Monday, August 31, 2009

You Can’t Teach Them Until You Know Them

Most teachers spend the last precious days of their summer vacations readying their classrooms to usher in the new school year. As they write out labels with names like Suzanne Ormond and Michael Calliente, they wonder about who these children are. What will they be like? How will I teach them? What will I teach them?

Our nature as industrious human beings makes us eager to get started. Over the summer, you might have read an idea that you want to try out or maybe you took a class and saw a strategy that you are dying to use. But before you dive headfirst into your curriculum, take the time to get to know your students.

What are they interested in? How do they feel about reading and writing? What are they excited about? What makes them feel nervous? What are their hopes and goals for this year? What do they seem to be able to do? What do they seem to struggle with?

For those of you worried about what you will teach this year’s students, fret not. You cannot know what to teach until you know who you are teaching. September is a time for learning the needs of the new group of students who sit before you. Great instruction reflects what good researchers we are and not until we know them will we be ready to teach them.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Curriculum Refuse

My good friend once said to me that in the life of a teacher, July is like Saturday, a time for relaxing and regrouping; and August is like Sunday, a time to start thinking about and preparing for work.

Well, it’s here. It’s August. While many of us are still enjoying outings to the beach and riding roller coasters with our hands up, in the corner of our minds, we are entertaining thoughts of September. We are thinking about unpacking dust-covered books and decorating bulletin boards and readying our classrooms for the first day of school. In addition, we are organizing our materials, paging through professional resources, and thinking about what we will teach this year.

So many teachers start the school year with good intentions. We vow that children will read independently every day. We promise to make time each day for writing. We will conference and assess and plan meaningful instruction. But then, we have our first faculty meeting and we receive the laundry list of directives for this school year. Then, there’s the pressure of back-to-school night and parent-teacher conferences and report cards. Next, it’s prepping for the ELA, the math assessment, the Terra Nova, and whatever other standardized tests are coming down the line.

There go our good intentions.

Feeling like there is too much on our plates is a common lament. As you start this school year, I urge you to keep your eye on your best intentions. Years ago, I heard Lucy Calkins speak about making time for the teaching you know is important. She said that sometimes, “you have to take carloads of curriculum to the dump.”

As you sift through your thoughts and plans and ideas for this school year, think carefully about what you do. If you’re not sure if a piece of your curriculum is worth keeping, ask yourself this question: How does this benefit my students? If you can’t think of at least three good reasons, take it to the dump.