November 26, 2018

Want to Provide Better Education? Don’t Compromise on Classroom Management.

Tamara Gordon
Photo of students in class smiling and working at their computers

Education has been a hugely important part of my life for as long as I can remember. Even from the time I was a little girl—up through middle school and high school—education was all around me. I saw my mom working hard as she attended college, laboring tirelessly to get her Associate's Degree. I also have a great aunt and a great uncle who were teachers. And when I used to play as a child, I would play "school.” I honestly don't remember a time when education wasn’t a significant part of my life.

After I graduated from college with my Sociology degree, I started filling in as a local substitute teacher in my spare time. That single decision made me realize I wanted to be a teacher. I knew two things at that moment: First, I could see myself doing this for thirty years or more, and second, I’d do whatever was needed to become a teacher. Flash forward ten years and I'm happily employed by a charter school and my desire to teach is stronger than ever.

Making an Impact

Admittedly, I'm one of the stricter teachers in our school. I make no apologies about that. Some people may say I'm tough, but I consider helping students learn to be my number one job. I know that even if certain students aren't ready to thank me now, they'll surely thank me later in life.

I’m tough, but I get results. I believe my teaching style has been so successful because I search for new ways to put information on a level the kids can understand. Sometimes, it involves framing a lesson within the context of a movie they enjoy, or referencing some social media app they use. I have kids myself who are similar ages to the ones I teach, so that gives me a leg up in this area. Any way I can take a complex topic and translate it into something they can understand, I consider that a success. The ways I've done this have changed over the years, but that’s always the goal. I think of it as just another way to relate to all parts of their personality—to teach the whole child.

A lot of the times, students hate teachers who are strict. I get it—I was a student once and I disliked those teachers, too. But generally speaking, they don't hate me. Quite the opposite, in fact. I think a big portion of this comes down to the fact that, especially in middle school, you have to show your students you're a human and not a robot. It makes them feel more comfortable around you, and when you get to that point, they’re willing to work with you. Yes, I'm strict. But they know it's because I care. By the end of the first week after I started at my current school, kids were already coming up to me and giving me hugs. I even had one student write on a test: "You're my favorite teacher out of the school." That really meant a lot to me.

A big way that I’m able to effectively teach and connect with my students is through technology. But, as is true with so many things in this life, technology is both a gift and a curse. While EdTech allows teachers to do incredible things in the classroom, the moment students get distracted it can be game over.

I try to use technology to help illustrate this message to them. It's not just about getting someone in trouble for not paying attention. It’s about teaching them that their distraction hinders their ability to learn. But without the right tools in place, it can be difficult to know exactly when students are off task.

At a previous school, we used a solution in our computer science class that let me remotely monitor what the kids were doing. It was fine for what it was, but it definitely wasn't as effective as I needed it to be. I felt like it was just scratching the surface between "what it could do" and "what I needed it to do." It was better than nothing, but eventually I realized not by much.

Maybe the second or third day after I started with my current school, one of my teammates told me about GoGuardian. At first, I assumed it was like that other solution. But once I dove deeper into the platform, I knew it was like nothing else I’d worked with before.

Help from Day One

I liked that GoGuardian was connected to the way we already taught. In our school, we use Google Classroom, so when I set up a class, they're automatically in my new section for GoGuardian. It's easy and it just works, which is music to my ears.

But more than anything, I love that I can always see what they're doing. I’m able to immediately close their tabs if they're off task, without leaving the front of the room. Obviously, the kids don’t like it when I close their tab, but it’s a chance to educate. I can explain why I did it. And if they try it again and assume I'm not paying attention, I'll close it a second time. It takes a little bit of back-and-forth repetition that way, but pretty soon the students are locked in and focused.

At my old school with our previous solution, if the kids took a test and I wanted to make sure they were focused, I’d have to actively monitor them. I needed to have them turn their desks so I could see their screens. I’d find myself constantly walking around the classroom just to keep on top of the situation. I'm pretty active, so it wasn't an issue, but it’s a task that becomes difficult after a while. In this manner, students are actually more inclined to cheat when I walk past, they have more opportunity to do what they choose. But, with GoGuardian, that is not so.

GoGuardian was especially helpful to me as a teacher coming into a new school, where the kids almost certainly thought they could get one over on me. From the first day of classes, I made it known that I knew about GoGuardian. At that point, I didn't have a thing to worry about. I could see exactly what kids were doing at any time—all the time—and it made my job more effective and my life easier. They also knew they couldn’t get away with anything.

Always Empowered

At our school, we used to have a week of “intersession” before spring and fall break starts. Kids can come in and take enrichment courses to prepare them for standardized tests or just to get ahead in general. One time, during our spring intersession the kids were supposed to be using one of two websites. A student wasn't physically in the room with us on the second day, but he was participating from home and wasn’t on task.

With GoGuardian, I could immediately see how he strayed from learning. This was time for learning, not fun, so I closed one of his tabs. A few seconds later I got an email from that child trying to explain what was happening. It turned out he actually wasn't participating in the intersession is was randomly working on an assignment at home. GoGuardian works as long as the student is logged into Google Classroom.

The reverse works, too. If I'm at home, or just simply away from school, I can still use GoGuardian to stay up-to-date with my students. It’s incredible to know I can still effectively manage my classroom, even if I’m not physically there. GoGuardian lets me keep on top of not just what my students learn, but how they learn it.

The Right Technology for the Right Job

I love GoGuardian—plain and simple. If I ever left my current position to go to another school and they weren't using it, I’d be the number one advocate for its deployment. I adore the fact that it doesn't just give me more control over my classroom—it also gives me one less thing to worry about. I don't have to constantly split my attention between what I'm trying to teach and monitoring my class. Now, I can easily do both.

All of my worries from the past are gone. Today, I can focus 100% of my attention on creating the most effective lessons to teach the whole child. As I said earlier, technology is both a gift and a curse. But now, thanks to GoGuardian, teachers and students can truly enjoy as much of the "gift" and as little of the "curse" as possible.