What makes a good (or better yet, great) high school science teacher? This is the first in a series of blog posts that will explore the many facets of being a great teacher and focus on teaching strategies for science. The first stop along the way: classroom management.
Why classroom management?
Well, as anyone who has spent five minutes in a high school classroom can tell you, if you don’t have strong management skills, there is very little learning happening. You can kiss those lofty learning objectives goodbye as it seems your job is no longer that of a teacher, but more similar to that of a fire extinguisher.
What comes to mind when you think of science classroom management?
For some, it may be how to deal with problematic behavior and discipline issues (think: lots of little fires everywhere). And yes, while those are parts of classroom management, they are certainly not the pleasant parts and not really the teaching moments that we are striving for. Yes, we all make mistakes when it comes to classroom management, but it is worthwhile to reflect on our environment and change what we can.
In fact, if you can spend some time proactively organizing your classroom and structuring class time, you will find that negative interactions crop up a lot less.
What makes a good high school science teacher? Great high school science teachers know how to manage a classroom. They create organizational systems and structures that enable students to learn.
Teaching Strategy #1:
Structuring a classroom takes time, but is worth it…
Classroom systems and structure are two areas that may feel like a luxury… maybe you were thrown into a new classroom a day before classes started or you were assigned a surprise (!) prep with literally no time to prep at all. You are just trying to survive in a deep sea of content with little to no control over your physical environment. Hands up if you’ve been there… I certainly have.
No, those situations don’t set you up for success, but they also don’t determine your fate. You can still be a pretty amazing teacher under the most stressful of external circumstances. The key is figuring out how to invest your time. We all know that teachers invest a TON of time in their classes (late nights finding a lesson, lunch breaks grading, and weekends spent prepping). The goal is for you to invest your time in things that will pay off exponentially… for your classroom and for your mental health.
Because if you’ve got your class under control, there will be a lot more learning happening, fewer negative interactions, many more uplifting ones, and this positive feedback loop starts to take hold. Students come in ready to work and learn. You are excited to see your students (and their work). And teaching becomes rewarding.
Every teacher should have the support that they need to build that positive feedback loop in their classrooms, but I know that it is often, sadly, not the norm. I’m so grateful that I’ve had some absolutely amazing and inspiring science teaching mentors along my journey. I want to share with you what I’ve learned (and what I wish I’d known from day 1).
Today, I’ll start with the first two critical areas that you need to examine in your own classroom: organization and structure.
Teaching Strategy #2:
Take the Student Perspective
First, think through what it is like to be a student in your class.
- When a student walks into class, what are they expected to do?
- Where should they place their homework assignment?
- How quickly do they need to turn in their homework?
- What if they have an unanswered question about the assignment?
- After turning in homework, what do they do?
- When can they turn in late homework?
- Can they go to the restroom?
- When should they ask you about missing an upcoming class for a school event?
- What do they do if they were absent?
- Basically, how do they know what to do?
Those are the first 10 questions that came to my mind when thinking of my own classes, but that is by no means an exhaustive list.
There are seriously hundreds of questions that you could ask if you were taking on the role of a student. This is where investing time in thinking through these questions and creating norms, rules, and structure will save you so much more time in the long run. (And, it will also save your sanity.)
You can easily imagine a classroom where students depend on the teacher for every little thing. They don’t get in their seats until the teacher tells them to sit down. Individuals don’t turn in their homework until the teacher tells them it’s time to hand it in (finished or unfinished). The class won’t settle down to start working until, you guessed it– the teacher tells them it’s time to get to work. In this classroom, groups of students are likely to swarm the teacher at the start of class, each trying to explain a particular situation, get a school slip signed, find out about missed work, etc. You get the idea.
So what’s the take-away here?
The moral of the story
What makes a good high school science teacher? It’s actually pretty simple: create organizational systems and structures within your classroom that DON’T depend on you. This enables students to learn on their own and gives kids the opportunity to become empowered learners. Who doesn’t want that?!
Imagine that if you were gone for a day and the sub didn’t show up (because yes, that happens) that your class could function pretty well without you. Wouldn’t that be amazing? It is possible, folks. And that’s part of what makes a great teacher, I think. A great teacher teaches students how to learn on their own. That’s true in science and across the board.
Now, this doesn’t mean you can check out every day (sorry!). And don’t get me wrong– this takes some serious time set aside for brainstorming, fine-tuning, and training (for the students). Lots of it takes place behind the scenes (think some early mornings and late nights especially before you roll out all the new procedures). But it’s totally worth it, and it doesn’t all have to happen on day 1 of a new school year. Hey, give yourself some grace. Persistence is also needed to be a great science teacher.
Check out the next blog post in this series with some of my favorite strategies for classroom management.