TEACHER TUESDAY: Teaching is spooky these days!

Tomorrow is Halloween and the natives (students) are getting restless.  I know this because I spent many a Halloween doing my best to keep my young charges busy as they squirmed like they had ants in their pants.  And they were teenagers!
Before standardized testing and its ensuing universal lesson plans where all the teachers of the same tested subject in a school district have to teach exactly the same thing on the same day, and before we became so sensitive and politically correct (Is that a run-on sentence?), I tried to add a little bit of spooky fun to my classroom at Halloween.  I definitely put up Halloween decorations–remember those cute little cardboard cutouts of jack o’ lanterns and witches and goblins?  It never even crossed my mind that someone might object.  It was all harmless fun when I was growing up.
I also brought in trick-or-treat candy if I could afford it, and when I taught English I would find a good scary classic film like “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” or “Frankenstein” or “The Pit and the Pendulum” that we could actually do literary analysis on.  I lit a jack o’ lantern while the movie was showing.  It was a nice change from the ordinary lecture and notes.
For a Halloween biology lesson I would bring a pumpkin from home and we would actually take it outside and carve it, identifying the different parts of the plant, fruit, and seeds.  Then we would place a candle inside once we returned to the classroom–or we had a pumpkin carving contest if enough students brought pumpkins.  Their carving had to relate to something we had studied in biology.
Nowadays there is so much pressure to prepare students for testing that teachers rarely have time to insert these kinds of activities into their lessons.  Or, if they do, they must get permission from a department chairperson or principal to deviate from the prescribed course of study.  I think we have lost a little of the fun we used to have in classrooms for the sake of test scores.  It’s even more important for parents to take time to do some of these fun things at home to provide these experiences for their children.
I heard tonight of a local group of school district superintendents who are meeting to come up with alternatives to “teaching to a test.”  I hope they succeed in not only convincing our legislators that the emphasis in education is wrong, but that they come up with a way to lead the change.

TEACHER TUESDAY: Nitty Gritty Time

As a teacher you have probably settled into a comfortable routine by this time of year.  You know the names of your students, or at least most of them–quite a feat if you have over 130 like I did last year.  You are now familiar with the unique personalities of each of your classes and many of your students.  You know that each class has its own distinct personality and feel as well as its own abilities and attitudes, and you have adjusted to each one.

You can finally fill out necessary paperwork on students and know who it is that you are writing about. This part was really difficult for me last year because special education forms did not wait until I knew every student by name and needs.  It was a good feeling when I could fill out those forms with confidence.

There is so much required of teachers these days.  In high school we had to keep up with special education accommodations, limited English proficiency accommodations, special education inclusion students, content mastery students, English as a second language students, athletes in all sports, district curriculum requirements, technology innovations, state testing requirements, and the list goes on and on.  The pressure on teachers for their students to perform well on standardized tests is immense, but there is also pressure for star athletes and other extracurricular competitors to make good grades.  Often, it is the teacher who is blamed for failures rather than the student.

But at least by this time of year, you are becoming familiar enough with your students that you can intelligently recommend appropriate accommodations and provide tutoring or other measures to help each one succeed.  That, after all, is the bottom line.  The job of a teacher is help each student find their own way to success.

Veteran or new or in-between, carry on, teacher.  It’s all about the kid, and you are the key to their success.