1. Classroom Order 2. Building positive Relationships with your students and fellow educators. 3. What is the point? 4. Full circle
Throughout my teaching I found that these 4 components were crucial in building a classroom that moved beyond the school routine into an educational experience for the learners.
Classroom order is one of the hardest components of being an educator that I did not anticipate prior to classroom experience. If the educational environment is missing this initial part then I do not believe even the best lesson plan, or pedagogy will land with the students in the class. Some examples of issues I experienced in not establishing a structured order were clear homework, cell phone, bathroom, tardiness, and calculator policies. I quickly learned that if simple routines were not established a lot of class time was lost. In addition, there was not an established when the bell rings that means in seats and prepared. Students during my time often thought it was okay to just be in the room and then the first 5 minutes of class were them sitting down and finding a pencil. These corrections that have to start on the first day with a teacher and their class.
Building positive relationships with students is crucial in creating a safe space for the students to explore the content. This part has to go beyond a hello when the students enter the classroom, and a smile. It has to come from genuine care for your learners to ask them questions about themselves and taking time to listen to their responses. Also to sharing appropriate encouraging stories from your life with them. For example during my student teaching I was visiting graduate schools and each time I would share with the learners on the process of application, visiting, and what the program was like. This helped to open conversation about what schools they are interested in, and if they see themselves going to college. Once I really established a background with the students they began to share with me and it helped me notice behavior changes and when to check in with them. One piece that I often feel was overlooked is establishing relationships with your fellow teachers. Checking in with them, seeing how their day is going, if they have anything that you can help with. It is also important to have these relationships without it turning into a vent session over your least favorite students. I have seen this happen where teachers are talking about students with an open door, and you just never know who might walk by or in.
Before I prepare any lesson I have to ask myself ,"What is the point?" If I can't establish a reason outside of a standard that makes a lesson meaningful then I need to go back to the thinking chair and keep working. One day in my classroom early on a student looked at me and said, "Ms. Bushee I just did my algebra homework for the entire class." I had no response, because at this time I hadn't been focused on having meaningful classwork the students were simply follow a pattern and completing a worksheet. Now when I start a unit I think why is this content important, and what can I connect it to them. For example learning about phase changes, and thermodynamics in chemistry. This unit can be very textbook based or the same material can be learned from an exploration into energy.
Too often a lesson plan can start to drag on, and before you know it there are days that have been cut out, and it moves into the next unit without a formal wrap up. I found myself doing this in almost every unit, and then when I would have an assessment or ask them a question about the previous material they didn't have a response. Now I think how can I have an ending that clearly goes back to the inquiry and what we were trying to answer, also to discuss its importance.