Agh! Just starting at a new school at mid-year is rough for students, but it isn’t easy for teachers either. I’m the “new teacher” that just came on board in January for 6th grade Ancient History and high school AP Psychology, and it is as much of a transition for me as it is for my students.
Teachers typically take the first few weeks to get to know their students, establish routines, and set a positive climate. But even experienced teachers know that after winter and spring breaks there is a certain degree of retraining that is needed.
Last weekend, when I flew to Santa Clara for an interview, my students endured one day of a substitute. To my chagrin, the 6th grade did not conduct themselves optimally, and I felt responsible. For if teachers have trained their classes well, the students should be able to follow established protocols even without the regular teacher’s presence. Of course, with less than one month, mine were evidently not well settled, so I took measures to modify my protocols.
The previous instructor used daily bellwork that featured map handouts each week, and she used her computer desktop to project questions relevant to those maps prior to the day’s lesson. I found that procedure conflicting with also using the desktop to report attendance at the start of each class. In addition, I really like to use short video clips to illustrate geographic places and concepts.
It occurred to me that this fit nicely into what Fred Jones, author of Tools For Teaching described as Preferred Activity Time (PAT), whereby students are rewarded if they behave and perform responsibly.
I communicated my displeasure with the conduct during my absence, and stated that we would concentrate on note taking skills each day. Students would be allowed and rewarded if they put effort forth to take good notes, as they could be used on formative assessments and specifically quizzes. On days which were productive, we would enjoy geography “bellwork” and a relevant video at the end of class. This week we saw a clip on the locks of the Panama Canal, some facts about Mexico, and a modern housing subdivision in Managua, Nicaragua.
Now students come in, ready their notebooks and texts while I complete attendance. I have learned their names, established cooperative groups via a seating chart, have numerous writing samples which indicate several areas I have targeted for remediation, and I am feeling pretty good that we are going to progress happily through till June.
As for Santa Clara, I’m going to enjoy this SuperBowl regardless of which team wins because it was my good fortune to have my hotel room view directly upon Levi’s Stadium as preparations were underway. The area is lovely and I truly enjoyed meeting people at their local school.
In fact, everything is win-win, and attitude, autonomy, and ambition are guiding my game lately. Enjoy!