by Harry & Rosemary Wong
Special to the Gazette
March 1, 2010
Learning to Teach, Teaching to Learn
What They Don’t Teach in School
“When I first started teaching, I honestly had no idea what I got myself into.”
Jessica Fenton walked into her first year in the classroom and like so many new teachers, was caught off guard. The obstacles she encountered left her feeling unprepared and overwhelmed. She ran into problems that were never dealt with in her college education courses. She struggled to find answers for the stressed out parents asking for advice. She had piles of administrative paperwork. Juggling teaching with meetings and extra-curricular activities seemed impossible. Finding time to prep for classes she wasn’t trained to teach meant giving up sleep.
You see, Jessica was trained as an elementary school teacher. However, upon graduation, she was offered a position teaching ninth grade English.
“Never in my life did I ever think I would teach high school,” says Jessica. The last time Jessica had been in a high school classroom was as a Senior—during her own high school days. And now she was beginning her professional career—as a high school teacher at Riverview High School.
In addition to teaching, Jessica was also coaching sports, chaperoning school dances, volunteering on various committees, and helping with graduation. She was working from seven in the morning until midnight every day. Yet still, she did not feel prepared.
“I was discouraged,” she says, “because I did not completely understand what was really involved in being a teacher and most importantly, how to manage it all.”
Jessica knew that she loved being a teacher. But by the time the Christmas holidays came, Jessica was at a breaking point. “I could not possibly teach forever,” she says, “by putting in the hours I was putting in and by being involved in all that I was involved in—and stay sane.”
She knew it was time for a change.
A Few Simple Changes
Over the break, Jessica committed herself to learning how to become a more successful teacher. She attended professional development seminars and classroom management workshops. She read books, including Enhancing Professional Practices, by Charlotte Danielson, and our book, The First Days of School. And she stole everything she could.
Jessica soon realized that a few simple changes could turn everything around. The process would have to start with establishing procedures and routines in her classroom. She developed a list of clear procedures that she knew would make her classroom routines flow smoothly.
Once she had these procedures outlined in her plan, she taught the procedures to her students. This is where most teachers fail when they complain procedures don’t work in their classrooms. These are the teachers that just tell the students what to do and then expect the students to do it. There is no rehearsal or reinforcement of the procedures.
Using the three-step procedure for teaching a procedure that’s taught in The First Days of School, Jessica
Explained the procedures to her class.
Modeled and rehearsed them with her class
Implemented a method of follow through to reinforce each procedure
According to Jessica, “It was not so much the curriculum that I needed a handle on but it was more about management and organization.”
Once the students had a clear understanding of how things were going to run in the classroom, Jessica was able to teach with ease. She distributed two handouts to her students. The first was a department-wide course outline which explained the literature they would be studying, how they would be graded, and the policies for assignments and homework.
Most importantly, at the bottom of the paper in bold letters was this statement:
“The degree of success earned by the student will depend on commitment and ownership. If the three participants: student, parent/guardian, and teacher, work together, the student will experience success.”
Click here to see the department’s English 10 Course Outline. This handout also was sent home for parents and guardians to review.
The second handout was a Course Information page. This laid out each of her major procedures on paper for the students to reference. It listed the specific breakdown of how each day was going to be run. It explained Silent Reading (her version of an opening of class bellwork assignment). It said what each student was to bring to class every day, and how they were to organize their work.
Click here to see Jessica’s Course Information page.
By setting her expectations of her students and herself up front, she set the stage for a successful rest of the year.
“I realized, I can do this! After returning to school from the holiday break, I was a changed teacher. I have never looked back since and I have never been happier.”
For information on how to create and implement procedures and routines, read Chapter 19 in The First Days of School or view “Using the First Days of School, a DVD featuring Chelonnda Seroyer, an English teacher like Jessica Fenton, found at the back of the book, The First Days of School.
Jessica and Erin Gruwell
In the start of the 2009 school year, Jessica had the opportunity to meet a long-time idol, Erin Gruwell, the teacher of the Freedom Writers. Jessica says, “She is someone I aspire to be like. I want to teach with as much passion and enthusiasm as she exudes when teaching.”
As a new teacher in Long Beach, California, Erin Gruwell was shocked when she found out that only one student in her class knew what the holocaust was. She decided it was time for a change.
Her new curriculum centered on tolerance. She inspired 150 disadvantaged students to write their stories, keep journals, make movies about themselves, read books about other teenagers, and relate the materials they studied to their own lives. These students became known as the Freedom Writers.
