Friday, March 3, 2017

Period 1 By: Marla Kilfoyle, Executive Director, The Badass Teachers Association

Marla Kilfoyle, Exec. Dir.
The Badass Teachers Association 

Here is what folks don’t get about teaching - it is not effective or ineffective; you are not a bad teacher or a good teacher.

The art of teaching cannot be confined to one definition for every school day.

The art of teaching is different on different days, with different classes of students, and is different with individual students.

The art of teaching does not exist in a silo of one word.

One of the administrators who worked in my district said it best, “Teaching is the only profession where you have to make 30 decisions in a 40 minute period that can impact a child’s life.”

Teaching is not one thing or the other.

Teaching is many things all at once.

Please enter Period 1 Global History.

The teacher has a lesson ready to go!  In this class, she has 33 students, all with varying abilities, languages, cultural backgrounds, and mental/physical health issues.

The bell rings, the students begin to enter the room.  They mingle, they sit, they chat, they laugh.

The bell rings to begin Period 1, and the teacher points to the objective on the board. “Ok, today we are going to discuss the foundation of democracy that was established in Ancient Greece.”

A hand goes up - “Mrs. Smith, can I use the restroom.”

The teacher thinks - John needs to always use the restroom right at the beginning of the period; this has been a pattern for the last week and he is missing important introduction instruction; I am going to decline his request right now and ask him to wait.

“John, can you wait about three minutes so that you don’t miss the introduction to the lesson?” John agrees and stays.

The teacher continues - “Please pull out your notebooks and get out a lined piece of paper for our Bellringer activity.”  (A Bellringer activity is a quick activity to introduce students to the concept of the lesson.  It is usually a quick 4-8 minute activity)

James gets out of his seat and approaches the teacher at the front of the room, “Mrs. Smith I feel sick can I go to the nurse.” The teacher stops what she is doing, goes to the desk and writes the student a pass to go to the nurse. She reminds the student to sign into the nurse so that she can check he went there at the end of the period.

The teacher thinks to herself - I need to get someone to go with James to the nurse. He looks pretty pale. “Lindsey, can you please escort James to the nurse?”

John asks to use the restroom again; the teacher asks him to wait one more minute.

Lindsey and James leave to go to the nurse.

The teacher writes instructions for the Bellringer on the board and asks students to ponder this question with the person behind them - Why is democracy important?

The wall phone in the classroom rings - the teacher goes to pick it up - the head of guidance is on the phone.

“Good morning Mrs. Smith, I have two new ESL (English as a Second Language) students that will be coming up to join your Period 1 class. They just came into the country from China, and we need to get them in a Period 1 History class. I am escorting them up now.”

Teacher - “ok.”

The teacher turns to the class - “Ok, class I need to shift some of you around a bit as we are getting two new students from China escorted up now. Josh and Kaitlyn, can you please move to the two seats in the back for today?” Both students agree to move.

Teacher directs students to get back to work on their Bellringer activity.

The Guidance Counselor knocks on the door, and the two new students from China enter the room.

The teacher escorts them to their new seats, which are near each other.

John asks to use the restroom again, and the teacher now lets him go.

We are only 8 minutes into the beginning of the Period 1.

Lindsey comes back from escorting James to the nurse and takes her seat next to the two new students from China - she looks confused at the teacher.

The Teacher walks over and explains to Lindsey that the new students were escorted up and placed in the class while she was at the nurse with James - Lindsey smiles at the new students next to her.

The teacher returns to her desk to make sure she takes attendance on the computer. She also must give the students who were absent yesterday the work they missed and give a set of Spanish notes to her bilingual students.

The teacher debriefs the Bellringer activity with the class and begins the main lesson which will be a group activity.

The teacher has pre-planned the groups so that they are a nice mix of ability and demographic. She pre-plans so that her Spanish Bilingual students can help her new Spanish students. She now must add her new students from China into the mix. She decides on the fly to put them into the same group so that they are comfortable.  She must also think what to do now that James and John are not there.

