Interview with novice teachers

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Interview with Novice Teachers

How do beginning teachers cope with the rigorous routines, and the dynamics of classrooms? Conduct interviews and summarize your findings here.

In order to fully appreciate the trials and tribulation experienced by teachers new to the teaching profession I interviewed two of my fellow novice teachers. The first teacher I interviewed has been teaching at a high school for 6 months and specializes in the business subjects: Accounts, P.O.B and Maths. He teaches grade 7-9 Maths and grade 10 P.O.B and accounts. I asked him about how he has been coping with the rigorous routines of teaching over the last 6 months and he replied by saying that time management is key.

Teacher concerns

The research surrounding teachers concerns is wide-ranging, well-established, and representative of a number of nations. In an early metasynthesis of the international research surrounding issues facing teachers, Veenman (1984) found that eight main issues that were perceived most often, especially for new teachers at any level, were:

[C]lassroom discipline, motivating students, dealing with individual differences, assessing students' work, relationships with parents, organization of class work, insufficient and/or inadequate teaching materials and supplies, and dealing with problems with individual students. (p.143)

Mathematics and science teachers share this list of concerns, but also expressed additional concerns about teaching out of their immediate field. That is, a teacher with expertise in geometry was asked to teach calculus and a teacher with expertise in physics was asked to teach biology (Adams & Krockover, 1997). These content-area concerns seem unique to teachers of science and mathematics. Hodson (1993) disputed the long-lasting influence of content angst by pointing out that even those teachers who are teaching within their strength area of science do not consistently plan inquiry-based activities in relation to that knowledge, concentrating instead on the immediate concerns of classroom management and on concept acquisition and development.

How To Organize Your Classroom

Creating a Pleasant Working Environment

As teachers, we all know that the classroom accommodations provided to us can differ greatly in size and comfort. Some classrooms are modern, spacious, and airy. Others are cramped, outdated, and crumbling. Whatever the space, you can improve it. You work hard to create rigorous learning opportunities for your students, you love the work you do, but sometimes the clutter and disorganization of your classroom space makes your teaching less efficient and becomes cumbersome for you and your students. The following suggestions can be applied in many ways and will hopefully bring some inspiration for lightening up, creating flow, and for helping the school day run more smoothly.

  1. Create a student-centered space. Your classroom is meant to be a workspace for your students rather than a storage space for you. The volume of materials required for all the subjects you teach and all of the great projects you do take up a lot of room, however, minimizing and organizing materials is essential for an organized, efficient classroom. Start the planning of your room with the perspective of your students in mind. They should have enough room to work, move around the classroom, access their materials, and there should be different seating options for them. Even if desks or tables need to be moved, hopefully you can find a way to create different arrangements for learning.

If clunky desks are taking up all of your space, consider if tables that seat 4-6 students could create more possibilities. If you make this switch, you may provide each student with a cubby or bin for storing materials. Although you will need to make room for a shelf for these bins, the tables may create more versatility than the desks. They also help to maintain more of a community feel than desks. Ask your principal or custodian if tables are available. (By the way, always maintain a positive relationship with your school's custodian! They are the ones who can pull strings for you and get you what you need if anyone can.)

  1. Out with the old! Teachers can be notorious for hoarding. Who can blame us? We need to buy materials when we come across them cheaply and we must save everything because often times the materials we need are paid for out of our own pockets. In addition, we are responsible for teaching so much and having a great variety of things for different projects and units. That being said, some of it must be sacrificed in the name of organization. Par it down. Save the irreplaceable stuff. Save the pricey stuff. But that box of outdated books or magazines that a generous parent dumped on you five years ago? It has to go. The materials that are bulky, old, can be borrowed, are only used once a year, or that you know that you plan to use someday but who knows when, need to go. Yes, that box of old-fashioned computer paper for a dollar from the rummage sale seemed like a great idea at the time, but it has to go! You are not making a sacrifice; you are creating space for you and your students to work more efficiently each day.

