Lesson Planning and Teacher Preparation Over the Weekend

I recognize that the only way to really “teach” my kids and get test results is to prepare dynamite lesson plans and that often means using the weekend hours.

Teacher Preparation prepares you for many things. It also leaves a lot of holes. You aren’t ever schooled how to use your weekend hours which is unfortunate because there is still plenty to do at the end of the week. Lesson planning for instruction, aka teacher prep, is the single most important part of what I call the “Dynamite Lesson Plan.” I have the toughest class many can imagine this year. I have discussed many solutions with my grade level colleagues and we are trying them. We are all having a hard time so we are modeling every activity they must do from lining up to raising their hands. We are doing a “respect lunch” where the kids who have shown the most respect all week get to have lunch with us in our rooms. After all, behavior management really can be reduced down to that one word: “respect.” You may or may not learn that in your teacher preparation classes. Interventions such as these really are just cosmetic fixes. Effective lesson planning is really the secret ingredient to behavior management.

I recognize that the only way to really “teach” my kids and get test results is to prepare dynamite lesson plans and that often means using the weekend hours. Classroom management follows this, not the other way around. I spent a couple hours this morning, a Saturday, poring through state standards for math. I developed EDI lesson plans based on key standards that are supposed to be assessed by the District this week. It was rough. Especially since my sinuses were really acting up. It’s these hours we teachers on not credited for. They are more than most know.

All I wanted to do was sip Chamomile tea and watch the Biography channel. Instead, I forced myself to focus on creating lessons with audio visual material and engaging concepts prepared in advance. As always, I know it may work and it may not work, but the weekend helps me to refocus on my promises to my kids … even when they don’t keep theirs to me.

I will get in my Jeep Monday morning with a renewed sense of hope for my classes. I have 95 kids all day and I teach them math. My goal is to have them score higher than a more affluent school across town. I want to show that economics do not dictate achievement. I’ll probably get beat up this way and that by various factors at work but I will have that lovely weekend once again for teacher preparation and concentrate my efforts on what matters once again.

Soldiers of Education

In some ways, teachers have it pretty good. Public school teachers get healthcare and the right to collective bargaining for their wage as well as the benefits to keep them health for the classroom. On the other hand, each city surrounds a school district with expectations and many of them are downright impossible to deliver. This can create stress and a disconnect that isn’t healthy for anyone.

Let’s experiment. Students and teacher via Money Business Images/Shutterstock

Currently the President is saying a viable fix to school shootings is for teachers to have guns. I wonder if he really thought that one through? Every year teachers are breaking up fights on campus above and beyond their jobb description and getting punched in the process. If they accidentally touch a student in the process they can be prosecuted for battery of worse. IN fact, there are many situations where a teacher can suspended without pay and dismissed all while simply trying to maintain order and safety in the classroom. Enough about those inevitable mistakes and lawsuits, now add in a loaded gun at their discretion.

Having been a teacher for 19 years I can tell you that most civilians expect us to handle tantrums and misbehavior as part of our job. This push and pull is intense and it often results in teachers being blamed when an ill-behaved student cannot abide in a traditional classroom. As teachers we are trying all the time to increase our social problem solving skills in our classroom. Sometimes it seems that nothing will work. We can’t give up though, it is simply not an option. Giving us a gun is just another impossible riddle they are asking of us: to use, to not to use, that is the nagging question they leave with us.

3 Positive Outcomes from a Parent Conference

At the end of every parent conference, I ask for comments, questions, or suggestions. Sometimes I get some really valuable wisdom. It takes a teacher with strong self-esteem to feel safe asking for advice from parents.

Sometimes around October, some teachers may start to dread parent conferences. Many times, they are difficult to do and once in a long while they are a breeze. However I feel about the kids and the parents, as a parent myself I appreciate the partnership of teachers and parents. As a teacher, I try to keep my own kids in mind when holding parent conferences. It is a delicate balance between what I would do with my own kids and what is the best for my students. Somewhere in those parameters I plan my teaching and my parent conferences. All schools can benefit from a parent conference and my particular expertise shows how effective they are in elementary schools.

Meeting with parents can be challenging. There are many “types” of parents but really every parent is an individual case. There is the type that don’t really care who came in due to fear of Child Protective Services being called. Then there is another type that are all too involved. They can be challenging for completely different reasons like: how do you tell the parent their child is not perfect. Finally, there are the victimized parents with no answers. These people are quite challenging because they have thrown up their hands in surrender willing to try just about anything. Again, there are MANY types of parents along a spectrum. Each one you encounter will fall somewhere in between these three examples. Establishing and fostering that parent involvement can be the magic ingredient with a kid.

