Parental engagement is one of the many ‘holy grails’ that schools strive for. Traditionally, it is much easier to achieve in affluent, middle class areas. Deprived, disadvantaged areas tend to be tougher nuts to crack. Parental engagement tends to be less impressive – arguably where it is needed most.
All schools will do what they can to improve parental engagement for the simple reason that when pupil, parent and school work as a team and communicate effectively, students tend to succeed.
Parents should be supportive of their child’s school
Showing support can come in many guises. From taking the time to read with a young child to insisting that homework is completed, support also means attending parents’ evenings, engaging with school policies – and generally just showing an interest in what is happening at school.
But these are all fairly basic things. Important as they are, there is much more that parents can do to help their children succeed at school.
This is because nature can be nurtured. It means that parents can really drive and help to cultivate a love of learning in their child.
Take away the fear of failure
A fear of failure can be incredibly damaging for a child at school. The message that you can learn from mistakes and from failure is a very important one. Adults appreciate that to succeed you often need to overcome obstacles and challenges along the way. The ‘learning curve’ is very rarely seamless and smooth. A child won’t automatically understand this, which means reinforcing the message at home is vital.
Take away the ‘fear factor’ completely
Fear of failure is one thing but ‘fear’ can permeate a child’s experiences at school in many ways. Fear of not achieving a particular grade, fear of disappointing parents, or completing a piece of homework for fear of consequences. Try to eradicate all types of fear. Make learning a positive activity, not a chore.
Focus on what the child is good at
Few of us are fortunate to be great at everything – but all children are good at and have a passion for something. Unfortunately, the emphasis is often placed on what the child is not good at. It is this that is highlighted and what most time is devoted to.
Of course, support the child if there is a need to – but big up what he/she is good at and loves too – whether that is a subject or an extra-curricular activity.
Don’t just concentrate on what a child struggles with. This can be incredibly demoralising.
Take away the threat of punishment
Fear (as mentioned above) and the threat of punishment can help to keep a child ‘in line’, but they are not the greatest of motivators. Self-esteem, self-discipline and self-control are the skills that need to be nurtured instead. Build these skills up and children become self-motivators.
Easier said than done, but the best thing parents and teachers can do to promote success is to get children to want to succeed for themselves – not for their parents or their teachers.
One word that is never far from the conversation when it comes to teaching is workload. The sheer amount of work that teachers are expected to get through has always been a bone of contention. It’s enough to put some budding teachers off joining the profession – or prompting some to leave and change careers sooner rather than later.
In recent years, talk of ‘workload’ has morphed into ‘workload crisis’. This is not alarmist or an exaggeration. The best and most accurate way of describing the workload teachers have to grapple with is as a crisis. It hits the nail on the head.
So, what can be done to solve the problem?
Lots of talk but no action
As the extent of the crisis became more obvious, much discussion has occurred about the workload teachers face. Nicky Morgan, then Secretary of State for Education, instigated various ‘reviews’ and a ‘Workload Challenge’. The unions continue to throw out worrying statistics: 90% of teachers have considered quitting in the last 2 years or 96% said their workload was having a negative impact on their family or personal life.
We know this. It should come as no surprise.
But still little is done.
But does that mean that nothing can be done?
Is a ‘proper’ work-life balance possible with teaching?
Here’s a big question. Of course, we could argue about what actually constitutes a ‘proper’
or ‘healthy’ work-life balance, but whatever that might be, the answer to the question is still probably ‘No.’
Despite the holidays (let’s not get into that!) teaching will never be the right career to enter if work-life balance is really important to you. Cliché though it is, teaching is a vocation not a career. It can consume you, if you are not careful.
Teachers learn pretty early in their career that if they wanted to they could fill every hour, minute and second of every day with some ‘work for school’ to do.
The difference between wanting to and feeling that you need to
This is the crux of the problem. There is always something for a teacher to do. Sometimes a teacher needs to exert a bit of self-discipline and say ‘enough is enough’. That’s fine.
But the problem is these days that there are plenty of teachers that feel that they have to carry on. They feel they have no choice – through fear of line managers, fear of OFTSTED… just fear.
Fear is never healthy, but unfortunately it’s the climate that exists in many schools.
Are there any solutions?
If all this sounds slightly defeatist, there are two very clear ways that the workload crisis could be eased. Firstly would be to use admin staff to take much of the burden of paperwork away from teachers. Technology could certainly be better used for purposes such as data collection too.
