Sometimes when you are spending 12-14 hours a day in your classroom, the last thing you want to do is volunteer for something else that will keep you at school more. However, I honestly believe that the more you get involved in your school community, the more you will enjoy being there. I mean, hey, if you are going to spend every waking hour at work, you might as well include some extras that you will have fun doing (that is, besides grading papers…). Here are some ways that I get involved in my school community:
I think many of us have fond memories of our classrooms from our elementary years. The special reading nooks, the fancy floor rugs upon which we would sit as we happily listened to stories or discussed our classroom plans for the day during morning “meetings”, the colorful and thoughtful decor that conveyed a sense of creativity in our teacher as well as their personality. These days, it is very easy to look online and find so many wonderful ideas for primary classrooms, but it can be more difficult to find the same level of excitement for decorating a secondary classroom. Why is this? Why do secondary teachers not get as excited about their classroom “theme” or decor? Perhaps we feel that our students will not appreciate it. Maybe we are afraid that they will roll their eyes or poke-fun at our attempt? Although this may be true on the outside, I honestly feel that they do appreciate it– even if they don’t express it to you directly. Here are my ideas for things to consider when decorating your secondary classroom (some are more focused on fun and some are more focused on practicality):
Mistakes are a very, very important part of the learning process. However, I notice more and more that my students are afraid to make any kind of mistake. It appears to me that they are fearful of looking foolish in front of their peers (and even me, if we are working one-on-one). We know that teenagers can be extremely self conscious and do not want to ‘lose face’ in front of others. However, I find it valuable to teach them that there is no shame in being wrong or in making errors. In fact, I try to instill in them that these ‘faults’ are valuable and should be celebrated in the classroom.
Most teachers are well aware that we are one of the few professions (if not the only) where you have to do more work if you call in sick then if you were to just go to work and struggle through it. It doesn’t seem right that when we are feeling terrible we need to try and create or write up a coherent lesson plan that anyone could implement while taking our place in the classroom. Even if we want to just take a day off, we need to prepare ahead of time and come up with a plan-of-attack for our substitute. It’s unfair, but it is also the way things are. This is what I do to make my life easier when I am out of the classroom.
We’ve all heard the words “If you do that one more time…” which are quickly followed by some kind of threat. Most of us may have heard our parents say that, probably followed by “you’ll be grounded for a week!” However, this phrase is not unfamiliar to teachers either. This old parenting “gem” is generally brought out in dire situations when we are at our wits’ end and don’t know what to do; we generally follow it up with “You’re going to the principle’s office” or “I’m writing you a referral” or “You’re going to have to spend the rest of the period in the corner wearing a dunce cap!” (oh wait, it’s not 1956. Never mind).
I have found that when trying to motivate students to do what is right (or what I want them to do in class), the carrot works much better than the stick.
Motivating students can be difficult, especially if you are asking them to do something they don’t want to do, like sit quietly at their desk and work on an assignment without distracting others (or themselves). However, it is at these times that we should try the carrot, rather than the stick. Threats rarely work, and if they do, the motivation you are giving your students is coming from the wrong place; students should not be working out of fear they will get into trouble. When students are fearful, this can lead to them feeling uncomfortable in your classroom because it has become an unsafe learning environment (not physically unsafe, but they may begin to fear getting into trouble everyday and thus dread coming to your classroom. None of us want that).
Here are some situations when I implement the carrot, rather than the stick:
I have found that really working on building trusting relationships with my students is the best tool I have ever had for classroom management. Once your students trust you and respect you, the level of required classroom management drops significantly. I try to keep my classroom fun and feeling safe to them. Teenagers already feel targeted by adults and are so sensitive to any punishment; this is why I try to make my classroom management strategies more ‘friendly’ than serious as they are less likely to blow up and freak out. Here are my ‘friendly’ classroom management techniques:
I don’t know how many students you have, but each year I have around 150. To some, that might seem like a lot. To others, it might seem low. To me, it seems normal. With 150 students coming in and out of my classroom everyday, it is imperative that I stay organized. My main necessity for remaining as organized as possible is the amount of papers I need to keep track of. On average, I collect about 2 items from each student per day (usually their homework and then whatever worksheet/lab they used during class). If I don’t stay on top of my grading, I can easily have 600-900 papers on my desk. Without being hyper-organized, I could easily feel overwhelmed. Or worse: I could lose papers! Every teacher’s nightmare!! Students always think we lose their papers- but we know that more often then not they still have it in their binder or forgot to put their name on it.
Here are my various ways of staying organized:
I have noticed that as students get older, the classrooms that they inhabit can get a little more boring with each passing year. As a secondary teacher, I try very hard to keep my classroom just as visually stimulating and exciting as a primary classroom. Here is a tour of some of the decorations and ideas I have had for my classroom:
I have a LOT of color in my room (as you can see). I also like to keep my desks in groups to encourage collaboration time in class. Some of my tables are groups of 6 and some are groups of 4. I actually prefer to have all groups of 4, but when I do that the classroom becomes too tight to easily maneuver. For the table groups of 6, I split them down the middle to have smaller groups of 3 for labs and various activities.
I, like most teachers, cherish my summer break. It’s a time of reflection. I often find myself asking what I feel I did right, what I could have done better and what I will do to improve myself and my lessons for the next year. Summer is also a time to sleep in, get caught up on chores around the house that have been neglected for the past 9 months and speak to/hang out with friends who have seen me much less than my students have.
I usually enjoy the first two weeks of summer break before I begin to go stir-crazy. I feel as if I have cabin fever! It is so disorienting to go from such a structured and perfectly planned out schedule to an “oh, it’s 2pm and I’m still in my pajamas? Hmmm… I suppose I should change… ” kind of schedule.