Three weeks of school and although I am excited about having made it through, there needs to be another way to measure success.
Making it through the day without losing the class, that is step one for measuring success as a brand new teacher. It is a good feeling to know that, at least for that day, you were engaging and managing the class well enough. This is often how far it goes with substitute teaching unless the assignment is for an extended amount of time.
The second measure of success is having a lesson go very well. It is not perfect, but the students were focused, working hard, and management became much simpler. This really speaks to having a quality lesson plan is the best form of management. Students want to do well, they want to learn, they want to feel successful on some level, but often we face a variety of disinterest, attention-seeking behaviors, or behaviors to ward off failure. It is a difficult balance that, once you start to understand where your students are, you can meet them there and build successes to move them far beyond that.
The best lesson I have had so far was actually with kindergarten. Because of their age and lack of experience in a school setting, having many different activities that involve as many as possible or all is very helpful. We moved from one activity quickly to the next, I repeated a transition that was noisy after explaining my expectations, and everything we did, all musical concepts of course, was presented as a game. So far this works for every grade, as long as it is appropriate for their age. The fifth graders will be offended if they find something too babyish.
That was one lesson out of the three weeks I have taught. Granted I have had many others that I felt went well or worked out, yet there were always moments that slipped away or were not effectively placed. Reflecting on these experiences, I have been making adjustments and really that is exactly what a good teacher should be doing. Each group of students presents different challenges and it will simply take time to find the best ways to navigate a lesson on any given day. What a job!
Moving past using a single lesson as a measure of success in the classroom, what would be next? As someone who likes to set small goals to feed into a larger one, I will be striving to have an entire day of solid lessons. That means the lesson plans were put together well, the transitions and explanations were thought through, management was quick and effective, the atmosphere remained positive, and the students were engaged from ‘bell-to-bell.’ The next goal would be to create a string of these days.
With the nature of school, every day will be different. My position has me teaching the same lessons four days in a row, but just because a lesson works well with one group of third graders, does not mean it will work just as well with the next. Each classroom has its own dynamic and as much as I can try to be prepared, there will be times where it just will not work as well. I have to be mindful that I have known these students for three weeks, most of which I have seen three, maybe four forty-five minute class periods. Instead of seeing those lessons as a mistake or failure, it has to be taken in stride. Make note of what happened, figure out why, and make adjustments for that group next time.
As I have yet to reach that next tier of successes as a teacher, in my mind at least, I can only ponder the next pieces. Long term lesson planning, assessing goals and more individualized benchmarks, performance opportunities to build community within the school; there will be time to work on those parts. For now it is great to keep those in mind while working to refine my skills.
The musician in me cannot help but to relate all of this to that of learning an instrument. Years spent continually working on the fundamental skills, then scaffolding in new terminology, techniques, and more focused practice. Eventually there will come a point where it feels like a terrific performance. After going over these two measures again and again, changing the tempo, varying the articulations, you finally have the chance to go back to the beginning and just play with everything in context. You just play. And all the pieces you fine-tuned in those hundred times flow together, the sound bouncing off the walls, feeling completely involved in the moment and completely certain of where it is leading. Understanding the ebbs and sways of the composition, intuitively performing the physiological responses to communicate the interpretation; I imagine it will feel like that. Not to mention the amazing interactions with students. It is awesome to see their faces light up!
Three weeks in and this is where I am. Perhaps it is part of the survival stage as all of these lessons are new and finding the resources to match is time-consuming, but one day at a time! Moving along and looking forward to the weeks and successes to come!