The best way to sort is to take everything out of cabinets and off of shelves. Sort all of your goods into piles. Make decisions. Decide by how much you need to reduce your collection in order to make your classroom space more workable. Is it by 50%? If so, that means every other thing, or half the bulk, needs to go in the 'to go' pile. It can be hard, emotional even, to let go of materials. Take digital photos of your favorite old junk if it's what you need to do to let it go. Donate worthwhile materials to the thrift shop and recycle what needs to be recycled. In addition, get rid of bulky furniture or storage systems and replace them with more streamlined, portable ones. All the effort will seem well worth it when you and your students aren't tripping over boxes anymore and instead have a clear path and an unobstructed view.

  1. Store and label materials. After you have narrowed your goods down to a reasonable quantity, you will want to sort them before you cram them back in your cabinets. If you come across great materials that you forgot you had that would have really come in handy with last week's activity, then your treasures are not accessible to you. Uniform, clearly labeled plastic bins with lids that fit in whatever storage receptacles you have are a good way to go. Use name tag type stickers and permanent markers for the labeling. You could even color code the labels by subject. Stackable crates (some come with a ledge for hanging files) are quite versatile as well. Break things down in a way that works for you, perhaps by subject, unit, month, or season. By the way, if you wipe all of the dust off with cleaning wipes before putting it into the new bins, you will feel even better about the organization efforts.

Another option, especially if your storage space is very limited or impinging on the workspace, is to collaboratively store materials with your teammates in other classrooms or communal workspace. For example, they keep all of the Science materials and you keep all the Social Studies materials. This requires not only organization, but also coordination between two or more people so ask yourself if this is practical before proposing the idea to colleagues.

  1. Create a flow for incoming and outgoing materials and papers. Your classroom is not a static, unchanging place. It is an ecosystem of learning that requires inward and outward flow. Without it, the system gets clogged and unhealthy. Have a clear, simple place where homework goes. Have a doable system for how that homework gets graded, recorded, and returned or filed into portfolios.

Have a system for sending home completed class work. If the work is valuable in that it shows progress or a work sample, it may stay in a portfolio or working folder that you or your student maintains. Is the work just a practice page that can be brought home or recycled? Have a regular system for determining what category everyday papers fall in and where they go. Taking a few moments each day to do this with your students (perhaps having them do the sorting or filing) will save time and energy in the long run. If you are not doing this, it will initially feel time consuming. You don't want to spend too much of your valuable lesson time on this kind of housekeeping, but invest a little time at the outset to develop the habit and it will really pay off.

  1. Use classroom jobs to maintain organization. Once your classroom is organized, it will not stay this way unless there is a maintenance system in place. You could spend an hour each day after school getting everything back into tip-top shape or you could have your students work as a community for about ten minutes and accomplish the same task. It is such a great lesson for students. They will feel more invested in their classroom, they will have to work to solve problems to complete their task, they will learn to work together, and they will learn responsibility. They may even be more careful about the messes they make when they know that they need to clean them up.

Have them complete their activity at a time when they are restless and typically have a hard time sitting still anyway. At the end of the day or right after recess are great options. Try turning down the lights and have them do their task silently. If you can pull this off (and it is possible) you may actually marvel at what is being accomplished and how it is being accomplished. You may be surprised by which of your students will love completing their daily task. It may appeal to their kinesthetic nature.

Examples of classroom jobs include: librarian (straightens the classroom library or book baskets), hallway/locker organizer (picks up stray garbage and replaces fallen items), duster (uses wipes to clean surfaces), recycle bin monitor, plant technician (waters plants), school library delivery person (returns books to the school library), pencil sharpener, chair stacker, chalkboard/white board eraser. Some jobs may not be related to clean up and can be done at other times of day (such as line leader and door closer). See more specific information for implementing classroom jobs and a list of classroom jobs at the useful links below.

Depending on the age of your students and if they may have dust or scent allergies, using cleaning wipes may or may not be appropriate. Have students wash hands after using any cleaning supplies. If you have a chalkboard as opposed to a dry-erase board, cleaning of this may aggravate asthma or allergies in students. (This is one of the reasons that many schools are switching completely over to dry-erase boards). Always have them use a wet cloth for cleaning chalk boards, don't use dry feather dusters or cloths which just put all the dust into the air, don't assign asthmatic students to clean the board or erasers, and with more severe allergies, this may be one of the tasks that you need to do yourself after school when the air can clear out. Talk to the custodian or principal about having the board replaced (even with a smaller, temporary dry-erase board) or just avoid use of the board in your teaching when possible. Chart paper is a good alternative.

