Another EDUC 200 assignment was to interview teachers with ten, open-ended questions about the teaching field. I picked four teachers that I know personally and did the interview with them via email. Here is the first response.
Molly is a teacher of 6 years. She currently works at the Ayeyarwaddy International School in Mandalay, Myanmar, as a 4th grade teacher of all subjects. She gave the following answers to my 10 questions.
Question 1: What do you as a teacher do to engage students who are bored by the subject you are teaching, or even disinterested in learning altogether?
I do my best to design my lessons in a way that is interesting and engaging. I add hands-on activities, visuals, projects and other variations to try to interest everyone. I also find group work to be helpful as it uses “peer-pressure” in a positive way.
Question 2: How would you respond if a loud argument or fight broke out among some students in your classroom and no one would respond when you commanded them to stop?
I have dealt with a physical fight in my classroom. In that incident, I sent other students out to get other teachers/authority and I physically stepped between the students as I tried to talk them down. In retrospect, I am not sure if this was the best choice. However, I did not feel physically threatened myself. Since the students were trying to hurt each other, not me, it did serve to diffuse the situation. If I felt endangered I would get other students out, again “send for backup,” and try from a safer distance to talk the students down.
I haven’t dealt with a verbal fight I was unable to stop. I think I’d follow similar procedures.
Question 3: How would you as a teacher deal with a student who seems to decidedly break the rules as a means of open rebellion to your authority?
My first approach would be to meet with them privately—not in front of the class. Often this kind of behavior is more a “show.” I’d start informally and increase the level of seriousness and consequences as needed. I would set up a behavior plan/contract and get higher authorities involved with it if needed. No matter the age I would be firm and consistent in my expectations and consequences.
Question 4: Is there a time and a place for the use of punishment (detention, time out, removal of privileges, etc.) as a means of classroom management, or is the use of logical consequences (e.g. if student does damage, they must repair/replace it) more effective?
I love logical consequences and always prefer to use them. However, not every crime has a fitting punishment. In these cases more traditional punishment may be the best option. At the same time, it should always be clear and reasonable. Removal from class time in any way should always be a last resort, and in my opinion used mainly when the student is posing a safety risk to themselves or others. Also, in a case such as “wasting class time,” it is somewhat logical to then lose the privilege of recess time, so in some cases there is an overlap. Generally, I focus most on positive reinforcement and seldom use negative consequences of any kind. With younger children a positive focus can go incredibly far, with older children I add a competition (in groups) element to spike their interest in doing well.
Question 5: What are you doing as a teacher to actively prevent and address bullying in your school and classroom?
Our whole school just spent the last month with “bullying” as our important monthly topic. We discussed it some in class and reflected on it in journals. It happened to be well timed with a language arts story about Martin Luther King Jr. so we delved a lot deeper into the issues. My students wrote speeches inspired by MLK, but on the topic of bullying. It was great, but to be fair, I currently have a great group of kids with no bullying issues.
Another thing I do, or have always done, is have a strict “no nonsense”a policy about students being mean in class. I never let things slide, and always address them immediately with the whole class. I also discuss things like name calling even when it isn’t a big problem, in casual conversations about nick names, etc. I act preemptively, talking about things that could be a problem, even if at the time it is all “just fun” and no one seems upset. If one student is having particular problems I will work with them more one-on-one.
I just had some minor bullying in class. A bunch of kids were teasing a girl that she “loved” a boy. This is fourth grade mind you, and she’s actually a bit of a tomboy and I think is just good friends with this boy. I addressed the whole class about it, without naming names (of perpetrators or victims). I reminded everyone about what we learned about bullying. I defined teasing and talked about how it is still bullying, even though it is not physical. I then left (on my way to a half day training) with the instructions that everyone who had done the teasing had to write a letter of apology to the person they teased. I warned I’d check in with that person to be sure she got all the letters. I left it on a “you know if you need to write a letter” and “I will know if you should have but don’t!” note. I did check in with the girl later, and she did get the letters from the main teasers.