Secondly, it needs a sea change from senior leaders. Instead of doing things ‘for OFSTED’, leaders need to genuinely come up with policies that are for the students and the staff of the school. The two might not appear to be the same, but a school that works for its students and staff will be one that ultimately pleases OFSTED.
Something that will always provoke debate is what our children should learn at school. However, the focus is often on how children are assessed rather than what they are actually learning.
But the discussion is rich at the moment. The reforms to GCSE and A level represent the biggest change to the exam system in a generation. Much emotion has been stirred by the way the government seems to have shifted emphasis towards traditional academic subjects with the introduction of the EBacc. Arts subjects are feeling the squeeze and even being pushed off the curriculum. Some worry that creativity is being stifled.
Another common denominator is that businesses continue to complain that schools are not preparing young people for the world of work. The skills gap is always mentioned in any commentary on the UK employment landscape.
So, are there things that children should learn at school, but aren’t currently getting the opportunity to do so?
Life skills vs academic knowledge
The big loser in terms of curriculum time in recent years has been anything other than preparation for exams (especially in core subjects). This matters because it means that Personal, Health and Social Education, Citizenship, and the likes have found themselves squeezed off the curriculum.
Important life skills such as learning about financial management, or how to eat healthily might be covered at some point – but are such fundamentally important life skills things that should be merely ‘touched upon’ at school?
Learning how to deal with personal relationships, the dangers of the internet and social media are pivotal in the lives of young people – surely they demand more curriculum time?
Mental health and wellbeing
The media constantly reminds us that more young people than ever before are experiencing mental health issues. This is no surprise in a school system that is driven by target grades. It comes as no shock that the UK ranks poorly against other nations in terms of pupil wellbeing. Of course, young people face stresses and pressures outside of school too. This is why pupils should be actively taught strategies to build resilience and to cope with pressure. Young people need to have a good awareness of the importance of mental health and wellbeing.
Preparing young people for work and life
Academic qualifications will probably always be used as a measure of ability and potential, and can be used as entry requirements into certain careers. But academic results only ever tell part of the story. Life skills and soft skills – the sort that can’t be assessed in a terminal examination – are often the key factors in success or failure.
Right now, the balance is very much in the favour of academic results. Only time will tell whether the new GCSEs and A-levels will better prepare young people for the future than those that have gone before them. Chances are, they won’t.
Academic qualifications are vital. However, life and soft skills are equally important. These skills should be taught at school.
Many school districts are in the process of busily preparing for round two of parent-teacher conference. There are a few lucky schools that only hold these conferences once a year. Consider yourself very lucky if you fall into this category. These conferences can be sometimes awkward and leave you scratching your head when meeting with parents that seem to come from another planet. Below are some tips for teachers in how to handle these meetings in a professional manner.
Have Notes Prepared
Class sizes are getting larger by the year, so it is easy to get confused when talking to parents about their kid. Have notes on your desk during the conference with a basic outline of things that you would like to discuss. Remember that grades are just part of the issue, so be sure to include information on the student’s behavior.
Include the Good and the Bad
For some students, all you have are good things to talk about with the parent. These conferences should happen more often in a perfect world. There are just certain students that you wish you had ten copies of them in your class. Is cloning available yet?
When holding a troubling parent-teacher conference with a parent of a child that is having problems, be sure to include the good things the student does as well. If you only list the bad, parents walk away thinking you hate their child or have it in for them. By praising the student on certain issues, you are saying to the parent that you are being fair. It can be tough to do, but you have to be both good cop and bad cop in these meetings.
Be On Time
Making a master schedule for parent-teacher conferences can be a difficult thing to do. A note is sent home with the child asking for a specific block of time that will best suit that parent. We try our best to coordinate this master schedule of up to 30 conferences that have to happen in a span of approximately eight hours. When a teacher sends home the note for the parent stating that the 15 minutes conference will be held at this certain time, it is up to the parent and the educator to be ready to go at that exact time.
But as we know, parents can often show up late or disregard the conference time altogether. Don’t let this affect your schedule so all your conferences are off. The last thing you want is for responsible parents to have to wait on you. If you have trouble staying on time, keep a timer on your desk during these meetings. Set it for 12 minutes so you have a minute or two to edge the parents out the door if needed. If a parent shows up late for their appointment, try your best to squeeze them in, but limit their conference time to five minutes. Their tardiness should not be a detriment to your master schedule.