  1. Create an inviting place for visitors to enter. While creating a classroom space that is functional for you and your students, also keep in mind the perspective of a guest coming to your classroom. When an additional person walks into your room, do they have an unobtrusive place to sit and/or observe? You should expect the principal, specialists such as the special education and ESL teachers, visiting student teachers, visiting teachers or supervisors from the district, as well as parents and other volunteers to be coming into your classroom. It is disconcerting to walk into a classroom and not know where to go. If a student of yours is going to receive tutoring in your room, it can make them feel conspicuous if you have to stop what you're doing and clear a space. If you have morning meetings, leave an extra chair for guests. Your visitors will come away with a completely different experience if they have felt welcomed into your room. Just as you would always have an available chair or space for guests in your home, the same applies to your classroom. Space may be tight, but a multi-purpose desk, table, or corner for individual conferencing or visiting with guests is essential.
  2. Maximize use of natural light and air. Again, we all know that we're not guaranteed windows and fresh air in our classrooms, but when you have them, make use of them. Notice the times of day that natural light comes into your room and try to open the blinds to maximize its use and to minimize the use of fluorescent lights when possible. We know that natural sunlight is good for our health and our brains, so what better time to access it than when you expect your students to really be flexing those brain muscles? Use of softer light from lamps when possible is also a great alternative. You want to provide adequate lighting for reading, but if you ask your students, you might be surprised to find how much they enjoy having the lights dimmed for a while. In hot months, this can also relieve the temperature in your room as well. You may have a 'down time' in your room when lights are dimmed and students have quiet game or rest time. After recess is a good time to cool down.

Opening windows can cool down a room, it can also raise humidity and bring in noise and air pollution, so you need to find what works best for your particular environment. Place fans strategically to improve air flow (which will also improve learning). This may mean directing them from the open windows or the hallway, which may be cooler. Use small fans that make less noise and be careful to keep cords out of the way.

If you use an overhead projector or LED projector, be aware of how much heat and noise these can produce. Turn off when not in use and maybe plan lessons so you are using them during cooler times of the day.

  1. Keep your classroom fresh and clean. Keeping surfaces clean in your classroom using multi-surface cleaning wipes can make a huge difference. Not only will your tables, desks, and shelves feel and look clean, but they will be sanitized of all the cold germs in your class and your room will smell fresh. Students really enjoy being in a clean classroom. I believe that it improves their concentration and focus. Your students will say, "It smells so good in here!"

You want to be sensitive to allergies that students may have, but I have found that a simple vanilla-scented air freshener (the kind that you raise to open) can be very comforting to students. Don't overwhelm the air with strong scents that may be irritating to some, but a fresh, clean smell can work wonders for classroom environment.

Straighten materials, keep things dusted (using at least a damp paper towel so the dust does not go into the air), put things away, and wipe up messes. If you have a daily or at least weekly routine, there won't be a lot of dust and mess to clean up!

  1. Ask yourself if your educational posters are educational or wallpaper. The way in which you utilize the materials on your walls constitute part of being organized. There are so many wonderful, colorful posters available that we tend to stock up on all of them when we go to the teacher store. You also have your favorite lessons, artifacts, and student samples that you laminate and show year after year. If you have your walls plastered with these materials, they may not be as effective as you think. When students see the same posters all year long, they don't really see them. It is preferable to take out and post these materials at the time that you teach them.

Of course, you have some reference posters that will stay up all year, such as the word wall, number and alphabet (or cursive) strip, and posters listing procedures or rules. But having some blank space on your walls is a good thing. Also having some artwork that is just decorative is soothing to the eyes. Visual clutter can be disruptive; be sure there are less 'busy' places for eyes to fall. Change bulletin boards regularly, take down materials from old units, and teach students where to refer for current information. Keep word walls and other reference information 'alive' and functioning by referring to them frequently.

Storage of large posters can be cumbersome. Keeping posters flat makes them ready to use as opposed to dealing with curled ends by rolling up posters. There are special racks that store posters neatly, but these can be very space-consuming. Storing posters on top of cabinets, upright between furniture, or in an artist's portfolio (like a large envelope) can be practical alternatives.