Question 6: Which teaching strategy (direct instruction, lecture-discussion, guided discovery, or cooperative learning) do you tend to use the most and why?
I would say I currently use a pretty equal mix of cooperative learning and lecture-discussion. I am not a big fan of direct instruction, but will use it in small doses.
I like cooperative learning the best because I think team work is critical in the real world. Also, I think it works well for group projects which allow students to learn and show their knowledge in a wide variety of ways.
Question 7: Can you give an example (or two) of concrete visual aids (pictures, objects, charts, etc.) that helped you to teach abstract concepts to your students, and what resources did you use to find inspiration for such aids?
I guess what comes to mind is some of the more abstract ideas we use for developing reading comprehension in language arts. Author’s purpose, character traits, cause and effect, etc. I really enjoy using charts and graphic organizers to help students understand these concepts.
I also love using the K.W.L. Chart (Know, Wonder, Learned) when introducing and learning about a new topic. This is great for any subject area!
I used objects and pictures a lot when teaching English to E.F.L. students. An example is a game for practicing “a _______” vs. “an _________” You sit in a circle and pass around an object.
The first person passing says, “This is a watch.”
The second person says, “A what?”
The first person answers, “A watch.”
After which the second person now passes the object, repeating the pattern phrases. You do this with all sorts of objects, and can even get multiples going around the circle. It also works to practice with plurals vs. singular.
Question 8: What was your worst experience as a teacher, and what do you wish you had done differently?
All my worst experiences can be chalked up to children behaving in a way that endangers themselves or others. My worst would have to be when I was working at a preschool where there was very little structure, a high turnover of teachers, and children with strong attachment and other emotional/behavioral issues. I had young children throwing adult type tantrums, calling me a b**ch, or threatening to “cut me.” I feel I was a good teacher in a bad situation, but I wish I had advocated more for the students. I saw a lot of serious issues at the center, and in retrospect I think I should have reported them to licensing or a higher authority, instead of just trying to work alone in a bad setting. In the end, a child ran away not once but twice from the playground by climbing a fence. In the first incidence I followed immediately after and brought him back. The schools response was to “keep a closer eye on him,” they also talked with parents but nothing was actually changed. The second time, he made it across a busy street and to a playground near his home. Although I had immediately discovered him missing, brought my other children inside, and started a search I still feel this should never have happened. Again, I don’t think I should have just accepted the school’s inaction. Obviously, the playground was unsafe/it wasn’t okay to have only one teacher on the playground/more needed to be done for this child!
Question 9: What is your favorite memory from your teaching experience?
I have so many good memories! One that stands out was when I taught a very smart, but very poorly socialized young preschooler. She was only in my program for a few months, but in that time I helped her change her behaviors drastically. Being an only child, she was used to adults giving her everything. In the new school setting, she would grab things from other children – even taking hair things right from their hair! Or food right off their plates! Through teaching her, and discussions with her mother, it was just incredible how quickly she learned to be nice and get along with the others. It sounds very simple, but it really was a great teaching moment.
Question 10: What is it that keeps you going every day and makes you glad you chose the teaching field?
The children! I know it sounds cliché, but that’s the truth. The bonds I form, the changes and growth I see (and hopefully help nurture) in them, and the positive affirmation I get every day. The rough days may happen, but the truly bad ones are rare. Most days I come home feeling tired but happy. Every day there are different ways the children help make my job feel rewarding, important, and like just the right choice. Even at the worst teaching jobs, in the toughest situations, overall I felt happy to be doing what I do.
I loved interviewing Molly. She is closer to me in age than some of the other teachers I interviewed, and she has such a heart for her students and a passion for teaching that is catching! The following two pieces of advice were the most influential for me: 1) Cooperative learning is one of the best instruction methods. Not only does it add some positive peer-pressure to excel, but it also teaches students real-world interaction skills. 2) Positive, logical consequences are best, and it is also best to not remove a misbehaving child from the learning environment unless all other interventions fail.
Now it’s your turn! Is there one aspect of this interview with which you strongly agree, and if so, why?