In May, I finished my thirteenth year of teaching. (How in the French toast did that happen?) Here are my key takeaways from this school year. (Please excuse the formatting issues. I CANNOT figure out how to fix them.)
- Sayonara(ish) technology. My district is fortunate enough to provide devices to every single student in the parish, but this teacher is going back to making the copy machine my long lost paramour. I know paper isn’t sexy and students need digital literacy skills but . . .
- Technology is the biggest behavior problem in my classroom. Micromanaging 20-25 students with screens for faces is damn near impossible. For starters the kids don’t recognize checking their grades, googling random pieces of information, skimming their inboxes, etc. as off-task behavior. Then there are the students who email back and forth with their friends, play games, or watch YouTube videos. Technology makes classroom management harder, and a student who isn’t paying attention isn’t mastering content. (On a side note: while technology exists that teachers can control what students access during a lesson, our district doesn’t own it on a wide scale yet. I’m hoping to pilot software that combats this issue next year.)
- Troubleshooting technology problems wastes valuable instructional minutes. Technology doesn’t always work. Sometimes it’s a school wide issue or district issue, but sometimes the students’ individual technology just refuses to behave. Multiple times daily I stop lessons for individual students’ internet connectivity problems, device and website login problems, and the list goes on and on. While teaching troubleshooting techniques and offering my own help remains integral in a digital classroom, sometimes the ONLY solution is sending them to the library for help. And again, this detracts from the lesson. Heck, the student isn’t present for part of it.
- Research shows that students retain information more when taking notes by hand. Paper engages students more.They can quickly annotate and highlight instead of navigating through cumbersome technology equivalents–that you have to teach them how to use, which takes even more time and varies from program to program (Drummond).
Disclaimer: I’m not fully eschewing technology, but I’m cutting back big time next year.
- An endless combination of nicknames exist with my last name. My personal favorite from this year? Mrs. Ramengobble. I’m also enamoured with Mrs. Ma’am-a-gost (albeit seemingly redundant). Am I insulted? No. I will respond to anything students call me, unless it’s mean. I feel honored every time a new nickname is bestowed upon me. It fits in with my next bullet point.
- Have fun. Let’s be honest, English class content can be disinteresting for the average eighth grader. I recognize my subject’s limitations and balance it by building student relationships and cracking jokes. And whether students like English class or not, they’ll leave my room at the end of year loving me (or convinced that I’m a psychopath), dammit.
- Refrain from telling students they’re smart. I don’t think I’ve ever really done this in the first place, but I sure won’t be doing it from now on. At our eighth grade awards night every year, each teacher hands out an outstanding student award and gives a little speech. In almost all of those speeches, every teacher used the term “hard-working” to describe their chosen student. The terms smart and intelligent weren’t used once. Teachers are in the business of growth. We value students who take feedback and run with it. Every single student I taught last year was smart. But not everyone was a hard worker. Or an active participant in their own education. Praising students’ intelligence pigeonholes them. Sometimes they think they deserve an A without working towards it and then lash at you for their earned “B” or “C.” And sometimes it manifests in anxiety where they believe they can’t live up to a perceived expectation (“Should We Stop Telling Kids They’re Smart?”). I will be making more of an effort next year to praise growth daily with my students.
Bring on year 14! (Gulp!)
Drummond, Steve. “In The Age Of Screen Time, Is Paper Dead?” NPR, NPR, 10 Sept. 2017, http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2017/09/10/544546911/in-the-age-of-screen-time-is-paper- dead.
“Should We Stop Telling Kids They’re Smart?” NPR, NPR, 24 June 2016, http://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=483126798.