Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Can You Just Tell Me?! A Portrait of Becoming a Teacher

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Can You Just Tell Me?! A Portrait of Becoming a Teacher

Article excerpt


Twenty energetic fifth graders stream into Kristen's (1) classroom, sweaty and out of breath from their physical education class. Without any noticeable direction from her, they grab their chairs and make semicircle rows around the easel in preparation for the next lesson. On the chart paper is a list of work that has been, and needs to be, handed in this week. It starts off with a packet on fables and includes revising the memos on their independent reading books, finishing the stories they have been writing, preparing for their spelling tests, a list of math work, and several other tasks.

Kristen reviews the list, making sure everyone understands each assignment. She has everyone turn and talk to a friend about what assignments everyone has left to do. An excited buzz fills the room as children share their progress with each other. When they are done, she tells them that each student's friend is also whom the student should check in with at the end of the day to support him or her in getting the work done. Kristen explains that throughout the week, everyone will do an individual reading assessment--and while she is conducting these, the rest of the class will work on their list of assignments. I remember how difficult it could be to create a situation where the whole class will be productive and engaged so that I could work intensely with an individual--and I am struck with how Kristen has fostered a culture where it seems so natural.

Before having the students return to their regular seats, Kristen hands out a stapled packet of reading and worksheets on fables. This is the start of a larger unit that also includes fairy tales, and while most of the students are excited about the topic, that sentiment is not unanimous. One little boy begrudgingly looks over the packet of "stupid stories." What he does not yet know is that Kristen's guidance will help him develop a deep knowledge of and appreciation for this literature. Two months from now, he will excitedly share with me a sophisticated explanation of the difference between the original Brothers Grimm version of Cinderella and the one we commonly tell children.

Kristen tells the students that the word "moral" appears in the packet seven times; when they get back to their seats, the first thing they should do is circle all seven. This could easily be dismissed as a trivial instruction, but it has two very different--but equally valuable--outcomes. First, it allows Kristen to scan the room to easily identify the students who jumped right into reading the packet and thus were not fully listening. Beyond needing a repeat of this instruction, these students will also need to be monitored and coached for the important learning strategy of paying attention to directions. Second, once students do circle the word "moral"--either on their own accord or after a gentle redirection from Kristen--their attention is drawn to an important element of the assignment. The packet includes multiple short fables, with comprehension questions that include finding the moral to each story. This one simple instruction provided important support for potentially struggling students and improved performance for everyone.

I have seen Kristen effortlessly use these masterful teaching techniques countless times as I observe her classroom, and know that they have been developed and honed throughout almost two decades of her teaching. No profession expects those initially entering the field to be as skillful as those with many years of experience; however, it is crucial that we prepare first-year teachers to be both adequate in their abilities and primed for ongoing development. This is the purpose of teacher preparation programs. What learning is necessary in that preparation?

Teaching Intern Skills

Over the last century, our understanding of student learning has changed dramatically, evolving from behaviorist views of rote learning to more sophisticated constructivist views of how students co-create their knowledge (Lee, 2016). …

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