For the past seven weeks I have participated within an internship at Hays Consolidated Independent School District’s Dahlstrom Middle School with my mentor teacher, Mrs. Bandy. I have been observing and working with her first and third period 8th grade art classes and her second and fourth period 7th grade classes. I have also taught the occasional fifth period 7th grade class. From this beginning opportunity to teach and work with students first-hand, I have observed my own strengths and weaknesses and can use this fresh knowledge to help become a more successful and effective educator in the future.
While working with the students, I have found that I tend to focus on optimism. When students feel that they can’t accomplish something, I point out something they can accomplish and provide ways that they can integrate their strengths in order to help with their weaknesses. I also used positive Anticipatory Sets when I delivered my lesson plan. I created a lesson plan that would help students work through their problems by illustrating them within an abstract painting. To begin the activity, each student wrote the name of something or someone that supports him with his problem on a gray slip of paper that was cut out to look like a brick. Each student then pasted his “brick” on a poster to create a class “Wall of Support.” On a previous day, I had the students write down their problems and shred them to pieces to symbolically symbolize the removal of that problem from affecting our lives. These activities highlighted the positives within our lives and showed that we can use art to help us work through our problems.
I feel that I am skilled at having students review information that they have previously learned and connect current learning with prior knowledge. I find myself constantly questioning students, even when lecturing, to have them interact with me, stay focused, and make the instruction more like a dialect than a lecture. Whenever students ask me, “Does this look good?” I always ask them what they think. After telling me what they think of it, I then ask questions about if they met the criteria, or how they think they could improve the artwork. I believe that I have a student-centered teaching style, which I think benefits the students and helps them to direct their own learning.
I also believe that I have a creative talent that allows me to create interesting lessons that can retain my students’ focus. When I was preparing for my second period lesson during my first period, my 8th grade students saw the materials for the lesson and began questioning me.
“Ooh, what are those?! Is that what we’re going to be doing next?” one student inquisitively asked.
“No, unfortunately this is for the 7th grade class next period,” I responded.
“What?! I didn’t do that last year!”
“Ah, well this is the lesson that I designed; it’s not one of Mrs. Bandy’s.”
“Aww, I wish you could teach us a lesson…”
Although I was sad that the 8th graders weren’t going to be able to partake in my lesson, it did give me encouragement that I’m able to create interesting and intriguing lessons that students actually want to partake in. I also feel that my creativity allows me to create eye-catching and easy-to-read PowerPoints and fun and energizing Anticipatory Sets that allow the students to interact with each other and move about the classroom. Thinking about the students, I always try to plan something that will allow them to move and speak, since most of their class days are occupied with instruction to sit and be quiet. From this knowledge, I will strive to base the majority of my instruction around student-centered learning and provide many opportunities for students to interact with the lessons.
Because I have a student-centered teaching style, I also try to modify my teaching to fit each student’s needs. I have made the effort to learn each student’s name and to learn about their lives. I know some of my students’ interests and hobbies, the fact that they recently moved to a new house, or even their favorites music or video games. I have also tried to speak with the students between passing periods or wave to them when I pass them in the halls. During instruction, I allow all students to participate and try to call on the ones who are less eager to speak up. If a student seems to be struggling, I will guide him with easier questions. I focus on allowing every student to participate and be involved within my lessons. I believe that recognizing each student as an individual and getting to know him on a personal level is incredibly important in furthering his education and making him feel able and appreciated.
Because I believe that fostering a supportive classroom environment promotes student learning, I strive to include all of my students in an inclusive community. By learning my students’ names and using them as I talk with them or call on them, I demonstrate that I care about getting to know my students and view them as individuals. I also focus on reaching my students as individuals, noting that some students will need to be called on in order to focus during a lecture while others enjoy participating often. As I mentioned earlier, I attempt to ask struggling students guiding questions to help lead them to the correct answers, while also teaching thought-processes so that the students will be better able to self-direct in the future. In a classroom full of a variety of students, it is imperative to reach each of them individually.
Making sure that each person feels valued is another important factor in creating a community. I want all of my students to have the opportunity to speak in class, so I ask that students raise their hands to speak and make sure that the class is quiet and listening when that person speaks. When there is class chatter when a student is speaking, I ask the class to mute their voices and allow the student to repeat what was said. I want my students to realize that each person’s thoughts and ideas are important. I also present this idea within my anticipatory set. After each student wrote the name of someone or something that helps support him through his problems, I instructed them to place their writings on a poster to create a class “wall of support.” I informed students to place their writing on a blank section of the poster and not to cover up the writing of another student because every student is important and has something to contribute. We wouldn’t have a complete class “wall of support” without each student’s contribution and no student’s contribution is any more valuable than another’s.
Finally, I believe that in order to receive respect, one must give respect. I aim to treat all of my students with respect as I act professionally and politely. I try to thank my students for their participation and attention and ask for their focus with an added “please.” During my instruction, I apologized to Ryan when I mistook him for Evan, showing him that I recognized that I made a mistake and that I can make errors when learning names. If students respect the instructor, they will be more inclined to behave, pay attention, accomplish objectives, and ultimately learn. Respect is a key trait within a successful learning environment.
From this experience, I have witnessed ways in which I can improve my instruction to better suit my students and allow them to learn from my lessons.
I believe that there are several ways that I could modify my instruction to benefit my students. Naturally, I speak quickly. This may prove difficult for some students to follow, especially my English Language Learners as they may struggle to keep pace or to interpret words at the rate that I speak them. It may also challenge native English speakers when speaking about foreign or new concepts. With this new realization, I will challenge myself to keep pace of my speech and to speak more slowly. This new speed may also help my grammar and annunciation as there were brief moments when I tripped over my own words or spoke in an incorrect manner using incorrect sentence structure. By slowing down and focusing more on what I am saying, I should be able to simplify my messages and improve my communication.
Time management seems to be a weakness of mine, as well. In one instance, I ended class a few minutes before the bell rang, creating several minutes of wasted time in which students socialized and waited for class to end. Although this time was only three to four minutes long, it could have been better utilized. Other instances, however, I gave students the rest of class to work on an assignment only to have the bell ring shortly afterwards. This did not give the students much time to work and meant that they would need class time from a future class to finish the assignment. This also meant that closure was not given appropriately in some class periods. As the class periods progressed, I found myself better able to manage time, but managing time appropriately is still something that I need to practice.
Lastly, I feel that my classroom management skills could be improved. There were several moments throughout my lessons in which students would talk amongst themselves or even call out inappropriately in an obtrusive manner. By improving my sense of classroom awareness and better utilizing body language and proximity, I should be able to retain my students’ attention more successfully. I need to focus on reaching my less-attentive students and possibly work on my movement about the room during instruction. I found that I tend to stay in the same position when instructing and only tend to circulate the classroom during individual work. By circulating during all forms of instruction, I can better train my students to remain attentive and focused.
This teaching opportunity has given me the chance to learn from experience in preparation of teaching my own classroom of students. I have learned of my strengths and weaknesses, have noticed my attention to fostering a supportive learning environment amongst my students, and have devised ways that I can improve my instruction. I now have newfound knowledge of my own teaching styles and preferences and can now better utilize my talents while focusing on overcoming my challenges. Because of this performance opportunity, I feel better prepared to teach.