Friday, March 31, 2017

Five Teaching Standards I Stick By

1. Turn Papers Back the Class After They Are Due

Students forget so fast. They think about my class in the exact hours they are sitting in it and rarely dedicate outside time to reflecting on what they learned. Even asking, "What did we do last class?" elicits widespread chin-scratching. With every minute that passes from when students put their pencils down, they forget more and more what they wrote about and how they felt while writing it. Immediate feedback is key. Two-week old feedback can be like reading comments on a stranger's essay.

Also, how can students move forward taking what they learned from the last assignment if they don't have feedback on said assignment? I think it's practically cruel and unusual to ask students to write more without the knowledge of their current progress. I would be livid if my boss asked me to do a project, I finished it, he said he would get back to me on how to improve the project, but in the meantime he told me to do a very similar project that should be better than the first (based on his and not my own standards). That's lunacy. When I work with students at the Writing Center I usually start with "What kinds of feedback do you usually get on papers?" and when they answer, "I haven't gotten my other papers back yet," I want to pop someone in the kneecap.

2. Give Students Time in Class to Review Paper Feedback

Many teachers give students papers back at the end of a class. I understand the desire to do this. Grades can be emotional--for both teacher and student. Students can feel sad or defeated after a bad grade. Teachers can feel nervous about a student not liking us after a harsh grade. But! Put the emotions aside to best serve students. I find the tension that can come with a bad grade is better dissolved by letting a student ask questions immediately rather than letting them stew.

No one wants students distracted reading comments during class activities. That's why reading comments should BE the activity. In really only takes fifteen minutes to let students read every comment while I circulate clarifying comments or answering handwriting questions. I've also found I literally must go to every student and say "Can you read what I wrote?" I used to always let everyone know I was walking around to answer questions, but a surprising amount of students say "Yes" when I ask "Did you get it?" but then if I ask, "Could you read everything I wrote?" they say, "Oh, no." They're worried I'll be offended. In reality, I know I grade on the train and my pen slips sometimes. If they don't have time to read the comments, they won't. They'll see a good grade and be happy and never think about it again. They'll see a bad grade and be miffed and never think about it again.

3. Have Each Student Speak within the First Fifteen Minutes of Class

If students don't directly engage with me within the first few minutes, there's too much likelihood they're in their own brains for the entire period. They need to feel like part of the class right away to later join in the day's lessons actively.

4. Do Not Be Disappointed

Very cliche, but on the first day I say, "I am not your mom, and I am not your girlfriend. I am your teacher. I'm never going to be offended or disappointed by how you do in class." When I had teachers who told me they were "disappointed" by me that just made me never want to look at them again. That's weird. Why would a teacher have the emotional investment in me to be disappointed? Being supportive but emotionally disconnected means a) a totally appropriate classroom relationships and b) If I'm not going to be personal about a student's education, they don't have to feel guilty to me if they miss class or don't succeed. That's on them. They can be honest with me about their real struggles not coming to school, for example, instead of having to make up a huge story about their sick grandma.

5. Learn about the Class

At the start of the term learn who these people are. A simple writing assignment will do. Basic questions: why are you here, what are your goals, etc. Halfway through the class one-on-one meetings are necessary. Students need to know I am paying attention. I need to know what they need.

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