Fake it until you make it...

... or at least don't let your nerves get the best of you.

Finally, summer vacation has arrived!  And I cannot think of another year of teaching that this time of rest and relaxation is more needed.  As I mentioned in some of my previous posts, I spent most of my free time (everyone in the educational world knows "free time" for a teacher really just means time not spent with their students) slaving away prepping materials for my new Advanced Placement Chemistry course.  I have spent innumerable hours planning, developing, and creating course materials to use over this past year.  I truly do not know how I did it, nor how my students can insist that I did it WELL for that matter.  As I reflect on this past year as a new AP chemistry teacher here are some things I learned:

  1. It's always easier to get easier.  When teaching an advanced placement curriculum, it seems like many teachers go into their classrooms like gangbusters and drive the rigor up to such a high, almost unattainable level.  "I mean it is Advanced Placement after all!"  True, and it should be rigorous - AP courses are elective courses.  Your students are there to learn valuable course material where their understanding will be assessed by the College Board at the end of the course.  So, why not turn up the heat a little bit, then back off as the year progresses?  It takes time to become adjusted to this type of course work, and students need to know your expectations right out of the gate.
  2. It's OK if you don't know the answer.  You may take it pretty hard the first time a student asks you a question that you aren't sure of the answer.  This is not a sign of weakness - it's a sign that you are human.  Often I find myself guessing at the answer, but then telling the students we can "google it" if we have enough time at the end of the lesson, or tell them that I will get back to them tomorrow about it.  Students often associate teachers being the "all knowing."  And this is of course not true.  It is not possible to know everything. In fact chemists in particular, spend years studying one tiny intricate part of their content area.  It is unrealistic to expect perfection.  Plus, I think your students will appreciate your honesty and will often interpret it as being more approachable in the long run.
  3. AP students are self-sufficient.  Don't have enough time to cover all necessary material in a chapter?  Make it known from the beginning of your course that your textbook is meant to be read, studied, and outlined.  That way if you don't have quite enough time to cover the material in class the students can pick up where you left off.  Further, I spend at least two days in class where the students work on problems in the chapter.  This is prime time for students to read over the material you didn't cover, and ask questions about what they don't understand.  Remember, these are AP students, they're in your class for a reason.  It's expected they have good work ethic and will make it known if they need assistance.
Of course there are others, but I'll save that for a future blog post.  I very much wish you a restful and relaxing summer vacation.  You deserve it, teach!