biggest teaching challenges
Updated: May 5, 2020
Hello my wonderful teacher tribe! Today I wanted to talk about some of the biggest challenges in the classroom (that you can control). What I mean by that is I am not going to magically fix your administration frustrations or large class sizes (sorry I am not a magician) but I am however, going to give you some tools to help with some of the biggest challenges we face as teachers.
I will have to be honest with you, this one can be difficult just because you almost always need to be on your A-game. And let's be realistic here, it's very hard to ALWAYS be on your A-game. Life gets in the way and some days we can be tired, sick, fill in the blank. But what I like to do with my students is imbed a "talk time" into each and every one of my lessons. When you give them structured time to collaborate, and discuss with students, they will talk less when its instruction time. Now first, you have to get the routine going, practice coming in the room quietly and take out your binders, or transitioning to the next order of business with swiftness and ease. It sounds silly but never expect them to just magically not talk when it's something you don't want them to be talking in. Example, we have voice volumes in my class, 0 is no voice, 1 is whisper voice, 2 is regular voice and 3 is presentation voice. Before EVERY activity, lesson, field trip, line up etc. I tell them what volume they are allowed to use. This helps be a reminder and we practice it until it's what I want. We do flexible seating in my class so if they aren't doing the volume we discussed, they lose their flexible seating privilege.
Now, let's talk about that imbedded "talk time." First, I am telling you right now, it is impossible for a student to sit and listen to an hour long lecture. You guys, most students attention spans range from 10-25 minutes. What I like to do is about every 10 minutes or so give them a chance to answer a question and do a turn and talk, think-pair-share or mingle-mingle. What these do is allow them to get their voice heard, talk to a fellow student and sometimes get moving around the classroom. If this becomes a regular routine students will start to get the jist, okay in about 5 minutes Mrs. Harwick is going to allow me to get my energy out by talking to my neighbor, therefore having them practice self-control.
I want to take a quick second on blurters in general. Let's be real, we all have one or two! (or 4 but who's counting?) I want it to be known that this might actually fall into the behavior category and that student might be looking for attention. What I like to do is sometimes keep that student in for a second at recess and just chat about what they are doing when they shout out answers, and how it is actually hurting students not helping. These are going to be your attention seekers remember? If you address the behavior in front of the class they are getting what they wanted regardless if it was good or bad attention. ALWAYS talk to them privately, not in front of the class. These students I sometimes like to give "special jobs" to because again if they are looking for attention you can spin it into a positive light instead of negative. I had one student last year who LOVED helping organize papers in my classroom. We worked out a deal that if he didn't blurt in math (math was his Jam) he could go to my back table and help me file during a different period. I also suggest you play around with "think time." After I ask a question I like to give my students some think time before they pop up their hand to answer. A few extra seconds but it has students actually think instead of raising their hand or shouting it out with no clue. Students always want to be the first, and sometimes they don't even have a clue as to what they are going to say until you call on them. This also give your struggling students extra time for them to come up with an answer.
I am going to start this off by saying I am NOT a child psychiatrist, or behavior specialist. However, this is often a challenge because every year we are faced with different behaviors that truly test us. I have been to maybe two different PDs on this subject now and feel like I have a pretty good idea of the jist. First thing you need to know with behavior, is that it is ALWAYS for a reason, and is usually a cry for help in an area that they are not getting. The number one thing to help with a behavior is to find out what is triggering it. Example, a student tries to leave the room every time you pass out a pop quiz. Well that pop quiz is clearly giving them some type of anxiety and they are trying to "escape" the situation. What you would do then is first of all talk to the child and figure out a strategy that will work for the both of you. That was obviously a simple scenario and you may be shaking your head thinking that there is no way that child that gives me a hard time is looking for me to address a need. Sounds SO backwards but i'm telling you if you can somehow figure out the underlying issue you will make some headway. The number one thing to remember, the angrier a student becomes, the more calm you need to be. Sounds easy right? Unfortunately because each behavior is so different there is no right formula that is going to be the end all. It will take some trial and error however figuring out the trigger is what will get you thinking about WHAT strategies will work. I recommend keeping a journal and writing down everything that happens before Johnny acts out. Once you see a consistency, then you can address the problem.
This used to be one that was a struggle for me, but I suggest you find something that works for you. Some like a digital plan book while others like to write down their plans in physical book. The first step for me was to take a look at my Teacher editions of my curriculum. By doing that you can see how long lessons are supposed to last, the order of things being taught and what is being taught. You can then look deeper as to see what you might want to cut, add or skip over. I like to make a general plan, and then the start of each month check in and see if we're on track. I can add in supplementary lessons that my students need or cut out ones that they don't need. If you have a close team, it might even be a good idea to check in once a week to see where they are at. Every Wednesday I sit down with my grade level at lunch and talk about next steps and where we are all at. I do have a planning resource located here where you can make a digital planning guide to print out and check back frequently to help with pacing.