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On reaching students in the classroom: Leave them room to bloom

Mind KEY / Career  / On reaching students in the classroom: Leave them room to bloom
Reaching students in the classroom 1
When it comes to reaching students in the classroom, it’s important to remember that it takes something different for each one of them to bloom. Photo by Jeffrey Hamilton on Unsplash

On reaching students in the classroom: Leave them room to bloom

by Darren Cooper

Sometimes, reaching students in the classroom seems nearly impossible. Ever wonder why teachers do it? Why they put up with the immaturity, the bureaucracy and the lunacy? It’s for those a-ha moments. That moment of bloom, that moment of joy and excitement when a child, young or old, has their mind opened to a new concept, or a new thought. These teaching tips for new teachers will help bring on those lightbulb moments by offering tips on how to inspire students and how to get students engaged. 

“There is nothing like the look in the eyes of a child when you see they are starting to understand what you’re teaching,” said long-time Essex County teacher Chrystine Gaffney. “Those moments don’t happen every day, but when they go, they give a teacher wings to keep going until the next moment.”

Reaching students in the classroom

Teaching may be one of the hardest occupations humans have ever attempted. Not every mind works the same. We have visual learners, kids who learn by doing, and kids who learn by writing.

Think of how you studied or tried to study for school. I’ve seen it with my own kids. One can do the memorization trick, that’s how he learned his multiplication tables and state capitals. One is visual. He has to see it and write it. One is much more contextual. He needs both words and vision.

When it comes to reaching students in the classroom, it’s important to remember that it takes something different for each one of them to bloom. It also takes a while to figure that out.

My own personal teaching experiences have run the gamut. I started teaching writing and journalism in a weeklong class for high school kids at Ramapo College 15 years ago.

There were only about ten students. I was prepared to share the knowledge I had gained over the years and was sure they would be entranced and entertained.

It was awful. I couldn’t reach every kid. I couldn’t figure out why. There were a couple of kids who were really into the subject matter. They asked questions, good questions. They did the assignments with enthusiasm and promptly.

I am not afraid to say it, but I became much more attentive to the kids who were giving me positive feedback. I didn’t know how to reach the other kids and I didn’t want to make the effort.

I couldn’t believe teaching was so hard. I was so disappointed. Couldn’t the kids see my passion and knowledge of the subject matter? Wasn’t that enough for them? I was really struggling with how to get students engaged.

My family is full of teachers. I thought it might develop into a side career, but I was turned off. I couldn’t make every kid bloom, so why try?

Light bulb moments: How to inspire students

Fast forward 15 years. I accepted a role as a coach at a basketball camp in Tenafly, NJ I was in charge of 20 kids of various ages and skill levels. It was long, hard work. After a few days I was getting frustrated again. We were doing simple drills, but nothing was translating.

Until it did. 

There was a moment in a basketball game where a kid (honestly, one of the kids who seemed the least interested) did what we had been instructing, encouraging, cajoling.

It was an epiphany. A bloom. All of that work had paid off. I just didn’t see it. It seemingly came out of nowhere, but it was happening. I was reaching students in the classroom.

“For those looking for teaching tips for new teachers, remember this. For some—just like seeds in a garden—it just takes a little more time than others.”

Darren Cooper

I was almost overcome with emotion. I realized that just because I wasn’t getting immediate feedback, didn’t mean the message wasn’t getting through. It gave me motivation to keep going, to find more bloom moments. And they happened! All summer long there were signs of growth and maturity. 

How to get students engaged

Buoyed by that experience, I decided to re-enter the classroom environment by teaching a class at a school in Ramsey, NJ. The topic was sports and journalism, but it was also mixed with real-world life lessons.

I said to myself, start with a simple concept that you know everyone will get. In this case, I started by sharing my top-secret very first question for interview subjects (what is your birthday? Because everyone likes talking about their birthday). 

Then we moved on to more involved and detailed instruction. I was 100 percent myself. Sometimes loud, sometimes silly.

And it worked. 

The boys latched on right away to the first question concept. Then they wanted to know more. I could see from their eyes and faces a connection had been made. Yes, some are still more attuned than others, but I no longer doubt that the bloom process has begun. 

For those looking for teaching tips for new teachers, remember this. For some—just like seeds in a garden—it just takes a little more time than others.

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