In 1997, she founded the Freedom Writers Foundation. (www.freedomwritersfoundation.org) This organization works to “inspire young, underprivileged students to pick up pens instead of guns.” Today, Erin Gruwell continues to share her experiences with teachers across the country.
Erin Gruwell believes that learning is the most powerful tool a teacher has:
“Everything I was told not to do, I did. They told me not to smile. I smiled. They told me never to show emotion. How could I not be a person, though? How could I not be compassionate and give a student a hug when they were hurting? I changed the most. I became the student.” — Erin Gruwell
At the end of the meeting Jessica had with Erin, Erin presented Jessica with a very special learning opportunity—Come to the Freedom Writer Teacher Institute in California. Erin told Jessica that to attend the institute would change her life and her classroom. Jessica went and came back ready to start another school year.
Implementing What She Learned
Much like Erin Gruwell, Jessica also shows a deep passion for her students and her work. She says, “I was born to be a teacher. I am very passionate about my students and teaching; my students can attest to this as they have seen me laugh and cry with them. I feel comfortable when I am with my students like I am ‘at home.’”
Jessica values the connection she makes with every student. She works to relate to every single one of them in a very personal way. This is evident when you walk into her classroom on the first day of school.
The day begins with a PowerPoint presentation. As she introduces herself, she goes on to explain not only her credentials as a qualified teacher, but also her own personal reasons for why she loves to teach. She then shares “Five Fun Facts About Me!” which includes the time she went swimming in a lake with fresh water sharks!
Click here to see Jessica’s First Day of School PowerPoint presentation.
Later, Jessica asks each student to fill out an In Class Check List. This short form asks each student to identify the way they learn best, giving them a say in the way the classroom will be run. She also polls the students about what they are most concerned about in her class, and what areas of the material they are struggling with.
By doing this, Jessica opens up communication between her and the students for the rest of the year. She shows them that she wants them to succeed, and then asks them how she can help them do that.
Continuing in the trail of Erin Gruwell, Jessica also sets high expectations of her students by handing out a survey. The survey asks the students what grade they hope to achieve in her course. Then how they plan to achieve it. At the end, each student is required to sign a statement that states their own personal commitment to achieving their goals.
Click here to see Jessica’s Learning Goals Survey.
Jessica has also incorporated Erin Gruwell’s ideas of tolerance into her classroom.
Jessica encourages her students to identify with the stories they read. Every day, class begins with twenty minutes of silent reading and independent study as bellwork. Students are allowed to choose literature from a variety of genres. Each student gets to pick what he or she wants to read. The texts are later used as a basis for various reports on course topics.
Procedures and routines in Jessica’s classroom also reflect tolerance and respect. As a first year teacher, Jessica “stole” ROPE from a colleague and then created LAMPE as two simple ways for students to remember her classroom expectations.
Listen Ability to Cooperate Make Good Choices Positive Attitude Equality
Respect! On Time Prepared Expect OUR Best
A Happy Ending for Jessica Fenton
As a brand new teacher, Jessica wondered what she was getting into. She struggled and almost gave up by December break. Now in her fourth year of teaching, Jessica says, “I have the best job in the world. I love teaching and working with my students.”
She is also an active contributor to the New Brunswick Teachers’ Association. As a member of the Ad Hoc Planning Committee, she shares her experiences in the classroom with other teachers in her area. More importantly, she shares her passion and her dedication to making a difference in her students’ lives. And she has time to do it all!
In a speech for the New Brunswick Teachers’ Association Council Day, Jessica said, “I feel like I am the luckiest person in the world . . . to have met so many amazing educational leaders who have helped me through my journey.”
And although Jessica is now a very successful and effective teacher, she still continues in her efforts to learn and develop in her profession.
“You are either born to be an inspiring teacher or you learn how to become one. Every day, I try to become a better teacher and to learn from my students.”
Jessica has some advice to teachers, especially new teachers:
Teaching is a learning experience. And we have a lot to learn.
Know how much to take on.
Know how to manage it all.
Be open to new opportunities.
Remember, this is your calling! Love your job!
Jessica admits that she still has a lot to learn (“I am still pretty early in my career” she says), but also tells us, “I learned a lot my first year of teaching, through the good times and the bad times.”
New teachers and even veteran teachers who need a shot in the arm—don’t discourage! A few simple changes and you too can be on the path to success!
To Jessica and to all of the educators who continue to share your stories with us, we are most grateful that you give us the opportunity to pass your techniques and inspiration to others in the profession. The most successful teachers are the ones who steal everything they can get, and share everything that they have learned.
