How teachers deal with a dizzying array of questions

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How many decisions do teachers make per day? When you google this question, the first answer that appears is “1,500”.

This number, which equates to about three decisions per minute in an 8-hour workday, is based on research from the 1980s and 1990s, but is still widely cited in education circles today.

But tackle all the new technologies now being used by teachers, the decisions they increasingly have to make about their students’ socio-emotional learning, and all the COVID-related decisions they have. had to take during the pandemic, and some educational aspects. experts, that 1,500 seems to be much higher in today’s world.

“I mean, yes, that 1,500 [decisions a day] Sounds weak to me, really, ”said Alicia Tate, director of leadership services for TregoED, a non-profit organization that consults with district leaders, principals and teachers on how to make better decisions.

For Susan Wetrich, a preschool teacher at Hoover Elementary School in New Berlin, Wisconsin, the oft-reported fact that these decision-making numbers rival those of air traffic controllers rings true.

“Decision making is absolutely non-stop throughout the day,” she said. She finds herself playing on potential hot spots of the day in the shower or on the way to school. “My brain always thinks: who will work best together for certain tasks? Who should I separate? What is my plan A, what is my plan B, what is my plan C? “

Wetrich, who started in the classroom and then worked as a Head Start administrator and teacher before returning to teaching, said she had more decisions to make now than in any other role or at any time in her career .

This does not surprise Tate.

“You have every student in your class that you need to make on-the-spot and just-in-time decisions as you run your day logistically and pedagogically,” said Tate, a former district specialist. education administrator. “You make decisions about what to do in their unstructured time, how they line up, how they’re going to move from one thing to another.”

Additionally, when dealing with students from different racial, cultural, and economic backgrounds, teachers need to think carefully about the impact of their own unconscious biases on some of the split-second decisions they make on topics. like discipline, grades, or even who to contact to answer a question in a class discussion.

“We make decisions as educators the same way we make decisions as people in general,” said Paula White, executive director of the New York chapter of Educators for Excellence, a goal-oriented organization. not-for-profit that seeks to bring educators’ voices into policy development. It’s based on “our own pattern and our own prejudices that we all have as humans.”

But these biases can lead to big decision-making problems, whether it’s a teacher who is more likely to invite girls than boys to participate in class discussions (or vice versa) to one who has. tendency to discipline black students more harshly than their white peers.

Some teachers are also concerned that their own decision-making will become a bit more fuzzy or less disciplined later in the school day, which could lead to differences in the quality of instruction students receive in the afternoon. compared to the morning. Neema Avashia, who teaches ethnic studies in Boston public schools, noted that studies have shown that parole boards and jurors are likely to make bad decisions later in the day when they are battling the issue. tired.

“One hundred percent we are fighting decision fatigue,” she said. “I’m sure there is erosion in [teachers’] ability to make informed, informed decisions as you go through the day, because you are so bombarded. And this is also due in large part to the magnitude of the work that we ask teachers to do. “

So how do teachers deal with the difficulties of decision-making, especially in a rapidly changing era that includes greater use of technology in education, growing concerns about social justice, and the daily challenges of social justice? education during a pandemic? Education Week asked three seasoned educators to discuss their decision-making approaches. Here are their tips:

Give students a decision-making role and carefully consider their comments

Knowing how overwhelming decision making can be and her own preference for a student-centered classroom, Susan Wetrich tries to transfer as many decisions as possible to her Kindergarten and Kindergarten students. For example, two years ago, she and some students noticed that the way the class started the day – a ‘soft start’ of quiet activities, like reading books or creating puzzles – was not working. because some students needed more advice from the teacher. .

Wetrich therefore assigned two students to suggest an alternative. They decided they wanted to be able to dive right into recess first thing in the morning. Wetrich was skeptical, but she had them present the idea to their classmates. The children agreed to try.

Wetrich let the new calendar sit for a few weeks. Then she brought the class together to discuss how things were going.

“The students themselves decided it wasn’t working very well, because they were just getting too excited,” she said. “It was hard for them to slow down again and get back on the mat and have our morning meeting.”

With the approval of the children, the class returned to puzzles and books. This time it worked much better in part because the students had “ownership” of the arrangement, Wetrich said, and they had learned it was better than the other alternative.

Make learning relevant based on student concerns and feedback

Almost all of Andrew Zimmerman’s decisions, big and small, are guided by his overall philosophy of trying to do what he thinks is best for his students. Zimmerman, who works at Claymont High School in Uhrichsville, Ohio, spent years teaching a subject he loved, history, but constantly answering students’ questions about how they would use the course content over- beyond high school.

After reading an article that emphasized the need to teach entrepreneurial skills to students in Kindergarten to Grade 12, “a light bulb went out,” Zimmerman said. He decided to launch the school’s first business education program, modeled on an exemplary program in a nearby neighborhood. He enlisted the help of a colleague and got the support of the administration.

In the program, students can now learn more about marketing, accounting, stocks, and even auto loans and mortgage applications. There are plans to extend the program to lower grades. Better yet: the real-world implications are obvious to children.

“If I don’t constantly ask them, ‘What do you need, and how do I get you there and where do you want to be, and what is the most beneficial thing I can leave with you before you leave this school. ? ‘, so I’m not doing anyone justice here. I’m not doing my job, ”Zimmerman said. “That’s where a lot of my decision-making comes from. Am I doing the right thing for these kids? “

Decide which approaches to keep and discard learning in the age of the pandemic

Returning to the physical classroom after nearly a year of virtual learning made 25-year-old veteran educator Candace Fikis feel like a whole new teacher again.

She’s not used to this feeling because usually teaching a class over and over again can help educators predict what problems may arise and how best to deal with them. “The more you teach something, the more you can anticipate where things might go or what questions children might ask or [game out] option A, B or C, ”said Fikis, who teaches social studies at West Chicago Community High School.

But that has all changed over the past two years. Even for a seasoned educator like Fikis, decision making became very difficult when her school was offering full-time distance or hybrid education.

“I think that’s why last year a lot of teachers got burned out,” Fikis said. “It was mostly [hard] for older teachers who have been doing this for a while. We know we have a standard of what good teaching is. And we couldn’t predict where things were going to go. We [had to] making so many new decisions that we weren’t trained for.

Even now that she’s returned to face-to-face teaching, Fikis feels like she’s charting new decision-making territory. She wants to keep the best of what worked during the pandemic, but that may mean revamping the lessons she’s been using for years. Is it worth the time? What impact will this have on student learning?

For example, Fikis typically asks its civic education students to organize their own congress, with committee hearings, legislation, and lobbying. In the past, she would ask children to create posters or handouts to explain their bills. But when the school went virtual, she asked students to post these materials online. It actually worked better.

“We don’t want to go back, we want to move forward with this new knowledge, but it takes a lot of decision making,” said Fikis.

Teachers ask themselves questions such as, “What do we want to note now that we didn’t know before?” Is this part even important, as we thought in 2019? “


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