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Authors: Ellen Kottler,Jeffrey A. Kottler,Cary J. Kottler

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BOOK: Secrets for Secondary School Teachers
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What plans do you have for the future? What would you like to do when you graduate? Or, what do you hope to learn from this class? Some teachers like to ask what grade students would like to get as a way to find out something about their expectations for the course.
Something you would like me to know about you.
One way to provide students with an opportunity to give you information secretly is to ask, “Is there anything you would like me as a teacher to know about you?” This is particularly useful for gaining personal information. Students will write about things that they are not particularly comfortable telling you face to face or in front of other students. Problems are revealed: “I stutter.” “I can’t see from the back of the room.” “I am really nervous about learning to drive.” “My mom just had a new baby and the baby cries all night, so I don’t get very much sleep.”

You can personalize the questions to fit your subject area as well.

In a language class, you might be interested in knowing if the students have pets or how many brothers and sisters they have, because these can be topics for future discussion using basic vocabulary. In English, you might ask, “What is the last book you read or the best book you’ve read?” In a history class, you can ask, “What is the last movie or best movie that you’ve seen related to a historical period?” In any class, you might ask, “What would you like to review from last year?”

The cards quickly provide basic information about your students that will help you to get to know them. They offer an opportunity for your students to tell you some things about themselves in a private, non-threatening manner.

Cary Jay Kottler Call me Cary. Spanish name: Carlito Born: Nov. 25, 1987 I’m 16.
We speak English at home, although my first language was Spanish when I lived in Peru when I was 2.
My mom works at the school district so I can’t get in trouble. My dad works at the university.
Baseball is the most important thing to me. We’ve won 5 State Championships in a row.
If I can’t play baseball professionally, then I have no clue what I’m going to do.
Besides baseball, I guess I like music, movies, and girls. Once in a while, I will read a book.
I gotta tell you: I’m not crazy about Spanish. Hopefully, you will change that for me.

Although the information cards can contain a lot of useful information, remember to ask students to write legibly so you can read their answers.

One time, I (Ellen) misread a boy’s first name and called a girl’s name with his last name. Both of us were quite embarrassed. Sometimes, attendance lists are not provided until the second week of school, so your cards may be the only accurate information you have about who is in your class.

One nice thing about index cards is that they are easy to handle. In the beginning of the school year, the cards can be organized alphabetically, for taking attendance and recording grades. Later, they can be organized by calendar sequence so you can acknowledge birthdays. Being wished a “Happy Birthday” does much for a student’s self-esteem.

The back of the cards can be used to keep records of parent contacts. Use the space to write the date, time, and notes about the nature of the conversation.


It will take some time to get to know your students individually. A good rule of thumb is to model what you expect of others. If you want students to be open and forthcoming in the ways they present themselves, then you should be prepared to do so as well. Students admire teachers who are not only experts in their subject area but who are also compassionate, caring, accessible, and human. If you want students to be open and honest, then you will wish to demonstrate these values in your own behavior as much as possible.

You are about to create and maintain a community in your classroom, one that we hope will be based on mutual respect and trust, a place where it is safe to express ideas, to ask questions, to challenge thinking, to reflect on learning, and to personalize what is presented in meaningful ways. To encourage your students to show the requisite courage needed for contemplative learning and constructive risk taking, you must show them the way through your own behavior.

You may want to begin your classes with some sort of introductory exercise designed to help students learn one another’s
names, develop some cohesion and trust, and create a climate of critical inquiry. For example, you might ask students to give their names with adjectives that describe them whose first letters are the same as their first names. Some teachers like to ask students to do collages, fill in a “coat of arms,” design a T-shirt, or answer a set of interview questions. The knowledge you gain will help you get to know your students. At the same time, you will be giving them the opportunity to get to know each other and build a sense of membership in the class.

Getting to know your students and helping them to feel comfortable with each other are the first steps toward a successful year.

’ C

We’re sure you’ve heard how important it is to become aware of the ethnic and cultural backgrounds of the people in your classes. This includes not only race, but also subtler and less obvious elements such as religion, family traditions and dynamics that may be culturally determined, and the way gender roles are defined according to the student’s ethnic and cultural background. For example, some students will not ask questions when they don’t understand an idea or a direction because they have been taught not to bother adults. Questioning may not be valued in their families. Students may simply tell the teacher what he or she wants to hear—yes, they understand an assignment; yes, they can do a math problem—even when they in fact could use some help. Their cultural backgrounds may dictate that they are passive in the classroom rather than active participants.

One way to address this challenge is make an effort to involve each student in class proceedings. Try writing each student’s name on a popsicle-type craft stick and keep the sticks in a can, pulling them out as you need “volunteers.” Another idea is to instruct each student who speaks in class to select the person to talk next; however, the rule is that the
student may pick only someone who has not yet participated. This ensures that students don’t only call on their friends, and no one ends up being left out. Regardless of what method you use, it is indeed a challenge to achieve equitable participation in class so the same loud voices don’t always dominate. Another secret is to pass out index cards (or have each student take out a piece of paper) and have them write down a question or response to a prompt for you to address in class. This way each person’s contribution is included. You have the choice of including names or not. To see if students understand a concept, pose a question and have students write down their answers without identifying their names on the papers. This way you are not responsible for and don’t have to take the time for giving individual feedback and recording grades, but you can see if students have mastered an objective.

