I can remember my high school U.S. History teacher, Mr. Zajicek, telling my class that with the rights guaranteed us in the U.S. Constitution, we also have a large number of responsibilities as citizens of our nation. Similarly, if you are a teacher who is lucky enough to be granted a large amount of freedom in your classroom, you also have a large number of responsibilities. As we head toward the beginning of a new school year, let’s look at a couple of these right/responsibility pairings that are particularly important.
When you have the right to decide what gets taught in your classroom and how you go about teaching it, you have the responsibility to know your stuff. When someone is telling you, “This is what you have to teach,” and “This is how long you have to teach it,” and “Teach this fact and not that one,” it is pretty easy to set yourself on autopilot and go. From year to year, not much changes. When you become the one in control though, you are the keeper of the gate. You are responsible for making sure your facts are accurate, that you are up-to-date on the latest research, that your units aren’t becoming stale and your novel choices are still the best for teaching the topics you want to teach, and so on and so forth. Be self-aware, keep your own academic curiosity alive, and above all, remember that just because something has been great in the past doesn’t mean you can’t improve it this time around!
When you have the right to choose the material you use, you have the responsibility to choose wisely. It is a wonderful thing as an English teacher to be allowed to choose what novels you read or as a History teacher to be given the freedom to show a documentary of your choosing or spend that extra week on the World War I, but this freedom also relies on you to make the correct choice for your students and class. This may seem simple, but there are many considerations beyond, “Do I like it?” While personal passion for the given material is important, it is also important to consider things like if your students will like and/or connect with the material, if they will get anything out of studying it, if the additional time is worth the cuts you will probably have to make elsewhere, if it fits within the broader arc of your curriculum, and if it is the best material to make the point and cover the topic you want to cover. I find that getting feedback from my students, particularly at the end of novels, helps inform me about these questions. (See product below.)
When you have the right to control what happens in your classroom during any given year, you then also have the responsibility to make sure that you are preparing your students for the following years and their future. One of our biggest responsibilities as teachers is to make sure our students are growing both academically and as human beings. This means that not only are we entrusted with helping them learn about responsibility and self-regulation, but also for covering the topics our course demands. For instance, even if research papers aren’t your favorite to teach, your students still need a good grounding in them as these are an important skill for your students’ future academic career. If the Ancient History course you teach is supposed to go through 1500, you can’t only get through the fall of Rome just because you wanted to take an extra month on Ancient Egypt. (Sometime I will tell you how I ended up with a degree in history and never formally studied the French Revolution…) Note-taking skills might be something that takes time out of your already crowded schedule, but it is a skill that your students need. Your students probably should already know what proper classroom behavior is, but if they don’t you are doing no one any favors by ignoring the deficiency. Part of helping your students succeed this year means preparing them for next!
These responsibilities and the many others that go along with freedom in your classroom are not something that needs to be intimidating or burdensome; they are more like an exertion of the trust your administration, your students, and society places in you. Strong and capable teacher that you are, you know this and strive to be deserving of this trust. Reviewing and reflecting on these rights and responsibilities is a great thing to do at the beginning of the year and periodically thereafter. Keep up the good work!
This Week’s Featured Product
Looking for a way to get feedback from your students about a novel you just completed? This brief questionnaire is the way to do it! Gain insight into your students and your unit as well as improve your teaching in future years. This form also is a great tool to help students feel a sense of ownership in your class. For more details or to purchase this product, click here!
This Week’s Journal Questions
For the teacher: How do you choose the material that is used in your classroom? If you have control over it, what makes you choose one thing over another? If you don’t have control over the choice, what do you have control over?
For the student: What makes a class “good”? What is something that you have never studied that you wish you could?
A Recipe from My Kitchen:
Sautéed Green Beans
- 6 cups fresh green beans, washed and with the ends snipped off
- 1 T olive oil
- 1/2 T unsalted butter
- 2/3 medium onion
- 1-3 cloves garlic
- 1/4 c chopped almonds
- Season salt to taste
- Splash of lemon juice
- On medium-low, heat the butter and olive oil. Hint: This can be done in any pan, but cast iron is my favorite for this recipe!
- Add onion and cook until translucent.
- Add the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds.
- Remove onion and garlic from pan.
- Put the beans into the pan and toss to coat beans with oil.
- Add onions and garlic, almonds, and salt on top of beans and toss to mix.
- Cover and cook until beans are hot but still crisp.
- Add splash of lemon juice.
- Serve immediately.