The years after got easier as I became more confident and more skilled at my trade. But I continued to work in lower income schools. I found a niche for myself working with a population of kids that others steered clear of when it came time to choose their schools.
I always say that if you can teach kindergarten, you can teach anything. And, of course, if you can handle the classroom management issues that arise in inner-city schools, you could probably handle any class anywhere.
I’ve since made a change and my last several years have been spent teaching a demographic at the opposite extreme – small class sizes, fairly stable home situations, healthy, well-behaved kids. I feel for my coworkers who are starting their careers on the gravy train. You have to wonder if they can stay happy if they end up back in some of the public school systems back in the US. Will they wish they’d done it the other way around?
What does this have to do with laptops? When I was reading the comments of teachers who have been involved in 1-to-1 laptop programs, listening to their advice and experiences, two things became apparent:
First, classroom management is classroom management just as kids are kids. The same concepts apply whether you’re managing a pen and paper classroom or one outfitted with laptops. Certain things are required to help students feel safe, motivated, and to stay inline with classroom expectations.
And second, laptops add some real complications to managing a class. There are so many situations that might not be anticipated for a teacher just starting out in a 1-to-1 environment. Kids are kids and a classroom is a classroom; but, in a certain sense, I suspect that a teacher that becomes competent at running a 1-to-1 classroom, will be able to manage anything they may encounter later on in their career.
Classroom management has always been about some basic concepts that need to be present in order for things to run well:
* Clearly defined expectations and consequences – I put a lot of stock in making connections with my students so that they feel ownership of what happens in our class. Clear expectations take away the nebulous areas that can be a big frustration for everyone involved. And clear consequences make it easy to enforce the rules without taking it personally. They aren’t offending me; their offense was against rule number 7. No need for me to get upset.
* Consistent enforcement – Nothing undermines class management more than a wishy washy teacher. When kids know that off the mark behavior brings consequences, they feel more secure. They know where the limits are and they can settle into getting on within those limits.
* Accountability – This happens through keeping an eye on what is happening in the classroom (the physical setup must lend itself to this), having kids report on what they accomplished in a given period of time, through assessments, and through things like one-on-one conferences to review progress. If kids know they will need to show something for their time, they will rise to the expectation.
I suspect that the step up to teaching in the 1-to-1 classroom entails a steep learning curve. In addition to the standard tools of the management trade, we now have to deal with a whole new set of potential distractions and a variety of technical difficulties. My experience has been limited to my occasional use of the laptop cart with my fourth graders at my previous school. There were times when I spent half the lesson troubleshooting one problem after another.
I have experienced enough to know that I don’t know. There is a lot for me to learn. This is why I am thankful for friends at other schools and people in my learning networks who have walked the road before me. I’m reading and I’m taking notes. Hopefully this time next year, I will be in a situation where I can start to put these things to good use.
Here is a good list of several things to be prepared for when taking on the 1-to-1 classroom. Perhaps it’s a good place to start.