Now that you are a teacher, you are going to develop a “style” of your own. My first piece of advice is this: Do not become a clone of the cooperating teacher you had during your student teaching experience, or a disciple of your favorite college professor. They have not prepared you to be the excellent teacher that you can be…you are going to have to do that on your own. I know what you are thinking now: “I (or my parents) have paid thousands of dollars for me to take all of the classes necessary to graduate with a teaching degree, and now I am told that I am not prepared to be a great teacher?” I am sorry to be the one to break the news to you. Here are the reasons why:
1. Teacher education programs have not changed significantly in the last 40 years.
2. Almost every teacher you ever had used lecture as their primary teaching style. As a result, you will use lecture as YOUR primary teaching style. What’s the reason almost every one of your teachers used lecture to teach you and your classmates? All of THEIR teachers used lecture. There is a better way, which will be discussed in a different section of this website.
3. The small number of teachers and professors that teach using cooperative learning techniques are teaching it the wrong way. Almost all of them are really teaching “group work” strategies, not cooperative learning. Splitting students up into groups to complete tasks – without giving each student in the group an assigned role – leads to the “smart” students doing all of the work, and the “less motivated” students doing nothing. This leads to resentment on the part of the students (and parents) that do all of the work. To make the entire policy of group work explode in their faces, teachers then assign group grades! Bring on the mad parents!!
The important thing to remember here is that IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT!!! Your college taught you all about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Pavlov’s dogs, Bloom’s Taxonomy, and Madeline Hunter’s Lesson Design. These theories were in place years ago, and have no bearing on how good of a teacher you will become. When it comes to teaching you how to teach, you are thrown into the classroom and told to start teaching. It is assumed that you will “figure it out” on your own (with a little help from your cooperating teacher and college professor). The finished product is a teacher that will make it in the classroom for three years less than 50% of the time!
Is there any way that we can change the odds? One way is to increase and intensify in-service teacher training. There are numerous workshops offered every year for teachers, most of them are implemented at the district level. The problem is that the training is fragmented, with little or no follow-up. What happens is that districts continually change their focus, leading to many different initiatives in play at the same time. The result is that teachers become more and more frustrated, and gradually begin to withdraw from attempts the district makes to train them. They develop a “This, too shall pass” attitude, and refuse to implement what they see as the “Flavor of the Month” in educational reform. What you can do is choose an educational initiative, and implement it to the best of your ability. My suggestion is that you embrace cooperative learning….it really is the only method of teaching that results in significant student gains – and the research backs it up! I will be speaking more about cooperative learning in my “Next Level – Level 2” Series in the spring of 2010. I will also be telling you the title of the book that changed my life and my educational career. For now, just concentrate on keeping your classes under control…if you can develop that skill as a first-year teacher, you will be way ahead of the curve! Remember that my “New Teacher Survival Kit” contains a discipline plan that helped me survive as a teacher in an urban school district in Houston, Texas…I know that it will work for you, too!