Wednesday, October 6, 2010

How Long?

time I recently got an email from a new teacher with a bunch of “how long” questions. You may have heard them before.

· How long before I get comfortable with teaching and it feels natural?

· How long before I can notice what all of the kids are doing at one time?

· How long before I can feel comfortable talking with parents?

· How long before I have an organized system and feel less chaotic?

· How long before I have control over my classroom?

Here is what I responded to each question:

It takes each teacher a different amount of time to feel comfortable with teaching. But I can tell you it happens and you don’t even realize it. With more experience and as time comes by, you feel as if you have been doing it all of your life. Remember learning to ride a bicycle? You were wobbly and unsteady for awhile but eventually you rode smoothly and naturally. In fact, you don’t remember the exact moment when it happened but still it happened. You will feel the same way about teaching. Be patient.

Having eyes in the back of your head comes with experience. Once you get to know your students, their behavior becomes predictable and you know what to watch for. One time I used a sound amplifier for a hearing impaired student and still had my headset on when I stepped out of the door to talk to another teacher. Without missing a beat, I told a student to stay in his seat and heard laughter erupt in the classroom. You also learn to keep your eyes moving around the room even when you are doing a different task. I stay in constant motion moving around the room and helping students while seeing the room from different perspectives. This enables me to get a “big picture” of what is going on in the room.

Getting more comfortable talking with parents can only be accomplished by doing it more and more. Many times I have heard teachers avoid doing this and that only makes the interactions worse when there is bad news to share. By staying in close communication with the parents, I am able to establish a rapport with the parents as well as the student. I liked to brag about the positive things that the student was doing but if necessary I would also discuss obstacles that we faced. Parents are more receptive if they know that you are not always calling to tell them bad news. This also helps in getting them to support you more in the classroom.

Unfortunately, organizing your classroom will also take time and experience. At the beginning of my career I tried different systems until I found one that I was comfortable with and felt helped my students be successful. Things that worked for others didn’t always work for me and things that worked for me didn’t always work for others. Once I found something I was happy with, I still had to tweak it every year to meet my changing needs as well as the needs of my students. Once you find a system that works, you can focus on other things but don’t be afraid to try different ones until you find the one that works.

Control over my classroom began on day one. It was important to let my students know that I was the one in charge. I had four basic rules and felt that all of the students were able to follow them (Follow Directions, Respect others, Be Prepared, Complete Work). There is a line between being a dictator and pushover that each teacher has to find for themselves. Usually my students rebel against a dictator and I can’t accomplish much. I also felt that the students had enough friends and needed me to be their teacher. Once the students understood that I would be fair and consistent in enforcing the rules, we were able to concentrate on learning. Classroom Discipline was the number one priority of the year.

How would you answer these questions? Please share.

Posted on the Successful Teaching Blog by loonyhiker (successfulteaching at gmail dot com).

Original image: 'Eternal clock' by: Robbert van der Steeg


Sioux said...

I think your advice is perfect. I would add that classroom control also involves things being a "two-way street." If a teacher loses their temper and gives too harsh of a consequence, when they reflect upon it and realize they went overboard, they should have a meeting with the class and discuss the way they erred. If a teacher wants the class to be quiet in the hall, the teacher should not be chatting with colleagues and socializing. Building a sense of community in the class is crucial to good discipline...

TwistedScottishBastard said...

I completely agree. I have been teaching for 13 years now, and only in the last 5 do I feel completely comfortable in my classroom.

My pupils are given clear and consistent guidelines, with consequences for breaking the rules well understood, but they also know that I apply these rules with a degree of fairness and common-sense.
For example, I have a rule (the whole school does actually, but not all teachers apply it consistently) for students to take of their outside jackets so they can work comfortably. Last winter it got really cold (I'm from New Zealand) and I told the students because of the very cold classroom, they could keep their jackets on until it warmed up. No problem.
I would also add that once you develop and are comfortable with your teaching style, you can have some real fun. I (and I hope my students) have a great time in class, in a positive and controlled environment. They feel safe and supported, and I can talk to any student, and they feel safe in asking appropriate questions. But I am not in any way a "friend". Friendly Yes; a friend No. That's not my job.

BTW my blog on blogger is a fun one. My serious educational/society blog is on

Just in case you thought I was some kind of nut. :=)

Nick James said...

Everything Pat said has been true for me. The veterans I work with have always told me that the third year is when you start hitting your stride, which I am finding to be true this year. Parts of this are all of the things mentioned here.

Meg (Ryan) Latshaw said...

I remember when I first started thinking some of these same questions. I agree that is does depend on each teacher and if they also have a good mentoring program. In PA we are required to attend a mentoring program and we have a mentor for the year. This really helped me as a first year teacher to have support system to use when needed and I attended some very informative workshops.
I agree that eyes in the back of your head is very important especially when writing on the chalkboard/whiteboard. If you are not aware then you can have problems. Also, classroom management is a key.