Being a better teacher, Bits and bobs

Being a homeroom teacher

Homeroom teacher, classroom teacher, whatever you call it, but there is always one. We all have the experience of being students and hold to our perception depending on how great (or non-existent) our own homeroom teachers were. I never put too much weight on this position till I started working in my current school and was immediately appointed to ‘serve’ as a grade 9 homeroom teacher. At that point, I did not know what to expect and how to fulfil the role. A few years later I love this position and don’t want to find myself ‘classless’ one day.

Job description

The list of responsibilities will always vary depending on the school culture and the school system, but generally speaking, homeroom teacher follows their students and passes the information from the management to the students. Let’s call it the borderline job description. Unfortunately, it lacks clarity and ‘following’ can mean anything.

When I have my first meeting with the class (our school changes homeroom teachers every year), I always ask how my students understand my role. In most cases, they say something like ‘following the attendance’ or ‘posting schedule changes’. Those all are real duties and are important, but not all of them. And this is when I tell them the way I see my role (the way it was in my school, the way I’d like it to be).

Building bridges

I tell my students that in my face they now have someone who is automatically on their side. I am a buffer zone between them and the school administration. It does not mean that I will cover their misdeeds or ignore a lack of respect, not at all. Still, I will be the one who needs to understand the situation from their side and, if possible, help. ‘If you messed up, come and tell me about it. We will think about what to do about it before it goes to the school management’.

Those words do not hit the target on the first day. Nor during the first weeks. Still, as time passes, more and more trust starts to build up. It takes lots of time and work, to be honest.

Be there

The easiest way to show that you mean to be the person you claim is to actively show presence in your students’ lives. Share the news with them asap (I’ll extend this idea more below), see them during the breaks, talk to them! And by talking I generally mean ‘listen to them‘. There is little as surprising for a teenager, especially in a big class, than to learn that someone is actually willing to listen to them.

Kids are so used to not being listened to that even ten minutes intense ‘grunt therapy‘ is a luxury they respond to.

(Ellin, 1994, p.160)

Give your students time to complain. Yes, in many cases there is not much to be done about it, but! a) you know the mood, their common problems, b) you show that you care, c) there is always a chance that what they complain about is actually a big issue to be given proper attention or a minor issue you can help them overcome in a matter of days.

Stay in touch

Last year of being online put an extra strain on everyone involved. It feels like nothing is happening, the world stopped and it’s you and your screen. At the same time, there is a never-ending amount of assignments, technical problems, global news, gossips about possible news. There must be a place to ask questions and to get a response soon enough.

I know that it is not possible for everyone, but we ended up having a WhatsApp group for my class. It was generally quiet but on a few occasions, my phone was exploding. Even if neither I nor anyone else at school could give answers, it was morally helpful to know that there are more people in the same state of mind. And, that there is a teacher who says ‘yes, guys, we know about this situation. Yes, this is true. No, we have not received an action plan yet, let’s wait for an official email’. It does not seem to be much, but it does make a difference (especially when you are online).

I will not even mention personal messages and emails when students were in hard situations, were panicking not able to join a class or felt totally lost or demotivated. They always had an option to write to me. Normally, I would respond during school hours asap, but if those were personal cases when I can feel the tension or a breakdown on the horizon, I would respond after school if it suits me.

When at school

Being face-to-face is a luxury nowadays. However, if you are all together in one building, you can bond with your students so much better. You do not need to push your presence and insist on communication. There are always students who do not want it and do not need it.

Still, it is worth being around just to keep an eye on your class. You will notice who are friends with whom; who seemingly can’t stand each other. You will notice that some students do not feel well (physically or emotionally) and you can offer help.

Certainly, there may be an actual need for you to be around and not only a duty. There is nothing wrong with showing up in the locker area a few minutes so that no one is late to class. Check if their classroom is in order and the mess is contained. Just pass by saying ‘hi’. Be around. If you are not in their direct proximity, they should know where to find you.

What else?

There is so much more one can do with the class. Organise events, help those who struggle academically, stay in touch with parents, make sure to reach everyone if there are some important updates or news.

To my huge disappointment, I never had a chance to take my own class on a trip. At first, I was busy with other extracurriculars and then you all know what happened. Still, I don’t abandon hopes to go on a trip just for fun. it does not have to have a big educational purpose, communicating and connecting is a purpose good enough for a trip as well. Being a homeroom teacher is not only important and calls for responsibility, it should be fun as well.

You may want to check how a bullet journal helps teachers to follow everything they need Teacher’s Bullet Journal

or you can go bigger and think about it as a part of building a school community Simple ways to strengthen the sense of school community