Dress Appropriately for the Occasion
Meeting with a parent to discuss a student should be considered a professional meeting. If one of the parties is dressed like they just finished up working in the yard five minutes before, then obviously the other person will think that the meeting does not mean that much to them. This does not mean you have to wear a suit or unpack your prom dress from storage, but looking professional goes a long way.
Watch Body Language
There can be nothing more off-putting than trying to hold an open conversation with someone that has their arms crossed or folded. It is a sign that they are being difficult and through body language, they are expressing their disagreement. Too many people are unaware of the effects their body language can have. As an educator, we have to recognize that our body language goes a long way in our meetings. Some people will say that they are only crossing their arms because they are cold. If that is the case with you, wear an extra sweater and keep those arms to your side.
Follow Through On What Was Discussed
As a teacher with over a decade of experience, nothing can be quite as disheartening as discussing a plan with parents to help their child, and then having the parents or the teacher not follow through on it. If you as a teacher says that you will be doing something for that child, make sure you do it. If the parent says that they are going to work with the child more at home, hold them accountable as best as you can.
Donald Trump’s presidency has generated more shocking headlines in 12 months than most presidents deliver during their entire time in office, with the former television host involved in foul-mouthed tirades, sexual misconduct allegations, allegations of collusion with Moscow, supporting Neo-Nazis and labelling African nations ’shithole countries’, while claiming to be ‘a very stable genius’ who is ‘very smart’.
Rather than opting for a common sense solution to tackle the threat of mass shootings, such as making assault rifles more difficult to purchase, the president has been quick to push the ridiculous idea of placing more guns in school, by having one million teachers across the United States issued with firearms which they would carry about with them on a daily basis.
‘….immediately fire back if a savage sicko came to a school with bad intentions. Highly trained teachers would also serve as a deterrent to the cowards that do this. Far more assets at much less cost than guards. A “gun free” school is a magnet for bad people. ATTACKS WOULD END! https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/966653833047887874
‘….History shows that a school shooting lasts, on average, 3 minutes. It takes police & first responders approximately 5 to 8 minutes to get to site of crime. Highly trained, gun adept, teachers/coaches would solve the problem instantly, before police arrive. GREAT DETERRENT! https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/966657362789568512
‘….If a potential “sicko shooter” knows that a school has a large number of very weapons talented teachers (and others) who will be instantly shooting, the sicko will NEVER attack that school. Cowards won’t go there…problem solved. Must be offensive, defense alone won’t work!’ https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/966660169194229761
Not only does Trump’s idea to place a million weapons in American schools fly in the face of common sense, it is also contrary to the steps taken in other countries which have successfully tackled the threat of mass shootings.
Also in 1996, a massacre took place at Dunblane Primary School in Scotland, when Thomas Hamilton, a former Scout leader, opened fire on a class of 5 year olds in the school gymnasium, killing 16 children and a teacher. The following year, government legislated banned higher calibre handguns and .22 calibre handguns and by March 1999, the general public had surrendered 165,353 licensed handguns and 700 tonnes of ammunition. There have been no school shootings in the UK since the Dunblane massacre.
So why is President Trump so keen to adopt a strategy to tackle mass shooting which is in complete contrast to the success approaches adopted in other countries?
Even though gun reforms are being blocked by the NRA’s money, the president’s plans to equip one million teachers and school administers with firearms is absolutely beyond all common sense.
Unsurprisingly, teachers, students and parents have reacted angrily to Trump’s ridiculous proposals, with social media ablaze with criticism of the President Trump and the Republican party.
There are so many reasons that President Trump’s proposal to arm teachers is wrong, that you could write an entire thesis on it, but here are five points to start considering;
– The classroom is not an environment for weapons
It has been clearly documented that the classroom environment is one of the most important factors affecting student learning, with a safe, positive environment providing students with a sense of belonging in which they can trust others and feel encouraged to tackle challenges, take risks, ask questions, and grow as individuals. Guns in classrooms would complete shatter this nurturing environment.
– Armed sheriffs were too frightened to the Florida school shooter
There was an armed sheriff’s deputy on duty at the Florida high school where 17 students were killed. However, this individual failed to confront the shooter during the school massacre and was reportedly found hiding behind a concrete barrier in the school’s car park. That deputy was branded a “coward” by President Donald Trump, and has since resigned.
