When it comes to the elementary classroom, teachers have more autonomy than they think. They may be charged with incorporating social and emotional learning reforms, more rigorous standardized tests and new learning strategies into their work. Still, elementary school teachers have enough sway over their classrooms to enhance the learning experience for their students. Teachers can use those moments of pedagogical freedom to impact the success of their students.
Students' lives outside regular school hours are unpredictable and outside the teacher's control. Based on the socioeconomic demands of the child's life, it is highly likely that the only direction some students receive will be during the day in the classroom. Children rely on this one-on-one instruction to succeed, and teachers can make the most of such opportunities to build critical thinking skills in their young charges.
Teaching Diverse Classrooms
In 2008, education scholar Charles Payne, made the case that improvement can't happen in a school where the culture is ill prepared to seize opportunity. High turnover in a grade or department is a sign that a school is worse than ill prepared. For instance, many teachers find it challenging to teach in a zip code where their students' lifestyles are completely foreign to their own upbringing, and being able to manage differences in culture becomes a pre-requisite. Teachers who grasp those differences are better prepared to deal with misunderstandings in the classroom environment.
Graduate programs like the online Master of Arts in Teaching with a Specialization in Elementary Education at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke (UNCP) prepare teachers to navigate the unique demands of the elementary classroom.
The UNCP master's program includes the course Language, Literacy, and Diversity, which provides teachers with the tools to differentiate curricula, instruction and assessment. An elective in the program, Poverty and Its Impact on Education, exposes teachers to the issues that economically disadvantaged children often face. This course equips teachers with the tools they'll need to address related issues that might arise in their classrooms.
How to Cultivate Healthy Learning Environments
Based on the hierarchy of needs, Maslow's theory provides evidence that combining social and emotional learning with academic mastery is a crucial part of any educational reform effort. Teachers need not abandon data-driven instruction or the components of Bloom's taxonomy, but they can adopt divergent thinking to help their students improve in a healthy and safe classroom environment.
UNCP's course, Advanced Classroom Management, is designed to "develop graduate students' knowledge base related to the theory and techniques of classroom management." The program promotes the educational philosophy that a positive and respectful learning environment for all students is the norm and not the exception. The course includes a range of classroom management techniques and enables educators to adjust their skills to match the needs of the school community.
Any seasoned teacher understands that each group of students is distinct and even each subject during the day might require a different approach to classroom management. Variables like students who are late in the morning, tired after lunch, distracted after recess or hungry by the end of the day demand a classroom management toolbox, not a single technique. Instructors who cooperate with their colleagues, support their school community and are open to administrative feedback are in a better position to experience success regardless of where or whom they teach.
The operational definition of student success has mostly relied upon measurable outputs like test scores, class rank and college acceptance rates. A teacher's ability to manage the classroom or attend extracurricular activities is typically one of several variables that affects those outputs. The Hamilton Project, published by The Brookings Institution in 2011, suggests offering incentives for input instead. Teachers can give students praise, marks or incentives to read before a test or request proof of time spent studying, for instance.
A 2021 study explored the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on education in the U.S. The report identified trends that the nation's parents and educators consider crucial for K-12 teaching and learning. Eighty-five percent of parents named high-quality teaching as the most important contributor to student success. The study listed "supporting teacher preparedness, building and deepening skill sets, and promoting teacher efficacy" as goals for professional development.
UNCP's online M.A.T. degree focused on elementary education can help teachers improve their skills and work toward these goals to increase their students' mastery.
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