Unlike elementary teachers, a high school teacher must "face" a new set of students in every period. In my case, that means approximately 150 teens over the six periods. Another difficulty that must be surmounted is the various levels, freshmen or sophomores, and the different types of classes, for example U.S. History and World History.
We realize however that department heads cannot always accommodate the wishes and⁄or specialties for every teacher. We are, after all, certified by the state to carry out the instruction in our respective fields, whether it is Social Studies, Math, Science or Language Arts, the four core areas of the curriculum (of course, electives are just as important, but, as we know, most public schools must show progress annually in the state testing).
When we enter our first period class at 8:40 am, students are normally shaking off the last remnants of their night's sleep, and you and I know that teenagers usually require more rest time than adults. Some of them openly confess that they spent part of the night talking to friends on their cells, or chatting online with perfect strangers. It takes us a while to settle down before we can actually initiate instruction, but if the teacher stands by the door as they come in, greeting them by their first name, a certain bond is created that will allow for better learning.
One of the keys to effective teaching is, among others, to keep the students busy from the first to the last minute. If you give them some idle time, they will do what comes naturally to teens (and children); they will start talking about whatever happened yesterday night at home or at the party. Trying to channel them toward a learning activity then becomes much more difficult. It has been my experience and observations that good teachers have a strategy to keep them focused on the task at hand as soon as they walk into the classroom.
Another important element to effective teaching is to vary the teaching strategies. Young people nowadays are mostly visual learners, due to the numerous hours they have spent in front of the television set. To that effect, a projector is a must in the classroom. So is a good set of loudspeakers, a large choice of butcher paper, rulers, and coloring crayons or markers.
Give them short videos on whatever area you are covering in the curriculum, and try to avoid lengthy movies. It is amazing to note the difference in behavior when they are listening to an educated voice reading a story, or when they are watching trench warfare in WWI on the screen. Use a variety of teaching tools and the results will be amazing.
As my job keeps me going from one regular classroom to another, I have developed the ability to detect within a few minutes which teacher is effective, and which one is not. A learning classroom is immediately recognizable: The students are engaged in a specific academic activity, talking among themselves without distracting other groups. The teacher is walking around, responding to questions and encouraging participation (yes, there are always a few students who rely on others to do the work). A good classroom is not quiet or very noisy; one can hear several muted discussions and observe students walking around with a purpose.
As the final bell approaches during the last period, some teens are getting restless and who can blame them; it is part of their abundant energy. A good teacher will try to program their activities so as to allow them to move around the classroom on useful tasks. Group activities are highly recommended, as well as oral presentations in front of peers. Trying to keep 25 youngsters focused and on task is no easy job, but I cannot imagine a more rewarding mission.
J.C. Sprenger has been teaching at a local high school for six years as a special education (inclusion) teacher. Before that, he was a university professor in Mexico (10 years) He has been a freelance writer for 15 years in newspapers and recently on the Internet. For more information on becoming a teacher in Texas and Alternative teacher certification in Dallas, check out Texas Teachers Alternative Certification
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