I will never forget the first piece of critical advice I received from my principal when it came to teaching. It changed my life in the classroom. It changed everything for me.
I was so taken aback that I did not even realize I was doing it.
It came in my second year of teaching. Don’t get me wrong…I had plenty of critical feedback in my first year. But if you ever been in a classroom, that first year, I was drinking from a fire hydrant and hanging on by my fingernails.
I am not sure I remember anything, anyone, said to me in the fist year. I was so ready for summer that I almost broke down and cried and ran out of the building singing “Schools out for summer.”
You may know the reference and song…that is if your as old as I am.
But it was in my second year of teaching that a very wise and well respected principal observed my classroom and talked to me afterword’s. It might of been a few days later not sure, but I know this conversation took place.
She sat me down and said…do you know what a hot spot is.
Now I am a man, and the first thing that came to mind I can not say. But the second thing that came to mind was hot flash?
What are we talking about.
I was trying to sit there and look intelligent but then all kinds of things were rattling around in this skull of mine.
I said ummmmmmm……ummmmmmmm……ummmm….
That was about the degree of my intelligence at the time. I am pretty sure I had not recovered from my first year and asking me difficult questions was not the way to move this conversation along.
By this point she knew I had no idea what she was talking about. So she said a hot spot in the classroom.
My first thought, oh a hot spot is where learning takes place?
She went on to explain to me that I needed to discover what the hot spot was in my room and find ways to cool it down.
Now I was really confused! I was totally convinced we were having two separate conversations. One was taking place with a great administrator and teacher in her own right, and the dumbfounded person sitting in the chair nodding in agreement. (That would be me by the way)
So, I need to find the hot spot and cool it down?
She went on to explain that a hot spot in a classroom is a place where i am not focusing and students are taking advantage of me. It is the place where our students know they can hide and get away with the billion ways they manufacture how to do anything but what we are asking them to do.
It is where the most talking and unengaged students hide.
I said I have hot spots?
She said yes you do. Even better yet, she said, “your students know them but you don’t“
I was like no way.
Mind you, I did not say that out loud, but it most of been written on my forehead because she was reading me like a book.
So the next day I walked into my classroom determined to find this so called hot spot.
I realized when I was teaching I only saw like a quarter of the classroom. I never noticed it before. I was not seeing the entire classroom and when I looked around it was like I was quartering off parts of the classroom. I know that sounds weird. It was even harder to type. Because I have this image in my head but can’t truly describe what I am seeing.
If you were to take a piece of string and divide a classroom into quadrants that is how I’m seeing the classroom. And I began to realize that the top left quadrant, that would be I I for you math people, was the hot spot.
That’s where all my so called problem kids were hiding. In reality I never even saw that part of the room.
The firs thing I did
I went into another teachers room who had been teaching since the dawn of time. And was going to ask her where her hot spot was.
But as I walked in she had total control of the classroom. She would point out areas of her classroom where students were off task. Not to me but to them.
I was like dang. This lady has zero hot spots.
So, I sulked back to my classroom and started thinking through ways I could get better at this.
Expand the horizon
I literally made a conscious decision to expand my horizon. I would walk into the classroom and say to myself. See the whole room. Then the kids would pile in and my vision went back to tunnel vision.
Trust me this did not happen over night. There was something about the way I reacted when the kids came in, I would focus on certain areas of my room. It was weird.
But over time I noticed that the quadrant expanded and I began seeing more and more of my room. This took practice. I also think the more you teach the better at it you become.
I move around a-lot during instruction and call on kids to answer questions. However, when it came to independent work I did not move around to much.
Once I did start moving I was shocked by what I found taking place in the room. kids are sneaky when it comes to using the phone during class. Passing notes. (You know when something is going to be passed? Sir/Mam can I throw this away?) Kids are great at finding ways to do anything except what we are asking them to do.
I made it more like war games. I changed my patterns. At first I had this imaginary track I followed in the classroom. They knew once I passed they had x amount of minutes before I returned.
So then I mixed the pattern up. I had this image of a ship being hunted by a sub. You would think we as teachers would be the hunters. I get that. But I wanted my pattern to be so deceptive that they never knew when I would return. Sneaky Hobbit!!!!
Re-arrange The Deck
I think this is the most obvious. Change the seating in the room. I use to do this every new grading cycle. I would change the seating and the small grouping if you have small groups. In middle and beyond more of teams.
I actually like the seating section in teach like a champion it works for me. Some version of this works when you have the right people in the correct seat.
But No Matter What
If you find yourself always stressed about going to a specific class. You know the one. The one with all the “bad kids” in it. Try to eliminate those spaces that allow for students to take advantage of them.
Expand your horizon, move around, re-arrange the deck. This should go a long way of cooling down your hot spot!