If you think teachers spend majority of their time making Play-Doh and singing in circle time- take another look. A lot has changed since the 80s.


Common Core State Standards now require kindergarteners to “Solve addition and subtraction word problems, and add and subtract within 10 by using objects or drawings to represent the problem.” Could you do that at six? Could you weave it into a fun and engaging literacy lesson today?

In addition to meeting increasingly rigorous academic standards, the state of some urban communities has left teachers standing in the gap for students who need extra support in developing socially, emotionally, and physically.

According to data released from Baltimore City Public Schools, between 2008 and 2013, “the number of City Schools students identified as homeless doubled.” In 2013, BCPS had 2,716 homeless youth in classrooms across Baltimore City alone. This means that educators are much more than “just teachers.”

Educators are social workers for the students in unstable homes or living conditions. Educators are child psychologists unraveling the reasons behind a student suddenly acting out in class or refusing to eat. No one can be “just a teacher.” In fact, even the novice educator has to be a master planner with the patience of Buddha, an advocate in the trenches, and in some cases- the only father or mother figure a student knows.

It’s All About You- Kind of, Not Really

As a teacher, you set the tone and culture for the classroom. And while your role is important- it is no more important than the role and experience of the student. Providing structure is crucial, but equally important is choosing battles carefully- and sometimes, taking time to check yourself.

Who cares that hours were spent preparing a “fun” activity? If it bombs, you must plan something else- preferably something that will better engage students and have them do a majority of the work.

Who cares that you want every child sitting perfectly on the carpet- if one prefers to sit attentively in a chair is it really worth the war? Sometimes we have to make reasonable sacrifices or bargains for the greater good.

Organization is Key

Organization can make or break the teaching experience- especially when teaching multiple subjects to more than 30 students.

Classrooms must be functional for both teacher and student. Visibly displaying your Instructional Framework, unit goals, and lesson targets ensures that day-to-day instruction aligns with year- long plans. Organizing students by academic level with corresponding activity bins cuts down misbehaviors as tasks are finished. Hanging wall organizers free up floor space in smaller classrooms, and designated bins for all papers collected and returned keeps an unsightly mountain of paper from burying the teacher’s desk. Everyone feels better, and students in a tidy room show more respect for the classroom by properly using materials and cleaning up behind themselves.

Communication is a Must, Collaboration is Key

In order to meet student’s academic needs there must be clarity on environment, personality, and culture- none of this can be assumed. Communication with students, parents, family members, school administration and service providers is a requirement in truly understanding a child’s behavior and learning style. To foster better communication, text parents throughout the day with pictures of their student’s work and tips on continuing the learning at home. The quick text logs communication and also gives students an incentive to do their best work.

At the beginning of the year, ask parents to complete a needs survey. If a student has no running water or electricity, this will impact learning. Keeping positive, respectful, open lines of communication increases the chance that a parent will express a need that can then be filled.

Beg, Borrow, Steal: The Internet is Your Friend- Sometimes

Teaching- especially in the beginning years- is not the time to reinvent the wheel. Teachers Pay Teachers, Pinterest, and a slew of other websites offer everything from scripted lesson plans to fun and engaging writing prompts and art projects for every section of the Common Core State Standards.

In 2016, the possibilities are endless. Don’t have a book you want to read? Find the read-aloud with one search Youtube. Don’t have the funds to visit the pumpkin patch? Take your students on a virtual field trip!

Communicating with the grade-level teams goes a long way in easing the pressures of teaching. Fellow teachers can give new ideas and participate in peer observations. Communication and collaboration with service providers can ensure that students get exactly what they need- and sometimes a double-dose of instruction on a targeted skill.

Live Where You Work

Words cannot express the delight of a child seeing their teacher out of context. And the joy is not one-sided. Standing in the grocery store line with someone you taught how to read gives an immeasurable sense of pride.

Living where you serve grounds the work that you do while giving a behind-the-scenes look into the community as you build connection. When you know where students are coming from you can better assist them in reaching their academic and social goals- and the instant celebrity status doesn’t hurt.

Alexis Taylor is teacher in a Baltimore City public school.


Alexis Taylor

AFRO Staff Writer