Three weeks ago, I was able to catch one of the #NTChats online. The conversation centered around advice for new teachers, and I eagerly jumped in. It was a great opportunity to share my recent experiences and hard-earned lessons, especially since I recently just wrapped up my first year of teaching at that time.
At some point, an irritated participant began to bombard me with tweets in response to one of my comments about how I felt new teachers should make sure they first learn and develop basic skills for classroom management and quality rigorous instruction before focusing on too much technology. To summarize, she felt it was a disservice to scholars when new teachers did not include technology to help them teach 21st century learning skills.
I spent a lot of my time introducing my colleagues to web2.0 tools and providing examples on how they can be used in different subjects last year, so I felt this participant was wasting her time trying to convince me of the merits of technology integration. I was not saying that new teachers should not use technology at all. From personal experience as a new teacher who tried to do it all, I was making the point that new teachers cannot become effective teachers if they focus on too much technology during their first year. There are simply too many demands on their time, and too many other things they need to learn how to do first before they can get *skillfully* to that point.
That conversation brings me to the present. We’re in a place in education where it is not enough anymore to be a “good teacher” or even a “great teacher”. New teachers need to be effective, and they cannot do that if they’re trying to “make it through” their first year. My experiences and training have taught me that the key to becoming a more effective teacher is active practice.
At work, we have a saying: “We practice what we do, and we practice success.” In fact, our four schools met for three solid weeks to practice together and prepare for the new school year. We wrapped up our last day of professional development today. Each day we met from 8-4 PM where we reviewed techniques, wrote scripts, and role-played in groups. We practiced our classroom procedures. Each day, I practiced my language out loud during my morning drives.
A year ago, I would have thought this was crazy, intense, and unnecessary. After having gone through what I did last year, I now value this time of active practice. Automatically having the right language and right tools in an unexpected situation can mean the difference between an efficient self-running classroom or a chaotic classroom.
This is why I made the comment, and still stand by that comment, in that #NTChat session. It’s not enough for anyone to read books or watch clips about whatever it is they are learning. They have to experience it, and actively practice the success they want to see.
I finished setting up my laboratory this afternoon for the first day of school next week. Before this experience, I would have been a nervous wreck wondering if I can survive the year. Now I focus more about how I can be a more effective teacher because everything else–language, nonverbal gestures, body language— has become like a natural reflex through practice. I am excited for the new school year ahead, and look forward to seeing growth in my scholars and in myself.