front of them to jump through the hoops to become a teacher and many lean that way as a plan-B option if their original dream career does not pan out.

I have this sense (especially with the last paragraph) that the author has this super-idealistic vision that there will one day be no Western impact on how Native Alaskans choose to do their own education. I think this to be simply bogus. Whether Native Alaskans or Westerners alike hate the interaction between the two, its there and its not going anywhere unless all the white population ups and moves out. The key idea is collaboration. I believe that perhaps a teaching certification program specifically geared towards teaching in the rural Alaska needs to be implemented and possibly scholarships given specifically to Native Alaskans who want a job as a teacher in the villages. I think White people should also be allowed to be integrated into a program like this because people of all race, color, ect… teach in many different countries. As long as you are a good teacher, I don’t think it matters what culture you are in. But part of being a good teacher is understanding the culture you teach in (whether your own or anothers) and Native Alaskan’s would be more suited to teaching in a rural setting. I realize I am over-simplifying the situation and throwing out a remedy that very much is idealistic. I just think that some program specifically needs to be geared towards education in rural Alaska.

Piloting the Class

In my observations, one teacher in particular stood out to me.  Miss Fitzsimons has been teaching English for the last 10 years.  For the opening of her class, she had 15 minutes of silent reading (the kids could read any book). She mentioned to me that if I wanted, I could wander around the halls during this time since much wouldn’t be happening but reading. I opted to stay because if she really was good with classroom management then her kids would not make a peep. I also found out that  a couple of basketball games were going on during this period and several teachers were taking their kids down to the gym. Miss Fitzsimons, however, could not afford to fall behind in her class. Now the kids were somewhat miffed that they were missing most of the ball game. However, they knew what their teacher expected and when quiet reading time came, the room fell dead silent (except for occasional ‘peeps). To say the least, I was impressed with out she handled the opening. While the kids were reading, she took  attendance  and made any last minute preparations.

During the middle of the class, the teacher mainly focused on reading the beginning of Shakespeare. The way she kept the kids under control and well-managed was to split the parts of the play between the class (it was a small class).  The students had to write down not only the part they were playing but the parts of all their other students which kept everyone accountable. She slowly had the kids read their lines while she explained difficult parts of the play. She described herself as a guide for the kids walking through a literary “jungle.” This helped the kids understand. She also explained the humor of Shakespeare. Since it was somewhat dirty humor (what else do you expect from Shakespeare?) the students (especially the boys) were kept amused and thus out of trouble.  Only towards the end could one tell that the students were tiring of reading Shakespeare.

To close out the lesson, Miss Fitzimons planned on showing the beginning of a movie of Romeo and Juliet. Netflix decided to quit streaming that particular video. For a moment, she tried to fidget and figure out a way to play the beginning of the play. The kids became distracted. She managed to pull it back together by having the students make a drawing of their choice as long as it had to do with some part of the play they had read that day. That ended the class on a good note (class management wise.)

Miss Fitzsimons did a great job, I thought, even though she had to improvise at the end of her lesson.  I think the three transitions I saw her do well were transitioning from the kids coming in to silent reading, the transition into reading Shakespeare, and of course transitioning at the end. I could tell she planned out her entire lesson. She did not leave any dead time for the students to act up or cause disruptions. She definitely kept them in active learning for the majority of the class period. I think as a potential English teacher. I liked the idea of silent reading at the beginning of class. It allows the students to pick a book of their choice  (supporting fluent reading). If you can  successfully  have your kids silent for the entire time, it is a good indicator they respect you and you have respect for them by letting them choose their materials.

In the Game

To me a ‘mental set’ is very much like a sport like we discussed in class. I remember skiing in highschool and before every race you had to focus and prepare. You would drink lots of water, watch what you eat, and mentally think up strategies to use during a race. In order to be an effective teacher, I am beginning to realize that I will need to do the exact same thing EVERY day before I enter the classroom. My mind has to be ready and I need to be mentally prepared for the stress I am about to go through. When I am in the classroom, I need to be focused on the task at hand. Our book talks about different strategies to keep engaged and mindful of student behavior. A teacher needs to be moving, needs to ‘appear’ everywhere and attentive at every minute of the classroom period. I also think to a degree, a teacher needs to also stay ‘with-it’ concerning pop media and technology. I do not think it is extremely necessary to be able to name off the top 40 hits on the radio but at least have an idea. I suppose you could relate it more to a team you would be playing against. In order to be effective you have to know what some of their strategies are. In the classroom, you at least need to know the basics of the culture your students are coming from.

Renewing and reviving myself mentally I think is critical. After a stressful interaction with a student (or several students) or your colleagues, the instinct is not to react in a positive way. It is imperative to take several seconds to calm down, center yourself mentally, and then fix the problem asap instead of letting the student think he just got away with something or possibly creating enmity between you and your colleague. If the situation allows, I thinking taking a quick breather by yourself is extremely good. It gets you away from people, allows you to vent your emotions at inanimate objects, and gets your ready to get back to the classroom somewhat revived (hopefully). The other thing I think is critical in conflict is to not take your side of the issue up immediately. I am guessing it would be quite easy as a teacher to think you are in the right ALL the time. However, that is just not true and something I do not want to fall into. When you think you are right all the time and push that on others, the respect that is needed in the classroom will fall apart.

The website I picked puts an emphasis on specific strategies for your mental set. Most people usually are not good at winging it in important, high stress situations (hmmm… like the classroom?) and specific strategies are needed to face what your students throw at you.