The importance of new teachers learning from seasoned veterans

I’m currently in the midst of my 7th year of teaching, and as we move into a new year, I’ve been reflecting on my education career thus far. I cannot believe how much I have grown as a teacher since my first year; honestly, I wouldn’t even recognize that guy if I were able to go back in time and sit in on one of my earlier classes. My classroom management skills would have been cringeworthy and hard to stomach (full disclosure: I don’t recall going over my expectations at the start of the year with my first class). I’m positive that the units and lessons that my students experienced were somewhat disjointed, even though they most certainly were put together with the best of intentions. The way I taught writing back then – both argument and narrative – looks absolutely nothing like how I teach it now (thankfully).

Quite simply, I’ve improved. I’ve been a reflective educator for seven years now, and it’s definitely paying off. I’ve taken well-researched and effective pedagogical strategies from countless professional learning opportunities as well as social media and implemented them into my classroom. My students today are getting far better reading and writing instruction and supports today than they were 7 years ago.

I’m also so much better at managing classroom behaviors now it’s not even funny.  During my initial year of teaching middle school, I was blessed to have two veteran colleagues in rooms both next to and across from mine, and I picked their brains daily on how they would have handled scenarios that were surfacing in my class.  We were working in a high-poverty Title I school where being able to manage a classroom was critical to being an effective teacher, and these two women were absolute professionals. For the entire year, I was a sponge soaking up as much as I could from my coworkers, and I am eternally grateful for all they taught me about running an effective lesson. My second year, my classroom was far less chaotic and WAY more learning occurred. By my third year, I was even better.

I know that high-stakes testing can be a nasty word in education, but I do like to look at the growth that my students are making and use it as one piece of data when I’m assessing the job that I am doing.  My first year of middle school was my first year of teaching a grade level that took an end-of-year assessment, and my students experienced a growth percentile of 50, which is smack dab in the middle: 50% of my students outgrew their peers, while 50% did not. These results were pedestrian on my part, and I am by no means proud of them.

However, the next year my growth percentiles were in the 60s. The following year they hovered between 60s and 70s, and then they started to routinely be in the high 60s, 70s and 80s; for multiple years now, the majority of my students have been achieving high-growth on their end-of-year assessments.

I’m not telling you this to toot my own horn; I’m providing this information to prove a point: when I began teaching, I really wasn’t that great, but through a lot of hard work, learning and reflection, I’ve improved a lot as an educator, which makes me more valuable to my students.

Veteran teachers were HUGE contributors to my growth as an educator, and that’s something that not enough new teachers understand. Believe me, I remember going into my first year thinking that I was going to be the one to make learning exciting again. I’d seen the movie “Dangerous Minds”; I was going to be Michelle Pfeiffer. I came into teaching thinking that I knew best how to create a successful learning environment; I saw older teachers as “stuck in their ways” and unable to connect with students.

But now that I’m a veteran teacher, I realize just how wrong I was back then. My absolute favorite part of being a teacher is still unequivocally the relationships that I get to form with all of my various students. Even in year seven, that hasn’t changed one bit. I want all the same things for my students that I did when I was first starting out, but now, I understand how to make those things more accessible to them.

I suppose my reason for writing this reflection is to encourage first-year teachers to find that mentor on the hallway that you can learn from on a daily basis. Notice how teachers in your school interact with students, and find the one that seems to be engaging them positively on a near constant basis, both in the classroom as well as in the hallways. Locate that teacher that has classes that routinely engage in lively, on-topic discussions. Find these people within your school and LEARN from them. Ask them questions as often as you can. I promise it will make you a better educator, which will make you better for your students. The teachers at your school that have been doing this for a while have something that is immeasurable, something that cannot be taught to you in any preservice program, and that is EXPERIENCE.

Use Edpuzzle to enhance student engagement

I use Youtube a lot in my classroom, especially when I’m introducing new concepts.  It’s a great way to differentiate how I present content to students.  I’m a realist. I understand that a Youtube video at times is more interesting to my students than the sound of my voice.  Especially when we are examining some of the less exciting 7th grade state standards: sentence types, coordinate adjectives and misplaced and dangling modifiers.  A lecture on any of those aforementioned topics is not going garner the attention of my students for an incredibly long period of time.

Shmoop makes A LOT of highly-engaging educational videos.  Shmoop’s content is witty, fast-paced and full of attractive graphics.  I’ve used a number of Shmoop videos over the years to pique my students interest into a mini lesson focused on grammar, which is probably your average 7th grader’s least favorite segment of English Language Arts.

However, I’ve noticed this year that while my students appear to be watching the videos that I show them in class, I’m not sure that they are learning from them. Our students today go to the internet for the majority of their entertainment needs. They use Youtube to watch television shows, movies, sports highlights and recorded video game sessions.  While learning from a Youtube video may seem like a novel idea to a Generation Xer like myself, I’m starting to wonder if these videos are starting become white noise to some of my students.  If that is the case, that’s a problem.

Fortunately, there is a solution. Enter Edpuzzle, a free educational technology company that allows teachers to customize videos and tailor them towards their students.  I feel it’s important at this point to mention that I currently work in a district that is one-to-one with technology, meaning that every student that I teach is issued a laptop computer from the district that they can use for the school year.  If I worked in a district where computers were harder to come by, then Edpuzzle may not be practical.  However, if it’s not difficult for you to get computers into the hands of your students, then you must give this website a try the next time you want to show a video that introduces content in your class.

Edpuzzle allows teachers to create assignments for their students using videos from sites like Youtube.  Once a teacher decides upon a video that they want to use in class, they can upload it to Edpuzzle, and then embed multiple choice questions, short response questions or a combination of both inside the video.  These questions make the instructional videos highly interactive for students.  My kids have to pay attention to the content because they are being asked questions as they watch, and they know that I will be grading their responses (actually, Edpuzzle grades them for you if they are multiple choice).

Not only does using Edpuzzle put more of the responsibility of learning on the students, but it also serves to enhance retention.  Rather than just consuming a video, students using Edpuzzle must process the information.  If I watch a 4 to 5 minute video covering a new concept, I’m most likely not going to remember much more than a few details.  However, if I’m forced to respond to questions throughout, some of which require me to type out my thoughts, I’m definitely going to recall more of what was shown to me.  Anecdotally speaking, I’ve seen a uptick in classroom participation after my students have viewed an Edpuzzle video.  Last week, I had kids in each of my classes that never raise their hands telling their classmates the differences between independent and dependent clauses.  Had I simply just shown that same video to my students on the overhead, I’m positive that those students would not have participated in those discussions.

This week I’m using some of my mini lessons to cover coordinate adjectives. I know, I know, thrilling stuff. However, we are just two weeks away from the end of the year assessments, and I like to save the last few weeks before them to cover some of the more mundane standards, so that I can use the rest of the school year to read books, talk about books and write about books.

Anyhow, here’s the video I’ll be using.  Feel free to check it out. I did not create the video; I simply pulled it into Edpuzzle and put some questions into it.  I’m hopeful that it will serve as a helpful introduction into this topic for my students on Monday.