Body language differs from group to group. Certain cultures teach that children should look down, averting their eyes as a sign of respect. Other cultures teach that a child should not look away but should look directly into the eyes of the person who is addressing him or her. To avoid problems of communication, the teacher must examine his or her culture and the culture of the students, and be aware of cultural differences when interpreting both verbal and nonverbal cues.

Your students may come from a variety of socioeconomic levels, as well. Those from families with high socioeconomic status (SES) tend to have stronger academic backgrounds, show higher school performance, and have access to more resources than those with lower SES. Those from lower SES backgrounds will need more support.

We (the two senior authors) happen to currently work in a school that the rest of the world will soon resemble. A third of our students are of Asian background, a third are from Latino origins, and a third are “other,” meaning they are North American “whites,” as well as European. The majority of students speak another language at home, and many are immigrants. What this means is that as teachers we can no longer hold onto one reference point of expectations. There is
no “dominant” culture to rely upon as a norm. Needless to say, this makes for some very challenging situations that require flexible attitudes for adapting how we teach to an increasingly diverse population.


Teachers need to provide equal opportunity for and interact equally with girls and boys. Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 guaranteed equal educational opportunity and, therefore, banned discrimination based on gender. In the early 90s, studies examined gender differences in the classroom and showed that boys received more attention from teachers than girls; are more likely to take advanced math and science and related classes; and continue in gifted and talented programs longer than girls. Studies also showed that girls received better grades from elementary through college, and though identified more often for gifted programs in elementary school, they did not continue in them. While later studies challenge these descriptions and indicate progress in this area, gender equity continues to be a focus area.

Teachers need to be aware of their own behavior, biases, and how they use classroom resources. When planning activities, involve girls and boys equally and use cooperative learning. You can do this by assigning seats that have boys and girls sitting next to one another, assigning group members rather than letting them choose their own, and calling on girls and boys rather than letting them call out answers because boys typically answer more frequently than girls. Take some time to develop a monitoring system (like putting names on popsicle sticks to pull out of a jar, as described above, or recording on a seating chart) to assure you call on all students equally. Find instructional materials that have male as well as female models and examples and that challenge stereotypes. Encourage and praise
students in mathematics, science, and reading, not just those who obviously excel.


Your class is likely to contain gay and lesbian students as well as heterosexual students. Teachers need to establish a safe environment where teasing and sexual harassment are not tolerated. Several court cases in recent years point to the need for school personnel to take a more active role in this area. Whereas states and local districts vary in their positions on this controversial issue, teachers must emphasize respect for all people and immediately confront harassment of any kind. Let students know that name-calling and derogatory comments are not acceptable behaviors.


Students with special needs today are placed in the least restrictive environment possible. Therefore, you are likely to have students with varying abilities in your classroom. You may have students with visual impairments or blind students, hearing impairments or deaf students, speech or language impairments, physical impairments, learning disabilities, attention deficit disorders, mental retardation, or emotional disturbances. Even within each disability, there is a range of differences. Therefore, it is important to look at the specific profile of each student to learn his or her strengths and weaknesses. Each student with identified special needs should have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). The special education teachers in your school will have suggestions for specific strategies to use with individual students. Contact the special education facilitator with any questions you might have. For those with severe disabilities, you may have an aide or a paraprofessional to help you daily in the classroom.


Students differ in how they receive and process information, but they will have consistent patterns of response. In order to
promote student achievement, teachers must recognize their students’ learning styles.

Sensory Modalities.
You are probably aware that students receive information through their senses. Some learn best by seeing information; these are the visual learners who process the world primarily through observation. For them, graphic organizers, charts, tables, pictures, and videos are essential.

Others learn by hearing; these are the auditory learners. They prefer to hear new information. They would rather hear a story than read a book. For these students, learning is enhanced by audiotapes and videos. They may be particularly responsive to music.

Some students like to touch objects and manipulate them. These tactile-kinesthetic learners benefit from drawing, creating models, and acting out situations. Of course, a multisensory approach in the classroom will benefit all students.

Global/Analytic Style.
This learning style refers to how people process information. The global learner uses the right hemisphere of the brain to focus on spatial and relational processing. This student goes from whole to parts, looking for patterns and determining relationships. The analytic learner uses the left hemisphere of the brain for linear processing. This student moves from the parts to the whole, looking for details on which to base an understanding. While students use both approaches, some tend to rely primarily on one style or the other. Teachers need to model both ways and provide student opportunities to practice both approaches.

BOOK: Secrets for Secondary School Teachers
8.04Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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