We get up close and personal with Ben Darling, fourth grade teacher, father of two, and recipient of a 2011 Alice Buffett Outstanding Teacher Award. The Dundee Elementary alum returned to his alma mater to teach fourth grade and talks candidly about how having his son attend the same school has changed his perspectives on teaching and the parent/teacher relationship.
Building relationships. I love getting to know both my students and their parents. It is by far my favorite thing about being a teacher. Parent-teacher conferences are the best time of year because each one is distinctly different. A number of years ago I extended my conferences from 15 minutes to 30 minutes - it was the best thing I've ever done in my room. The conferences are relaxed and enjoyable and the parents can leave knowing we didn't rush through anything. Each kid comes into my room with a life-story and I love to hear them all.
I certainly enjoy technology. I run our school web site and conduct a lot of our classroom activities through that site. The kids love learning about technology and working the Smartboard - that's probably their favorite. As far as computers, we live in a different time now. A good adage to follow is that we're preparing kids for jobs that don't even exist yet. As teachers, we need to be at the forefront of the technological world. I love doing new and different things in my room. Technology really helps to do that.
I have had countless moments that can be considered "ah ha!" moments, but I think there are two huge ones that had big impacts on me and my teaching. The first one was when my son, Jake, started school here at Dundee. It finally gave me the real perspective of parent vs. teacher. It was so interesting to look at my profession from a parent’s eyes instead of from a teacher's eyes.
The second, and even more impactful, was when Jake was in fourth grade (here at Dundee) last year. It wasn't an actual "moment" in time, but a year-long frame of reference that really made me think about how I operated in the classroom. He was in my math class and in my science and social studies classes, and I saw my teaching in the true perspective of both a student and a parent. Honestly, when you see your own kids travel through the grade you teach, that puts you in an incredible place. I really think I became a better teacher as I watched him work at school during those classes and when I watched him work at home for those classes.
First of all, don't be afraid to try new things. What you think is working well in the room might only be working well for you. Structure and consistency are important, but if you're doing the same thing every day, it's going to get pretty boring for the kids.
Secondly, remember that they’re just kids. Have fun, relax, and laugh - they will learn what they need to...you don't need to drill kids all day long. Take them outside and show them something in nature. Have a conversation with the class about movies. Show them how to play a board game. Basically, enjoy each day, the learning will come.
Lastly, give your kids choices. Kids LOVE to choose what they do. There's a trick to giving those choices, though: limit the choices to TWO and make sure you're ok with BOTH options. When you do that, the kids are able to choose AND you get what you want. ;)