Ready, set, teach!
For teachers, school begins well before classes start
| Posted: Saturday, Sep 14, 2013 06:00 am
For many students, school got started Sept. 3, but for many of their teachers, the back-to-school season got started a little earlier.
Like many of their colleagues, two Grade 4 teachers at Elmer S. Gish Elementary and Junior High School could be found in their classrooms during the week before school started, getting ready to welcome students back from summer holidays. Planning for the year, however, started for both Derek Harrison and Matt Kinsman before they even stepped into their rooms.
“Obviously in the summer you try and take some time to regroup. Every teacher’s different but you’re probably already thinking about the year as soon as August hits,” Harrison said.
Harrison, 33, is about to start his second year of teaching Grade 4 after spending four years in a kindergarten classroom.
This will be Kinsman’s first year starting as a full-time teacher instead of doing substitute work or coming in partway through the year since he completed his education training in 2011. It’s also the 27-year-old’s first time teaching Grade 4.
“I probably started doing my lesson planning, I would say I probably started last month,” he said.
Some of that planning wasn’t necessarily on paper, but Kinsman finds himself watching the local environment looking for ways to help inspire and explain things to his students using day-to-day life – even a random advertisement can help spark classroom inspiration.
Harrison, who is part of the school’s mentorship committee, was already thinking of potential changes to his lesson plans during the spring.
“I was already thinking about ideas I wanted to use for the next group of children. I was already thinking of things that didn’t work this year that I could maybe tweak,” Harrison said.
That is an advantage of working in the same position and grade for awhile, he said – you’re more familiar with your source material and what will click with students.
Both Harrison and Kinsman use what they call “year-at-a-glance” and “month-at-a-glance,” along with week and daily planning tools to help keep them on track, ensuring they’re meeting the learning outcomes set out in the curriculum for the year. Kinsman, being a new teacher who is still on probation, tries to make sure he is extra-organized.
“I over-plan and it’s something I need to work on,” he said.
However, it means he’s ready for questions from his supervisors or parents, and it makes sure Kinsman has a “well-rounded” lesson prepared for his students. That said, he did add he’s looking forward to being so experienced that he’s able to have a sentence as a lesson plan and have it come off perfectly – right now he’s noting his introduction, conclusion, the objective of the lesson, the learning outcomes he’s hoping to achieve with each lesson and noting the type of assessment he will use on the students.
“I have to do those building blocks to get that experience,” Kinsman said.
Other teachers in the school do have that experience, however, and both men spoke about collaboration and advice available from other staff that helps assist in their planning.
Teachers have specific learning outcomes they need to deliver during the year, but they do have some flexibility in how they bring that material to students. From finding on-topic YouTube videos to hauling in marshmallows as part of a science lesson to relating mathematics to real-life situations, teachers can get creative.
In addition to collaborating with other teachers, there are book and online resources available for educators in search of ideas. Some are even specifically devoted to starting the new school year.
“They’re step-by-step guides that teachers can use,” Harrison said.
While planning starts before school’s in for the year, teachers have to keep at it – and manage their marking and administrative duties – which often means working beyond school hours.
“Certainly marking and planning are your weekend duties or after-school hours,” Harrison said, noting prep time is often taken up by other administrative tasks.
Kinsman is expecting to spend some late nights and weekends at the school.
“They always say as a first-year teacher it’s going to be tough,” he said. “That’s what I signed up for.”
In addition to trying to make each lesson interesting and engaging for students, the teachers have to keep in mind that children can have different learning styles.
“Planning for different types of learners within your lesson plan is something that probably takes the most amount of time,” Kinsman said.
“Some kids learn visually, some learn through lecturing, some learn through very tactile situations. As a teacher you don’t want to just employ one of those, you want to employ all of them,” Harrison said.
Teachers don’t just have to get their lesson plans ready: they also have to prep the space in which they and their students will spend the majority of their school days.
While each class gets a budget for materials, “it’s nominal,” Harrison said.
“Most teachers will tell you that runs out fairly quick,” he said. ”You are putting your own money into it depending on the teacher and what they want to do.”
As a teacher in the Cogito program at Elmer S. Gish, a program the pair said is more teacher-structured than the Global program, “less is more” when it comes to classroom décor, Harrison said.
What that décor ends up being – in his case, often sports-themed – is a reflection of the individual teacher.
Meanwhile Kinsman, who ended up in the computer lab due to a delay in getting portables, had to design his classroom from scratch. With a few days left before school started, he said he’d already put in three 10-hour days organizing the room.
“I have done enough bulletin boards to last me a lifetime,” he said, noting some teachers are able to make their boards look like beautiful murals, a state he regrets his boards have not reached. “You would never think about how much time it takes.”
Kinsman is hoping this year is the year he reaches what can be a tough goal for teachers of his generation – off of probation and into a school as a permanent staff member. The Concordia grad said many of his fellow education program graduates have had to leave the Edmonton area in the pursuit of work, and that he was thrilled to get a chance to teach full-time this year in St. Albert.
“When I got the phone call to say that I got the job … I was so happy I was almost in tears,” Kinsman said.