Classroom Management

Classroom Management is a very important item for any teacher, be he/she novice or seasoned professional.  There were so many things that I learned from so many people and students regarding how to conduct a participatory class without falling prey to so much stimulation that it got out of hand and lost its focus.

Despite what looks like an easy job, a novice or a person having no idea how hard good teaching can be, could easily find that it is an overwhelming, extremely tiring job.  Without proper preparation, it is!  I have often wondered how few days a regular Joe from off the street would last, if not even hours or minutes.  It might sometimes look like play, but it is anything but!

One major thing is to be organized.  If a teacher knows where he/she is going with a lesson plan and stays on task, it is less likely that kids will lose their train of thought.  The organization, however, is such that it must be flexible if things go awry, for example. Let’s say there is a fire drill, a strange happening in the hall, or such.  Flexibility is very necessary.  A good teacher always has a plan for the unexpected.  This is especially important when it comes to technology and language labs as you never know what will go wrong and/or not function.

Having the students aware as to the goal of the lesson and how well things are proceeding toward reaching that goal helps immensely.  I always used something either on the board (before the advent of good technology in my classroom) or my electronic lesson plan posted on either the overhead projector or on the screen (when I had put my lesson plan into a database).  We could check off things as we went toward the finale.  I always posted yesterday’s and the current day’s homework as well.  Students would find this as well online or by coming into my office.  Knowing the rationale for where one is going is a great strategy to aid the educational outcomes.

Avoiding sitting at the teacher’s desk is something I always practiced.  When one is out and about in a dynamic lesson, it is less likely that students will pass notes, talk to one another when they shouldn’t and the like.  I am not saying I didn’t have moments where I needed to be at my desk, but overall it was something I avoided.  Being in the proximity of students, especially those prone to being “off task” is a very good practice.  A really naughty child might find me sitting behind him/her for a moment or just running the lesson standing nearby.

Not embarrassing problematic students is a good practice.  When at all possible, taking the student aside, preferably later if possible, is a good philosophy.  Finding out what is going on in their minds is so important.  Perhaps something is bothering them, a family calamity, a personal crisis, whatever.  It is always good to communicate; good communication circumvents all sorts of issues.

One thing that earlier in my career I never practiced was (and of course this is dependent on school and/or departmental policies) to allow them to eat and drink in class, especially if it was in the afternoon.  A student falling victim to a carbohydrate attack, as I found from my own children at home, may not be pleasant.  Students, more often than not, are not eating appropriately.  They might skip breakfast, not have the types of good food they should, and will react accordingly.  My rule was this, food is fine as long as it is not junk food, not messy and noisy, and I have no clean up.  I would always clear my room before leaving; it is not fair for another class and teacher to have to deal with a mess.  If students became messy, the food and/or drink was no longer allowed.  Case closed.  Once this was in play, I never had a problem.  Students are intelligent, figured out why I was okay with this, and were always respectful.

Gum chewing is a tough one with languages as it changes the pronunciation of hard to pronounce words.  In the beginning of my career, I never allowed it, but I soon realized that the amount of time I was taking to police students just wasn’t worth it.  If I found it on the desks, there was a price to pay, but if it was done respectfully, it was allowed.

Participation was always something I graded as communication in the target language (French in my case) was an expectation.  I expected them to take risks, make mistakes, speak, I didn’t even mind if they spoke to each other as long as it was in French.  A productive classroom has to have a certain amount of noise; otherwise it is nothing more than a showcase, dictatorial class.  My idea was to be more of a guide to my students, not a visiting lecturer.

I mentioned this before, but respect for one another is the most important thing and a base for everything that goes on in a classroom.  I used to take several days at the beginning of the year to go over all of the expectations and explain classroom operations so that students understood and behaved accordingly.

Talking about all of this makes me think of the time I was in the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris with some sixteen students or so and a colleague.  A man came up to me and said, “You couldn’t possibly be with all those students?”  My response to him was “Yes, and it is a pleasure and a privilege to be with them.”  He was quite surprised at the good comportment they displayed.  This was all due to a different version of my classroom management, a version for a trip abroad.  I did this for some ten years and was truthfully never disappointed.  My students always rose to the occasion and were amazing examples of good, tolerant, kind Americans as they traveled abroad and even lived with French families for two weeks!

