When I was a student teacher, I had no idea how hard it can be to get the attention of 30 kids at once. I’ll never forget the first time my mentoring teacher let me teach her class. I’m thinking: finally I can show off my teaching acumen. I mean, I did just go through two years of the teaching certification program-
How hard could it be?
So when all of the students came in the room and took their seats, and were talking to each other, I moved to the front of the room and said, "Alright guys, we’re gonna get started."
And they kept talking.
So I said a little louder, "Okay, let’s get started." And again, no one even looked up at me; they just kept talking. So I finally yelled over the roar of the room, I said, "Everyone! I need you to be QUIET!"
A few kids stopped talking, but the majority of the room just kept going on and on. It didn’t matter how loud I was, they couldn’t hear me- or didn’t want to hear me. I desperately turned to my mentoring teacher, Mrs. Steelman, who was in her 40th year in the classroom, and I gave her this look that said, "HELP ME PLEASE!"
That's when I detected a a twinge of a smile on her lips, and she just got up from her seat, calmly walked to the front of the room, and just stood there and looked at the class. And then one kid in the front row saw her, turned around and said, "Guys, shutup." And another kid started shushing his friend, and then it was like the whole room was shushing each other.
Within five seconds, the class was silent.
Steelman turns to me and goes, "It’s all yours, Mr. Muir.' And I took her place and we went on with class.
After class I asked her, "How’d you do that? What is this strange magic you possess you sorcerer-woman?"
And she just told me that sometimes the best way to get kids’ attention is just to look at them, and maybe say, “I’ll wait,” and they will do all the work for you. As a brand stinking new teacher- as a student teacher- my mind was blown. I had no idea this was possible! And so I’ve been using that technique ever since.
You know what else I learned from this? There are some amazing teachers out there who have been doing this for a long time, and I need to constantly be on the lookout for new practices and wisdom that can only come from experience, from people who have been doing this a while. Veterans like Mrs. Steelman, someone who’s been in the classroom for years, not because she has to, but because she loves it.
All teachers, but especially young ones, need to take advantage of the collective wisdom in their school. Ask questions, seek out help, talk to your principal about observing other peoples’ classes. Make it a priority to learn from the experts around you. There is so much to learn about being a great teacher, and that never stops. Just talk to Mrs. Steelman. She still loves learning new ways to engage and work with students.
But you have to be humble to do that, and recognize there is always room to improve, and sometimes you have to rely on others to do that. This also means the veterans, the ones who have been here a while, have to be willing to be those mentors. Invite younger teachers into your classroom, schedule regular check-ins with them- give out your phone number!
Or do as Mrs. Steelman does and allow student-teachers into your classroom. Start teaching new teachers. Teaching’s a team sport, and the team is so much better when we work together with each other and share our gifts.
So to sum it up: new teachers: keep asking for help.
Old-er teachers: be willing to give it.
And all teachers: never stop learning.
And Mrs. Steelman, thanks for everything. Can we grab lunch soon?