Sunday, July 27, 2014

An open letter to a young teacher who has only taught online courses and is now getting ready to teach a "face-to-face" class at the university level.

Betsy, I understand that you will be privileged to have the opportunity to teach in a “live” classroom this fall, face to face with students! What a treat for your students to have someone with your expertise and knowledge as their teacher. And what a treat for you to be able to meet with and to interact with real students!

Teaching is like any other skill: no one expects you to be perfect, practice makes you better, and when you fall - stand back up, brush off your knees, and keep going! Keeping a smile on your face and an honest sense of humor helps, too. I have put down a few thoughts about foundations of effective teaching. Teaching is a skill and an art. There is lots to it. I am hoping that as you read over what I have written here, that you might “pick up a pearl” and get a new idea or have a fresh thought that might help you in some small way. I would LOVE to answer any questions that you might have at any time (now or while you are teaching the class), and I have many good ideas about how to answer any questions or problems that you might run into. Effective teaching is my passion. Please feel free to use me as a resource for anything at all. I wish you well on this new adventure! - Kathy Granas 


"Face-to-face" is the key difference between online teaching and live, classroom teaching. Embrace the opportunity to be physically present with the learners. This provides a chance to build relationship, trust, engagement, enthusiasm, motivation, and learning interest that is powerful and definitely enhances both the learning for the students and the teaching for you.

When teaching in the online classroom, the “culture” of your classroom has been established by the structure of the online website. In setting up the website, the university has set forth the guidelines, rules, procedures, atmosphere, and learning routine for the learning experience, both for the teacher and for the students. In the face-to-face classroom, there is more flexibility in establishing the “culture” of your classroom. And YOU, as the teacher, are responsible for creating much of this. 

First, make sure that you have received any and all training and expectations from the university for your face-to-face classroom. This may include procedures such as taking attendance, dealing with tardies or students who leave class before the designated ending time, breaks allowed during the class time, and possibly behavior allowed during class.

General things to think about and plan for as you look ahead to teaching in the face-to-face classroom for the first time:

You are actually going to be managing a classroom, not simply dispensing knowledge. You should evaluate the physical, psychological and professional environment in which you will be teaching and review your own attitudes and expectations for effective classroom management. A well-managed classroom environment is important to facilitating the learning process. Effective classroom management helps create an environment in which learning can take place.

Experiences - 
 Think about your prior teaching experiences, your previous student population in terms of socio-economic statute, achievement level, and discipline.

Management stye - 
 Think about which best characterizes your management style -
   authoritative - teacher in charge and accountable for class behavior
   permissive - students given opportunities for self-determination to develop social skills
   tentative - not quite sure which is “best” process, a little concerned about which way to go
   collaborative - students and teacher equally responsible for setting standards of behavior                        
   spontaneous - things will go well if you leave students along and handle problems as they arise
   eclectic - use a little of this and a little of that in a timely fashion  
   dependent - will handle behavior problems the same way they were handled when you went to
    school or follow the lead of the teacher next door  

Your style characteristics -
 Think about your temperament (easy-going, sense of humor, down to business, nervous)
 Think about your reaction to noise levels
 Think about your style of communication with and among students
 Think about your style of record-keeping
 Think about your housekeeping habits (“neatnik” or loosely organized)

Regarding student assignments - 
 Think about how you will handle grading, does neatness count?, late assignments?, extra credit?

Regarding attendance -
 Think about yourself - what if you are absent? late? have a personal conflict affecting your attendance? need a substitute?
 Think about your students - what if they are late or absent or need to leave early?

Regarding your relationship with your peers - 
 Do you have a fellow teacher to whom you can go for advice?
 Do you feel free to ask for help from other peers?

Regarding your relationship with administration -
 Do you feel that your administrator is a supportive resource?
 Have you received help or advice regarding ways of managing your classroom?
 What are your feeling about your autonomy as a decision-maker?
 What are university policies on discipline? (If you don’t know, find out.)

Regarding the culture of your classroom -
 What are your expectations for your classroom as a learning environment?
 Will you be lecturing most of the time? Will students work together in small groups at times?
 Will you be using an overhead projector with a laptop? Will you be using a dry erase board?
 Will you be using chart paper?
 How will you arrange the furniture in your classroom to support your learning activities?
 Will students be allowed to use laptops, iPads, iPhones during class?
 Will they be allowed to take/make phone calls, emails, and/or text during class?
 How will you determine the pacing and agenda of your class?
 How will the syllabus be shared with students?
 How will you determine the timing for each class (presentation time, discussion time, question/answer time, student group work time, breaks, going over assignments, etc.)?
 When you plan, you might wish to have several versions for each class - a shorter agenda in case the discussion goes longer, for example, and you run out of time for what you had planned; a longer agenda in case the discussion goes shorter and you have extra time!
 How will you actively keep track of how well the students are keeping up with you and with the content they are being presented with?
How will you hold them accountable for their learning?
 How will you gather feedback during and at the end of each class so that you know what you might do to adjust the pacing and agenda of your class to better meet the learning needs of your students?

Thinking through ahead of time about your personal style and thinking through ahead of time about how you plan to manage your classroom are important because you want to make sure that you provide for:
 •your students’ sense of fairness and well-being,
 •a positive learning environment, and
 •assurance that the university rules and policies will be followed.
The more that you can communicate your style and your expectations to your students, the better able they will be to understand and meet your expectations. 

Students need:
 •a sense that they are making progress with their learning
 •a sense that they have some control
 •a sense that what they are learning is related to them and to their interests.

A teacher can meet these needs by providing
 •structure - consistent rules and procedures with consequences for inappropriate behavior
           - an organized and prepared environment for learning, student engagement, and accountability   •involvement - multi-way relationships (teacher/students, teacher/student, student/student)
                      - multi-way feedback and assessment (everyone knowing how things are progressing) •autonomy (student control) - learning about and respecting who your learners are, why they are          taking the course, what their strengths and experiences are
  - some student choice about how to demonstrate their learning and how to participate in the learning

It helps to build trust with the learners. This can be done by providing a sense of safety, comfort, and purpose for your students. Purpose, practice, and emotion lead to long-term learning and retention.

Betsy, I used to have a big sign on the wall in my classroom that said:
You are welcome here. 
I love teaching. 
This is a mistake-making place. 
There is a teacher in every student. 
When you think about developing a culture for your classroom, that sign is a good starting place!

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