Things go better when I . . .

by Mr. Sheehy

. . . Circle the room like a vulture, poking my nose into people’s business like a curious ferret. Sometimes I get bored doing this, but students tend to accomplish more.

. . . Talk for as little time as possible and even downgrade the importance of my own talking. I often quiet my students at the beginning of class this way: “Okay . . . I’m going to do my blah blah blah thing quick here and then the rest of the period is yours.”

. . . Structure my planning period like this: 1) Grade papers and assignments. 2) Plan a bit for the coming days. 3) Expore, reflect, read, and do the things that make me me (blog, Twitter, experiment with a new web page for a unit). Unfortunately, this is what I say, not what I do. I need to discipline myself to do it. Usually I carry to my cubicle a stack of folders with students’ work and don’t touch it until the last 1/3 of my planning time. Often, I manage to avoid the grading until later than that, and then I can brush it off completely. A better plan would be to hold myself to a particular timing. For example: 35 minutes of grading before I get to touch anything else. That would be a better plan, but it’s not the fun plan – so I’ll continue to wrestle with myself over it.

. . . Sleep. This theme has recurred too often on my blog. I hope to change that this summer.

. . . Make students wait. Students bombard me with questions and I get accustomed to it. When I grow accustomed to it, I tend to tune out distractions. But then I’ll be working on something and a student will begin talking; I will then attempt to continue what I am doing while “listening” to that student. But I’m not really listening, and I am a fool for thinking that I can get away with this without students recognizing that I’m only half following them. I have worked harder in recent days to say to students, “Hang on, please. I’ll get to you when I can really listen.” They accept this when it is followed by my really listening. In the long run, they will likely appreciate this. I need to remember to do it.

. . . Pause and work with struggling students for one or two minutes to help them break the assignment into smaller tasks, making mini goals for smaller stretches of time.

. . . Have students read in class instead of for homework. I don’t teach AP classes, and I find that this helps me get kids reading. When I assign it for homework, even my “good” classes have only about a 75% completion rate. I’m convinced that strategies like that are how so many students can go through high school and brag that they never read a book.

. . . Get assertive with students and am not afraid to override their choice. I have students who have picked lousy topics for their research papers, and I knew they were lousy topics, but I let them give them a shot. Why? Why did I do that? Now they’re flailing and can’t get past the frustrations of finding sources, and I could have intervened and prevented it. Part of what I should probably do is have them submit proposals of a sort, so I could then take the topics and look them over when students are not there and approve or deny the proposal. That way I’d have time to think. When presented with something on the fly in the classroom, I always make mistakes.

. . . Consciously choose not to be critical of my students. They’re kids, so if they fool around and don’t do their homework and don’t care about my class, why should I get angry about it? One helpful reminder is participating in classes with adults, so I can see that there is nothing wrong with kids these days that is not also wrong with adults.

. . . Finish blog articles before I hit 1000 words.

Thanks for reading.

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