Be Helpful, and Let Students Help
The first rule you learn as a resident assistant in college or as a first aid responder is to give the people around you a job. When in a stressful situation (like a science classroom on an average Tuesday, let’s say) a teacher can easily be overwhelmed by the daunting number of tasks they need to achieve.
As with first aid and resident assisting, the people around you need to be transformed from needy, attention-hogging stress manufacturers into useful workers that make your life easier. This only happens with clear expectations, concrete jobs, and a solid ‘you scratch my back I scratch yours’ classroom atmosphere.
I don’t do anything in my classroom. Shhh. Don’t tell the board of education. As the year progresses, I have distributors of today’s materials. I have distributors of yesterday’s grades -- only the most responsible and respectful students make the cut of grade distributor, because of FERPA regulations and general discretion. I have projector turner-on-ers and projector turner-off-ers. I have window shade management people. I have people who remind everyone else to do their jobs correctly.
I have bulletin board managers -- usually the highest level students who finish in three minutes. Instead of being bored and distracting other students, they group other students’ bulletin board responses, paraphrase, find, and alert me to common mistakes their classmates make. They pick out particularly fantastic answers and quantify what is fantastic about the answers -- it never ceases to amaze me that the fantastic answers always come from either themselves, their friends, or the prettiest girls in class.
I call errands ‘quests’ because it makes more students volunteer for them. Sometimes, I send the loudest students on the longest quests so that my study hall is smooth and quiet. (This is a great way to conduct a survey and generate authentic data.) (This is a great way to make sure that Friday is calm and nice instead of another battle with Evette the Study Hall Screamer.) My personal favorite quest was to send a very loud student, who frequently distracted all his classmates, around to every ELA classroom to see if anyone had a copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It was the best ninth period Friday ever. No one had the copy of the book, but that was ok because I keep a copy in my basement.
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So much of the writing published about education is published by people who don't teach. I figured it was time for a teacher to write about teaching. I've been proud to teach 8th-grade ELA in Dunkirk City Schools since 2007, and to serve at Fredonia State University as an adjunct professor, teaching educational technology since 2017.