Given that highly trained law enforcement offices were too scared to tackle a lone shooter with semi automatic weapons, it’s completely unrealistic to believe that dinner ladies and mathematics teachers will be able to successfully confront a crazed killer.
– Stay bullets
According to statistics from New York Police Department, trained police officers struggle to successfully hit their targets during gunfights, with the average rate of accuracy at just 18%. Even with training, it’s unlikely that teachers will be as accurate as the average New York police officer, resulting in a probable accuracy rate of less than 10% – which leaves a lot of stray bullets flying around the school. There is a far greater chance that children will be shot in the crossfire, than the mathematics teacher, or the dinner lady, will successfully take out the heavily armed shooter.
Issuing weapons to a million individuals working in a sector which is prone to stress, suicide and mental illness is a recipe for disaster.
– You do not want to be carrying a weapon when the SWAT team show up
Once authorities are aware of a shooting in a school they will call in a SWAT team to eliminate the threat. If you, as a teacher, are walking the corridors with a handgun, there is an extremely high chance that the SWAT team will incorrectly identify you as the threat – and if that happens, they won’t hesitate to ‘take you out’.
Fortunately, there are millions of Americans who are firmly against putting guns in the classroom, and these students, teachers and parents are leading the fight against America’s lawmakers.
Two high profile events are taking place over the coming weeks, the National School Walkout on March 14 and the March for Our Lives on March 24, which will put pressure on the American government to take action which will make schools safer. As the event organisers explain, “Students and staff have the right to teach and learn in an environment free from the worry of being gunned down in their classrooms or on their way home from school,” and, “Parents have the right to send their kids to school in the mornings and see them home alive at the end of the day.”
For the sake of America’s students and teachers, let’s hope lawmakers in Washington listen to these pleas, and finally do something to tackle the country’s mass shootings.
Teachers rely on rubrics to clarify how students will be graded on their ability to perform particular tasks. For students these rubrics are powerful tools which can boost intrinsic motivation.
As teachers, we strive to engage our students in the learning process to ensure they gain the very most from their education. One approach, which has been proven to better engage learners, involves students contributing to the way in which their work is assessed, by creating student-generated rubrics.
Giving students a voice within the classroom to develop the rubrics by which they will be assessed, helps empower students to take ownership of their learning, and encourages them to become self-directed learners.
The development of a rubric for assessment is a reflective process and by involving students in this process, it enables them to have a better understanding of the requirements, standards and expectations of each assignment. By creating the rubric, the students more clearly understand the objectives of the assignment, enabling them to monitor their own progress and helping them to reach the necessary learning benchmarks.
A detailed rubric also provides clear learning targets which can help students plan their approach towards the assignment correctly. Research conducted at Colorado State University indicates that students who were engaged in the development of the scoring rubric showed better understanding of assessment criteria and ultimately had significantly higher scores.
Another important benefit of sharing rubrics with students is that this information increases the transparency in the classroom. Students are no longer left guessing why their scores varied from their friends, and they realise the teacher follows a fair system of awarding points based clearly on expectations and the learning objectives of the assignment.
Adopting the use of student-generated rubrics isn’t difficult, although it does require some careful planning.
To begin with it is useful to introduce the students to a previously used scoring rubric, such as the example below, to help student clearly understand these tools. The students can then read through the rubic as a class, discussing the standards and expectation step-by-step to ensure each point is fully understood.
Purpose is clear
Shows awareness of purpose
Shows limited awareness of purpose
Clearly presents a main idea and supports it throughout the paper.
There is a main idea supported throughout most of the paper.
Vague sense of a main idea, weakly supported throughout the paper.
No main idea
Overall Well-planned and well-thought out. Includes title, introduction, statement of main idea, transitions and conclusion.
Good overall organization, includes the main organizational tools.
There is a sense of organization, although some of the organizational tools are used weakly or missing
No sense of organization
Excellent grammar, spelling, syntax and punctuation.
A few errors in grammar, spelling, syntax and punctuation, but not many.
Shows a pattern of errors in spelling, grammar, syntax and/or punctuation. Could also be a sign of lack of proofreading.
Style: Sentence structure
Sentences are clear and varied in pattern, from simple to complex, with excellent use of punctuation.
Sentences are clear but may lack variation; a few may be awkward and there may be a few punctuation errors.
