Saturday, May 17, 2014

How Long? Developing Your System

I was talking with a colleague earlier this week as a group of us were going to grab a bite to eat before the Students vs Staff basketball game that we do every year. Don't ask if we won or not, but let's just say that I was sulking for a couple of days.

Anyway, after my third year of teaching I have come to the realization that it takes about three years to really get a handle on the standards that you teach. The first year, you're just overwhelmed with all the newness and getting accustomed to your building. The second year you're still overwhelmed but you have a year under your belt and you start to get in the flow. The third year, you know what you're teaching and have a solid plan of two years of what worked and didn't work that you can pull from. So, from my experience, I think it takes at least three years to fully understand the standards/content that you teach. All of this exists in a perfect world where your standards aren't changing every year, or you're teaching two different sets of standards at the same time, or some of the standards you're teaching are Common Core and some are Indiana standards. We know how that goes, but I digress.

Now, along with the standards, I have also come to the conclusion that it takes about 5 years (no I'm not there yet) to get fully comfortable in a teaching style. When you come out of college, you've read all about the "ideal and perfect" classrooms from your textbooks. You see and read 3,453 best practice articles or videos. You expect your classroom to function like that. Then you get a job. Then you realize that -

  1. Those classrooms don't really exist (Ok. Yes they do, but those teachers who wrote the book make it look extremely easy)
  2. The teachers in the classrooms have been doing this a long time
  3. You have more than 15 kids in your classroom
  4. There is a canyon between your room and the "ideal" rooms
I think we've all been there, but typically those authors of those books are older and very experience teachers. They have probably came to the same conclusions that I mentioned above. What they also did was realize that there was something not right about their teaching. They hadn't found their unique style of what works for them and their students. I would say that the great teachers design lessons and do the things they do because they see a need. Once they see that need, they fill the need. Out of that becomes their style. 

I love integrating technology into my lessons when I can. Why? Yes, I understand that I have love of technology, but at the same time, look around. What doesn't incorporate some sort of technology. I went to SportClips to get my hairs cut. (Yes, I do the "'Did you get a hair cut?' 'Yes' 'Just one or all your hairs?'" joke. I walk in and sign my name in. (I could have downloaded the app and signed in that way, I guess) She pulls up all my hair cut information from last time. I don't remember 3 months ago what type of haircut I had. (Fade. #2 on the sides. Finger-length scissor cut on top. For all of you wanting to know) Technology. Stored in some server far away. There is a need that was being met. Great teachers see the need and then fill the need. 

It also comes down to what you feel comfortable doing. I learned this by coaching basketball. I was an assistant for 9 years before becoming a head coach. As an assistant, you can try a lot of things. You can tweak and borrow and steal from others. But when you're the one calling the shots, you have to be comfortable with the type of system you are running. If you're sitting over on the sideline cringing the entire game because you're not comfortable internally with what your team is doing, it's going to be a nail-biter in more than one way. (Punny!) But if you are comfortable with the system and you teach to the system, then you can coach at ease knowing that your team and you are on the same page. (Getting your players to be on the same page as the coach is a different post, of course. It lies within setting them up for success early on within your system. I just let you in on a secret.) All in all, you must first be comfortable in the driver's seat. You must figure out what works for you and then teach using that system. 

Now, you can't always use the same system. You have to be willing to grow. Over Christmas break, I read Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess. It transformed the way I teach. His system was born out of a need as well. He needed his students to be engaged. What did he do? He started engaging them! Now, he's sharing what he learned and it not only works for him, but it works for his students as well. 

What I'm getting at is that it takes time to understand the What of your content. Once your What is determined, then you need to understand the Why. Understanding the Why makes the lessons go much deeper. You have to move beyond the, "Because it's a standard, that's why." answer. It needs to be applied to life. Then you can start implementing the How. The How must be about the What and Why. 

It takes time to develop these things. It might even be called the culture of you classroom. I don't know. But if you're beginning your career, don't get too frustrated. Press on. Find your system. I think I know why most teachers leave the profession after 3 years. You just have to get through first 5 years. 


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