Thursday, January 27, 2011

Are You a Good Teacher? Quiz Yourself!

If you've read my survival guide for first-year teachers, you will recognize my belief that teaching is a profession that allows us  plenty of opportunities to learn from our mistakes. I know that I have certainly learned a great deal--often in front of a captive audience, too.

Recently I was asked to construct a quiz for teachers who visit one of my favorite Web sites: theApple ( It was easy to think of questions about good teaching, but not as easy to limit the choices to only fifteen questions and even harder to devise answers that were complicated enough to make readers think about their teaching practice. After struggling for a bit, I thought about my first years as a teacher and the many mistakes I made. I had a wealth of material once I took that approach.

You can check out the result and even take the quiz at this link:

If you are not a member of theApple, you really should consider joining.. You'll find it is an enormous teacher forum filled with great advice and helpful suggestions for novice and veteran teachers alike. Since we teachers all spend most of our professional lives in the pursuit of improvement--ours and others'--sites like theApple make it easy for us to accomplish just that.

Whenever I meet someone who wants a teaching position, I always steer them to theApple. The information about interviewing and job seeking is invaluable.

If you have a moment, visit theApple. You will learn a great deal. Oh, and take the quiz. I hope it will help you become a better teacher as well as help you find enjoyment  in the your profession.

After you take the quiz, come back here and let us know how you did. What qualities would you have included in a quiz about good teaching?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

How to Show Your Students that You Care About Them

How important is it to connect with your students in a positive way? Crucial. A productive teacher-student relationship can make a class run smoothly. Without it, nothing will. Students of all ages need to feel that their teachers like them and approve of what they do. Fortunately for teachers everywhere, there are many, many ways to show that you care about your students while still maintaining a professional attitude.

Here are a few quick suggestions for those teachers who want to project a postive, productive attitude while working with students. Please feel free to add your comments! We all learn from each other.

• While you don’t want to be a pushover, try to find common ground as often as you can. The simple act of agreeing with your students as often as you can sets a pleasant and cooperative tone.

• Set responsible behavior limits for everyone, and be fair when you enforce these limits.

• Use a kind voice when you speak with your students.

• Listen to all of your students. Encourage them to share ideas and opinions.

• If one of your students is in the newspaper for something positive, clip out the article and display it.

• Stress the things that you and your students have in common: goals, dreams, and beliefs.

• When a student speaks to you, stop and listen.

• Respond to emails from your students promptly and courteously.

• When you display student work, don’t just display the best. Display everyone’s work.

• Have students create study buddy groups so that they can be connected to other students and to you. Students who feel as if they are part of a class tend to want to remain in school longer than those students who feel isolated.

• Maintain a birthday calendar for your students. Celebrate birthdays with birthday messages on the board.

• Attend school events. If your students play a sport or perform in a concert, go and watch them to show your appreciation for their hard work.

• Use good manners when you deal with your students and insist that they do the same.

• When students confide in you, follow up. For example, if students have told you that they were worried about a test in another class, take the time to ask about how they did.

• Make it very clear to your students that you want to help them achieve their dreams.

• Ask about a student’s family. If you know someone is ill, show your concern.

• Show your sense of humor. Laugh when funny things happen in class—especially when they happen to you.

• Speak to every student each day. Leave no one out of class discussions.

• Write notes to your students. Use plenty of stickers, and write positive comments on their papers.

• Make a positive phone call home when a student’s effort is paying off.

• Pay attention to your students’ health. If students need to go to the clinic, send them. When students have to miss several days because of illness, call to see how they are doing, or send a get-well card. Be prompt in sending work to the student’s home

• Use this sentence to convey your concern: “What can I do to help you?”

• Talk with students when you notice a change in their behavior. For example, if a normally serious student is neglecting his or her work, find out why.

• Take the time to tell your students what you like about them.

• Take photographs of your students. Use these photos on a wall of pride.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Activities that Can Energize Your Students

Are you in a teaching rut? Are your lessons just a little blah? The winter months can be long if you and your students are stuck in routines that are all too predictable. If you find that your students are taking a lackluster approach to their assignments, try something new and fun to help them achieve more. Here are five easy activities that will make learning fun for your students.

Tingo Tango:

Students stand in a circle rapidly passing a soft ball around the circle as the teacher repeatedly says, “Tingo.” At random intervals, the teacher will say “Tango” instead of “Tingo.” The student holding the ball at that point will have to answer a question or call out a fact.

Two Minute Questions:

Pose a question and give students two minutes to write responses before sharing with group members, the entire class, or study buddies.

Whip Around:

Seat small groups of students in circles. Hand each group a sheet of paper and ask one student in each group to write a response to a question or idea about a topic. That student then passes the sheet to the next and so on as quickly as possible in a specified time limit.

Word Splash:

Students generate a list of words associated with a particular unit of study before beginning the unit to increase background knowledge. Students can also be given a list of words to be alert for as they begin studying.

Work Stations:

Students work in various areas of the room at the same time. They perform different tasks at each station. Students do not have to complete the same work or complete it in the same time period. Even older students have fun with this approach to their work.