Meeting with parents can be helpful. I would say 70% of the time, meeting with parents will fix a problem. After all, they are the ones in charge of the kids. They can reward and take away in ways you couldn’t dream of. In short, they know the kids better than you. For many years I would avoid meeting with parents and calling parents. I didn’t want to rock any boats. I learned eventually that as a professional I am entitled to call parents any time, even in the middle of class in front of the class. Parents need to know what is going on and most of them want to know. The helpful properties of a parent conference should never be underestimated.

Meeting with parents can be educational. Every college I have attended has always said something in the commencement speech about “life-long learning.” If anyone should be life-long learners it is we teachers. Like it or not, we set the pace for education in our communities. If we listen to parents they can enlighten us to the needs of their kids. Then, we can extrapolate from that the needs of our entire class. At the end of every parent conference, I ask for comments, questions, or suggestions. Sometimes I get some really valuable wisdom. It takes a teacher with strong self-esteem to feel safe asking for advice from parents. I encourage you to try it. Don’t let anyone attack you but keep an open mind. It will make you a better teacher.

On a given day you probably wouldn’t get excited about parent teacher conferences. At the same time, you probably should because the challenge, helpfulness, and education are highly positive aspects for teachers.

When Extra Work Means Less Headache

20130111-144253.jpgSometimes with certain classes, you have to do extra work in order to avoid headaches. One example of a headache is another teacher coming to you complaining about your class’ running or misbehaving at recess or dismissal. You can say it’s not your duty time but it will always come back to affect your reputation as a teacher, unavoidably. Define your target. Sometimes a little extra work takes care of it. My students get rowdy at dismissal. I have tried warning them to walk and be respectful but even after teaching rules and holding the whole class in all day as punishment, I still got two teacher complaints. It’s time to become more of a hawk eye with this class.

At that point, one has to decide, do I work a little outside my duty and walk them like smaller kids to the gate every day or risk letting them continue without my intense guidance and get more complaints further affecting my reputation as a teacher. It is an extra few minutes I agree and I am not required by contract to do it. At the same time, with some classes, one must accept they are too immature to do it alone and lead them out. I’ve given my current class every chance to improve and yet they are still, running and screaming and running into other kids. In the big picture they are my responsibility and I really don’t expect this class to ever be autonomous 4th graders in these activities, even though I’ve had much more mature kids who could handle it in the past. Sometimes a little extra work makes for less headache.

Graduated Expectation

Have you ever witnessed a student do something really immature only to tell them to “grow up?” When you catch yourself and recall they’re 9? I have and it helps to have a sense of humor when it happens. I believe we need to set an age appropriate expectation for our students but as we work toward that end, we should be flexible and have a graduated expectation.

Little by little, poco a poco, inch by inch life’s a cinch. Rome wasn’t built in a day and in the case of some kids, it wasn’t ‘t built in a month either. As the teacher, it’s your privilege to make the expectation. I’ve seen too many however set it way too high and chastise the kid for just being a kid. It can be compared to Procrustes bed. He was a legend who had a bed he invited passers by to lay in. If they were too short he’d stretch them. Converse visitors would get their feet lopped off. To me, that a great image of why we should have graduated (modified) expectations as wise leaders.

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Trophies in the Classroom

I recognize students in the classroom year after year with 7 trophies I only needed to buy once.

Student recognition
I recognize students in the classroom year after year with 7 trophies I only needed to buy once.

Recognition is powerful in motivating students. The question is “How should we do it?” There are many ways teachers and employers do this every day. Plaques and awards are among them. Some ways present less of a challenge than others. Material rewards can be costly to replace and simple verbal rewards can seem canned. I thought I’d found a happy medium when I discovered one teacher in Santa Ana Unified who had been using a recycled trophy to recognize students. I saw a unique idea and wanted to try it with multiple trophies. Continue reading “Trophies in the Classroom”

No Superman – When Tests Scores are Human

Low standardized test scores are not an indicator of talent, either by the student or the teacher. Rather, they indicate incorrect focus.

Teaching is a task that should come from the heart and reach to the heart of children. After that, there is a test. The Standardized testing that goes on in every state in the union is keystone to student placement and, some would argue, future achievement.