The teacher  places the groups where they need to meet in the room.

She walks over to the group that has her two students from China and engages them in an attempt to find out their ability to speak English. They understand limited English but have English/Chinese dictionaries with them. She decides that she will have them look up vocabulary related to democracy for their group.

John comes back from the bathroom and the teacher sends him to his group. James comes back from the nurse and the teacher places him in his group.

The wall phone rings again, and it is the Guidance Counselor who brought up the two new students from China.

“Hi Mrs. Smith, I am so sorry, but I need to come remove one of the students from China. They belong in another history class.”

Teacher - “ok.”

The teacher gets students started on their group activity, and they are working nicely.

The Guidance Counselor comes to the door and takes out the older of the two students from China.

The younger one, left in the class, looks mortified, as the older one leaves the room with the Guidance Counselor.

The teacher notices this and then sees that the younger student from China begins to get visibly upset.

The teacher walks over to the younger student from China, who is now visibly upset and beckons him out into the hallway for privacy. The teacher calls down to security, security comes over, and the teacher asks security to please find the Mandarin Chinese teacher, and ask her to help interpret.

The teacher peeks in on the class who is finishing the group activity, and thankfully the Mandarin Chinese teacher shows up quickly.

The teacher asks the Mandarin Chinese teacher to escort the upset student down to the Guidance Counselor and interpret for him.

The teacher worries as they walk away.

The teacher returns to the room. James is still not feeling well and must go to the nurse again.

 Lindsey agrees to escort him down again, but before they get out of the room, James gets sick in the classroom trash can.

The teacher gently gets James out in the hall with the trash can and calls security over to assist.

Security takes control of James and gets him to the nurse.

The teacher returns to the class and wraps up the lesson, goes over the homework, and has students begin to move the desks back so that they are in order for her next class.

Suddenly over the school intercom, the Principal calls for a building practice Lockdown.

Teacher grabs her keys, locks the classroom door, and moves the students to an area of the room where they are not visible from the door window. Approximately 30 students crammed into a small space for safety, all quiet, and waiting for the drill to end.

The teacher looks around the room which is still a mess from the group activity.

The practice Lockdown ends, and the bell rings to end Period 1.

The students leave, and the teacher moves the classroom back in rows to begin the next period.

Period 2 students enter the room as the wall phone rings.

Marla Kilfoyle has been a public school teacher for 30 years.  She has taught in NY, FL, and ME.  You can follow her on twitter @marla_kilfoyle


  1. This isn't all of what can happen on a typical day, either! People who aren't in K12 education really don't understand how many plates teachers are constantly expected to juggle.

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  12. First let me just say, thank you so much for your service. Our entire way of life is based on your efforts.

    I totally agree with "The art of teaching is different on different days,with different classes of students, and is different with individual students....Teaching is many things all at once." As a 16 year veteran educator, I can say that it is a realistic portrayal.

    What I love the most about the article is the human touch. There is no amount of distance learning or online learning that can replace the work of this teacher. Furthermore, what's wild about it is that this is what we do for 6-7 periods with 180+ kids for 180 days. But the high stakes test does not change to fit these dynamics.

    With that said there are things that we can do to support this teacher and others like her. Administrators, counselors, social workers, officers, hall monitors, parents, and everyone else can better help teachers help students. We need to have a movement to support teachers not attack them, help them address the myriad of issues that face them each and everyday like Mrs. Smith.

    #ALLIn4Teachers #TeachersInTouch #SoTeachersCanTeach

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  21. The events described in this piece ARE accurate in terms of the types and frequency of distractions that can occur in the room. (Other types of distractions can come up as well.)
    What is NOT realistic in my recent experience, though, is the guidance counselor's leaving the office to come to the classroom (for almost any reason), and a security person's responding promptly and frequently to teachers' need for them.

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