Not long ago, my PLN had a discussion on classroom practices that we have abandoned over the course of our careers. These arrests things that we may have done when we were just starting in the profession, perhaps because our credential programs instructed us to do so, or perhaps we simply didn’t know any better, or perhaps they are simply no longer relevant to the students we now teach.
Here are some things I used to do that I no longer do. I’m laying these out not as a way of either bragging about my own progress as an educator or to beat myself up for what I did out of (mostly) ignorance years ago. This is just a way of putting my thoughts into writing, since I couldn’t articulate them quickly enough to voice them at the time we were kicking their subject around on Voxer.
Transparencies. I started my career on the community college circuit, at a time when many classrooms didn’t have computers or Internet connections. I also was initially resistant to learning PowerPoint, which made my presentation toolkit even more primitive. So I would print my lectures onto expensive plastic slides, which would sometimes melt and often would leave inky streaks. I would try to use them on overhead projectors that were usually left over from the Nixon Administration and many times didn’t have working bulbs. Impractical, poor pedagogy, and sadly out of date. (Thank God for Google Slides and Google Classroom.)
Late penalties. Who was the compliance-based yo-yo who thought that penalizing students for turning work in after a deadline would motivate them to keep a closer eye on the clock? The students who turn stuff in on time certainly don’t need that rule, and the ones who have a need for extra time can’t feel confident in their time management (or anything else) if we nickel and dime them for not having an assignment done in the arbitrary nick of time we give them. Obviously taking in work after the semester or school year is over is another ballgame, but we need to leave that schoolmasterly strategy of down-to-the-minute turn-ins behind. Leave the Swiss timing to Olympic judges; we have children to educate.
Long pauses. I still catch myself doing this one from time to time, but it’s more contemptuous and insensitive than anything else. When a class is stumped over something, just letting the students stew in their own inability to answer defeats the purpose of teaching them. You rephrase the question; you re-scaffold the material; you ask them if a review of the topic is needed, and then you retrace your steps. To leave a question hanging in the air and then arrogantly saying “I’ll wait” when there’s not an immediate answer is embarrassing, and it turns a teaching moment into a battle of wills. Don’t fight that battle. Get back to teaching.
Timed bathroom breaks. Every time a student asked me for permission to go to the restroom, I used to stop whatever it was I was doing, write that student’s initials on the white board, and then the time he or she needed to be back in class (usually 5 minutes after she or he left). So not only did my lesson get disrupted, but I found myself having to monitor the bathroom time of someone who might very well need more than five minutes to do his/her business. These days, in my class, students get up whenever they need to, go do their business, and come back promptly. More respectful, less disruptive, and almost no violators.
Being seated when the bell rings. This is one that I used to justify with “well, if you’re not sitting down, you’re not ready to work or learn.” Such hubris from a young teacher! How was I to know a kid was or was not prepared for my class based on his or her physical position in the classroom? I can’t change my school’s tardy policy, but as far as I am concerned nowadays, if you are in the room when the bell rings, you’re good to go.
Insisting that homework is for home. I’m quickly coming to the belief that homework in itself is outdated, but putting that aside for the moment, why should I impose on the family time and the outside lives of my students unnecessarily? Nowadays, if I am giving some sort of written homework, I almost always let my students start it in class and often I will even let them collaborate. That way, I know they have started it, I can start to measure the learning right in front of me, and I can be present to the kids who genuinely need help. And it also means those kids, who aren’t getting enough sleep anyway, have a chance to save the midnight oil for something else.
Giving zeroes. My more Puritanical side didn’t want to abandon this practice; after all, why would you pay an employee if he or she literally didn’t perform any work? But what I have come to realize is that the mathematical impact (and the psychological trauma) of a zero is devastating. It not only sends the message that the student is, on some level, worthless; it makes it much, much more difficult for that student’s grade to recover. Today, if a kid gives me nothing, he or she will be awarded 40% credit. It’s still a recognition that nothing was done, but it’s also a number that could be overcome (if the student has learned his lesson).
There are others, but these are the ones I have most gladly left in the dust. Dumped on the trash heap of failed teaching techniques. Consigned to the detritus of rookie mistakes. (Add your own cliche.)
In my next blog post, I will talk about some things I haven’t quite abandoned yet, but need to. Stay tuned…and as always, run for the roses, but don’t forget to stop and smell them!