Prepare, Prepare, and Prepare

As a brand new classroom teacher, I was all set to wow my students. I had a Master’s degree under my belt, I had all my school supplies sharpened and organized, and I had every intention of solving the challenges of urban education single-handedly. Everything I needed, right? Disaster.

I’ll spare you the gory details, but the moral of this story is a long and painful lesson about the importance of preparation. Looking back, I was incredibly cocky as a new teacher. I thought that if I knew the material pretty well, I could just “wing it.” Wrong. Good teachers don’t wing it; not until they’ve put in the real work.

Rehearse. Professional athletes, artists, and scientists practice their craft regularly – particularly when no one is watching. Professional teachers are no different. My teaching didn’t become effective until I started rehearsing every speech, every student activity, and every conceivable question and interaction.

When I’m teaching something for the first time, I write out a full script, read it over a few times, and then practice without the script. I talk to myself in the car, while I’m making dinner, and in the bathroom mirror. If I’m repeating a lesson that I’ve done before, I rehearse it again. Think of teaching as a muscle that needs regular conditioning.

Good teachers practice:

  • Their introduction: They know how they will introduce themselves and the day’s activities to hook students’ interest.
  • The day’s objectives: They have a clear idea of what students should know and be able to do by the end of the class, and they communicate that clearly to students.
  • All student activities: They have rehearsed clear directions for each activity, and they have thought through all the ways things could go wrong.
  • Timing: They know how much time each portion of the lesson will take. They know that students have short attention spans (we all do, really) and they plan to keep things moving.

Game face. Think of the classroom as the starting line to a race and show students you are ready to go. Take off your coat before you enter the room, have your handouts ready to be passed out, take care of all your technology and writing on the board ahead of time. The moment you say, “Hello, my name is____,” the starting gun has gone off, and you need to be ready to move.

Reflect. Anyone who practices yoga knows the importance of the final pose, savasana, or “corpse pose,” when practitioners lie still on their mats and allow the entire yoga session to soak into their bodies. Without it, all the work isn’t integrated and the benefits of the session are lost. Reflecting on our teaching works the same way. Reflecting regularly in a journal or with a colleague not only helps us to learn from our mistakes; it helps us to integrate what’s worked, so that we can use it again.

Your turn. How do you prepare for the classroom? What are some the lessons you’ve learned from teaching?

Some of our favorite moments in teaching from the NAVIGATE training series:

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Katrina Pavlik is the partner training manager and health promotion specialist at Communities In Schools of Chicago. She has taught in Chicago Public Schools and the City Colleges of Chicago. 

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