Now for readers everywhere: what do you do to add a bit of interest to your classes? Share  learning activities that you use to energize your students!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Three Classroom Problems...Three Solutions

One thing is certain: to be a good teacher, you have to be able to solve porblems quickly and with confidence. While most of us are very good at solving serious problems such as covering  massive amounts of curriculum and convincing a roomful of students that we really do have their best interests at heart, sometimes it's the small problems that can be energy zappers. Perhaps the suggestions offered here can help!

Problem 1: Heavy Backpacks Blocking the Aisles

Your school does not have a policy concerning student backpacks. Your students carry around all of their school belongings in backpacks that sometimes seem to weigh more than they do, and their backpacks block the aisles in your class.


This is a problem with two parts that you must handle separately. First, deal with the weight of the backpacks. Then, tackle the issue of the obstructions and disruptions in your class.

Backpack Weight

• This situation certainly requires collaboration with other teachers. When you speak with colleagues, suggest that you stagger homework deadlines so that students can leave some of their belongings in their locker, in the classroom, or at home.

• Talk to your students to let them know how concerned you are about their health and their stress level. Ask for their suggestions on how to solve the problem.

• Consider involving parents in finding solutions.

• Find out why students feel the need to carry so much. Do they need more time to go to their locker? Do they need advice on how to manage their materials?

Obstructions and Disruptions in Your Class

• When students have backpacks in class, expect them to place their backpack under their desk or as close to them as possible in order to leave a safe aisle.

• Take a team approach to keeping backpacks stowed safely. If they are involved in creating the solution, students will be able to police themselves and each other. Working together on the problem will increase the chances of successful resolution.

• See if you can provide a safe place for students to keep their backpacks other than near their desks.

• Teach students that it is disruptive to constantly search for materials in their backpack during class. Encourage them to keep their belongings as organized as possible in order to reduce search time.

Problem 2: Lost Papers

Problem: You hand back a set of homework papers and notice that some of your students do not have their papers. You tell them that you never received their work. They, in turn, assure you that they did the work, turned it in on time, and you must have lost it.


• Be very organized about how you manage student papers. By appearing very organized, you will prevent many false accusations because students will not think that they can take advantage of your disorganization.

• Grade papers and hand them back as quickly as you can. The longer you delay in returning papers, the harder it is to keep track of them.

• If you use an in-basket for students to hand in their work as they finish it, be sure to move their papers to a labeled folder before the next class can add theirs to the stack.

• If you are unable to check a set of papers within a day or two, at least check to make sure all students have turned in work. This will preclude any surprises for students who are expecting to receive graded papers.

• Do not be absolute in denying your guilt. Instead, try to solve the problem by first asking students with missing papers to check their own notebooks or lockers to see if they could have taken them from the room accidentally. If the papers do not turn up, then offer the students more time to redo the work and turn it in.

Problem 3: Students Without Supplies or Materials

Problem: Some of your students have problems keeping up with their materials. They come to class without pencils, pens, papers, or books. You find yourself growing increasingly frustrated as you wait for students to borrow the necessary tools to do their work, wasting valuable instructional time.

Off-task behavior and discipline problems are just two of the things that can go wrong when students come to class unprepared. Keeping extra supplies on hand will help you avoid many problems. You should implement a system that works for you and your students—one where students can settle quickly to work without fuss. You can do this without having to spend a fortune of your own.

Try to have extra textbooks on hand to lend to students if they forget theirs. When you lend a book to a student, make sure the student writes his or her name on the board or another safe place so you have a record of where the books are. You could also assign a responsible student to be in charge of issuing and collecting borrowed texts. Other teachers have found that expecting students to provide collateral is also effective.

If missing pens or pencils are a problem, set up a system where students can borrow from a shared bank of supplies. Here’s how:

Step 1: Select one or two students to be in charge of the supplies bank.

Step 2: Ask every student to donate a new pen or pencil.

Step 3: Mark the pens and pencils with a number.

Step 4: When students need to borrow a pen or pencil, the students who are

in charge of the bank can record the number and the name of the student who borrowed it.

Step 5: The students who distribute the supplies are also the ones who should remind the borrowers to return them at the end of class.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Eleven Quick Tips to Help You Be a Better Teacher

Sometimes we all just need a quick reminder to get on track and stay on track. Maybe there's a reminder you can use in this list of quick tips. These tips are not about teaching, but rather about the business of being a teacher,

  1. Plan your lunches. Stock up on items that are easy to toss into your lunch bag as you rush out the door: cheese sticks, crudités with hummus, fruit cups, apples, nuts, the teachers’ staple: peanut butter, crackers, plenty of water, green tea, and anything else that you find enjoyable and healthful.
  2.  Dress the part. Even on casual Fridays, you should not dress as if you just finished mowing the lawn.
  3. Plan how you are going to manage the intense stress levels that can occur when you have too much to do and too little time. Even simple actions such as a brisk walk, a completed to-do list, or getting enough sleep will make it easier for you to enjoy your school days.
  4. Take your successes home with you, but leave your problems at school.
  5. Don’t listen to those teachers who are negative.
  6. Act confidently.
  7. Over plan.
  8. Start your day with a neat desk. End with a neat desk.
  9. Use a digital recorder or write notes. You won’t remember.
  10. Wear comfortable shoes.
  11. Be early. Stay a bit late. You will feel better if you give 100%+ while you are at school.