Teaching “from the heart” is crucial at all times in my career and sometimes I need to take a quiet walk or something akin to that to remember it. At the same time, teachers are valued on the basis of their test scores in many schools and in many districts that I have been familiar with. That’s why I chose to write today about addressing low scores.

Low standardized test scores are not an indicator of talent, either by the student or the teacher. Rather, they indicate incorrect focus. Many teachers go through their day with a vision of some sort. One teacher might actually aim for high test scores and teach as closely to the test as possible. Another may see socialization skills as a more important focus and teach through those as a lens. It varies as much as teachers do. While it is important to have values and teach from your heart, we as teachers have to remember the “steel horse” we ride: the standards test. If our heart isn’t in it, we will not succeed but with our without “heart,” we won’t make it as teachers in this millennium without decent to great scores on our standardized testing.

When you get low data from a test as a teacher you can feel overwhelmed. It can even feel as if you are failing at your career. The truth is, with a little strategic planning based on the data (your best friend) you can get the “correct focus” that turns the dreaded low scores into the tool they should be to score high. There have been years when all my kids ever scored was high, there were others when the kids just never seemed to “get” certain standards on the test. Now I aim for high scores that are taught “from the heart.” I suppose in a perfect world I wouldn’t care about the test and just give kids what I feel they need to be well-rounded 4th graders. Unfortunately, this world is not perfect so to a certain extent, it is back to the old drawing board to make a way toward student achievement on the standards test. Work with what you have.

Love Connects Us All

16346052419_3e64205cc0_zLeafleting the parking lot with the parents of our Adelanto students was a miracle treat for me. As a public school teacher since 1997, I’ve always appreciated parents but most teachers sometimes wonder how parents really feel about teachers. My school is akin to an inner city one but not exactly like it. Thought it’s suburban, the closest grocery store is about 10+ miles away. 16344866750_959c6d4c1f_zWe did just get a new Family Dollar right by my school but some families whose students attend my school are struggling below the poverty line. In short … it’s not a wealthy neighborhood. Nonetheless I have more respect for some of our families than I do for those in Beverly Hills by far. They prove they have integrity. Today was 16342472380_426c5d01e9_zValentines day and my teachers union’s struggle with the Adelanto school district continued throughout the day and remains still unresolved as I type this. Nonetheless I feel lighter about it because of the parents, remember the ones in the families I just talked about who have high integrity? They heard our call to action and came out to the parking lots without being asked to inform the public about the struggle that is going on. It made my heart soar to see these families coming out on a holiday when they should be with their families having fun, eating, drinking, and being merry and instead standing strong with us sharing our message with the community. Continue reading “Love Connects Us All”

Assess the Entire Class in an Instant

White dry-erase boards are an excellent way to check for understanding (CFU) during and after a lesson. They are also a great way to avoid wasting paper in your lesson plans. Of course, they are also very useful when stating the learning objective. Instead of printing up a class set of the material I am covering in a lesson, I print up one for each class I teach and project it on the screen. The students interact with me through dry-erase markers and white boards and it makes for an almost sport of a lesson.

This can be used in any subject. I teach the concept, use CFU throughout the teaching, then I model the concept in guided practice, asking students to gradually join me. Eventually I “release” them to do questions on their own and once again I CFU through the use of the white boards. I use the term “1 … 2 … 3 … show it to me” and then I can instantly assess a class of 33 kids. I can see if 80% or more are getting it.  If they are, I usually move on. 100% mastery is always the true goal though it isn’t always achieved. As I share anecdotes about my teaching, my goal is to help my readers achieve that goal. If we can get closer through teacher tips like this, we will be more effective in the classroom.

There are challenges getting the kids to leave the caps on the markers and not “doodle” on the white boards. It needs to be stressed to them that they are not doing “art” but rather they are answering questions to show me they “get it.” They get a kick out of it when I say 80% accuracy or better yet 100% accuracy. Sometimes they even cheer. While exuberant, they are focused. This is what makes white boards a great tool for classroom management.

I’ve written here before about how I am moving away from the use of copies and paper in my classroom. I think these changes have only benefited my students. It might be true to say that too much paper improves the presentation but widens the disconnect between the teacher and learner. Then again, this is just my personal experience. I know not everyone is ready for what I am calling “The paperless classroom.” I encourage the use of white boards for CFU. They are simple, always on hand, and you can assess the entire class in an instant.