This is an amazing time to be an educator. If you’re truly of the “lifelong-learning” philosophy, you know that access to resources, professional development, and information in general has made a huge shift. Technology is a key player in this shift. If you missed the memo, the teacher is no longer the sole bearer of information, and the student is no longer the sole receiver. Learning is a multi-faceted experience, and in this era, we’re all learners.
Reflecting on several months of collaborating with my student teacher, Lauren, as well as examining how my own practice has changed and grown within the past year, this blog post has been churning in my brain for a while. Here’s my attempt to brain-dump concisely. While my target audience is implicit in the title, feel free to glean tidbits that are relevant to you regardless of your experience.
A Message to 21st-Century Pre-Service Middle School Math Teachers
1) Know Your Content – Know Your Audience
You may have all the flashy technology in the world, but if your content is not rock solid, none of the bells or whistles matter at all. Has it been a few years since you learned this stuff? Study up – use books, websites, tutorial videos, blogs, and mentors. Information is available at your fingertips literally anytime – tap into that reality intentionally. At the risk of stating the obvious, teaching a concept can be a completely different ball of wax than initially learning it. As you plan, seek the perspective of the students – what do you want them to know and be able to do? What should the student be doing during each minute of your lesson? How will you determine whether they have learned the content you intended to teach? This lesson thing… it’s really not about you, is it?
2) Curate Purposefully
The availability of resources online is endless. This is a blessing and a curse. Let me say that again – this is a blessing and a curse. “Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet.” We expect our students to understand this premise, but this is true for educators too. Best-intentioned teachers go online to find useful resources to supplement lessons, and many teachers are successful in finding just the right resource at just the right time. I’m truly thankful for teachers who share via blogs, Twitter, and Teachers Pay Teachers. There is SO MUCH great stuff out there that has influenced my practice, and grown my students.
There is just as much crap out there. There, I said it.
As the teacher, you are responsible for your students’ learning. You have to know the “standards” and “learning targets” for each lesson. Just because something you found online is visually appealing, or looks fine at first glance, fine-tooth-comb that thing with your learning targets and be sure it meets them and is worthwhile for your students. Work the problems yourself ahead of time – EVERY time. Don’t get caught in front of a class of students with a resource that doesn’t fit, or is riddled with mistakes. Spare your students of crap – quantity does not guarantee quality.
3) Know Yourself – Own Yourself
I hear the voice of my former principal Jackie Santanasto saying something like, the single most influential factor in student learning is the classroom teacher. This general idea was her mantra when I worked with her at Nitschmann Middle School. Think deeply about this statement and the responsibility it entails.
You are a key part of each student’s day. You may be a stable presence in the life of a student whose experiences beyond the school day lack stability. Students look to you as a teacher, but also as a fallible human being. They appreciate authenticity – a “real” person to guide their learning. Decide who you are as a teacher, and own it. Sell it. Be your best you. Have passion and emotion. If you show that you love what you do, that energy is contagious. For the record, negative energy is contagious too. To quote the late Rita Pierson, “Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.”
4) Get Globally Connected to Other Educators
Getting connected has never been simpler than in our current era. Choose your favorite flavor of connectedness – blogs, Twitter chats, Pinterest, Facebook, YouTube, Google+, webinars, and on and on and on. You are not alone. You have ideas worth sharing. You have questions worth asking. Ride the wave.
Learning. Never. Stops.