I will return to this item in the future and offer more of my thoughts and ideas.

George Washington really slept here!

The Koerner House on 11/15/2010

I keep threatening my family to put a plaque on the exterior of our house or at least a plaque above the Washington bedroom in our house.  Yes, no joke, the Washington bedroom.  The funny thing about it is that George Washington actually slept in our house, and our house is not even 60 years old yet!

In 1985, I met George. He is a real person and actually slightly older than I am.  He is a Brit and was born in England.  George, in 1985, was working for a language laboratory company and sold New Trier High School its first modern language lab that actually worked.

The funny thing about George is that he actually is related to the first President of the United States!  His aunt, I believe, did the family tree and found out that both the former President and the current George can trace their lineage back to Malcolm I of Scotland who died in 954.

This connection with George has lasted until the current day.  George sold another lab to New Trier High School as well after leaving the company that sold us the first one.  This time it was from his own company.  I kept seeing him at language conferences and although these were pretty much the only times I would see him, we always re-connected as if no time had passed.  He constantly asked me if I would come to work for him.  I said to him, “Wait until I retire!” 

In 2007, as I was preparing to retire from teaching, I saw George at a language conference.  Being the person I am, I had been working on figuring out my next career move.  Once again he asked me the question.  We dialogued for a bit and I ended up, once I made the formal retirement from high school teaching, working for him.

My duties included knowing how to use the language lab software, training teachers in its use, serving as a pedagogical customer support specialist, doing sales, presentations in schools for teachers and administrators, and attending conferences to represent the company.  I ended up doing some fun travel all over the country and was making great headway until the Recession hit.  Being a smaller language lab concern, it was a serious blow and I was pretty much laid off, only doing part-time hourly work for them starting in June of 2010.

George has, in fact slept over in my house when in the area and I keep pondering whether or not to go ahead, annoy my family, and place that plaque in a very visible spot.  After all, how many people can state that George Washington slept in their house?

Customer Service

I am currently without prospective teacher clients at an annual World Language conference in Lansing, Michigan and reeling from an interchange I had with a client/language colleague/friend who is newly retired from the teaching profession. She created quite a surprise when she suddenly announced last summer her intention to transition to the next stage of her life.

I have spent a lot of time working with her in her suburban Michigan school system as they dismantled the language lab that they had come to love as a valued part of their curriculum and replaced their cabled Dinosaur with a new VOIP software lab. My experience with software labs tells me that they are great in theory but are often victimized by interaction with the network within which they are newly housed. What this means to the novice is that once the glitch-less software is installed, it might be compromised by interactions with its network’s software components and varying permissions’ issues. IT departments within the schools have their own inherent problems: overwork of their employees, lack of knowledge of software issues (in some cases) and/or a lack of concern or care for World Language teachers and their lesson plans, frustrations, and time commitments. Add into this mix that those of us who count ourselves as language educators generally realize that we are eccentric (usually in a good way) and truly a breed apart (I can say that because I am a French teacher by trade and preparation)!

One might ask where I am going with this. My suburban colleagues had their software installed only to find what they deemed to be an inferior language learning situation component in their midsts! Glitches occurred as they normally do. The more the software is used to capacity, the better, issues flow forth and if documented and treated, easily dealt with. However, given the nature of in school IT departments and the idiosyncrasies of World Language teachers, success is not always quickly reached. Teachers don’t always have the time within their busy days to document issues, IT people may not have the time or the wherewithal to handle the problems. Teachers get frustrated at the need to incessantly change lesson plans. They are already under intense pressure to give their students all the information to reach a pre-specified level of learning. This frustration leads to not using the seemingly “damaged” lab and thus they neither test nor document the issues. Software companies don’t get called and tempers flare. Sometimes things take a long time to gestate and by the time the customer service end of the companies hear about the problems, they are like the Little Prince’s baobabs and have grown totally out of proportion! Add to this recipe the reaction of the software companies’ IT/Customer Service personnel who are often ill-prepared to deal with the firestorm of frustration that ensues. Being IT people sometimes means that verbal and written communications from them will often be extremely direct and may appear to be accompanied by tone and/or attitude. This is what happened in this scenario. One year later, the software company hasn’t heard much from the school and assumes (incorrectly) that all is well. Teachers there think the new lab software is one huge fiasco and, as my friend put it, a whole year was lost and the whole scenario hastened her decision to retire!

