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How I Teach: Keeping it simple with Friday calls to parents and nimble lesson plans

How do teachers captivate their students? Here, in a feature we call How I Teach, we ask great educators how they approach their jobs. You can see other pieces in this series here.

Teacher: Fredricka Vaughn
School: Kirby High School, Memphis
Current subject/grade: Junior & senior English

A word or short phrase to describe your teaching style: Seminars/discussions; engaging; intense

What’s your routine like when you arrive at school? I get to school at least 15 to 20 minutes prior to the required time so I don’t feel rushed. I’m usually updating my board protocol, making copies, making sure there’s enough water in my vase for my flowers I bring to class weekly, and trying to greet all the students when they come in the room.

What does your classroom look like? Orderly and neat. I am not a fan of clutter and mess. I also have inspirational and educational posters on the walls.

What apps/software/tools can’t you teach without? Why? Edugoodies. This is a website that Shelby County Schools has created that has links to various websites that I use on a regular basis. It’s a “one-stop shop” to connect me with the resources I need in my classroom. I can view the district’s curriculum/pacing guide, my textbooks, IEPs [individual plans for students with disabilities], the Monday Memo [that the district sends to all employees], and other resources with a click of the button. It is bookmarked on both my personal and work laptops.

How do you plan your lessons? I look at the district’s curriculum guide in order to prepare my weekly lesson plans. As the week progresses, I may have to adjust my plan, especially if I have to reteach. So, I always look at my lesson plans as a “fluid document” that can go any direction.

I also meet with the other teachers in my department on a regular basis, whether in our designated meetings or casual conversations. We constantly share ideas, materials and plans that can be useful with our students across all grade levels. The English department at Kirby High School is very supportive. It is truly a blessing to be working with them.

What makes an ideal lesson? When you can see students have that “aha moment” where they truly understand the text we are reading. In junior and senior English, the students read more historical texts and literature, and it can become a daunting task to get them to understand it. But when they can show true knowledge of the text by supporting their points correctly in accountable talks, Socratic seminars, and essays, it makes me feel awesome.

How do you respond when a student doesn’t understand something? Without trying to sound extremely clichéd, I go back to the drawing board and reteach the information. I also pair the student with someone in the class who has a better understanding of the information. Peer teaching, editing and tutoring where conversation is required is a great way for the students to relearn information. I also hold tutoring sessions after school.

What’s your go-to trick to re-engage a student who has lost focus? First, I will stand next to the student in order to get his or her attention. I will also write a quick note on a sticky note and place it on the student’s desk to encourage him or her to stay focused. And when all else fails, I will call on that student several times in class to answer questions. Students who realize I won’t leave them alone will usually make an attempt to participate.

How do you communicate with parents? Phone calls, emails, Remind [a text message alert system], and parent/teacher conferences. I make a point to try to call several parents each Friday with a positive report for students so they don’t only hear from me when an incident has occurred.

What hacks do you use to grade papers? Grade Cam is awesome. The students get to see the results of their tests and quizzes on the spot. Also, I allow the students to peer edit one another’s papers.

What are you reading for fun? The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. I know it’s not your typical, fun, fictional novel, but I’ve wanted to read it for a while now.

What’s the best advice you ever received? The KISS Method: Keep It Simple, Sista

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