Sentences are generally clear but may have awkward structure or unclear content; there may be patterns of punctuation errors
Sentences aren’t clear
Having shared a complete rubric with the students, it’s useful to ask for their comments and suggestions – What would they have done differently? A lively discussion about the rubric is an encouraging sign that the students are ready to begin creating their own.
Before having the students begin creating their own rubric, it’s important to specify the exact assignment for which the rubric is to be used – is it a creative writing assignment, a non-fiction writing, an email, a presentation or a science project?
Once the students have a clear understanding of the assignment, they can begin create a meaningful rubric.
For the next stage, the students will need to begin discussing the areas on which their work will be assessed. This often takes a lot of time, with lively debates and discussion. It also requires careful observation by the teacher to ensure the learning objectives are all covered. If students miss out an important objective from their rubric, the teacher should introduce this topic into the debate, an encourage the students to include it.
Having narrowed down the specific skills which will be assessed by the rubric, the students then need to identify what the different levels of understanding, or ability, will actually look like. Students will need to discuss what defines a successful assignment and what defines a weak assignment based on the criteria they have chosen.
Once the students have a general idea of the different levels of meeting the rubric criteria, it’s useful to have students begin working with a traditional 4 point score system, graded 1-4. This gives the students a clear framework to work within. Students will then need to become comfortable with what constitutes a 4,3,2, and 1.
It’s worth explaining to the students that in general terms; 4 = exceeding grade level standard, 3 = meeting standard, 2 = approaching standard, 1 = well below standard. However, these definitions need to be adapted and expanded to fit the learning objectives of the assignment.
Again, this takes time and the rubric targets will often become topics for debate. Teachers must be prepared to devote enough time to this to ensure all the students have the opportunity to contribute to the discussion, and that the final rubrics are thorough and well defined.
Engaging learners with student-generated rubrics also provides an excellent platform for students to develop their language skills, by learning to describe and define levels of ability in clear and concise language.
While the first occasion of using student-generated rubrics requires a substantial amount of time, and effort, teachers who use these rubrics on a regular basis report how the process speeds up with time, as the students become increasingly familiar with this approach, and the method of creating a rubric.
For teachers looking to further motivate and engage their students, using student-generated rubrics is definitely worth trialing.
Thanks to the misjudged concept of the NCTL, individual teachers are subject to a level of intrusion into their private lives that are only otherwise applied to lawyers, doctors and such like, professions where the rewards far outstrip those working in education.
Yet teachers are judged by all and, probably dating back to the Thatcher era, often negatively so. The public see us as fair game for criticism; the growth of the ‘blame’ culture means that if a student fails to get the grades they seek, if they misbehave then the fault most probably lies with their teachers. Unlike nurses and, to a lesser extent, doctors, teachers do not have the widespread sympathy of the public, and that makes them a target for politically motivated criticism. We see it all the time.
For all that, and as wrong as it is, when things go wrong at school for most teachers, it is going to be due to a change in leadership – perhaps a Governor, a Head, a senior manager, who takes a dislike to the way that teacher operates, or maybe doesn’t like somebody prepared to make their feelings known. It is, these days, a very, very regular occurrence for a teacher to be subject to monitoring and/or disciplinary processes (some might call it victimisation) and often that whole process will be secret. Often, the first time colleagues realise that something is wrong is when that teacher goes off on long term sick leave, frequently never to return.
It is hard to think of many jobs where such standards of behaviour are set as for a teacher. As James Macauley said, in his wonderful poem ‘Because’:
‘Judgement is simply trying to reject
A part of what we are because it hurts’
Of course, there are some poor teachers, and others who need support. For most victims, the issue lies with other people – take another look at McCauley’s pertinent point above. There is so much truth in those two lines.
Our best advice is, sadly in a way, to assume the worst. We should look for the signs that something might be wrong. Perhaps feedback that is not as positive as usual, maybe dating to a time when a new manager has been appointed. More classroom visits and drop ins. Perhaps a parental complaint against which we receive less support than might be expected.
From that point, it is advisable to start keeping a detailed, private record of ANYTHING which might come back to haunt us. Date, time, event and potential witnesses. It is a nuisance, and a hassle, but gives us a timeline of evidence should, three months on, we find ourselves on formal monitoring, the threat of dismissal hanging over us.
Union or Not?
