What Do Teachers Do?

As I’ve been working with my intern this winter, I’ve realized, once again, just how much teachers have to do/think about/know at any given moment.

1.) When I stand in front of my class, giving direct instruction, I have to constantly monitor the faces and actions of my students.  I need to not only make sure their eyes are open, I also “read” their facial expressions to see if I need to explain something differently.  I also need to make sure they are sitting up, not writing, doing homework, playing video games, etc.

2.) As I stand there, I need to keep an eye on the clock.  Each day, I HAVE to get through certain lessons and assignments.  My curriculum is scripted, which means if I don’t get through today’s lesson, tomorrow’s is impacted, and so on.  This means I need to make sure I’m completing the parts of the lesson on time.  So, I’m constantly checking the time to see how much time I have left (I also need to know if I’m going much faster than usual, which means I better have a back up plan!)

3.) I need to give students enough directions so they can complete whatever task I assign, but don’t give so much that they get bogged down.  I noticed my intern was giving them several questions to discuss at once.  Now, a group of high school or college students might be able to handle that, but 12 year olds cannot.  When we’re discussing the reading they have done, I need to explain what the question is asking, and keep it short.  Too much and they get lost in the words.

4.) I also need to prepare well.  This means, I better know how to pronounce all the words, I better know what they mean, and I definitely need to have read the passage in advance.  In addition, I need to know what the questions are getting at and how they relate to what we discussed yesterday and what we will discuss tomorrow.  This is especially noticeable in interns, since they often don’t believe they need to spend much time preparing.  They think (incorrectly) that because the curriculum is scripted, they can just use the book.  Then they are caught in front of the students, unsure where to go next.

5.) I need to remember which students need to be called on to keep them engaged and which students would be horrified to be called on.  I need to remember which students need to be strategically ignored and which ones I should call out for their behavior.  I need to remember which special ed students will be coming in partway through class and be ready to help them assimilate into the lesson.

6.) I need to keep track of which students I have called on.  It’s easy to call on the same students time after time.  There are always a couple of students who always raise their hands.  If I’m not careful, they’ll dominate the discussion and keep other students from being engaged.

7.) I have to use various strategies for engaging my students.  By changing it up, students are more engaged.  Any time you do the same thing time after time, we all shut down.  It’s important to stay out of the ruts that we can easily fall into.  However, I think humans are genetically programmed to fall into ruts, so it’s tough to fight against that natural inclination.

All of this is going on every time I’m up there teaching.  This is only one part of teaching.  It’s amazing to me, what we have to do, all the time!  Thank goodness a teacher’s brain is up to it!


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