It’s no secret that teaching can be one of the most demanding professions, with pressure to produce great results, adapt to sudden changes, and support nuanced student needs. As a result, it’s far too common for teachers to become overwhelmed with fatigue.
We sat down and talked with Christina Ruegamer, Instructional Facilitator at Connections Academy Middle School, to discuss some of the top challenges that educators face on a daily basis, as well as different ways to address them.
When it comes to at-home support, it’s not always financial resources that matter; it’s also time, though not all parents can provide equally. “It’s not that parents don’t want to be present, but not all of them can,” says Ruegamer. “A lack of parental support can put a lot of pressure on teachers to handle a student’s development.” Whether providing access to basic needs (i.e., books, supplies) or monitoring student performances regularly, teachers sometimes step in as consistent adult figures to support their students beyond the classroom walls. Since a critical part of keeping a student motivated relies on the parent’s awareness of their child’s school life, teachers are “embracing technology” to clearly communicate student progress in real-time, as well as simple paths for improvement.
Disciplining students is challenging and complex in the classroom, and it’s an emotionally taxing and time-consuming process without the proper support. “Even with rules and safeguards, we still need to spend one-on-one time connecting and problem-solving with students,” says Ruegamer. In line with her approach to student assessment, Christina shifts the role of behavior management as an opportunity to build meaningful relationships. “To really reach students, you have to find out what works for that student and connect on a personal level and build relationships of trust since we [as teachers] might be one of the few consistent adult figures in their lives.”
Christina also speaks very fondly of instances where she broke through and connected with a student, sometimes to their surprise since there can be an initial resistance to new people in their lives. However, once that connection is established, she constantly saw vast improvements in behavior that simplified her duties, as well improved the general class environment.
Lack of effective communication
Communication is key between more than the teachers and parents; keeping clear channels between teachers, colleagues, and administration is also critical, yet that’s not always happening. “In-house communication can have the largest disconnect,” says Ruegamer. “Since teachers are inundated with many complex responsibilities, it’s easy to forget the smaller details of standardized schoolwide processes.”
Working with teachers on an administrative level, Rugamer observes that many teachers are consumed with what they’re doing in the classroom but might not be notified of what’s happening outside of it, even if it’s something as simple as a meeting cancellation. In response, Christina has shifted how she communicates with the staff. “As a facilitator, I like to communicate and distill what’s most important and prioritize other factors and projects when more systems are in place. We can’t do everything at once, but we can ensure the most important details are shared.”
Too much administrative work
Recording information and processing administrative tasks can easily overwhelm teachers on a day-to-day basis. It takes a lot of time and work to come up with the curriculum, engage in the classroom, and grade assessments, on top of their many other responsibilities. Teachers — especially new ones — can easily dedicate far more hours than anticipated to their allotted planning time.
However, Ruegamer points out that, as salaried employees, “the rewards at the end don’t meet what they deserve. Teachers spend more time on administrative tasks than the important work that we want them to do in the classroom.” In response to this, Christina is seeking more digital processes through educational apps to help track student growth and assessment documentation to cut down on administrative time. The EdTech space is growing quickly and a large number of innovations are aimed at returning valuable time to teachers by covering daily needs.
Balancing different learning styles
Regardless of the class or students, there will always be diverse learning abilities that demand the teacher’s attention. “In our school, we have classes of 35 students that we have to stimulate for 180 days a year,” says Ruegamer, “and nobody in life learns the same way.”To better address these varying needs, she and her staff are consistently developing different teaching strategies to motivate and stimulate learners in various ways.
Whether creating fun activities in the classroom, leveraging storytelling, or using technology and apps that provide modern and unique approaches to accommodate learning styles, there are plenty of ways to reach students before they risk disconnecting. Perhaps especially because of the variety of approaches nowadays, the best initial step is still observing students in the first few weeks of back-to-school and experimenting with different learning styles. Each new class is likely to be a little different from the previous year’s, and quickly identifying their composed styles can make a big difference for the rest of the year.
Changing in educational trends and technology
With the speed of technology and educational solutions, teachers have been finding it hard to find easy yet effective systems and platforms to manage their classrooms with. “You need to research trends in education and technology on a weekly basis just to be informed, and it takes too much time,” says Rugamer. Yet, for her, it goes deeper than that. “It’s not about how effective the new technology is; it’s how teachers perceive it.”
Being mindful of the tools teachers are using, Christina focuses on using simple educational technology that inspires both educators and their students in the classroom, but doesn’t require a lot of extra work to learn how to use it. By leveraging apps that provide collaborative class management tools, data collection, and engaging activities, her staff can fully support their students, cut down on administrative tasks, and ultimately build a positive schoolwide culture.
A big thank you to Instructional Facilitator Christina Ruegamer for sharing her story, perspective, and personal insights. Learning about her selfless approach to student support and community-building was inspiring for us all.