The sad fact is, employment law is heavily weighted against workers. It was back in September 2012 that the rulings changed to make it possible to dismiss teachers in just nine weeks for poor performance. If there is a problem, how can a teacher address it in that time? If, more likely, the issue is personal, how can the teacher resolve it in just two months?
Belonging to a union probably provides the most cost-effective support. When things go wrong, the union will be there to offer advice, and will usually ask us what outcome we seek. Often, we are so upset to find ourselves in the position, that we just want out.
And rightly so, a job is a job, but our lives are our lives. A union might help us to achieve our goals…but its powers are limited. The alternative to union membership (which does offer more support than just legal back up, of course) is to put aside a reserve to pay for a solicitor should the worst happen. Hopefully, that three or four thousand pounds will never be needed.
One thing a school must do when following a disciplinary investigation, on any matter, is to follow its own policies. As teachers, we too must follow the school’s own grievance procedures. This is important, because if at a later date we are seeking compensation through a compromise agreement, or industrial tribunal, we will need to demonstrate that we have followed the route laid down.
We can ask for a representative to accompany us to meetings, but this does not have to be granted unless there is a likelihood of dismissal following. We should take our own notes, say as little as we can and remain calm at these meetings. We should send a copy of our notes to all involved in the meeting. Expect for the official minutes that come from the management side to be weighted against us, and possibly untrue.
Gathering as much evidence as we can to counter claims about or performance, or the complaint against us, is important. Dig out emails congratulating us, letters of thanks, appraisal notes and so forth. This is a very personal matter, but although there can be a sense of embarrassment at fining oneself on the end of a disciplinary or monitoring matter, there is a strong case for talking to colleagues.
Firstly, they will almost certainly be supportive. Secondly, they may be able to provide evidence in your favour – perhaps a good report about a trip you led, help you have offered to a play or concert. Finally, by being open you may well discover that you are not alone, and that this particular manager is seeking to cause unrest among a much larger group of staff.
The Sad Reality
But, we should know that if the reasons for putting us through this hell are spurious, finding an exit strategy is going to be the best option. The nature of teaching, with its subjective judgements, constant decision making, and the emotional responses parents can have when their little ones are perceived to have been unfairly treated means that, quite often, any battle with management we are forced to undertake will probably end in defeat. It is an appalling situation, and should be changed, but we have Governments that love to bolster their own popularity on the backs of the profession and the interests of individual teachers do not register on their popularity-monitors.
We all have the right to resort to one of these. But, we should ensure it is what we want. Firstly, there is no guarantee of winning; secondly, it will probably take a year to reach a hearing. That is a year of stress and perhaps no income. Finally, if we do win, we risk publicity and that can make getting another job difficult – we could be seen as ‘troublesome’. The compensation we receive is likely to be pretty small as well.
These are more and more popular. Basically, a compromise achievement sees an agreed method of ending our contracts. We resign, and in return get a guaranteed reference and some kind of financial compensation, tax free. In return, we are restricted about what we can say about our ex employers. There was a time when a teacher’s position was for life; but the notion of a vocation does not sit well with short-termist politicians or in the business world that increasingly plays its part in the running of schools. In the private sector, employees change jobs more regularly than is the case with teachers. Fall outs are an expected part of life.
And all that means that a compromise agreement is probably not going to become an obstacle to getting another job.
Often, it is the best way when things go wrong, as much as that might stick in our throat. The stress and strain we put on ourselves and our families by fighting can, in the end, simply not be worth the suffering.
We often teach lessons to students on how they should stay on task during the day. But as teachers, we could use a bit of coaching, too. It’s easy to take your eyes off the clock for a moment, and the next thing you know the kids are five minutes late to lunch. We have all been there and it is a frustrated feeling.
It is easy as a teacher to lose track of things in the classroom. It often gets chaotic and before you know it, the bell is ringing and the kids are leaving the classroom. All the things you set out to accomplish during the school day did not get completed. Below are some tips for how a teacher can better stay on task in the classroom.
Have a Schedule on the Board
Every single day, have the class schedule written on the board with times associated with it. Not only can you glance up at the board to figure out what everyone should be doing at that moment, but the students will do that as well. Students are very observant when they need to be. If there is a time written on the board for PE, Art, lunch, Music, or something similar, they will quickly raise their hands and tell you if it is about time to pack up.
