In my first year in the classroom, I felt like a failure almost all the time. I didn’t understand that this was normal, and as the months passed, I sank into ever-deepening whirlpools of despondence.
Now, six years later, I have more experience, more perspective, and a supportive new school and principal. My craft still needs lots of work, but I know I’m making a positive impact and I feel successful pretty often.
How do we help those rookies who don’t even know how to ask for help yet? (They may think it’s a sign of weakness.) There are all of the conventional means of gentle intervention, like initiating reflective conversations, sharing good practices, etc. But I have a new recommendation:
Hand him or her a copy of See Me After Class by Roxanna Elden. (Or put a couple copies in the teachers’ lounge to let them find it on their own.)
Elden’s book, subtitled Advice For Teachers By Teachers, is a useful, empathetic guide to weathering the first-year lumps. The author jokes that this book is not chicken soup, but rather “Hard Liquor for the Teacher’s Soul.” I’d peg it somewhere in between— perhaps a frothy, satisfying Guinness for the teacher’s soul.
My favorite chapter, “Classroom Management: Easier Said Than Done,” offers a host of non-intuitive strategies for controlling a class. Bits of insight (Ex. “When possible, don’t threaten or promise to call home— just do it.”) are expounded upon with readable anecdotes and explanations. In my first months, I didn’t understand the impact of a well-placed call home; Elden’s book may have given me the push I didn’t know I needed. A few other favorite nuggets:
“Plan some silent time into your day. Have a quiet activity that keeps students busy and happy if they finish early. This can include art, crossword puzzles, review activities, or reading. Also be prepared to shut down fun activities…”
Absolutely yes. And I’d add choice time. Everyone wants to feel ownership over his time, and (structured) free choice time can be a powerful and constructive carrot to dangle in 1st or 12th grade.
Tone it down a little. If you find students rolling their eyes when you praise them, your compliments may sound forced… Staying low-key also makes it more meaningful when you do pull out the pom-poms.
Tell it, Roxanna. I’m an effusive dispenser of praise in the classroom and I realized midway through my first year that the desired impact of my compliments was being diluted by my frequent gushing. I worked on continuing to stay positive, but tying each compliment to a specific, replicable action the kid did. For example, I did away with “Yes! You’re brilliant!” and brought in more specific compliments like, “It was brilliant how you used what we talked about yesterday to solve this problem! Remembering what we’ve done and applying it to the next thing is the key to everything!”
Elden peppers her book with original teacher-themed poetry which I could do without, but I can see plenty of teachers vibing right along with her on the stream-of-consciousness lyrics of poems like “Make Me or Break Me,” and that’s fine. I like this See Me After Class a lot; at $13.57 on Amazon it does no harm and lots of good for on-the-ground educators.
Note: Apologies for the radio silence over the past few weeks. On December 18, my wife Colleen gave birth to our first daughter, Sadie Eva Brown! Things have been hectic and wonderful, and I’ll be back to regular blogging in January. Happy New Year!