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Ryan Hall, MS Math Teacher, on Teaching

February 7, 2011

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Three words that describe your teaching persona

enthusiastic, urgent, nerdy

Why teach? Or, how did you become a teacher?

On a macro-level, I teach because I believe that education is the most important long-term investment that we can make as a society.

On a micro-level, I teach because I enjoy the students.  They make me laugh and keep me on my toes.

What would you be if not a teacher?

More relaxed?

What do you do to optimize student engagement in class?

I think pacing is key to student engagement.  I try to keep a strong sense of urgency, and my class periods are broken up into lots of mini-segments so that students never get bored and they are forced to keep up and be “with it.”

Finally, the key to engagement is questioning.  Plan out some interesting questions to stimulate conversation and experiment with different ways of asking questions.

Coffee, tea, or caffeine-free?

Recently gave in to coffee…

Describe your classroom management style (including a few best practices) in a few sentences.

I will show you respect, and I therefore expect it from you in return.

My classroom management improves when my lessons are well-planned and I am feeling confident and over-prepared.  If students believe that cooperation will allow them to get smarter and feel successful, then it’s much easier to manage a classroom.

I also think students mostly want to do the right thing.  I try to give super-clear directions for each part of class and then I check to make sure they understand.  This can be tedious, but it’s definitely worth it.  Routines can also be life-savers (and time-savers).  Invest some time in planning and practicing some important routines.  The best consequence is to make students do it again the correct way.

Finally, I try to stay positive and keep the spotlight on learning and good behavior.  If a student is misbehaving, I try to deal with it in the least invasive way so that I don’t lost the momentum of the lesson or shift the spotlight to negative things that might be happening in the classroom.

Favorite Cartoon/TV/Movie Teacher

Mrs. Donovan (Charlie Brown’s Teacher)

Favorite Book (to read or to teach)

The Road

Is teaching an art or a science? Explain.

I’ll take the easy way out: it’s both.

It’s a science in that we are able to identify many of the specific actions and characteristics of good teachers.  I also think that effective teaching can be learned and a lot of best practices and resources can be replicated successfully.

That being said, great teaching is an art that is worthy of appreciation.  We’ve all seen a truly great teacher work his or her magic, and it is something pretty incredible to witness.

Describe your process of preparing a lesson.

I view each lesson as a piece of a much larger puzzle.  It all starts with a good long-term plan, which I lay out at the beginning of the year.  I try to design a year’s worth of units that will allow my students to master of of the skills and concepts for both the New York 8th grade state exam and the 9th grade Integrated Algebra Regents exam.  This year I have also tried to look at more rigorous national and international assessments to make sure that my students are also exposed to more challenging problem solving tasks.

For each unit, I start by creating a unit exam by compiling questions from a variety of resources.  Then I map out all of the objectives that will lead students to be successful on this assessment, and put them on a calendar.

Finally, I am ready to create the daily lessons.  I start with an exit ticket that represents the answer to this question: What do I want students to know and be able to do at the end of this lesson?  Then I start looking through all of the resources I have amassed (textbooks, workbooks, colleagues’ plans, etc.) over the years to see what looks effective, engaging, rigorous, etc.

How do you fit differentiation into your lessons?

I use targeted questioning and “cold call” students so that they are answering specific questions that I’ve planned especially for them.  I use heterogeneous partner groups so that students have a chance to help each other and get more chances to articulate their thoughts.  I have a scaffolded problem set for each independent practice with enough variety of problems so that students can get everything from basic practice to more difficult applications of each skill.

A lot of people think that differentiation needs to be something large in scale – creating multiple versions of an assignment or students working in stations, etc.  While these can be very effective, there are also lots of tiny ways to differentiate any lesson without needing to completely change the structure of your classroom.

Which teacher do you admire most and what makes him/her a great teacher?

I admire my principal because she has the perfect blend of personal humility and intense dedication that makes her well-liked by the entire staff (and even the students, which is pretty tough in a middle school).  She assumes the best of everyone and is incredibly thoughtful, and she always stays positive and focuses on solutions instead of problems.

From → The Archives

One Comment
  1. julie3777 permalink

    Mr. Hall! I like the connection between questioning and engagement!

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