I hope I’m not like every other teacher. I hope my students, and their parents, realize that in my twelve-year teaching career, I was trying to do something special in my classroom. Trying to create a safe environment where children grow - their bodies, their minds, their emotions. I didn’t solely rely on textbooks and worksheets. I prefered to implement some unconventional methods to reinforce a particular skill or concept or invite more student participation. Here is my A to Z List of Unconventional Teaching Methods.
A Arbor Day Picnic. When I taught kindergarten, I had more time to teach my students about lesser-known holidays, including Arbor Day. For Arbor Day, my students and I would discuss the importance of trees. Then we would venture out to our school garden, spread a blanket, and enjoy a picnic consisting only of foods that were grown on trees.
B Birthdays. I acknowledge each child’s birthday. My kindergarten students received a birthday crown and a small wrapped gift. My upper-grade students receive a certificate and a pencil. And my students with birthdays during the summer months are celebrated early, before school is dismissed for the summer so no child is excluded.
C Cosby Show episodes. When I was growing up in the 80s, The Cosby Show was one of my favorite television shows. Almost twenty years later, my students enjoy watching the Halloween episode, the episode about the first day of school, or the anniversary episode where the whole family lip synchs a song for the grandparents’ anniversary.
D Desks. My students walk in on the first day of school with their desks supplied with all their materials. Their textbooks are stacked, and they are also given a folder, a spiral notebook, and a binder. They each have a pencil box, which includes a pencil cup holding two pencils and a green pen, a bottle of glue, scissors, and a box of crayons. Attached to their pencil boxes are name tags.
E Endearment. I refer to my class as “my loves.” The term applies when I’m praising them, “I’m so proud of the sincere letters my loves wrote to President Obama,” and when I’m disciplining, telling the principal that one of my loves was drawing pictures of guns during class.
F Family photos. Since I began teaching, I have accessorized my desk with personal photos (something I noticed many teachers don’t do). First, I began with photos of my nephews. After my son was born, more and more desk space was devoted to him. My family photos served as both my inspiration and my conscience. They were reminders of what was at stake each day - a child’s life. Would I want someone speaking to my son and treating my son the way I was treating my students?
G Good morning. Each day, teachers are required to take attendance. In most classrooms, teachers call out a student’s name, and the student answers, “Here.” In our classroom, I take attendance by wishing each student a Good morning, as in “Good morning, Ryan.”
H Hearts on the board. I always write page numbers on the board, within a heart. During a test, I write the numbers my students are expected to complete, and I draw several hearts around that. The more important the test, the more hearts. I tell my students that I am sending them love to help them do their best.
I Incentives. Sometimes, kids need an incentive to do the right thing, to behave a certain way. (Who are we kidding? Teachers don’t mind incentives either.) For my students, we use “ding dings,” little reward stickers. Their name is inspired by the “ding ding” sound often heard on television game shows when a contestant wins.
J Jeopardy. We play a class version of Jeopardy as a way to review science concepts, including the types of rocks and the properties of magnets. Students must correctly phrase their reply as a question for their table team to earn the point.
K Keep records from the prior school year. There was always a box in my school closet containing my students’ files from the previous year. It was my way of verifying the grades my students earned, in case their next teacher had any questions.
L Library corner. In my twelve years of teaching, I have occupied four different classrooms. In each room, I have established a designated library corner. A rug. Lots of pillows. Some small chairs. Shelves of books. Baskets of books. Stuffed animals. However, I notice that many of my colleagues do not offer their students this cozy reading corner, that for me is a necessity.
M Music. When I taught kindergarten, I routinely visited the public library to borrow CDs. When learning about St. Patrick’s Day, my students listened to traditional Irish music, and when learning about Cinco de Mayo, we listened to traditional mariachi music.
