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Donna Raskin is President/CEO of Prestige Education, an in-home tutoring and talent development company (www.prestigeedu.com).
by Donna Raskin, M.S., M.Ed.
With the beginning of every school year, there is a lot of happy and not-so-happy chatter about the teacher your child has. How do we know a teacher is the best possible one for our children? As a former district administrator and principal, I have evaluated hundreds of teachers over my career. As a classroom teacher I learned the tools to help my students make significant gains in test scores, but more importantly, acquire a love of learning.
Let’s make a visit to room 203. The first thing we notice is that the students are sitting in groups and conversing with one another about a task the teacher has given them. It’s a busy noise and we can feel that the room is charged with the energy of children who are thinking and doing as the teacher works his way around the room, visiting with each group.
The walls are adorned with authentic student work that shows depth of thinking and evidence to support it. Perhaps the teacher wrote a question or comment on it that made the student think, “Hmmm … I wonder if …”
In this type of classroom, it is clear just from looking at the assignments that this teacher values what his students are thinking and is encouraging them to explore their thoughts even further, as well as create new ideas. We continue to see this type of work throughout the room, whether a child is explaining how they solved a math problem or why they formed a particular hypothesis for a science experiment. The idea is that the teacher is encouraging children to think and apply what they are learning and be active members of the learning process.
We don’t find graded work on bulletin boards in room 203 because the teacher recognizes that those children struggling with a particular subject shouldn’t be made to feel inadequate because they didn’t get 100% on a test. Instead, we find examples of “works-in-progress” that show what students are doing at that moment.
Everyone’s writing is celebrated because children progress at different rates. Therefore, one student might be revising, while another is at the editing stage. The bulletin board tells us who is where because as the student progresses, they move their name from one column to the other. Those pieces that are finished are on the bulletin board for all to see.
The classroom library in 203 is a sight to behold. Children gravitate toward certain genres, so the library is arranged that way and in “kid-friendly” terms. For example, the teacher chose to break up the fiction genre into “BFF’s,” “Stories That Will Keep You Up All Night,” “Outer Space and Beyond,” etc. Non-Fiction was also broken up so children could find exactly what they wanted to read about, whether it was how things are made or their favorite sports heroes.
It is clear from looking at this beautiful library that the teacher took great pains to have the titles kids most want to read, make the library user friendly and the space comfortable and ample, as evidenced by the large throw rug. I can guarantee that during independent reading time the teacher is there making sure children are reading books on their instructional level.
It seems the teacher is ready to transition to the next activity because he has flicked the lights once. The students become quiet instantly and wait for their teacher’s instructions. One young lady doesn’t get quiet right away and the student next to her nudges her. She gets the message and the teacher transitions to the next activity. This example of classroom management can be looked at in two ways; either the teacher is an ogre who would throw a tantrum if a child dared to speak after the lights were flicked, or as a member of the classroom community he has conveyed that he is entitled to the same respect as everyone else is. I tend to think it’s the latter.
We’ve only scratched the surface on this visit. There are many more ways to spot excellent teaching, and we will explore them in additional articles.
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Donna Raskin is the President/CEO of Prestige Education, an in-home tutoring and talent development company (www.prestigeedu.com). She began her career as a teacher of the Gifted and Talented and went on to become Assistant District Administrator of Special Education for the largest school district in New York City. Raskin next became principal of two middle schools in New York and then relocated to Los Angeles to join her son. After a short stint as a principal in LA., she founded Prestige Education, which is a result of her core values as an educator, i.e. customized education that meets the needs of all learners.
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