December 27, 2008

Teacher Coach?

I am now a “consulting teacher” in my school district. So far my understanding is that a consulting teacher works with another tenured teacher who is in danger of losing their teaching position. Sounds to me like a teacher coach. Could you imagine marching into a colleagues classroom dressed in gray sweats and blowing a whistle? But I digress. All teachers need help to become better teachers. That includes me, you, and everyone else who stands in front of a classroom of any size full of students of all ages. Where do teachers go and how do we find help?

First, we go to our colleagues. Isn’t the first step towards recovery admitting you have a problem? Most teachers I know don’t like to admit that they have a problem in the classroom, and even less actually seek help. Sometimes it takes an outside observer to point out your areas for growth. How much time do you spend watching other teachers teach? Do you ever invite your colleagues into your classroom while you are working with your students? We teachers are full of pride in what we do so it is often painfully difficult to reach out for a lifeline.

Next, we go back to school (on the web). Teacher training is important, and in-service courses on campus can be helpful, but the real innovation in teaching is happening on the web. Within the teacher focused web sites, teacher and education blogs, and on twitter teachers can find out what other teachers are doing in their classrooms and what pedagogy actually works with pupils. For every 1 teacher who shares their experiences through the Internet there are probably 100's more who could benefit from what the authors write and share. College is good for orientation, the web is about application.

Last, we go to ourselves and write reflectively. I can’t tell you how revealing and useful it is to regularly sit down and write about my teaching experience. But you can experience the benefits for yourself. I started writing this blog to keep myself in teaching, to convince myself that what I was doing mattered. Teaching is a brutally tough and lonely profession. The best way to improve as a teacher is to persistently analyze the what, and the why of the job. I am not saying you need to become a teacher-blogger, but reflecting on your teaching is key.

These are the coaching steps I plan on taking once I am paired with a teacher in need. I have no idea how it will go, but I plan on reflecting and sharing my experiences right here. I like the idea of being a teacher coach. I suppose it is has driven me to continue to record my reflections in this blog and to seek personal improvement as a teacher. I am curious to know if anyone who regularly reads these writings has been positively effected by my coaching efforts so far. If so, please share in the comments below.

December 18, 2008

Twitter Teachers?

Twitter is an online service that allows individuals to communicate to selected groups in short bursts of information. It can be used for a variety of constructive reasons. There are twitter groups based on a common interest, like edublogging, or career, like teaching, or personal interest, like conservative thought. There seems to be an explosion of twittering going on recently, or perhaps that’s just my observation since I have only recently perched upon the branch. I strongly advocate everything that will improve teaching and I have concluded that there are three reasons why teachers should twitter: connection, collaboration, and creation.

Teachers can be lonely. Connecting with other teachers is important to our physical and emotional well being. Time with colleagues in the staff lounge or after school reflecting on the day’s experiences (war stories) helps to relieve some of the stress built up from spending the day with needy students. The problem is that no one takes the time and often there is not a physical location available to commiserate. Most teachers use computers and spend at least some time online during the day. If you can’t share a cup of joe with a coworker, why not twitter Joe online?

I am one of two computer teachers on campus. My fellow geek teaches across the street and I never see him during the school day. Sure we can collaborate over the phone or through email, but our world is restricted to just the two of us when we do. If we tweet our thoughts and ideas we share them with not only one of our former colleagues, currently teaching in another state, but also all of the other computer teachers in our followers list. Our collaboration expands beyond our physical and individual intellectual boundaries. We become a global computer department.

One teacher can create a world of great curriculum. I have spent countless hours exploring the best ways to teach many lesson plans. But I do not create my best work alone. So whenever I need some perspective, or a fresh idea, I can tweet a short message to my online teacher buddies who can respond instantly with their ideas, and share their own best practices. Together we can create superior classroom learning opportunities for students. The advantages of this type of instant creative input benefit both teachers and students alike as teachers working together build a better learning experience.

We teachers need to very seriously consider the privacy of our students, our schools, and ourselves. I write and tweet under a pseudonym (although I am not trying to hide my identity) because I do not wish to represent the views and opinions of my school or my students when I write. My thoughts, views and experiences are my own intellectual property. Nor do I ever use any of my students or colleagues names. It is simply inappropriate to do so. Twitter is a great service that I believe all teachers should use in their endeavor to become better teachers.

December 12, 2008

Mean It?