When to Grade Papers
At some point, every teacher feels overwhelmed by how many papers they have yet to grade. This might be a daily occurrence for some educators or perhaps just a weekly thing. Beginning teachers always feel a need to grade every single paper. However, this is not the case. A grade is not needed on everything. It’s perfectly fine to have students grade their own paper now and then if it is not going into the grade book. Also, if you just feel like you do not have enough time during the day to grade papers, then skip the teachers’ lounge during lunch and eat in your classroom while grading. You probably won’t miss out on much as teachers often use the lounge during lunch to talk about their troubles.
Something that gets even the veteran teachers off task is when they have to stop to discipline a student. Depending upon the student or the teacher, something like this could last five to ten minutes. Instead of wasting precious classroom time on an unruly student, have some sort of system in place where you don’t even have to stop teaching. Something that worked well for me was to have a penalty box, a sort of hockey reference. It was an empty box until a kid misbehaved enough, then their name would go in the box. I didn’t have to say a word. I just took their name tag off the board and dropped it in the box and they would know they would have to come and talk to me later on.
Have Set Routines
Some teachers like to have a hand in everything that is done in the classroom. They take classroom attendance every day. They do the lunch count at some point in the morning. They bring notes down to the office during their five minutes of free time. It is tough for some educators to relinquish control of the mundane. But they need to use their time more wisely.
There should be a system in place where students automatically do their lunch preference as soon as they enter the classroom first thing in the morning. The same can be done for classroom attendance. There can be a routine created for just about everything in the classroom. The teacher has to place a bit of faith that the students can accomplish these things on their own without having to be reminded.
Ask Other Teacher for Help
At every school, there are certain teachers that seem to have everything in control all the time. No matter what happens, they never lose their cool. Instead of wishing that you could be a teacher like that, make it happen. Approach the teacher after school and just ask for any help that they can provide. The great thing about these teachers is that they like to teach not only students, but any others that need assistance. Use their years of experience to your advantage. Plus, at the same time, you will be developing a much needed friendship that you will probably cherish over time.
Florida high school shooting that killed 17 students has ignited the debate over gun control in the USA once again. It wasn’t quite the Valentine’s Day that students were expecting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. But on February 14, 2018, all of their lives were changed when suspected shooter Nikolas Cruz opened fire late during the school day. Now the survivors are left to wonder if this could have all been avoided, and the rest of the nation has to figure out a way to try to make sure this does not happen again.
Cruz was a 19 year-old former student at the school. It was evident that he spent much time planning his vicious attack. By the time the shooting ended, six minutes had passed. In its wake left 14 dead students, three dead staff members, many injured, and countless others traumatized by the heartless incident.
The suspect had always been recognized as someone with deep mental issues. In fact, the staff had been made aware of his possible danger to others when an email was circulated saying he was not allowed to carry a backpack with him on campus. Many students recounted tales of Cruz acting violent and strange over the years. He was later expelled by the school, and most people thought that would be the last they would see of him.
Cruz did not have a conventional upbringing. He was adopted at age two and his adopted father soon passed away. His adopted mother passed away a few months before the school shooting. He had been living with family and friends ever since her death. They were all aware of his mental health issues, but could not fathom he could quite do something like this. He had been seeing a counselor about his problems, but eventually quit going.
His family was aware that he had a fascination with weapons and that he owned guns. As we have seen too often, mental illness and firearms do not go well with one another. Cruz’s mother would call the police over to the house to try to get them to talk some sense into the boy, but it didn’t seem to help. In fact, they had been called to the home 39 times in the past seven years. This leaves many asking how was Nikolas Cruz allowed to have all of these guns when it was well known that he had mental issues. Couldn’t the police have taken away his firearms when they listened to his mother how he could be a danger to himself and others around him?
Even the FBI dropped the ball a couple times where if they would have acted correctly, all of this might have been avoided. The warning signs were all there, but officials were not acting. The Florida Department of Children and Families even investigated Cruz after social media posts, but assessed that he was not a risk. His YouTube videos have left many scratching their heads, wondering how he was never deemed a risk to others.
Anytime there is a school shooting of any sort, people come out of the woodwork proclaiming there has to be tougher gun laws. Cruz’s rifle that he used was purchased legally, giving people that want a ban on firearms an opportunity to preach their rhetoric. But the truth of the matter is that if someone wants to do something evil like a mass shooting, they will eventually find a way to get a hold of the guns needed. Chicago has some of the toughest gun laws of anywhere in the nation, and they are also one of the cities that has the most deaths, violence, and shootings.
