So the first few years of my teaching career were pretty rocky. Classroom management became a big focus, and I worked hard to strengthen that area. While addressing the whole group, I had to start giving kids clear and direct instructions about whatever task that they are doing, and cracked down hard on any side conversations or distractions. It has never been total lockdown because I want to encourage talking about the material while they are working and I’m circulating, but that is a stark contrast to the few times when I’m up in the front. Once kids start fooling around I have flashbacks of some of first years of difficult teaching and use all the tools in my bag (wait time, teacher stare, presence, etc.) to get everybody quiet and listening.
And then this happened…
So today I was explaining the next steps that everyone needed to take in order to use google sheets. They were supposed to get their computers to go to this bit.ly link, then go to the file menu and make a copy, and rename it with their name and then if they get finished early, help their neighbor. So I got the class quiet, I said the steps that they had to do, and I asked them if they had any questions. Everyone remained quiet. So then after the silence they went about looking at their computer and getting busy.
I walked around to help people and ended up spending longer than I liked going desk-to-desk helping people. The things that I was helping with were clearly things they might have had questions about that would have been good to asked to the whole group. Some kids were wondering what bit.ly even was, or had trouble connecting their computer to the internet. It took a little longer than I intended.
After we got everybody on the google doc I wanted to walk everybody through how to use the spreadsheet to make a chart. I got the class quiet, talked through the information, and asked if there were questions. Again, silence.
“Are you guys like scared of me? I am asking if you have questions and nobody is saying anything. Am I intimidating or something?”
“Yeah!!” a few students exclaimed as others nodded their head.
A quiet student in the back said “You’re Scary!”
We shared a nice moment of understanding where each other was coming from, and then we had a pretty open talk about what people needed to do with the computer for the rest of the class.
I realized that I need new practices to encourage student voice
The fact that students had trouble asking questions about some concrete computer tasks, these same students certainly wouldn’t feel comfortable asking about complex math concepts. While part of me was proud that I had come so far from the first year teacher with bad classroom management, another part of me was really concerned that now I had to come back the other direction and create a more open and discussion-friendly classroom. Before I thought that if students were in an environment free of the “funny business”, then students would be free to discuss, but now it seems that I need to do more to encourage students to feel comfortable asking questions when the don’t understand. I guess that’s the profession, once you figure something out in your teaching, it’s only a matter of time before you have to start fixing it.
How do you encourage students to speak up when they might not know something?