As you read this article, many of you will be ending another school year. I often use the conclusion of an academic year to take a personal and professional inventory of the year's successes and failures. Then, I use the information learned from this little exercise to develop strategies which will help me to improve as a teacher. Perhaps, you would like to try it, too. Here is how it works.
I begin by analyzing the curriculum and teaching materials that I use by asking myself the following questions:
1. Are the materials that I am using appropriate for the students I am teaching? If not, what are the problems? Perhaps the curriculum is too advanced or too easy. If so, perhaps it is time for a complete change or at least some modifications in how material is presented. The change could be as simple as providing more practice exercises or enrichment activities.
2. Do the teaching materials address all the learning styles of my students? Maybe my classroom presentations would be enhanced if more visual aids or "manipulatives" were used. Do I need to add more simulation exercises for my analytic students or projects which will allow my creative students to shine? If so, the summer is a great time to develop new teaching materials and make any necessary changes.
Next, I analyze my teaching methods, tally up my successes and failures and develop strategies for improvement. Some of the questions I ask myself include:
1. Do I provide enough varied learning activities during my classroom presentations? Doing this will decrease student boredom, increase classroom participation, accommodate the diverse learning styles of students and make the learning process more exciting and effective for everyone involved.
2. How is my pacing? Do I move too quickly or too slowly when presenting new concepts? Do I allow enough time for students to participate and ask questions, or do I try to cover too much, too fast? Asking myself this question last year pointed out to me that I was trying to cover entirely too much material in one of my classes. The students were getting frustrated and not learning as well as they could. This year, I eliminated one unit of study. This gave me more time to cover the remaining units thoroughly. This experience taught me a valuable lesson: in the learning process, quality is more important than quantity.
3. When I am teaching, do I communicate on my students' level so that they clearly understand what I am trying to get across to them? This is something that every teacher should stop and analyze from time to time. In my first few years of teaching, I often made the mistake of using big words and abstract examples and I sometimes gave complicated instructions which my younger students couldn't understand. Fortunately, I learned from my mistakes! However, if I am not careful, I could easily fall into the same trap again, especially with my 3rd and 4th graders.
4. Do I present materials in the best, possible sequence? Would it be better if certain concepts or units were presented earlier or later in the year? Of course, your curriculum may dictate the order in which things are presented. However, if you teach a course which consists of nonsequential, self-contained units, presenting them in a different order may be more effective. After answering this question, I have decided to reverse the order in which I present two units in my Exploratory French course because the second unit is actually simpler than the first.
5. Would coordinating a particular unit with another teacher be helpful? Last year, I answered this question with a resounding "Yes." My 7th graders were having problems learning Spanish verb conjugations. This year, the English teacher and I decided to coordinate our efforts. She is introducing conjugation in English class at the same time that I teach Spanish verb conjugation. So far, this multi-disciplinary approach seems to be working.
Finally, I list the problems I had during the past school year and devise some possible solutions. For example, I used to be stressed out because there was too much to do in the morning before class and not enough time to do it. To alleviate the stress, I devised ways to save time in the morning. For example, instead of writing a note to the secretary each time I need copies made, I typed up a series of re-usable tags with instructions for the secretary. These can be quickly clipped on to the papers which must be copied. This, alone, has saved me a tremendous amount of time and work in the morning. Perhaps you can devise similar strategies for solving some of your problems.
In conclusion, my year-end inventory has become an annual tradition and a valuable tool. It has really helped me to grow as a teacher. If we can learn from our mistakes and capitalize on our successes, we will all become better teachers.
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