Please continue to share and learn and grow as we journey together on the road of effective and successful teaching.
a printable version of this article click
The techniques of effective teachers are replicable. Written ten times a year, Harry and Rosemary Wong's columns feature effective teachers and administrators and their techniques for enhancing student learning. An archive of past articles can be found at the end of every column, with a abstract of all articles at the end of the most recent June column.
For over 20 years, helping teachers become effective has been the passion of the Wongs. Writing for teachers.net is just one of the many ways they reach out to educators with their ideas on how effective teachers improve student learning.
About Harry & Rosemary Wong...
Harry and Rosemary Wong are teachers. Harry is a native of San Francisco and taught middle school and high school science. Rosemary is a native of New Orleans and taught K-8, including working as the school media coordinator and student activity director.
Harry Wong has been awarded the Horace Mann Outstanding Educator Award, the National Teachers Hall of Fame Lifetime Achievement Award, the Science Teacher Achievement Recognition Award, the Outstanding Biology Teacher Award, and the Valley Forge Teacher's Medal. He was selected as one of the most admired people in education by the readers of Instructor magazine. Rosemary was chosen as one of California's first mentor teachers and has been awarded the Silicon Valley Distinguished Woman of the Year Award. She was also honored as a Distinguished Alumnus from her alma maters, Southeastern Louisiana University and Louisiana State University.
Harry and Rosemary have been awarded the Upton Sinclair Award and were nominated for the Brock International Prize in Education.
Harry Wong is the most sought after speaker in education today. He has been called "Mr. Practicality" for his common sense, user-friendly, no-cost approach to managing a classroom for high-level student success. Over a million teachers worldwide have heard his message. Today, Rosemary speaks along with Harry. In spite of their heavily booked schedule, Harry and Rosemary have agreed to write this monthly column so that more people can hear their message.
How They Develop Effective Teachers...
Harry and Rosemary Wong are committed to developing effective teachers, one teacher at a time.
To do this, they have formed their own publishing company, of which Rosemary is the CEO.
Their new audio CD set, How to Be an Effective and Successful Teacher, was recorded live before 800 teachers in St. Louis. Listen as they walk you through classrooms that hum with learning and share how you can replicate the same success in your classroom. In 2 hours and 40 minutes, Harry and Rosemary can transform you into a very effective and successful teacher at no cost!
This presentation has transformed the lives and teaching success of hundreds of thousands of teachers.Learn how to
Begin the school year with a plan
Start class immediately
Have a well-organized and structured classroom
Reduce discipline problems
Have students who are engaged and working
Teach procedures and responsibility
Maximize classroom instructional time
Use lesson objectives so students know what they are to learn
Use rubrics to assess for student learning
Deal with at-risk students
Improve student learning and achievement
The Wongs have written The First Days of School, the best-selling book ever in education. Over 3.6 million copies have been sold. It is used in 116 countries, 2,027 colleges, and most every new teacher induction program. The new, fourth edition includes:
An additional chapter on procedures
A new chapter on assessment with rubrics.
A new chapter on Professional Learning Teams
A new chapter for administrators on implementation
Additional information in Going Beyond Folders
A new DVD, Using THE FIRST DAYS OF SCHOOL, presented by Chelonnda Seroyer
The Wongs have also produced the DVD series, The Effective Teacher, winner of the Telly Award for the best educational video of the past twenty years and awarded the 1st place Gold Award in the International Film and Video Festival.
They also have a successful eLearning course, Classroom Management with Harry and Rosemary Wong. The course can be taken in private at the learner's convenience. The outcome of the course is a 2 inch binder with a personalized Classroom Management Action Plan.
This Action Plan is similar to the organized and structured plan used by all effective teachers. Details for the classroom management course can be seen at www.ClassroomManagement.com.
You can hear Harry Wong LIVE on a set of CDs, called
How to Improve Student Achievement, recorded at one
of his many presentations. He invites you to steal from him the secrets of effective teaching for all grade levels.
Never Cease to Learn has the power to transform your
attitude and your life. In this DVD, Harry shares his journey on the road to success and tells listeners how to become the educators they were meant to be.
When the book, video series, CD, DVD, and eLearning course are used together, they form the most effective professional development training tool for producing effective teachers. Staff developers and administrators who would like to know how to implement the aforementioned book, video series, and CD are encouraged to consult the book, New Teacher Induction: How to Train, Support, and Retain New Teachers. Information about these products can be found by visiting the publisher's website at www.EffectiveTeaching.com or www.HarryWong.com.
Helping you produce effective teachers is our passion.