Spring has sprung and after eight months I finally made it to the legendary bar Via Lactea last week to have a drink with a friend. I have to wonder what made me take so long to hit that famous spot, but, then again, Madrid is alive and pulsating and there is always something new to do or discover. We only have four months left here and I want to squeeze every last drop I can from this city. Plus it was a good pour, which is very important.
A lot of your happiness here is going to be contingent upon you, but also your practicum. Let’s face it, the majority of your time and energy will be spent with your students and co-teachers. Your classes are going to take a lot out of you, but that’s just the name of the game. I always tell my non-teacher friends that even if you’ve had an excellent day with your students and achieved all of your learning goals, you’re still exhausted at the end of the day. Students just take up that much energy. Also, you will find yourself talking about your students with your friends over drinks and Whatsapp. You’ll easily bring up Nacho who will not stop talking, or Lucia who speaks three languages and has a pretty smile. You’ll also bring up how Diego hugged you after he made a goal at recess, or how Paula told you all the gossip from last year’s field trip. It’s important to build a relationship and rapport with your students, but you are not just their confidant: You are their instructor, mentor, and leader. Take this seriously.
My mother is a high school history teacher. I remember loving my second grade teacher, and one day I came home very upset because she reprimanded me in class (probably for talking…). My mother swiftly and calmly replied, “Jonathan, she’s your teacher. She’s not your friend.” I have never forgotten that and have incorporated that mindset heavily into my methodology. Yes, be connected with your students, but you’re not their friend and you are there to guide them on a learning journey.
You may have some trouble establishing yourself and your authority as the teacher at the outset, so I’ve compiled a quick list of tips and tricks that have helped me out a lot in my teaching practices. Take into account that these kids get a new auxiliar every year, so understand how they might roll their eyes and think “here we go again.” That’s just a result of the system and has nothing to do with you. Let’s jump into our tips and tricks list with a review of last week’s post:
- Be patient
- Be open to learn
- Be open to cultural differences
- Communicate openly
- Be consistent
Now that we’ve done our scaffolding, let’s go:
- Set clear expectations about what students are to do and how they are to behave.
Students will not automatically know what to do or how to act unless you spell it out for them in language that they understand. Over-explain everything if you have until the expectations are learned and instilled in your classroom. That’s called building a classroom culture. Take time to work on establishing your routines and expectations because, because I promise you this: Unless your classroom is under control, no learning will be had. Routines and expectations faltering are using the reason why first-time activities go awry or poorly. Communicate with your students openly at their level. They’ll get it. It may take you until January, but stay strong and consistent. The maxim of all teaching is “Don’t be nice until Christmas.” Keep at it.
- Don’t make empty threats.
Kids are not stupid and will catch you in a lie or when you are bluffing. Do not make empty threats and not follow through. If you say that you are going take away five minutes of recess, then do it, no matter how badly you’re going to feel. Give your word wisely, or you’ll undermine and discredit your own authority very quickly.
- Make a rules contract and carry it with you to class to be displayed whenever you are teaching.
Make a list of kid-friendly (er, level-friendly) expectations with your children and have them sign it as a contract. Have only a few short rules, but make them meaningful and spend a class period discussing what each rule means. The children will sign it as a contract agreeing to these behavioral expectations, and it will be your tool to hold them accountable for their behaviors. Hang it up every time you teach where students can see it. You may need to have a different one for each class you teach.
- Write a to-do list on the board for every class activity.
This way students have a visual reminder of what they are supposed to be doing now, after, and later. Those are clear expectations of what is to be completed during class work time. Something so simple like this will save you a lot of trouble and grief, and students following written instructions is an important skill to develop. You may not see a lot of teachers do this in Spain, but do yourself a favor and grab the chalk.
- If need be, write in print and not cursive.
You can just write this tip off it you want, but in the USA we learn Delinean cursive while in Spain they learn a different style. Students may have trouble reading your handwriting, but maybe not! Every class is different.
- Use your Quiet Power.
For the love of all that is good, do not yell or square up with your kids. It’s unnecessary and unproductive. It only adds fuel to the fire and escalates the situation. Try whispering your instructions or even using pantomime to communicate. Make it like a game! Also try self-interrupting mid-sentence when a student is misbehaving to quietly call and redirect their attention. Don’t be the noisy one! We’re trying to lower class volume, not add to it. Be as least invasive as possible with your redirecting behaviors, like tapping a student on the shoulder when he’s talking or lightly tapping on their desk. Walk around the classroom while students are working as well so as to establish a constant presence and let students know that you do see and hear them.
- Use clapping games or songs when trying to get the whole class’ attention.
There are several, so look up some songs and attention-grabbing things you can do. For example, I use a lot of snaps when I give instructions, and clapping games are always fun to reset the class or grab the class’ attention for further instructions. This is a much better and more effective alternative to raising your voice. Remember, you want everything to be as positive and calm as possible.
- Don’t overdo it with rewards and prizes.
A big part of education is developing self-efficacy in students. Do not bribe them to work. You want to set expectations and have them meet them independently because they see the need for them. Do not reward students for completing tasks that they are expected to do. Rewards and prizes are fun and come in a variety of forms (privileges, line-leading, stickers, candy, etc.) but don’t get carried away. This is school and we are all expected to work.
Above all, show no fear when teaching. You’re the teacher and what you say goes! Be logical with your students and explain to them why you’re doing what you’re doing and why your behavioral expectations are what they are. Remember to meet your students where they are and foster their growth via your content. You will have a grand variety of personalities and learning needs and you will need to cater to each individual one. Sometimes Maria would rather finish her notebook assignment for the day without you talking to her, which Pablo would rather ask you what seem like a thousand questions. It’s okay. Every student is different. During this practicum just stay firm to what I told you: Be adaptable, open-minded, consistent, and strong.
I have two more classes and a tutoring session to get to, so I must leave you now, gentle readers. I somehow need to make it to the gym today also to burn off yesterday’s lasagna I had for lunch. Here’s hoping a beach trip is in order sometime soon in this newfound warm weather of ours…y’all already know that only going to Bilbao in July isn’t going to cut it.
Hasta la próxima.