N Notebooks. Each summer, my mom and I would shop at local office supply stores, stocking up on enough binders to provide each student with one on the first day of school. These notebooks, or binders as we referred to them in class, were then assembled on the living room floor. Colored sheets of paper were designated as dividers, labeled with each subject. Behind the dividers were sheets of notebook paper. My students were now equipped with a notebook, enabling them to take notes during class, use the notes to study, and be taught an organizational system.
O Out-loud dislike for weekly meetings. Most Tuesday’s, students go home early so teachers can attend “professional development.” A fancy term for meetings, most of which are either telling me I’m not doing my job well enough or are providing the same information I’ve already heard, and which may not apply to my students. My students know I don’t like these meetings because I tell them. But I also tell them I’m still respectful, cooperative, and participatory in my meetings because it’s my job. So even though they may not like doing spelling definitions each Tuesday night for homework, they will because it’s their job.
P Pencils. I provide my upper-grade students with two pencils a month, one at the beginning of the month, and one at the middle of the month. I try to provide seasonal pencils, commonly found at my neighborhood dollar store.
Q Quizzes. At the end of each math chapter, my upper-grade students take a multiple-choice quiz. For each quiz, I would select a problem I thought was more difficult or worded in an ambiguous way, and allow my students to skip that problem. If I couldn’t identify a question like that, I would allow the week’s star student to randomly select a number, and that question was the one our class was allowed to skip.
R Red pen. When I correct papers, I do so with any color except red. Psychologically, I have been taught that some students regard red on their papers as “blood.” So I don’t use it.
S Snacks. During tests, we call it “brain food.” It’s popcorn during a movie, Smarties on the first day of school, some gummy fruits just because.
T Touch. In the twelve years I’ve been teaching, I have heard more and more not to touch my students. I break the rule everyday. I hug my students, pat their backs, tousle their hair, share a high-five.
U Unlocked cabinets and drawers. On the first day of school, one of the first things I discuss with my upper-grade students is the necessity for trust and honesty. I don’t lock anything in our classroom. The drawer where my purse is stashed is unlocked. Our class incentives (marbles, ding-dings) is located at the front of the room. And I’m proud to say that In twelve years of teaching, I have had only a couple of issues with theft.
V Vomit comet. Technically, it’s the KC-135 that astronauts would fly in to simulate weightlessness. But, I am a teacher who was a girl who wanted to grow up and become an astronaut. So I know that astronauts dubbed this vehicle the “Vomit Comet,” and when learning about space flight I pass this bit of trivia onto my students.
W Weekly Student of the Week. Our school encourages teachers to select a weekly student of the week from each class. These students are then acknowledged at our school-wide assembly Friday mornings. Most teachers make their selections Thursday afternoons, and choose a student who scored well on an assignment, performed well in class, or turned in homework each night. I select our “star student” for the next week on a Friday afternoon before dismissal. Each child’s name is written on a slip of paper in a box. I shake the box and randomly select a child’s name. I tell my students that they now have to maintain the honor for the coming week. I tell my students that I believe they are each capable of being a student of the week and I have faith in them. Students are required to follow rules, complete homework, and set a good example for their classmates. A child who doesn’t follow these guidelines will lose their honor and no one from our class will be acknowledged at the school assembly.
X Xerox weekly spelling and vocabulary words. For my upper-grade students, I provide a typed list of each week’s spelling and vocabulary words. Some teachers believed I should have insisted my students copy the words from their textbooks or the board, but truthfully, I had more important things for us to do. Like learn the words, and use the words in our spelling and writing.
Y Yellow paint. In kindergarten, I painted my students’ feet. They chose the color, and I painted their feet to create a billboard explaining we were starting the year off on the right foot. In fourth grade, my students painted their hands six times, using the colors of the rainbow. We talked about six handprints by themselves not being incredibly significant, but put together, our handprints created a large, beautiful rainbow. There was beauty and strength when our class worked together.
Z Zero. The amount of student grades that are on public display. My students‘ grades are their business. Any project or assignment that is hung in our classroom is done so without a grade attached to it. My students receive their grades individually, and it is up to them if they choose to share their grades with their classmates or not.