By Amanda Szramiak – One of my favorite things about education courses is that our midterms and finals usually ask us to apply what we have learned over the course of the semester to our professional development. I think this form of assessment is truly beneficial to myself as a student but also as a future educator, as it allows me to reflect on the knowledge and skills I have acquired during my teacher education training and how I can apply it as I pursue my journey into full-time teaching. Here are some of the things I have learned:
Middle School Really Isn’t So Bad
At the beginning of the class, I assumed middle school learners were difficult to deal with, easily agitated, and uninterested learners. For some reason, I had this preconceived notion that middle school learners were the hardest group of students to teach. While I had no reasoning behind these assumptions other than hearing horror stories, I was extremely skeptical about teaching in the middle school grades.
Thankfully, I have learned an immense amount of information about middle school learners and how to teach these specific learners, which has eradicated my previous thoughts about adolescent learners. All learners, at some point, are difficult to teach. Whether a student is having a bad day or they are not understanding the materials, all students struggle, not just middle school learners. This realization allowed me to see my own ignorance. Similarly, there are some days when students are more eager to learn than others, and that is okay.
When I realized this, I concluded that no matter what age I teach, I will have to make sure my students are aware that some days are going to be better than others. I am thankful for my middle school students in my field placement this semester because they have shown me the importance of treating them like young adults. Middle school learners need to know that they are not in elementary school anymore, and I must motivate them to learn and engage in school as the young adults they are.
While my middle school students did confirm that middle school learners can be difficult to deal with at times, I am no longer deterred from teaching middle school because of them. My students were eager to participate in my lessons, and I think we were all able to learn something from each other
The Importance of Social-Emotional Support in the Classroom
Based on my experiences in my classroom and my field experience, I have learned a great deal about aiding the social-emotional support. The five most important lessons, in my opinion, are as follows:
- Because middle school learners’ brains are constantly developing and evolving, it is imperative to “design lessons that include a full range of sensory experiences, including music, smell, touch, and emotion (“The Young Adolescent Learning,” Saylers and Mckee, p. 2). By incorporating different types of sensory-based lessons, I will be able to keep my students’ engaged and interested in the learning. This technique will also allow me to differentiate for the benefit of all students in my classroom.
- As a teacher, I aim to “provide competitive learning opportunities, even while holding to cooperating learning frameworks” to ensure the success of my students on a level that surpasses textbook learning (“10 Strategies for Teaching Boys Effectively,” Gurian and Stevens). While this article predominantly addresses middle school boys, middle school girls also benefit from this type of learning because it shows students who are struggling with thinking about how learning has an impact in their outside lives, that the application of their knowledge means something beyond the classroom.
- Because the middle school learners’ frontal lobe has not developed fully, I plan to incorporate emotion into my lessons because “emotion drives attention and attention drives learning”(“The Adolescent Brain-Learning Strategies & Teaching Tips,” p. 8). By incorporating meaningful experiences and emotions into the lessons, I will be giving my students opportunities to learn by using emotionally-charged messages and phrases to stimulate the amygdala, the storage center for emotion (p. 8).
- In order to be the most effective teacher, I will ensure that all my students know my expectations because it is absolutely necessary for middle school learners to know exactly what is being asked of them (Taylor and Francis, 2015). Because middle school learners’ attention spans are constantly fluctuating, I plan to make all my expectations of them clear to reinforce the importance of structure in the classroom as well as in their lives outside of school.
- Lastly, in order to facilitate the socio-emotional growth of my students, I will believe that all students in any type of school can succeed at high levels (“Characteristics of High-Performing, High-Poverty Schools,” p. 2).
Field Experience as Professional Development
One particular course and field placement experience have allowed me to grow as a professional and as a person. The first example of my professional development occurred during my direct instruction lesson plan in which I taught my students how to properly site different types of sources. First, I modeled the examples of different types of citations, and then we began to engage in guided practice. I soon realized that a fair number of students were not completely grasping the differences in citations and were not able use in-text citations.
Since “instruction is modified to accommodate each student’s rate of learning,” I paused. I told my students to continue on with the following citations if they were understanding the material (“Basic Philosophy of Direct Instruction,” p. 2). I re-explained how to properly take information from a sentence and turn it into a citation. This was one of the first instances in which I had to quickly adjust my explanations as well as the lessons, and I think these adjustments enhanced my professional development.
Similarly, in my EdTPA direct instruction lesson plan, I explicitly taught my students the vocabulary words from the two stories we were reading that week. I was intentional in choosing direct instruction because almost ninety percent of my class was receiving basic or minimal scores on all of their vocabulary tests. While direct instruction may not be my favorite type of lesson, I recognized my students’ need for explicit teaching, which highlights my professional growth.
While I think I will forever be improving my classroom management skills, I have been able to develop certain skills over this semester. Fortunately, classroom management has never been an issue in my previous field placements, as my students would simply listen to me. I considered myself lucky for this; however, I knew I needed to develop more classroom management skills to ensure I was a well-rounded and prepared teacher. I was worried about my cooperative learning lesson because my students were easily side tracked when they were able to engage in conversation.
Because of this concern, I made sure to stress the importance for providing individual accountability by telling my students they were each going to submit the worksheet they were completing, even if they were working on it with another student (“What is Cooperative Learning?”). This preplanned classroom management set the tone for the room because it made my students realize that they were all going to have to turn in a completed worksheet rather than just having one student finish all the work.
Throughout all my lessons, I did struggle to keep my students’ attention on me, and I think the classroom management tactic of remaining calm and composed while simultaneously being a good actress allowed me to develop a firmer presence in the classroom (“Seven Things Effective Teachers Do EVERY Day”). In allowing awkward wait times while maintaining a serious disposition, I think my teacher voice grew immensely during my field experience.
As I embark on a new journey next fall, I will carry the lessons I’ve learned throughout my teacher education training at Marquette, and will be forever grateful for the professors, cooperating teachers, colleagues, and students who helped shape me into the teacher I am today.