Two teachers started their years with very different strategies. They both went to team meetings and collaborated with their peers to plan out the first few weeks. They both felt prepared, both in mind and materials or at least as prepared as they could. They were both excited to start the school year. They really only differed in one area.
Their teams advised them to spend most of the first week on team building. The team lead went as far as saying that while she would review some concepts in the first few days, she would not get started on the full curriculum until week two. Teacher A, bright-eyed and fresh out of college, scoffed at the idea. Teacher A knew that the lessons would work, the team building would work, and that they would be able to get started in the first week. Teacher A felt like it was a waste of time to not get going on curriculum, after all, teachers always wish they had more time.
Teacher B agreed with the lack of time, and while they wanted to get going and knock out a few state standards right away, relented to the wishes of the team and agreed to follow the plan. Teacher B thought that if they had the chance to introduce a few things in the first week, they would, but would still teach them again in the second week. Teacher B would not worry much about what they were teaching, choosing to instead focus on how they taught.
Like the hare, Teacher A roared out of the gate, leaving only a shape of dust in their wake. With the full confidence that the students would become quickly bored of cutesy activities where they learned about the rest of the class, Teacher A started teaching the first lesson in the afternoon. After all, the class had spent the morning quickly going over rules and the behavior contract, and they all knew each other’s names. There wasn’t much more time to “waste”.
Teacher B, content to remain in the protective turtle shell, meandered forward. They went over the rules slowly, made the contract slowly, played several different icebreaker-type games, and stopped often to discuss the common interests of the class. Teacher B would sometimes tell stories about their own school experience, letting the students ask questions about it, and hearing the class gasp collectively when they found out students did not have phones and tablets in Teacher B’s student days.
By the second month, Teacher A was fighting a seemingly futile battle to reteach concepts they had already gone over, shocked at how the very bright students in the class didn’t seem to recall anything they had learned. Teacher B soldiered forward. Slowly and methodically, with the classroom’s full interest, Teacher B introduced every lesson with the same expectations. While Teacher A followed the lesson plans perfectly, warm-up, introduction, large group, small group, etc..Teacher B altered the lessons according to student progress. Adding more or taking away when needed.
Teacher A fell behind and knew the only way to catch up was to speed up efforts. Teach more! Learn more! Teacher B didn’t flinch, didn’t rush, and didn’t panic.
By Thanksgiving, Teacher A wondered what, if anything, had sunk in. Most of the students did not seem interested in anything other than finishing their tasks at hand. They sleepily completed worksheets, then lethargically finished corrections, often forgetting to turn them in, and seemed to drift off to look out the window every time a new lesson started.
At the same time of year, students in Teacher B’s class were teaching lessons and asking what more they could do on certain projects. They seemed to feel less pressure than the students in Teacher A’s class, and as a result showed more enjoyment.
As spring wore on, Teacher A’s students wore down. It came to a point where Teacher A had to scrap the whole plan and start fresh. Shortly before Spring Break, Teacher A took a day to teach the way Teacher B did at the start of the year. The students were surprised when there were no worksheets, no quizzes, no checklists. Instead, they played learning games, rotated to different stations instead of working in one place, and helped each other instead of staying quiet.
Teacher A realized the folly of not building an environment where the students cared first. Teacher A brought the same care, the same dedication, the same positivity, and the same engagement strategies as Teacher B. The only difference was that Teacher B, having more experience, took the time to let the students know that they were a valuable part of a learning community, not just a cog in the wheel that was expected to work only because they were told to. Teacher B’s students knew that their teacher knew their name, their interests, and wanted them to succeed. Teacher A’s students felt like they had to work, but never really knew why.
Teacher A’s class changed, and while things never quite ran as smoothly as they did in Teacher B’s class, they got a lot better. By the end of the year, Teacher A vowed one thing: They would take the time to build rapport.
Teacher A became Teacher B. Now every year, Teacher B remembers that first year and all of the ideas they had on how students SHOULD work, and instead focused on what did work.
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