Laminating posters may increase durability, but it also makes posters much heavier and more slippery. Besides, they eventually yellow and curl anyway. You may find that you get years of use from posters left unlaminated. You will save all that plastic as well. This may be a matter of personal preference; find what works for you.

  1. Help students to organize and maintain their personal space. Providing students with adequate time to store and care for their materials will help them to stay organized. At the beginning of the year it may seem like a tedious, time-wasting process to take ten whole minutes of time to monitor every student taking out their red Social Studies folder and neatly placing their handout on the left-hand side. However this is an investment of time; it will be a time and energy saver once it becomes a routine and an expectation. In the long run, you and your students will save countless hours of learning time if students can access their materials readily. You will also save the cost of replacing materials and photocopying so many extras of everything if students have what they need on hand. Let students know a regular time available to them to clean and organize their desks, lockers, coat hook areas, etc. Encourage students to take home old materials and personal items such as clothing that are cluttering up spaces. Perhaps have students bring in grocery bags or keep a supply on hand to tote home extra items.

Some student's desks and personal spaces will still grow messy and cluttered. If, when you start a lesson, a student cannot find the handout, book, or tool that they need, tell them that they will just need to share with a neighbor. Taking time away from all the other students in order to dig through their desk is unfair. For chronic students who are not making an effort with organization, maybe cleaning during their free time is necessary for sending a message of its importance.

Reward students by having the "Desk Fairy" come and visit while they are out. If your students have communal tables and therefore use cubbies, you can do the same thing. The 'Desk Fairy" or "Cubby Fairy" will come around and peek in desks or cubbies and those that are neat and organized will get a special note or a treat. Less organized students will see an example of what their space should look like. For older kids, you can modify this by just leaving a note or treat from you, their teacher, rather than the 'Desk Fairy.' Students will likely adopt life-long organization habits beneficial to their learning.

Kids and learning can be messy, but with an ongoing effort, your classroom can be not only a more efficient learning environment, but a more pleasant place to be. Your students will reap the benefits and visitors will be impressed. An organized classroom is one in which you will enjoy spending your time. Hopefully everyone will gain some inspiration!

General Strategies

Recognize any biases or stereotypes you may have absorbed. Do you interact with students in ways that manifest double standards? For example, do you discourage women students from undertaking projects that require quantitative work? Do you undervalue comments made by speakers whose English is accented differently than your own? Do you assume that most African American, Chicano/Latino, or Native American students on your campus are enrolled under special admissions programs? Do you assume that most students of color are majoring in Ethnic Studies?

Treat each student as an individual, and respect each student for who he or she is. Each of us has some characteristics in common with others of our gender, race, place of origin, and sociocultural group, but these are outweighed by the many differences among members of any group. We tend to recognize this point about groups we belong to ("Don't put me in the same category as all those other New Yorkers/Californians/Texans you know") but sometimes fail to recognize it about others. However, any group label subsumes a wide variety of individuals-people of different social and economic backgrounds, historical and generational experience, and levels of consciousness. Try not to project your experiences with, feelings about, or expectations of an entire group onto any one student. Keep in mind, though, that group identity can be very important for some students. College may be their first opportunity to experience affirmation of their national, ethnic, racial, or cultural identity, and they feel both empowered and enhanced by joining monoethnic organizations or groups. (Source: Institute for the Study of Social Change, 1991)

Rectify any language patterns or case examples that exclude or demean any groups. Do you

* Use terms of equal weight when referring to parallel groups: men and women rather than men and ladies?

* Use both he and she during lectures, discussions, and in writing, and encourage your students to do the same?

* Recognize that your students may come from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds?

* Refrain from remarks that make assumptions about your students' experiences, such as, "Now, when your parents were in college . . . "?

* Refrain from remarks that make assumptions about the nature of your students' families, such as, "Are you going to visit your parents over spring break?"

* Avoid comments about students' social activities that tacitly assume that all students are heterosexual?

* Try to draw case studies, examples, and anecdotes from a variety of cultural and social contexts?

