The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Doctoral Student (and Full-Time Teacher)

January 11, 2010

How To Be An Effective Teacher

Filed under: Uncategorized — rachaelski @ 5:53 pm

Recently in the Atlantic magazine, the question was asked, what makes a great teacher? In answering this question, the magazine turned to Teach for America, an organization near and dear to my heart, and asked what they found makes a great teacher. Teach for America is an organization that recruits top college graduates and places them in urban and rural schools in some of the most struggling districts. I joined Teach for America in 2006 and found myself teaching in Memphis, Tennessee. As a “seasoned’ teacher of 4 years, I can say that TFA’s framework for training teachers and supporting teachers is a recipe for incredible teaching. It’s a model that public districts, as well as private schools, would benefit by implementing.

Steven Farr of Teach for America identified several factors that makes a teacher great, the most successful of the TFA teachers have most or all of these qualities. As a teacher, I find embodying all the qualities to be a goal for myself, and other teachers working to be better for their students should do the same.

1.Setting big goals-

The best TFA teachers set goals for themselves and their students. Goals help to keep students (and teachers) inspired and focused. In addition, it begins your school year with the end of year in mind– effective for goal setting, planning, and teaching.

2. Constantly searching for ways to improve effectiveness

Once you’ve taught for a year, planned for a year, and learned for a year, it does not mean that you (as a teacher) are done with the planning part of teaching. We have to constantly teach, evaluate, and alter in order ensure that we are being the best teacher we can be. Daily assessments test how well a lesson went. Student feedback lets us know how enjoyable a lesson or unit was.

3. Involving students (and family) in the learning process

Student investment is the key to learning. And it makes teaching easier! Encourage students to participate in the classroom, allow them to help create classroom rules, give them the opportunity to take ownership of the classroom. The magic of teaching happens when students are invested.

4. Maintain focus

Staying focused is hard for students and it’s hard for teachers. Setting goals, as mentioned above, is imperative to be an effective teacher in the classroom. These goals help a teacher to maintain focus in the classroom. Planning, which will be discussed below, helps a teacher to maintain focus. We have to remained focused on the students. Forget school politics, forget about your personal life (for at least the 7 hours you are in school), and forget anything that’s not related to student achievement. Having a solid plan makes maintaining focus much easier.

5. Ensure everything done contributes to student learning

Students need to be at the forefront of what we are doing as teachers. We need to ask ourselves–How will this help the students? Teaching can be very easy– hand out a textbook, assign a page number, and kick back and relax. However, this type of “teaching” does not benefit the students. All we do in the classroom needs to be for the students. It’s our job.

6. Purposeful and complete planning

The best teachers are those who plan every minute in the classroom, even if they’ve been teaching for 10, 20, or 30 years. Planning isn’t just daily planning–mapping out the year, breaking it down into units, and planning for the day-by-day is vital to be as effective as a teacher can possibly be. Great teachers start with the end in mind. I can attest to the fact that I am at my best in the classroom only when I have wholly planned my lessons.


January 8, 2010

How To Become a Teacher Without an Education Major

Filed under: Uncategorized — rachaelski @ 12:06 pm

I did not major in education when I was in college. Heck, I didn’t even want to be a teacher in college, or so I thought. I went to graduate school for International Affairs, not to be a teacher. However, after graduate school I somehow found myself becoming a teacher. How? It wasn’t that difficult, sure it required hard work, but it’s not as difficult as you think. Today, I am licensed to teach in 3 different states and I have a track record of success teaching English.

I came into teaching with a program called Teach for America. TFA is essentially the Peacecorps for people who want to stay in the United States, but better. You get paid a living wage. You are supported in the process of getting licensed. You are helping to close the achievement gap in education. TFA was created with the goal of putting top college graduates in some of the most challenging school settings in the country, with the goal of helping economically and socially disadvantaged students succeed in school. The program is amazing, because it helps people without an education background get into the classroom and they get a regular teaching salary. The TFA commitment is 2 years, but you are an employee of the district in which you work, so if you want to stay another year, 10, or 30, you can! The only downfall is that TFA is only in certain cities and you are not guaranteed to be played in your top choice– perhaps not ideal for some people.

TFA is not the only method of getting into the classroom. Cities all over the country have mini-TFA programs, like Denver Teaching Fellows, that are sometimes easier and more convenient to get involved with. Private schools do not require teachers to be licensed (though some want their teachers to be licensed).

Thousands of colleges have graduate programs for people who want to become teachers, but do not have an education degree. These are called alternative certification programs. At the end of these programs, which typically take between a year or two years to complete, you are able to become licensed in that state to teach. In some states, especially those with teacher shortages, and in some subject areas (with shortages, like HS science), people are able to teach with an alternative teaching license, or a temporary license, while also working on course work concurrently. This is how I became licensed.

The classes, at least in my experience, are pretty easy. I was working full-time as a teacher, and I took classes in the evenings. In my opinion, taking classes while teaching was the most beneficial. I was able to practice what I was learning (and truly internalize it) in my classroom. In addition, questions that popped up while I was teaching could be asked in my graduate classes.

I only had to take 3 or 4 additional classes to get my master’s degree in teaching after taking the classes to become certified. Many schools have this set-up, it’s a Master’s of Arts in Teaching degree. A master’s degree will get you more pay! Once you have your license in one state, it’s pretty easy to get a license in another state. However, you NEED TO GET THE LICENSE IN THE STATE IN WHICH YOU TOOK CERTIFYING CLASSES!!!! Even if you never plan to teach in that state, it will make the process of applying for a license in another state a million times easier. Reciprocity across states only works if you have a license from the state in which you took your certifying classes.