Instead we all need to focus on the bigger picture. The warning signs were all in place for Nikolas Cruz. His family was concerned with his behavior. The police were called numerous times. The FBI was made aware, but failed to visit him or contact Cruz in any way. He was able to buy his rifle legally because there were not any red flags on his record that would warn otherwise. But there were worries, neighbors expressing concern, school officials being made aware, and still he slipped through our fingers and affected countless lives forever with his deadly act.
Other school headteachers are left to ponder how to ensure this does not happen to them. How do they protect their students and staff from school shooting? They all have lockdown procedures and Code Red warnings in place. They keep their doors accessing the school locked when they can. They teach their staff on what to do if an intruder comes into the school. However, no matter what procedures are in place, if someone wants to do something evil, they will. It is up to the parents, the community, the police, and the government to work together to find solutions. These shootings don’t just manifest themselves in one day. There is a lifetime of warnings that present themselves first. It is up to all of us to act on these warnings responsibly so we don’t have to point fingers when something like this happens.
Not every assessment of a student in a classroom has to be a test. More and more parents are coming to this realization, even if the school officials are not. The average student in the United States’ public schools takes about some 112 mandatory standardized tests between pre-kindergarten and the end of their senior year. Let that number sink in a bit. That is an average of about eight a year. Which means that every student in a public school in the U.S. takes an average of one mandatory standardized-test every month of the school year. This is not even taking into consideration any of the tests that the classroom teacher gives the students throughout the year.
The government and their high stakes testing is a bit out of control. They are measuring the intelligence of a student and the ability of a school to educate through a series of tests that are mostly taken in a span of a few days. It seems like an extremely unfair way of determining the effectiveness of a teacher and the ranking of a student. One bad day could sink both. If the student is not feeling well or is distracted by other issues, it does not matter. There are no retakes.
The Tension Rises
At the beginning of the year, the school receives the scores from the previous school year on how well the students did and how well the school did as a whole. The school ranking becomes public knowledge for those that are interested. It is simple to see how tension and anxiety rises throughout the year.
Educators don’t want their students to receive low scores because people believe it reflects on their teaching, and there is always a possibility of being reprimanded because of it. Administrators do not want to see low scores because the school is under their guidance. In addition, parents of students that receive low scores tend to blame the classroom teacher or the school in general instead of focusing on their kid or their parenting style. It is an anxiety-ridden school year with all of the standardized testing being done.
The Teachers Have Two Options
There are two choices for classroom teachers to make when handling the standardized tests. They can either choose to ignore the tests and keep on teaching the best way they know how, or they can pour over the practice tests with their students and teach directly according to the standardized tests.
Either way, it is a tough call to make to choose one or the other. If you decide to teach entirely to the tests, it is easy to lose your love of teaching quickly. If you just educate the students the way you know how from your years of experience, you could be costing them on the tests. It truly is a double-edged sword.
Most people enter the teaching field because they want to make a difference in kids’ lives. They want to make school fun and exciting while learning along the way through authentic experiences. I can honestly say as a veteran teacher that there were definitely times when I was learning right along with the students. Teaching is one of the most exciting careers a person can have if they truly love what they are doing. But teaching towards standardized tests is very limiting and will eventually push good teachers out of the field.
How Did We Arrive at this Problem
Former President Ronald Reagan eloquently said the worst eleven words a person will ever hear is the following: I am from the government and I am here to help. These standardized tests are being pushed on to school districts by legislation.
The testing industry is a multi-billion dollar a year industry. The testing companies gain backing from the politicians by gifting them thousands of dollars into their campaigns or even straight into their pockets. In return, the politicians make it mandatory that public schools use these specific tests by tying federal and state money to them. If the school is performing well on the tests, they will be receiving their fair share from the government. If they are not doing well on the tests, it may essentially be placing them in the red.
Parents Opting Out
Many parents are growing frustrated with the amount of mandatory standardized tests that are being forced upon their child. Because of this, quite a few are opting out of the test. They request that their student does not take the test, and the school has to listen to them. The opt-out movement has been gaining traction the last few years. If you are a parent, teacher, or school official that feels these tests are part of the problem instead of the solution, make your voice heard by contacting politicians and making others aware of the problem.