Sunday, September 28, 2014

2014 School Year: The Beginning

I’m starting to think that if I want to write, I’ll either need to get up early or stay up late. It is something that needs to happen, and if it’s important to you, you’ll find a way, right?

I’m not sure if I’ve written at the beginning of every school year, but I want to this year.

This is my fifth year teaching at Jefferson Junior High. The students I taught in my internship year and the year after have now graduated from high school. I’m feeling sufficiently old. And all I can do is hope that I’ve prepared them at least a little bit for what is next in their lives.

So far, this year is going pretty well. There are always challenges with a new year and when a school tries new things. This year is no exception. I’m still learning the ropes of the School Technology Specialist position because there are new tests and new procedures in place. Or procedures that I need to make, rather.

I'm in a new classroom this year, after four years in my previous classroom (right above where I am now). I took this class to have fewer flies, cooler temperatures, better location to the office, and the SMARTBoard. I still haven't learned to use it. It's harder to adjust to a new room than I remember. Finding a place for all the normal procedures, and learning how to maneuver and such is a bigger learning curve than I anticipated. You get used to things over four years. I did have to redecorate a TON, and my class is anything but bare walls!

As for my classes...

I was a little uncertain about a few kids in the very first week of school. By uncertain I meant I could detect that they’d be a challenge both in ability and their attention span. I made pretty quick changes to seats and have been able to do things with much less effort than in previous years.

A lot of things that used to take a lot of concentration and energy for me are now second nature. I imagine it will continue to go that way each year if I continue to teach.

Overall, I have extremely good students this year. I have a quiet class, and a somewhat noisy class, and a class that needs a lot of intervention as a whole. As with every year, I’m not sure how to reach those kids or how exactly to help them except to be aware that they do need more help.

I receive invitations from leadership organizations every year to “nominate” some good students. I always nominate knowing most of them won’t have the financial means to attend any sort of conferences or anything. But they get a letter telling them that their teacher thinks they’re excellent; I think it’s an important compliment, and it’s meant a lot to some past students. On Friday, I decided to nominate some kids for People to People. I went through each class and identified all my achievers and the ones I know have the ability and desire to achieve. I thought of the ones who, so far this year, have demonstrated a good attitude, readiness to learn, and kindness to those around them.  I ended up nominating 15 kids. That is a lot more than in years past. I probably could have done even more, but you’ve got to pick the best, you know.

This year is going really well. We’re finishing up our first novel. We’re starting a writing assignment this week, in which I’ve given them five possible prompts to choose from. I realize it’s not a multi-genre project, but it’s baby steps for me. Offering students choices is one of my goals this year, and this is one way I’m trying to do that. I’ve done it lots of times before, I just am trying to do it more often. It helps to keep me from getting bored, too, reading the same topic over and over.

Another thing I’m working on more is to tie in informational text more frequently, and stick to our district’s curriculum map better. I scaffolded our book Stargirl by reading an informational article about bullying. I used that as kind of a pre-assessment to figure out whether students know how to identify purpose, cite evidence, identify the main idea, and use context to define words. Judging from what they turned in, in general they’re all pretty bad at all of those things. So I have my work cut out.

I’m trying to connect multiple assignments and literary genres this year. For example, one of the writing prompts on their essay is to connect the novel with the bullying article we read. I hope some choose this option. I also assigned a discussion on our online forum called Canvas. I used the awesome video from poet Shane Koyczan called “To This Day.” I asked students to respond to the video, making connections from it to the article we read, and to the book we’re about to finish. I feel like I’m doing a much better job this year tying everything together thematically and cohesively while utilizing different genres.  

I’m working on being more transparent with the students’ learning goals. I’ve always created objectives for my lessons, but I’ve been bad about putting it on the board and acknowledging it regularly. I’m trying now to make a more conscious, verbal effort to acknowledge their learning goals from the get-go. I’ve done well, and have even had the kids write it down in their binder. I now need to do better at returning to the objective at the end of class, but with an 8 minute shorter period this year, I’m still trying to adjust.

Another goal I have this year is to remember J.M. Barrie’s advice to be a little kinder than necessary. I even had my awesome friend design a poster to put up in my room to remind me (so cute, huh?). I get frustrated with students pretty easily but believe I’ve gotten better and more patient every year. I am asking kids more regularly if they’re OK if they seem a little off. I will often use a small gesture like a hand on the shoulder. I think it’s working to build rapport, even with the students I find difficult. One highlight of parent conferences was when a quiet, shy student lingered after her parent and I were done talking. She said, "I just want to say I'm glad to be in your class." I smiled and asked her, "Why is that?" and she told me that she likes my class, that I'm nice, and that she's had some not so nice teachers in the past. I don't think I've done anything to treat her especially well, but apparently my efforts to be kind are working, because I'm pretty sure the last word students have used to describe me is "nice." 

Another thing I’m doing to build rapport is to use more positive reinforcement. It seems silly, but I put smiley face stickers next to my kids’ journal scores if they did a good job. It takes a few extra seconds which can add up if you have a full load of classes to grade. Thankfully, I just have half. So I decided this one small thing could possibly make a big difference. They may not be in elementary school, but I still think they like the positive recognition. “Gold stars” are always a cool thing, right?

I’m trying to use the harder academic language more frequently in class. I also plan to draw students’ attention more to author’s purpose because I think they have a hard time identifying that, and therefore have a hard time comprehending. I’ve actually looked at the kids’ Lexiles to identify the at-risk kids. I’ve reached out to one student and provided him a list of books at his level in our library catalog. I have plans to have my students fill out an evaluation form at the end of the term when they have a good grasp of my style. If they're honest and constructive, I hope it will confirm the areas I believe are my strengths and direct me on improving my areas of weakness. 

It’s funny that I’m making all these goals and feel I’ve progressed so much this year at a time when I’m considering bowing out of teaching in the next year or two. I guess I figure we should always be trying to improve. Because it’s not worth doing if it’s not worth doing well, right? If I don’t care about being the best teacher for me, I at least want to do my best for the kids. Who knows? Maybe this year will change my mind. 

1 comment:

Cara Jessop said...

Sounds like you're doing a great job, I envy you being able to teach and really get comfortable with it! Why are you thinking of leaving teaching?