Tuesday, February 15, 2011

What Good Teachers Do… Part II

Good teachers are efficient.

Often, I look up at the clock during a lesson I'm leading and think, "Yikes!  Not enough time!"  I know that's a common issue for teachers.  Valuing efficiency is important for good teachers because you have to figure out how to cram everything you need to teach into short intervals that are never enough time.  If you don't know how to do things efficiently, you'll lose valuable class time, and work a lot harder to accomplish less.

A good example of efficiency was presented to me by a kindergarten teacher I subbed for soon after Christmas break ended.  I should note here that, ideally, I would be a 4th or 5th grade regular teacher.  Younger students can be ok, but they're my least favorite to sub.  Even if they're a good class, I'd just prefer to be around and teach students in the middle grades.

But this particular K class taught me a lot.  One of the first things I noticed is that this teacher left A LOT of lesson plans.  There were at least 5 pages to the plan.  That was mostly because our activities for the day were outlined in a general plan of important procedures that described, in detail, what her class normally does.  About 3 or 4 pages neatly described things like math centers, language arts centers, calendar time and writing time, etc.  Even though she wasn't there, we would be sticking to routine as usual for the class.  The awesome plans proved she was organized to an impressive degree.

Printing out the plans and actually implementing them are two different things, though.  I held my breath as I set a timer and told students to go to math centers.  To my amazement, students knew exactly what to do. They knew to look up at a pocket chart with their names on it, find which center they were to visit, take out the materials and get right to work.  I didn't have to go over anything, explain the process or settle an argument about which kids were supposed to go the computer station versus practicing their math facts.  Those are things that usually happen when I tell students to go to centers, but none of that happened in this class.  "Well-trained!" I thought.  Once the timer dinged, they put everything up quickly and sat on the carpet for me to call time for the next center.  I was wowed!

Same thing at the language arts centers.  I couldn't believe how easily the class followed directions.  It wasn't just a behavior issue, although they were a good class.  It was clear to me that she had trained this class to follow procedures to the letter and it made for one of the smoothest days I've had the pleasure of enjoying.  Transition time between centers was, seriously, between 60-70 seconds.  I had to wonder if she timed them for clean up.

I was most impressed when it was "writing time."  Her lesson plan told me to ask students to take out their writing journals, write the prompt on the board and discuss it, and then let them write for 20 minutes.  As soon as I said, "OK guys, take out your writing journals..." everyone did it.  And not only that, but they opened up to a clean page, wrote their little heading and date at the top, and sat their with their pencils poised waiting for me to give the prompt.  WHAT?  I think my jaw dropped a little.  I don't think I've seen any class ever do that.  Normally, I have to wait while students take out their science journals instead of their writing journals, tune me out as I give the prompt, or cause various other distractions.  Usually, I at least have to remind students to write their heading, but not this class.  I told them, "Wow!  You could show some fifth graders a thing or two about getting ready to learn!"

And as they started writing, they kept writing for 20 minutes.  No one stared at the page and said, "I don't know what to write!"  No one wrote two lines and told me they were done.  No one even asked me how to spell anything!  I couldn't believe it.  Apparently, their teacher had taught them to JUST.WRITE for 20 minutes, regardless of spelling or anything else.  I could see them trying to sound out words quietly as they wrote.

Kindergartners, ladies and gentlemen.

I probably wrote one of the most glorious notes to a teacher ever written.  The class behaved well, but it was the teacher's effort that seriously impressed me.  Hardly a minute was wasted in that class, and students actually had time to learn because of how efficiently everything was done.  When I think of a class "running like clockwork," this class will immediately come to mind.

image: microsoft


  1. I love this post! It is so rewarding to see teachers' hard work paying off! I'm glad you had a good subbing experience :)


  2. Yes! I know they tell teachers to teach "procedures, procedures, procedures" at the beginning of the year, and this teacher must really take it to heart and train her procedures so that the kids have them down pat! All that effort really pays off, as I can see. I couldn't imagine a K class knowing how to do everything better than much older students, but I witnessed it myself.