As many teachers begin their career, the tendency for a lack of confidence is high. New teachers are literally thrown into a classroom, many without any degree of support from the system within which they work. They are given the key to their classroom, provided the equivalent planning and teaching workload of a 27 year veteran teacher, and told to do more and more each month, each year. It’s no wonder nearly 50% of teachers leave the profession within the first five years.
That being said, you can only control what you do and how you respond to situations that arise in and around your classroom. Below, we will provide you with the three “Be’s” of confidence in the classroom.
1. Be well-planned and prepared each day, for each class
Let’s start with planning. If you find yourself staying at school until 9:00 PM each night, you may be doing something wrong, or at the very least, not using your time effectively during the school day. During your planning periods, avoid spending time cavorting with colleagues in the staff room: it’s time to prioritize. Let’s assume you have a 45 minutes planning period. You should block off time to:
- make any necessary edits to your plans for that very day. Remove activities that didn’t work for your first class, or add in extra directions to provide more clarity for your students (10 minutes).
- review curriculum / textbook materials for the next day to ensure you understand the scope and sequence of this week’s learning (10 minutes).
- craft mastery objectives and learning activities for the next day’s lessons (15 minutes).
- grade any exit tickets from the previous class, if you have time.
- prepare any materials or manipulatives for the upcoming group of students.
At the end of your day, block off only the amount of time that you need to prepare for the very next day…and then leave! You can’t realistically get everything done in one day, and it’s easy to get sucked into staying late at school. Feeling exhausted each day, will only engender contempt for your school, colleagues, and students; and ultimately diminish your confidence and purpose within the profession.
2. Be clear, concise, and confident in your directions and expectations
As you are planning your instruction for each day, the first questions you are trying to answer are as follows: what is your mastery objective, how you will assess students at the end of the lesson, and how will you plan activities that help students build their understanding of the desired concepts. If you can explicitly state what you want students to know and be able to do, and how you are going to get there, you will exude more confidence in front of students.
After you have completed the above skeletal plans, you should be considering how you plan on communicating all of the above information in a student-friendly manner. For example, if you decide that part of the beginning of your lesson should include complex terms students must be aware of prior to learning their content (known as frontloading), keep your list to no more than three terms and ensure that they are writing them down in some capacity (there is minimal research out there that promotes the writing down of every single word, so consider having a fill in the blanks / Cloze activity sheet).
Next, how do you plan on communicating conceptual information to students throughout the lesson? If you are presenting the major points of monetary policy of the United States, what are the major points that you MUST get across, and how familiar are you with the information? Sometimes this takes rehearsal, but it also takes time in terms of clearly understanding it for yourself: for example, research different websites, read the textbook version of how it is explained, and watch YouTube videos on how other people explain it.
Finally, sometimes new teachers can get sidetracked away from the lesson concepts – this could be due to a student question that is interesting, or just a tendency of the teacher as “conveyer of knowledge” to talk more than one should. In this vein of thinking, try to keep your talking points to three major points (I find it easier to remember and to speak to three points at a time / per slide). For any visual aids, like slides, include only the three concepts in concise and student-friendly language. If necessary, include one sub-bullet with terms / briefly worded concepts to jog your memory as needed, and help students fill in the blanks as they take notes. You should not bog down slides with excess amounts of text and pictures, as it is distracting and takes away from the clarity of what you are trying to say.
3. Be a voracious reader of research-informed practices
In The Guardian, author Mark Enser talks about how teachers can use research to inform their work, and how to avoid falling into the trap of invalidity and/or practices that do not have research to back their claims of supporting student learning. He says “being research-informed means we gain a better understanding of what’s likely to work. We can shake off poor advice and out-of-date ideas, and have the confidence to do what we know to be effective.”
Where to start? The greatest repository of educational research within the United States can be found via the Institute of Education Science, eric.ed.gov. When searching, try restricting your searches within the last ten years, and click on the button that says “peer-reviewed only.” This will ensure that the research you find is mostly up to date, and the peer-reviewed portion allows for only research that was reviewed by “…a board of scholarly reviewers in the subject area of the journal…” (via San Diego State University).
After that, your next stop could be any of the following websites to help your research collection begin!
- Edutopia.org: not everything on Edutopia is research-based, so read carefully. Some of their articles come straight from teachers providing their own informal experiences in the classroom. While their experiences should not be disregarded, they may not be backed by quantifiable student outcomes.
- Research for Better Teaching / Studying Skillful Teacher: RBT is an incredibly well-researched organization for effective teaching practices. Although the book is not free, we highly recommend it. RBT also allows for free user accounts which include resources from the book, videos, etc.
- Rick Wormeli’s Website has a vast array of education stalwarts, under a variety of different pedagogical categories. Rick’s work is very well-researched, and he would not recommend someone on his site who did not portray those standards.
- Fred Jones: Tools for Teaching is an incredibly powerful teaching program, book, and training that is based on the work of psychologist, Dr. Fred Jones. Although sometimes his work is focused on classroom management, it really all lends itself toward a high-functioning, rigorous classroom learning environment.