by Harry and Rosemary Wong
The Effective Teacher Adapts
Are you now one of the teachers that has moved from the
fantasy stage of teaching to one of survival? Fantasy is the stage where
you will find most new teachers. They enter teaching full of enthusiasm with
the belief that they can reach every child and will make a difference in their
However, things do happen-things they never told you about
in college. Some of you have now resorted to worksheets, quiet readings of the
textbook, and watching videos-anything to just make it through the day. This is
what happens to people in the survival mode.
We assume you would like to get out of the survival stage
and get into the stage we consider "mastery." This is the stage where teachers
are considered master, competent, or effective teachers. This is where the
students are learning and achievement can be seen and measured.
The good news is that when you reach the mastery stage
and start to make a difference in the lives of your students, you will return to
the fantasy stage. You'll pinch yourself with disbelief because your
classes are running so smoothly that you can't believe you are a teacher. This
reality is your dream come true.
You Find Them on Every Staff
The true reality is there are many teachers still operating
at the survival mode-after 20 years in the classroom.
We are in no way making fun of the people who are in
survival. Our daughter, daughter-in-law, and brother are teachers; many of our
dear friends are teachers. So we would never do anything to demean teachers.
But we know how these teachers fell into the trap of becoming a teacher in the
survival stage. In all probability, other teachers who were also in survival
influenced them, and rather than make a choice to become an effective teacher,
they decided to do what so many others were doing, simply survive.
What happened? Ask any one of these teachers about their
efforts to learn and you will discover that all of them have not read a
professional journal or gone to a conference in decades. That is, they have
made no effort to learn or to better themselves. Teaching is a job and they
view teaching as labor, putting in time to make money. Douglas Brooks describes
these people as bitter blamers, constant critics, and managers of monotony.
Thus, they become toxic influences on the staff.
To not know is all right. But not to
know is a tragedy. If you simply survive and refuse to learn, then you
won't know anything about anything. When you reach 40 or 45 years old, you are
done. You will be obsolete because you will be good at nothing.
So, you have a choice with your life. Where you
will be in five years will be determined by
- the people you meet
- the places you go
- the things you learn, and
- the risks you take.
If you are presently in a survival mode, we invite you
to become a master teacher. Our columns are carried under the banner of
Effective Teaching. Master teachers are effective teachers and our columns
chronicle the success stories of effective teachers. Print off all of our
columns since June 2000 and store them in a binder for reference.
Find Nourishing People
In contrast to people with toxic behaviors, there are
people with nourishing behaviors. These people will be easy to find. They
believe in the potential of all children. They believe in the dignity of the
important, they believe in nourishing themselves by constantly learning.
Please reflect on the following statements:
I take responsibility for
No one else will.
I make a statement of dignity to
myself and the teaching profession when I acknowledge and accept that I make a
You cannot make a difference in the lives of your
students until you make a difference in your own life. Nourishing people
know this and, thus, participate in lifelong, professional learning.
If you dare to
teach, you must never cease to learn.
You are the only person on the face of the
earth who can use your abilities. It is an awesome responsibility.
If you want
positive results from your life, you must keep certain responsibilities in
focus. (Please see page 18 in The First Days of School.)
Effective Teachers Can Adapt
Here's the biggest secret to teaching success:
beg, borrow, and steal. It's really not stealing, it's
called research! Like people who haunt E-Bay to find the hidden
treasure to buy, effective teachers attend conferences, read books,
and haunt the Internet looking for ideas they can use in their classroom.
effective teachers can adapt ideas used by other teachers.
Regardless of the subject area or the grade level,
effective teachers can make the ideas of other teachers work in their own
classrooms. That is what Michelle Beck did with the Tote Tray System
described in our September 2002 article, "Dispensing Materials in Fifteen Seconds"
She wrote to say, "I loved reading your tote tray idea! I
have used this for the last year."
Developed originally for a secondary school classroom,
Michelle wanted us to know how she adapted the Tote Tray System for use with
six-year-olds in her Sydney, Australia, classroom.
The Tote Tray System has necessary materials preorganized
in containers which are carried to the students' work areas. Michelle found a
way to make this procedure work for her 32 first grade students' unique needs.
According to Michelle, her school has a shared vision which
supports cooperative learning while implementing Howard Gardner's Multiple
Intelligences, so group work is an important part of each school day. She has
learned that four is the optimal number of students in a cooperative learning
group. The following are some of the procedures Michelle Beck uses for what she
calls her Team Tubs System to streamline the action of grouping students and
distributing materials, making her a most effective teacher.
