I was struck by a Twitter comment yesterday by @Urban_Teacher: "Teacher Tip: Sometimes it's better to soak the pot, then scrubbing away. It avoids you damaging the pot and wasting energy." I laughed out loud at the simplicity of this statement. How many times have we left a "soaker" on the stove to be able to clean it easier tomorrow? Without fail, the dirt and grime is easily cleaned off with little effort. All the pot needed was some time to get rid of its grime before becoming shiny and new again. I immediately began to connect this to how time has helped me improve as a teacher. This was the spark I needed for a post...
I have modified my list down to three main improvements I made over the years to fine-tune my classroom environment: One, the time I give a student to answer a question after he or she was called on in class, Two, the time I give a situation or problem involving a disruptive student. Lastly, and the one I think is the most important: MY OWN TIME. I believe these three changes over the years have made me a better leader in the classroom.
For starters, giving students time to answer a question in math class is very important. The student may be flustered after being called without raising their hand. Giving them time allows them to compose themselves and minimized the chance of embarrassment. No student wants to look foolish in front of his or her peers. The way you handle this with middle schoolers could depend on the number of hands that go up the next time you ask a question. Combined with this is how I have handled the student that says, "I did not get that one," or "I skipped that one." I use to just skip right over that and pick the next student. That changed several years ago. Now, I either ask them to try it now while continuing to go over the homework with the rest of the class, or I ask a classmate to walk the student through the problem while I go on with the rest of the students. I found this to be much more beneficial than skipping over them. The students learned they had to know the work, and I was going to give them time to do that.
Just as important is the way I have started handling situations in my classroom that are a distraction to the learning environment. We have all had the student that will not pick their head up, stop tapping their pencil or anything else imaginable to just get attention. The younger me would have directly handled this situation, distracting the other students, getting off the daily objective and giving me a monster headache. I have learned over time (sorry, the puns keep happening!) that the behaviors change quicker if I allow politeness and subtlety to "soak-in" for a while. This keeps the flow of the class moving along, and the students does not get the satisfaction of disrupting class. Do not get me wrong, this may need to happen over several days before the pot becomes clean again, but I have found if I try to scrub too soon, I end up wasting a lot of energy!
Lastly, I started giving more of my own time. Several years ago, I began taking students to my room during recess time so they could work on retakes/redoes on various math assignments. This gives my students chances to learn the material at their own pace outside of the normal classroom structure. In addition, I am there to provide extra instruction when needed. I can not say enough about how this additional time helped create the "never settle" attitude in my classroom. I never want students to feel that they have lost the chance to improve their understanding of math concepts. The additional time of face to face interaction is what most of these kids need to shine. Regardless of the latest tech fad, or state driven "buzz words", kids just want some old school face to face interaction and communication to fully understand tough problems. Ronnie Burt has an excellent post on this very concept.
How has "allowing the pot to soak" helped you as an educator? I would love to continue the conversation...
Thanks for giving me your "time." Okay, I had to throw in one more!!