My first week of K-6 student teaching was filled with quiet, attentive, orderly students, and I remember it mostly for its peace and calmness. Ahhh….
That’s because the kids were totally engrossed in slideshow pictures and tales from Ms. Taylor’s trip to South Africa!
So my second week, when I was asked to pick a class of kids that I’d like to start teaching, I picked the first grade class. They looked like a safe bet, sitting in the dark looking up at the projector screen, with their tiny legs folded up “criss-cross-applesauce.” And little did I know, I’d just picked a class with some of the most ornery students.
I dove into that class with my lesson plan detailed on paper and locked into my mind. Teaching labs in college, everything went almost exactly as you’d written down…just follow the steps, right? I thought I knew just what pace I would teach at, what questions I would ask the kids, and just about how they respond. That wasn’t how it worked at all for my first lesson! I noticed quickly that the kids were restless and unfocused. I couldn’t seem to capture their attention in the way I’d imagined, and the two hyper ones partnered up and began distracting each other. When it was time to add movements, the class seemed completely crazy. I kept up with the lesson as best I could, and tried to separate the two kids I saw as a “problem,” but I was totally flustered! How could a roomful of first graders seem so intimidating?
After getting some feedback, I was amazed to find out that I had oversimplified the lesson. The kids were capable of much more than I was asking, and their fidgety reaction was a telltale sign. Even the two noisy boys I had separated were actually helping each other out on a partner exercise, and I had separated them right when they were the most engaged. I needed to adjust my teaching so that it was something the students could pay more attention to!
Biggest lesson learned for me: I could write all the detailed lesson plans I wanted, but nothing would replace being totally tuned in to the kids. I learned to let their discoveries and reactions guide the pace of my class. They really want to pay attention to their teacher, and so I should pay just as much attention to them while I teach. Adjusting on the fly made me nervous at first, but I gradually focused less on myself, and much more on the kids in front of me. That made for better teaching…and much more fun!