So, how might better communications have avoided the misunderstandings about good language software that works and its interface with a network?

A. Establish consistent “check ins” by company IT people with clients to make sure everything is okay

B. Assign “point” people at the schools (someone in IT and on the teaching faculty); my pre-retirement high school had the luxury and intelligence to listen to me and my colleagues over twenty years ago and put someone in charge of the facility!

C. Make sure that company IT people have the skills and attitudes for a good working relationship, there is no substitute for good interpersonal skills and we don’t all have them!

Companies must realize that just because the software works doesn’t mean it will work flawlessly in the new system. They need to communicate this at the time of purchase and double their efforts to make sure the “new” network where the software is being introduced is not setting roadblocks to its success.

My friend and her colleagues have suffered and still suffer from the results of this installation mess. My question: “Is this rocket science?”

Bonjour à tout le monde!

Going to try this again. Thought I had saved what I had written and obviously I hadn’t.

I am a 50 something individual trained as a language educator. I spent well over 30 years teaching French in a north suburban high school in the Chicago area. It was an amazing experience and I will most assuredly get into that at some point in time on this blog.

I have a wonderful family, have been married over 35 years to a wonderful woman, my best friend, and we have three wonderful sons (the eldest married to a beautiful, wonderful, young lady and with a beautiful daughter, the second currently in a relationship with a another beautiful, wonderful young lady, and the third is just breaking up from a rather unfortunate situtation with his wife). The first two live in IL and the third now lives in southern CA.

I am currently “pretired,” that is, retired from teaching, but still working. I would like to say that I coined this expression, but I didn’t. I was working full-time following my retirement in 2007 from teaching French. I worked as an Undergraduate Admissions Advisor (IL, MI, WI, IN, MN) for my alma mater, Ohio University (in Athens, OH) and also for ASC Direct Inc. (language labs and courseware). I retired from OU in 2008 and put myself completely into ASC. In June of 2010, due to recession based issues, I was put on a situation where I work sporadically for them. My job with ASC (business headquarters in Marshfield, MO and administrative headquarters in San Antonio, TX) consisted of training educators in the use of the language lab software, doing presentations, attending conferences to educate educational personnel on our products, and serving as a pedagogical customer support specialist.

I am originally from Ohio, the Cleveland area, and at some point shall get into my reasons for leaving. I think they are quite interesting.

I have many different hobbies. I dabble in gardening (I find it therapeutic), calligraphy, photography, and the like. I was a lit major in college for my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees (French) and love good literature. I prefer fiction. I love to travel, always have, and have spent much time in France. During the last 10 years of teaching, I was the Coordinator of an Exchange program between my high school and a high school in Strasbourg, France. This was a most rewarding thing across the board, my family and I have adopted more than one French person into our family

I love to stay as fit as I can. I love to ride my bicycle when I can, walk, hike when I can, swim, and the like.

I am an organization freak. I am also a bit of a minor league tech geek. The aforementioned is perhaps the major thrust of my entire existence and always has been. I am guessing that it is my need to control a world that isn’t always controllable. I also have a sense of humor, by the way.

This blog will be about all sorts of things. One day it may be language pedagogy, the next on how to organize a room. I may easily head into how to deal with people (usually difficult ones and I have many suggestions there as somehow I have much experience here), and how to use your common sense to rear your children. I have always thought about writing a book, perhaps this may even lead there.

So, Bonjour à tout le monde!