Learning to Teach: I’m Sorry

This will be my eighth year teaching, and my third school. I left both of the first two because of declining enrollment, but my new school was built to relieve overcrowding and is already (surprise, surprise) getting overcrowded itself. I shouldn’t be able to screw this one up.

My current school is not a charter or selective enrollment. It’s a neighborhood high school, and we teach the kids that live in our neighborhood. We’re also part of a special network of schools within the district (I’ll talk more about this later, but it isn’t my point here.) One of the things we do is have training academies that use experienced mentor teachers (oh look, me) to develop new resident teachers over the course of a year. So this year, I will have two residents working with me the entire year. We shall call them “Boy” and “Girl”. And I will do my best to talk about my interactions with them, and not them as teachers, as that is not our point, nor is it very nice since they are here to learn and both seem lovely so far.

They have no experience. They don’t have teaching degrees or certificates, and they haven’t student taught before. This is on me. And it’s a little bit terrifying.

Our network has a pretty well developed training program, and does generally a strong job of teacher preparation. The program focuses a lot on classroom management (which is super important, especially in a turnaround school) and routines/structure. I particularly love structure, although I’m not always the best at routines.

So what do I want Boy and Girl to be able to do?

Apologize.

?!?!

Yep. I say apologize because that’s what taking ownership of everything that happens in the classroom often seems to boil down to, and if you’re secure in what you’re doing, it helps everyone. See, I want them to be able to manage a classroom. I want them to give clear directions and have their students follow them. But I would be lying if I said I could do that perfectly every time, and I have a pretty forceful personality.

So I apologize:

“Stop. Put your pencils down. I’m sorry guys, I don’t think I was clear about what we’re supposed to do here. Lets ___”

“I think I messed up yesterday. We’re still having trouble with ___ and I need to do a better job. Can I try again?”

Nobody’s wrong. Nobody’s in trouble. Nobody failed. And if anyone did, it was me. I just should have been clearer. Let me try it again. And calmly, we get there. Without “But you said to…” or “I thought we should”, sincere or not. Put a positive spin on it.

I think if they can do that, and pull it off, they will be so far in classroom management.

Oh, and they need an attention getting signal. Cheesy & elementary school but it totally works.

Do you apologize? How do you keep things positive in your classroom?

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5 responses to “Learning to Teach: I’m Sorry

  1. Thanks for the honesty, I think that I could totally apologize more. I usually am pretty attuned to my students that are not working at it and blame them for their effort. Instead I could apologize for my inability to inspire them. Maybe this would make the, feel like they should take responsibility for their part, the learning.

    • Mary

      It really seems to work for my students, and I think it gets them thinking a little more about their own actions, while giving the class a fault-free restart.

  2. Interesting thoughts. I like how you reframe the situation to take some of the onus off your students. Hopefully you’ll be able to convey it well to your new resident teachers.
    –Lisa

  3. I think I’ve apologized too much sometimes.

    My distress at not being as well-prepared as I’d like to be makes it more obvious. If I wing it well, sometimes those are the best lessons.

    My apologies for not having their work graded focuses them on that.

    I think your apologies are different somehow, but I don’t know how to describe it.

  4. I think I only apologize for what we might call “larger mistakes”, not on what appears could be a daily basis following your example. That is not a criticism, by the way. I have a student teacher this year and I will share this piece of advice with him. We’ll discuss it and talk about times when he or I should have apologized as well as times when we did, and how that went.

    Thanks for the food for thought.

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