Last year, a new science teacher in our middle school really struggled with classroom management issues. My principal is trying to help him, and she asked me if I could also work with him this year. I’m not sure how to approach him and offer suggestions.—Melissa, Lincoln, Nebraska
Even successful student teachers can get a rude awakening in their first year. They don’t have the advantage of stepping into a situation that was already in place. It can be overwhelming, and some may be hesitant to ask for help.
Your principal must see some potential in this teacher. She also seems to have recognized you have the experience and expertise to help this new teacher.
I would start by asking the principal if you are to assume an evaluative role. That usually requires administrative credentials, and issues with the teacher contract may arise if you were to take on this responsibility.
I suspect the principal is asking you to serve as a mentor. I’d ask what kind of follow-up, if any, the principal expects of you and the other teacher. Even if the principal does not require any documentation, I’d still keep an informal journal of the process and suggest the new teacher do the same.
You’ll want to be helpful but not a judgmental know-it-all. You could start with an informal conversation. “I understand you had some challenges with classroom management last year. This happens to everyone, and Ms. Principal asked if I would be willing to help you. I remember my first year, and I had some real difficulties, too.” You could ask questions as discussion starters: What were your successes last year? What were your greatest challenges? What are your goals this year? He may not realize even experienced teachers face new situations every year, so it may help to share some of your current challenges and how you’re addressing them.
Start with one or two issues he identified. For example, ask what routines he has established for the beginning and end of the class period. Having set routines frees up time to spend on more important topics and activities, rather than dealing with discipline or logistical issues. Share some of your suggestions for bell-ringers and exit activities, ask him to try them for a week or two, and debrief on the results.
Ask your principal if you may visit this teacher’s classroom. As you observe the class, you’ll probably identify other topics to discuss. It might also be helpful for him to observe your classes as your students follow your routines and engage in planned and purposeful activities.
The ultimate evaluation of this teacher is the principal’s responsibility, but your input and support can help this teacher learn from his experiences and get his career off to a good start.
My principal encourages all teachers to have students make class presentations during the year. I like the idea, but the thought of listening to 150 “oral reports” on a chemistry topic is mind-boggling, not to mention time-consuming. Do you have any suggestions for making this a positive experience?—Marta, Washington, D.C.
I’m assuming your principal wants students to develop and demonstrate skills that will be useful regardless of what they do after high school, such as presenting to an audience.
I know exactly what you mean about implementing this. You can sit through only so many “oral reports” or PowerPoints at one time. The audience will get restless, too. Even if each presentation lasted five minutes, you could devote several class periods to this task, including time for research and preparation. Perhaps it’s time to be creative:
- No law says all students must deliver their presentations at the same time. What would happen if you spread out the opportunities rather than try to fit everyone into a few class periods, one after the other?
- Is it essential for all students to report on the same theme or topic or use the same template?
- Consider the presentations you’ve attended. What made them effective? Was it a team effort, such as a panel discussion? How did the presenters use visuals or other media? How did they engage the audience?
At first, you may have to model how to summarize and how to make an effective presentation (my students enjoyed it when I modeled an ineffective one, too). You may also have to model how to contribute as a respectful audience member and suggest types of questions and prompts for discussion: Compare their results to yours. How are they similar? Different? Use the rubric you already have for investigations to provide feedback to the team. The audience could match the presentation to the rubric and note differences in their outcomes.
Once your students have experience with this type of presentation, invite your principal to be part of an audience to see what your students are capable of doing.
Check out more of Ms. Mentor’s advice on diverse topics—such as summer science camps, learning from students, and class presentations—or ask a question at www.nsta.org/mentor.