Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The first days of school

Harry K. and Rosemary T. Wong's book, The First Days of School, is a masterful text that describes successful teacher behavior. It emphasizes how to create an environment, establish behavioral and learning standards, and professionalism of teaching. This would be a fantastic book for people entering the field. It is also, however, an affirming text for veteran teachers that provides insights to perfecting their skills.

Frequently cited in the literature is the low emphasis in teaching training on classroom management, but this is the single item that determines learning in a classroom. As a consultant teacher, I have walked into classrooms that were oases of calm, not because students were silently working at their desks, but because they knew what they needed to do, the learning objective was well established, procedures were in place and the focus was on the task at hand- learning. This may involve talking with groups, collecting and distributing materials and laughter. Conversely, I have also been in classes of chaos that inhibit learning in me, not just the students around me. Teachers trying to be their student's friends never are successful instructors. As a profession it behooves us to step up the training in classroom management and the work on developing such skills in our preservice experiences. This book provides guidance, but in trench observation, mentoring and practice are required to get it right.

What I found particularly meaningful was the final unit of the book: Future Understandings- The Professional. It rang true of much of what I believe and echos current trends in the field, but not in the harsh, negative view that politicians and the media often like to portray. The authors identify that 80% of teachers are affiliation-oriented and 20% are achievement oriented. Affiliation -oriented people see their pay, benefits and happiness an exchange for the dues they pay. Achievement-oriented people's "dues are the opportunities they look for in life" (p 287). They are self-driven contributors to their communities who enhance the people around them.

All too often in my experiences, I have run into clock puncher teachers. These are teachers who show up only for the minimum time required. Sometimes they make a habit of being late in or early to leave. They give to their profession only what they are required to give, bringing nothing additional to game.  On the other hand, I have encountered many professionals who are early in and late out, who give extra support to peers who need it, who readily volunteer to work on committees and give presentations, who independently belong to professional organizations such as ASCD, IRA, NCTE, NCTM, NTSA, etc., and who generally see their role as one of continuous development. My employer has instituted a system where the professional staff is required to use a time clock to punch in and out. If there was ever a motivator against professionalism, this is it. If you want your staff to behave like professionals, treat them as such. Give them the opportunity and support to improve their weaknesses, and if they do not rise to expectations, invite them to find another job. As a profession, we cannot afford to protect poor performance. As individuals we must fight the easy slide into mediocrity and coasting through the day. We can be greater than we were ever led to believe, if we strive for it.

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