Here I am, sitting at my computer at this interface again, and I can hardly believe that it has been over two weeks since I last wrote in this space. I would be lying if I didn’t consider this somewhat of a failure, but I’m finding out that I’m coming to terms with failure – as long as it doesn’t become a matter of habit.
As I write this, a lot has taken place: I have finished my unit on 1984 (had I even started it when I last posted? I think so…), I have had a few serious instances where students did things to severely undermine my teaching (both of which were taken care of but unfortunately not really by me), I have had some more success but only nominally, and I have gotten to the point where I almost had a nervous breakdown because of my own failures. There is part of me that is grateful that this experience only lasts four more weeks, yet I’m very much aware that I will miss it immensely once it is over, and I still have a lot of work ahead.
One positive thing that has happened/is happening is that I have gotten around to starting the job hunt. One position that has opened up for freshman/sophomore English locally is especially promising, in part because I have sort of an inside word on the district from a current colleague (who says that the district is a great place for new teachers). The deadline for applications is coming up soon, and that gives me hope for potentially lining up a job before the end of the semester.
One of the potential problems for me going into an interview at this district is the knowledge that the administrator will be looking for strong classroom management skills since the position is teaching freshmen and sophomores. With the awareness that classroom management is my weakest area, how do I address these matters in an interview? I mentioned this to my co-op as we drove to lunch yesterday before our inservice, and she asked me to tell her exactly what I would say. Here, for the purposes of critique and my own memory, is roughly what I said:
- Classroom management for me is about creating an environment for everyone that makes it possible for learning to occur. My top priority in that regard is actually not removing students who are distractions or hindrances but rather keeping them in the classroom. I’ve seen this especially well this semester with one student who – and this is not hyperbolic in the slightest – has not been in my classroom for three weeks for discipline problems (he’s supposed to come back on Monday), and as a result, I don’t have any confidence that he’s really learned anything. That’s really the practical point of this consideration: no amount of good teaching can save a student if he or she isn’t even in the classroom to benefit from instruction.
- When dealing with problem situations, my personal style of teaching lends itself well to one-on-one interaction where possible. I fully recognize that it is not always appropriate – sometimes you just have to call a student out in front of the class, and it really is in many ways about asserting your authority. I don’t like it, but I haven’t found any other way to handle it, frankly. If possible, however, I feel compelled to eliminate some of the pressuring forces that sometimes – no, often – influence students to misbehave.
- I have learned that planning is a huge part of classroom management; proper planning can minimize or alleviate problems. It is no surprise to me that time management is another facet I’ve struggled with, and downtime is, to paraphrase the infamous Puritanical proverb, “the devil’s playground,” at least when it comes to behavior. Starting the class off strongly with set induction or an anticipatory set, transitioning fluidly from activity to activity, and closing the period with a clear understanding of homework and maybe even the next period will do wonders for making each period flow more smoothly and efficiently. Because of this, planning needs to be a daily priority for me, and I even went so far as to suggest (purely off the top of my head, in fact) that perhaps classroom management should play a part in my daily preparations for the next day. Right now (when I am at my most efficient, at least), I segment my planning information off into objectives for the lesson, SI (set induction) to begin the class, activities for the period, and homework for the next day; what I am suggesting, then, is to add a section for classroom management, the sole purpose of which is to reflect on the day’s lesson, write down any problems I had (especially chronic misbehaviors), and ask myself, “What can I do tomorrow to keep this from happening? What have I already tried that has not worked?” This mix of problem solving and active reflection would, in my opinion, be very effective for helping me work out the problems I will inevitably encounter when it comes to classroom management.
I still have some areas where I need to do some more considering, especially about what I would do for specific situations, but that is the core of my own philosophy on classroom management. My co-op seemed very positive about these remarks, and given that she has been very critical (albeit in a constructive way) of my classroom management thus far, this is encouraging.
Now I continue the job hunt, keep planning for the next few weeks, and begin working out the details for my Teacher Work Sample, where I have to show evidence of learning in my 1984 unit. This will be fairly easy, I think, although my assessments had to change during the unit due to external pressures; I just have to put together the data and write out the rationale for the whole thing. I would say that some of this work will be accomplished after student teaching is over, but I actually have to present on the material the week before it ends, so I’ll just have to push through.
So, now that I have thoroughly (and rather verbosely) broken the silence, I will resume my work. Hopefully, I will be able to keep writing and reflecting as much as possible, and that should (I hope) make me a better – and happier – teacher for the next few weeks.