As a new teacher, the demands of the career can be overwhelming at times. During my first year of teaching, I felt alone and I was unsure about whether I was doing a good job. So I turned to the internet, and I was both surprised and delighted to find that there was a bustling teacher community around every corner.
Building community is essential for teachers to feel connected, supported, and to share their ideas with peers. And when teachers feel heard and supported, they’ll be more satisfied with their career and more likely to stay in the classroom with the kids who need them. If you’re a teacher with a strong support system, online communities and social networks can be a welcome addition. But if you feel a little more like you’ve been making a go of it alone, these spaces can be a much-needed lifeline.
Teacher blogs, Facebook groups, and Twitter are three online resources that have helped me to stay connected, engaged, inspired, and to continue learning with a community of like-minded educators.
Whether you’re teaching or coaching, it’s easy to get into a rut. But these five videos are here to help! Clocking in at just five minutes each, these videos will expand your ideas about what coaching can be and push you to try new strategies.
When it comes right down to it, teaching in general, and working as part of a professional learning community (PLC) specifically, are very human endeavors. Our charge as educators and the interactions we have with each other in pursuit of that charge are very personal, indeed.
As such, it’s easy to forget when we’re in the throes of a PLC meeting and working on processes like writing SMART goals, that we’re dealing with people, and with all of the talents, knowledge, curiosities, skepticisms — and yes, baggage — they bring to the table.
By comparison, it’s easier to blindly forge through and tick off items on an agenda than to be in touch with and respond to the interpersonal dynamics that play out as those agenda items are executed. This is the road less traveled, in a sense; acknowledging and honoring the humanity of teacher teams, and not forgetting for an instant that everything we accomplish (or not) happens squarely in this context.
TchLaureate Geneviève Debose Akinnagbe teaches ELA at Bronx Studio School for Writers and Artists (BSSWA) in New York City, a secondary school where teachers refer to their students as “Scholar-Activists.” She’s developed a unit on Scholar Activism for her middle school students so they have a better idea of what that title means and the honor it carries.
So far, we’ve explored the following questions:
What, exactly, is “scholar activism,” and why is it important to teach our students about scholar activism in the classroom?
In this post, Geneviève shares what she calls one of the coolest projects she’s ever done with students, when they engaged with a community organization called Citizens Committee for New York City to actively improve their school community in the Bronx.
Let’s learn a little more about the Beauty of the Bronx:
Depending on when your school year started, you’ve probably made it through the initial sprint of setting up routines, establishing the foundation for your class culture, and everything in between. Now as you move into the fall, it’s time to evaluate and refine your communication with families.
How are you letting them know about your classroom’s activities?
How are they learning about the progress of their children?
How are you getting families involved?
Check out these four tips for communicating with your students’ families throughout the school year.
You stand in front of your class, ready to dive into the lesson for the day. Before you speak your first complete sentence, two students start an audible conversation in the back of the room. And from the corner of your eye, you notice a boy in the front taking things out of his desk. Before you can deal with those two issues, you’re interrupted by a fourth student, who yells out a question from the periphery.
It’s not even 9 AM and you’re already feeling a little overwhelmed.
If this sounds like a typical morning, you’re not alone! No matter where you teach, classroom management is paramount to learning. Fair or not, part of your performance evaluation will depend upon how well you manage your classroom so that student behavior doesn’t create a barrier to learning. So, let’s look at some key ingredients for a well-managed classroom.
I began my teaching career in January, after a December graduation.
That first day, I took a deep breath and started to tell my first period class of eighth graders about my expectations.
A boy I’ll call Ben bounced out of his seat and turned away from me.
“Sit down,” I said.
“No,” he said. “We have to say the pledge.”
Just then, the speaker crackled to life and a voice from above asked the students to stand.
Ben was a challenge throughout the semester. But the first day Pledge of Allegiance was just the first of many things that could’ve gone better — if only I’d had someone to tell me the simple things about the school’s routines, and was there to help me improve my classroom management. By the end of the semester I decided to give teaching one more year, promising myself that if it didn’t get better, I’d look for a different career. The next fall I had a new job in a different district, where I was happy to stay.
Over time, I’ve benefited from the help of many of my more experienced colleagues. And I’ve mentored numerous student teachers and first-year educators, both formally and informally, and learned from them as well. Unfortunately, many districts still expect beginning teachers to “go it alone.”
What can you do if you find yourself in this situation?
Before I ever set foot in a classroom, I knew what kind of teacher I wanted to be. I created a composite in my head of all my favorite teachers. You know them, those teachers who were exactly the person you needed at exactly the moment you needed them. I wanted to be warm, funny, and to encourage creativity. I wanted to protect my students and to advocate for them. I wanted to make them write both silly and serious things and understand just how clever Shakespeare really was.
I never anticipated how difficult it would be to keep that ideal version of myself alive. There were activities I had to fight for, actions I had to justify, and ideas I had to let go. It was exhausting to maintain my ideal teacher persona. There were nights when I was packing up to head home at 9 p.m., furiously apologizing to the maintenance staff for not leaving sooner. It wasn’t until my second year that I realized all of those traits I’d envisioned weren’t about the type of teacher I wanted to be. Actually, those traits embodied the classroom culture I wanted to create for my students.
Does anyone not want to get better at classroom management? Even the most experienced teachers can find ways to make their classrooms more welcoming and productive places. But for new teachers, classroom management can feel make it or break it.
If you’ve had a rough year, congratulations on getting through it!
This summer, let’s settle in and learn how to get better at classroom management.
My first year as an instructional coach was a learning year.
I was experienced as a department chair, but the role of an instructional coach was a bit different. For starters, I was in a different district. The District of Columbia Public Schools have a robust approach to coaching called LEAP — Learning together to Advance our Practice. This method of coaching almost mirrors how assistant principals observe, except for the evaluation component. It was an adjustment at first, but LEAP has helped me to hone my craft as an intentional observer.
The school where I coach and teach, the historic Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, was America’s first Black public high school. In the first half of the twentieth century, this school was an elite institution, which attracted an extraordinary faculty. (Watch as I give a tour of the school’s museum.) Today, we remain a committed and extraordinary faculty; however, like many urban public schools, Paul Laurence Dunbar High School is a high-poverty school that has historically experienced high staff turnover. Nearly half of my ELA department is either new to the building or new to teaching.
Finally, understanding the human dynamic present within the feedback cycle is something that has to be experienced to be appreciated. Teachers are humans, just like every other professional, and their humanity must be maintained throughout the observation and feedback process. At the same time, however, instructional coaches and other school-based leaders must see the potential in each teacher and design learning opportunities that help them to see potential in themselves as well.