Michelle Beck's Team Tubs System for First Grade
Preparing the Team Tubs. Michelle uses box lids,
but any set of similar containers (shoeboxes, plastic organizers, dishpans,
coffee cans) will work. The number of groups will determine the number of tubs
you will need. In Michelle's case, she divides her class of 32 into eight
groups of four, so she has eight "tubs." Before students arrive, equip each tub
with the materials and supplies each group will need. This might include items
such as a pencil and eraser for each child, a roll of tape and a stapler for
each group, etc. depending upon the activity. Label each tub with a different
Divide the class into equal size groups. Break the class
into small groups using any system of random matching. Michelle uses a variety
of methods, including one known as "Folding the Line."
Forming Groups. Michelle explains that "Folding the
Line" is a cooperative learning procedure used to form random groups. The
children line up in one line according to alphabetical order of their names, or
when their birthday falls, or by names pulled at random. After they make one
single line, the end turns or folds (wraps around) so the end person faces the
beginning person forming a pair. She then puts one pair from the beginning of
the line with a pair at the end until each pair has been matched up with another
to form a group of four in each.
Assign Each Group a Color or Symbol. Michelle uses
a different color name for each group, corresponding to the colors attached to
the Team Tubs. So the orange group uses the orange tub, etc.
Team Tub Bosses. Assign each student a number or
day to determine the "Boss of the Day." Each student in the group is assigned a
label in the form of a unique number, 1 through 4 (or as many as there are in
the group), or a day of the week (Monday Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday person) to
determine which member of each group is responsible for fetching the team tub on
a particular day. If using numbers, #1 would signify Monday, #2 would stand for
Because she uses groups of four students, on the fifth day
of the week (Friday) Michelle rolls a die to determine which student will be
Boss of the Day for the second time that week. If number one comes up, the #1
or Monday person fills the role and so forth.
Each Boss of the particular day is in charge of collecting
and returning the team tub and the colored hoops around which Michelle has her
groups sit. With 32 students, she has eight hoops in eight colors corresponding
to the colors of the team tubs. This procedure helps the children move quickly
and easily to join their groups, and each team tub can be placed inside the
corresponding color-coded hoop. She has the children face their original
Folding the Line partner while sitting around the hoops with their team of four,
promoting eye contact and focus.
Michelle suggests an alternate method teachers of older
students might use for assigning day-of-the-week roles: Label members of each
group with playing card suits. Hand out cards so that in each group of four one
child has a heart, another a spade, a third with diamond, and the fourth a club.
Then, on one day of the week all of the hearts will be Boss
of the Day for their individual groups. On the next day all diamonds will come
forward to pick up the tubs, etc.
The most exciting aspect of teaching is that it is a
creative outlet. All people want to be creative as this nourishes the
body. Michelle of Australia saw an idea from our September 2002
column and used it creatively.
Wisdom for a New Year
- Our best advice for new teachers is never pass up an
opportunity to learn, even if it does not pertain to what you're currently
doing. You will never know when you'll need it.
- Organize your classroom. Opportunities and creative
ideas fit in better when there is an organized or structured
classroom-otherwise, you'll never see how it applies to you.
- Do more professional reading so you can be aware of more
- Work to develop good habits. This is far easier to do
than it is to break bad habits.
- Don't be like so many people in their golden days who
will tell you that if they had to do it all over again, they would have done
- Treat each day as if it was a first day of
school. Each day is the dawning of a new day. Listen,
again, as English teacher, Joyce Randolph sings "My New Day."
(May 2001 http://teachers.net/wong/MAY01)
Don't adopt a wait until next year attitude. Do it right
now. Every day is a precious day for learning for you and
your students. Do it!
- If you don't start, it's certain it won't arrive.
Success stops when you do.
- The best way to escape your problem is to solve it.
- Others can stop you temporarily, but only you can do it
- Education is a long-term commitment. You can blindly
steer a course full of potholes and road blocks, or you can plot your journey
with a roadmap for success.
Come and join so many of us for a very exciting,
nourishing, and fulfilling ride as we work with children. It's the ultimate
trip of a lifetime!
For a printable version of this article click here.
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Gazette Articles by Harry & Rosemary Wong:
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- Planning, Planning, Planning (August 2013)
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- Totally Inexcusable (Mar 2013)
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- The Highest Rated School in New York City, Part 2 (Mar 2012)
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- The Importance of Culture (Dec 2011 / Jan 2012)
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- Applying for a Teaching Job in a Tight Market (May 2003)
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