Officially Teaching (Para)Professionally

Well, I have officially begun my teaching career. I am no longer working with 7 year olds. I am now working with 6, 7, and 8 year olds. Instead of subbing, I’ve landed a full time job as a teacher’s aide… Three teachers, actually k-2 in ESL, and boy are they different! Each grade at a different level and each teacher with a totally different style. But just watching them blows my mind. They are all so good. Only been two days, but I’m loving it.

The pros of the job are simple: I now get paid for helping with activities I may have been helping with already. But I’m also probably working more with the students than I had before, which is useful for my degree. It’s also the best paying job I’ve ever held, and though that’s not at all my reason for doing it, it’s kind of like an extra bonus–I now can complete my schoolwork (namely, my practicum) AND pay for it. WOO!

After my second day, I don’t even have to worry about logging planning time. That is, my practicum requires me to (1) teach at least x number of hours, (2) plan at least x number of hours and (3) design x number of lessons to complete during teaching time and reflect on, etc. etc. As an aide, I’m often not so much planning or designing lessons as I am assisting other teachers with their own, and using class activities to formatively assess as I go. But one of the teachers has me working one on one with a couple of the students, and for that I’ll be coming up with some of my own lessons. It’s neither free reign or throwing me off a cliff, but it’s going to require both planning and collaborating. Oh yeah, and the best part of all? After day two, I am also not totally terrified. I feel both excited and confident about the coming year. Enough so that I will woo again. WOO!

And already, I’m beginning to think about  my decisions as a teacher. In the classroom and on the playground, I hear myself talking to students the way I remember teachers talking to me when I was a kid. “I don’t want you climbing up the slide because you might get hurt,” “Will you please sit down?” “Will you read this for me?” And half the time, I can’t get my friend Nita’s voice out of my head.

Nita a youth rights activist, and she brings up things I don’t always know if I agree with, but I likewise don’t always know if I disagree with them, so she gets me thinking. And the last thing I heard her talking about was giving children commands while phrasing them as choices. It’s downright condescending. Now, I haven’t talked to Nita about this particular situation, so I don’t know what she would say, but the basics boil down to adults don’t like commands “disguised” as choices, why should kids? (Think about the golden rule here.) Nevertheless, there are some things I can’t really give students choices on.

For instance, if I am working with five students on a reading passage, having each student reading one paragraph at a time, I can’t exactly give students the choice to follow along or not. First of all, if they do not follow along, they do not know when their turn to read is, nor which part they are asked to read. And it’s rude to make me have to point them to the line every time.  (Is this akin to having to tell someone a restaurant is closed despite the sign hanging two inches in front of the customer’s face or is this just the teacher talking?) More importantly, rather than just not pay attention (zone out, get ahead, draw, or some quiet activity), students frequently talk to each other, drum on the table, play with anything on the table within reach and generally distract the person who is trying to read. Which not only is rude to the other student (who may be trying to sound out words he or she does not know) but slows down the whole process.

Truth be told, during activities which are less group-oriented (for instance a worksheet that we go over as a group, with each student marking his/her own answers), I am not really bothered by students who do not pay attention to what the group is doing, given that they do so in a non-distracting manner. Some students need more help than others and some prefer to work by themselves. I have even told students if they prefer to complete the task by themselves, they are welcome to, and I will go over the answers with them when they are done.

Which means maybe I have been thinking about this all wrong. Maybe I don’t have disruptive kids so much as kids who work better individually. Some of the students clearly need more assistance from the teacher, and those who do not may be getting bored. And some students show a preference to working in groups while others do not. So the real question isn’t so much what do I say to get them to behave as (1) How can I engage individual learners in some group work, but allow them to work individually also, and (2) How can I engage higher level students (or any students for that matter) while working with others? Some of the activities aren’t really built well for these, like round robin reading. (Although, part of the point of the activity to assess reading levels and re-group the students based on this assessment, which should help higher level students from getting bored while lower level students take their time as well as make lower level students less self conscious.)

In the meantime, it might also help if I can get students to understand both that if they talk while another classmate is reading, they are being mean to that classmate AND that if they distract that other student the process will take longer and they be spending more time with nothing to do. And in the meantime, there are kids climbing up the slide and climbing out of their chairs, so I wonder, how can I ask them to follow playground or classroom rules without sounding condescending?

How do you organize activities to keep all students engaged?

What strategies do you use for asking students to remember and follow rules?

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