Recently, a student complained to me about another teacher’s poor classroom environment. The student observed that my colleague’s class was unruly, no one listened to the teacher, and the students really didn’t learn anything. So sad. I lamented the situation with my beleaguered pupil. Later I tried to think of some simple way to prescribe a remedy for teachers who find themselves in similar disheartening circumstances. When it comes to all aspects of classroom management from rules and consequences to bell-to-bell instruction, the single most important element for the teacher to communicate to their students is that they mean it!

When I tell my students they must arrive on time for class and that I will send them to detention when they arrive late I have to mean it. Then, when a students comes nonchalantly strolling into class two minutes after the tardy bell rings, I have to actually send them to detention. I can’t express enough how much I HATE when a student sits in detention and not in my class learning and doing. Unfortunately, it is in the best interest of all of my students that when one or two of the students are tardy that they pay this penalty because it really does encourage the other students to arrive on time.

Direct communication with both the whole class of students and individual students is another key. Looking directly into their eyes when speaking, and even more importantly, listening, reinforces that you, their teacher, mean everything that you say and that you value how the students respond. I’ve already written about the keys to success in the classroom, patience and respect. Many teachers don’t appreciate the do-unto-others aspect of receiving respect in the classroom. Teachers must respect their students if they wish to enjoy a reciprocal relationship.

I say “spit out your gum” to at least one student in each of my classes at least once a day. Aggravating beyond description. But students who chew gum in class and break my rule are not a major problem. They do not chew out of disrespect for their teacher. Students chew gum because teenagers chew gum (and sometimes I am thankful they do). My reaction is the important thing. If I make a big deal out of the fact that I am irritated by gum then my reaction, and not the gum chewing itself, becomes ammunition for devious fun.

Every time a teacher opens his or her mouth in front of a group of students they must mean every word spoken. That means that forms of speech like sarcasm and even some types of humor are not appropriate when coming from a classroom teacher. Instead of creating a common bond with the students, teachers who try to be “cool” or “down” with their speech in front of class send a mixed message. Be clear, concise, consistent and follow through with every classroom rule, assignment deadline, and promise made in front of students. Most importantly, whatever you say, mean it!

December 06, 2008

Less is More?

My previous post generated a lot of traffic and comments. It’s good that many are concerned about a fellow colleague teacher blogger, and even more are outraged at any attempt to censor our collective freedom of speech rights. Clearly there needs to be some rules concerning the confidentiality of teachers, students, administrators, and schools, but most of the blogs and edu-sites I frequent are already very careful about what is written and how individuals are represented. So I say we teacher bloggers keep writing about teaching because it’s not only good for the soul, it also makes us better educators.

As you should know by now, the “Best of…” season is upon us. This blog was overlooked, again. In my previous post I pointed out a few of my personal favorites. I believe that lists like mine (and yours) are the only ones that really matter. Not in a wholly narcissistic way, but the Internet is a big place full of great stuff and it’s just not realistic to try and narrow the choices down to a “top ten” list. It’s as absurd as Dave’s nightly contributions. But then, maybe I only feel that way because I was left out.

Speaking of being left out, I am just now getting started on Twitter. Do you tweet? You should. My twitter id is KevinBibo. For those of you who have not yet got started, here and here are two good articles I found via Alfred’s Computer Science blog. Twitter allows you to communicate to individual or whole groups of people in short bursts. It can be used as a giant announcement board, or as a way to just keep those concerned posted about what you are doing, what you’ve discovered, or what you want to share.

I write a bi-monthly column over at The Apple you can read here. Since I now have two exclusive venues to pour my thoughts into I have decided to change the tone and format of Cal Teacher Blog just a little. Anyone who has read anything that I have ever written knows that I can be somewhat, what’s the word, verbose? Ok, fine, I like to talk. Can you imagine what my students have to endure? Believe it or not I had to take the written English PRAXIS (CSET) test four times before I passed. Can you figure out why?

So I'm taking my cues from all of the above. From now on I promise to write fewer words. Perhaps an abridged blog post will go down easier? To quote one of my all-time favorite films by Milos Forman of Peter Shaffer’s script from 1984:

Emperor Joseph II: My dear young man, don't take it too hard. Your work is ingenious. It's quality work. And there are simply too many notes, that's all. Just cut a few and it will be perfect.
Mozart: Which few did you have in mind, Majesty?

And again:

Emperor Joseph II: Well, there it is.