Have you ever reflected on your teaching practices from the point of view of your students? I think you might realize very quickly why knowledge and skill gaps exist, and it rarely has to do with the student.
I know that’s harsh to say, but it happens to numerous new teachers as they navigate understanding the content they’re teaching and how to teach it so students get it.
My first year teaching, my students were lucky because I did all the work. I mean if they didn’t understand my question, I answered it myself and kept moving. I didn’t pause and allow think time. I didn’t structure my questioning so it increased in rigor like a higher order thinking staircase. And I surely didn’t give my kiddos an opportunity to add on to each other’s thinking, let alone dispute it or give meaningful feedback to one another.
To answer the title of this post, during my first year of teaching I could absolutely be a student in my own class. However, I think I would be ill equipped for the next year so my answer would probably be… I could be a student in my own class, but I wouldn’t want to be.
At least I can say that I realize this now and have grown since that moment. If I were a student in my class now, I would be in for a rude awakening, especially if I were a student in my own classroom as a first year teacher prior to transitioning to my own classroom as a veteran teacher. In my current classroom, as a student I would have leadership duties to complete throughout the day to help me grow socially and developmentally. I would be required to remain organized as I transitioned from class to class and teacher to teacher. I would be expected to have excellent time management skills to ensure I complete my assignments by due dates and pace myself through longer testing sessions. I would be responsible for tracking my reading and math skill acquisition and growth. I would even get to walk my parents through my successful quarter of learning during parent-teacher conferences. But the biggest change of all would be that I would be doing all of the thinking. My teacher would facilitate instruction, while I would have to dig deep to understand it, explain it to a peer, and then demonstrate it myself. I wouldn’t be allowed to opt out of a difficult question or task and I would be encouraged to seek help from a mentor student or speak up during small group instruction. It would be challenging, but yes I could be a student in my own classroom (for the record thought I would definitely prefer to downgrade to the first year Ms. Schultek and let her do all the work!)
Although these two classrooms are very different, the teacher feels the same about her students. I still love them as my own kids, knowing their name, favorite pets and best friends. They know these things about me too. We are a family and everything we put out on the table, makes us all better. We have talents and strengths to add value to our collaborative whole. I am proud to be a teacher and I think as a student I would want to be in a classroom with a teacher who cares for me even if that means they are growing instructionally.
That’s where I take the pressure off myself for not performing at higher levels those first few years. I didn’t know better and I certainly didn’t know how. My advice to new teachers is this…
- Step back and look at your classroom structure from the eye of the student. Is it pleasing? Does the flow make sense for the requirements of the class? Are the materials available for students all hours that they are in the class?
- Step back and look at your classroom instruction from the eye of the student. Is it grade level appropriate? Is it differentiated? Is think time allowed? Can students collaborate to think through sticky content or share an opinion? Are questions presented to students to get them to discover the answer through a process or simply supply a right answer? Does instruction move at a pace of the average student? Can students opt out of hard work or questions? And most importantly… do you break down material into bite sized chunks so students can easily digest them- make meaning, then add on to it through application?
These two reflective focuses will ensure you would want to be a student in your own class because you would feel supported but held to high expectations academically and behaviorally. This is what sets you up for success in the long run. I think as a teacher if you are loving, kind, knowledgeable and attempt to see through a student’s lens to constantly improve, you have the recipe for success.
You will never arrive. You will never be perfect. You will never deliver the best lesson ever because there will always be a better one you deliver the next day. Growth for your students and growth for yourself should be the goal.
Start right now and begin to think about your class. Redesign every aspect that would keep you from wanting to be a student in your own class. If you deliver instruction in an outdated way or favor one learning style over another, its time for a change. If you teach interesting and accurate content but fail to establish relationships with your students outside the classroom walls, then its time for a change. And if you feel that your students cannot run class without you, then its time for a change. Step back and let your students step up. The more you guide versus lead, the better off they will be.
I want you all to say right now: “I can and want to be a student in my own class.” Put that on your mirror as you get ready in the morning, Paste it up on your computer screen as you work in your classroom. Use this visual reminder to empower you to go be GREAT each and every day for your students!
How can you become a stronger teacher so that you would want to be a student in your own class?