My daughter, AnnaMaria, recently finished 4th grade. She loved her teacher, Ms. Margi, because she made learning fun. That got me thinking. My 4th grade teacher was my favorite teacher too, Miss Guertin. Why? She made learning fun. So, I wrote her a letter that evolved into a candid and heartfelt conversation about teachers. She co-authors this blog.
Delivering appropriate content in a way that evokes curiosity, excitement and passion for learning is the harder part of being an effective teacher. Kids that receive content in this way, think learning is “fun.” Behind it are teachers making kids think big, ask big questions, learn from their mistakes, and respect different opinions.
These teachers channel children’s frustration or confusion into learning, or give space to let new ideas flourish. High quality interaction between teachers and children is an important aspect of learning. High quality demands that teachers be prepared, positive and patient, all day, every day. There is no recipe for getting there. Experience can be a guide. We offer five, inter-related points.
Rules and consequences = less time on discipline and more time on learning. Teachers need to set high, clear and fair expectations for kids. To make this happen, kids and teachers can agree on a clear set of rules and consequences, for example, keeping your hands, feet and objects to yourself and using appropriate language at all times. Failure to do so, gets you a warning. Consequences increase in severity, with the last being sent to the principal’s office.
Consequences must have a positive side. When kids do things right, they get tokens they can save and use on “prizes”, like working at the teacher’s desk or giving the weekly spelling test. When the whole class does something great – like get an excellent report from the cafeteria – it may earn points. When they earn a certain amount, the class decides on a reward, like playing outside in the winter or having hot chocolate.
Teach kids how to be organized. Teachers need to organize learning. This means teaching kids how to be organized in a way they understand. Kids need to be taught how to organize their work, desks, and belongings. The use of individual work books for each kid and weekly checklists with expected tasks for the entire class allow each child to take responsibility for doing what needs to be done.
Teamwork. Being prepared, positive and patient, all day, every day is a tall order to fill. Knowing you are part of a team helps. Kids need to be part of this team, taking on any range of daily activities, like being the attendance attendant, meteorologist, desk inspector, messenger, and so on. Kids need to feel that the classroom belongs to them.
Teachers and staff also need to be part of this team. Working together with a team of teachers, each classroom can offer a different activity each week and together build team spirit.
Support from peers is key. Teachers who share ideas and support each other are better able to get results when in a classroom with 20-30 kids. Forming a voluntary group of teachers/staff to “uplift” the entire adult community at the school can help with ideas and activities, like organizing pot-lucks, salad bars for lunch, or anything else imaginable.
The need for such support is career-long. It can, and probably should, extend on into retirement. Schools have a wealth of experience with their retired teachers, many of whom remain in their communities. Creating opportunities for these professionals to work with kids, brainstorm with teachers and staff on ideas that worked in the past, and offer their expertise to new generations of kids and teachers has enormous potential to improve learning.
Prepare for what comes next. All kids get anxious about what comes next. Teachers can help reduce this anxiety. Create a Moving UP Day at the end of the school year, where kids meet their future teachers, go to their classroom, and get to ask questions about that next grade. Planning activities and concrete learning objectives throughout the school year by teachers across grades ensures that learning is sequential and builds upon earlier acquired skills and successes.
Have fun. Laugh. Learning happens everywhere. And kids are always learning, when playing, singing, and going on an adventure. Find the fun and laughter even in situations that go awry. Laughter is golden! Take a chance and do the unexpected!
Good teachers are timeless. They create lifelong learners by making learning fun. They do this purposively and with structure, regardless of technology, native tongue, or country of residence.
Entry by Aimee Verdisco and Susan Guertin Chandler