Do your best to be sensitive to terminology. Terminology changes over time, as ethnic and cultural groups continue to define their identity, their history, and their relationship to the dominant culture. In the 1960s, for example, negroes gave way to blacks and Afro-Americans. In the 1990s, the term African American gained general acceptance. Most Americans of Mexican ancestry prefer Chicano or Latino or Mexican American to Hispanic, hearing in the last the echo of Spanish colonialism. Most Asian Americans are offended by the term Oriental, which connotes British imperialism; and many individuals want to be identified not by a continent but by the nationality of their ancestors-for example, Thai American or Japanese American. In California, Pacific Islander and South Asian are currently preferred by students whose forebears are from those regions. To find out what terms are used and accepted on your campus, you could raise the question with your students, consult the listing of campuswide student groups, or speak with your faculty affirmative action officer.

Get a sense of how students feel about the cultural climate in your classroom. Let students know that you want to hear from them if any aspect of the course is making them uncomfortable. During the term, invite them to write you a note (signed or unsigned) or ask on midsemester course evaluation forms one or more of the following questions (adapted from Cones, Janha, and Noonan, 1983):

* Does the course instructor treat students equally and evenhandedly?

* How comfortable do you feel participating in this class? What makes it easy or difficult for you?

* In what ways, if any, does your ethnicity, race, or gender affect your interactions with the teacher in this class? With fellow students?

Introduce discussions of diversity at department meetings. Concerned faculty can ask that the agenda of department meetings include topics such as classroom climate, course content and course requirements, graduation and placement rates, extracurricular activities, orientation for new students, and liaison with the English as a second language (ESL) program.

Tactics for Overcoming Stereotypes and Biases

Become more informed about the history and culture of groups other than your own. Avoid offending out of ignorance. Strive for some measure of "cultural competence" (Institute for the Study of Social Change, 1991): know what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior and speech in cultures different from your own. Broder and Chism (1992) provide a reading list, organized by ethnic groups, on multicultural teaching in colleges and universities. Beyond professional books and articles, read fiction or nonfiction works by authors from different ethnic groups. Attend lectures, take courses, or team teach with specialists in Ethnic Studies or Women's Studies. Sponsor mono- or multicultural student organizations. Attend campuswide activities celebrating diversity or events important to various ethnic and cultural groups. If you are unfamiliar with your own culture, you may want to learn more about its history as well.

Convey the same level of respect and confidence in the abilities of all your students. Research studies show that many instructors unconsciously base their expectations of student performance on such factors as gender, language proficiency, socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, prior achievement, and appearance (Green, 1989). Research has also shown that an instructor's expectations can become self-fulfilling prophecies: students who sense that more is expected of them tend to outperform students who believe that less is expected of them - regardless of the students' actual abilities (Green, 1989; Pemberton, 1988). Tell all your students that you expect them to work hard in class, that you want them to be challenged by the material, and that you hold high standards for their academic achievement. And then practice what you have said: expect your students to work hard, be challenged, and achieve high standards. (Sources: Green, 1989; Pemberton, 1988)

Don't try to "protect" any group of students. Don't refrain from criticizing the performance of individual students in your class on account of their ethnicity or gender. If you attempt to favor or protect a given group of students by demanding less of them, you are likely to produce the opposite effect: such treatment undermines students' self-esteem and their view of their abilities and competence (Hall and Sandier, 1982). For example, one faculty member mistakenly believed she was being considerate to the students of color in her class by giving them extra time to complete assignments. She failed to realize that this action would cause hurt feelings on all sides: the students she was hoping to help felt patronized, and the rest of the class resented the preferential treatment.

Be evenhanded in how you acknowledge students' good work. Let students know that their work is meritorious and praise their accomplishments. But be sure to recognize the achievements of all students. For example, one Chicana student complained about her professor repeatedly singling out her papers as exemplary, although other students in the class were also doing well. The professor's lavish public praise, though well intended, made this student feel both uncomfortable and anxious about maintaining her high level of achievement.

Recognize the complexity of diversity. At one time the key issue at many colleges was how to recruit and retain African-American students and faculty. Today, demographics require a broader multicultural perspective and efforts to include many underrepresented groups. Although what we know about different ethnic groups is uneven, avoid generalizing from studies on African-American students (Smith, 1989).