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When the Focus Is on the Students


Laurie Stenehjem, a graduate of North Dakota State University and a teacher with more than 25 years experience, is a mentor in the Grand Forks Middle School Resident Teacher Program. Laurie and first-year teacher Kimberly Johnson share their journal entries with Education World readers in alternating weeks.

Possibly the most important lesson that new teachers have to learn is "It's not about you; it's about them." The best teachers have their students at the forefront of their thoughts as they work. The best teachers focus on what their students are thinking and doing, not on what they are thinking and doing.

Teacher candidates in my Exploring Teaching class at the university often write about their desire "to impart knowledge" to their students. Novice teachers -- and sometimes those with more experience too -- think in terms of themselves. They worry about what they will do in class tomorrow, what they will teach, what they will say.

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It's not an issue of selfishness or self-centeredness. It's part of growing into a new role. Until the process of making the myriad decisions involved in leading a classroom become second nature, the teacher does have to carefully think through what to do next. With experience, those things take less effort and the teacher can put more emphasis on what the students are learning. As a mentor, I can help my new teachers shift their focus to their students ... to think "How can I help my students learn a particular concept?" as opposed to "How can I teach that concept?"

Kim is learning to center her efforts on student learning; as she does, she is finding more success in her classroom. She has mentioned a few times that she is feeling more like an adult. I think what she means is that she is learning to look at what happens in her class through the eyes of the kids rather than from her perspective. She is learning to concentrate on their needs rather than on her own. Really successful classrooms don't happen until teachers learn to do that.

One way I can assist is to help her examine her students' work, to analyze what they're learning and what they're missing. I can also redirect her reflections. I need to stop asking about what she did, how she felt, and what she said. Instead, I need to ask what the students did and said and how they responded to the things that happened during a lesson. I need to help her examine her class from the point of view of the students. I guess that is part of growing up and learning to look at the world as an adult.

Click here for biographical information and previous entries.

Article by Laurie Stenehjem
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