April 1, 2012 § Leave a comment

Obviously, my plan to blog my experiences as a first year teacher did not quite work out in the way I had planned. This blog immediately got pushed to the bottom of my ever-expanding list of things to get done, and quite frankly I forgot it even existed. There has been quite a lot on my plate. Luckily, this gives me an opportunity to not only give an explanation regarding my absence and beg for forgiveness, but also give some insight as to how the priorities of a first year teacher work.

Here is a short list of things that have been zapping up my time as of late.

As the year comes to a close (the fourth and final marking period begins on Tuesday), I am spending more time planning than I have in the beginning of the year. After implementing over 100 lessons, I am searching for ways to make the students’ time in my class more unique and memorable. While in the beginning of the year I was trying to keep my head above water by getting my plans in on time, I’m now collaborating more with colleagues, meeting with my school’s instructional facilitator (a true luxury), and trying to incorporate all of the methods that have become buzzwords in my district (problem-based, brain-friendly, 21st century literacy). Although this is now taking more time, it is more rewarding and quite frankly more enjoyable. Grabbing the attention of the students is extremely worth it.

Although my ‘grading chops’ are improving, going through papers is an arduous task, particularly when you are taking the time to write meaningful comments that some of the students will disregard. Luckily, when a student hands in an exemplary piece, grading it is like taking a shot of espresso. Cherish it. It’s not worth it to let the students who hand in subpar work drag you down.

Searching for a job
My current position is a maternity leave, so I am looking for another job for September. Tweaking my resume and cover letter does not seem like a huge task, but the anxiety of not knowing what the future holds can be rough. Exercise helps.

Teacher Bookkeeping, Paperwork, and Correspondence
Updating grades, filling out forms, putting worksheets on my website, contacting parents, replying to e-mails, organizing notebooks and papers, putting lesson plans online, etc. It’s tough to not let these ‘small things’ slip through the cracks.

Having a life outside of school
I’m not going to talk about this much, but this may be the most difficult thing I have to deal with. It’s discouraging when seeing friends and family falls toward the bottom of your priorities. Something I’m still working out in my head.

I feel that being in the midst of my first year is too tumultuous for me to give any unbiased observations. Spring break is coming up.. Maybe during that I will have some clarity and really reflect on what has happened so far this year. Frankly, when I look back now it all looks too chaotic to comprehend.

C’est la vie.

Internal Conversations

November 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

Ever since I began my student teaching experience nearly a year ago, teachers have been informing me about the frustrations of teaching. Granted, virtually all of them followed that sentiment with some variation of “…but it’s absolutely worth it.” I was always a bit confused how a profession could be very rewarding yet very frustrating, but after teaching for roughly two months, I’m starting to understand.

Actual photo of me during a bad day

When I started this blog I thought it would be easy to keep updated, even if I gave a short update every week of what my lessons were and how my classes were going. Since the school year began, this thing has been at the absolute back of my mind. The only reason I’m updating now is because, due to mother nature, I randomly had this whole past week off. I’m going to keep this update concise, because I could definitely ramble for a long time. Below is a short list of some things I’ve learned since my teaching began. Although I refer to ‘you’ in the tidbits below, I’m not really telling anyone in particular to do anything. It’s more of the things I think to myself in my head. So, essentially, the ‘you,’ is me.

  • Organization can make your life easier, but only if it’s on-going and flexible.

It’s been drilled into my head for the past few years that teachers need to be organized. I took this advice to heart, and I started my year with a system -a binder with color coded folders for each class, a small separate binder for attendance, seating, and checking homework, and clearly marked folders in the classroom for classwork that students may have missed. That’s all well and good, and I’m glad I took the time to set these systems up, but as the weeks progressed I realized my systems slowly beginning to unravel. My folders for the classes filled up extremely quickly, and I didn’t have enough room to bring the binder home with me. The binder with attendance and seating got messy quickly as I began shifting students around, and some days I forgot to take attendance at all. Students weren’t going to the folders to pick up their missing work, and sometimes the folders would be empty (because although absent students didn’t use the folders, some students who had misplaced worksheets did). I found myself completely overwhelmed with adjusting everything, not expecting to need to. Luckily now, my systems have changed a bit, but they have changed in ways that allow for them to be remodeled and extended. This whole teaching thing – not just the organization – is a frequently morphing beast, and a teacher needs to be ready for what’s next.

  • Remember to keep the nuts and bolts of the operation at the forefront, then focus on the fancy stuff.

I previously mentioned how some days I forgot to take attendance. In my eagerness as a new teacher, I would overlook the small, technical aspects of the school day because I was preoccupied with being the best English teacher in history, keeping my kids engaged and making them want to go straight home and read. Before any of that, there are certain things usually pertaining to your school that must be taken care of. Lesson plans need to be submitted on time. Guidance passes need to be handed to students. Students need to be informed about an upcoming event. E-mails need to be replied to. These things are easy to take care of at the time they are supposed to be completed, but looking back and realizing they haven’t been done can bring a ton of stress. Personally, forgetting to do something silly such as submitting attendance brings me much more anxiety than having a students not quite understand my lesson (not that I don’t care if they understand – I absolutely do).

  • Don’t take anything too personally.

The school is a fairly hectic place. There really isn’t any room for your feelings to get hurt. Whether a fellow teacher, caught up in her work, gives you a snappy attitude, or a student groans and calls your homework assignment “useless,” letting it resonate through the rest of your day can create a snowball effect of miserableness.

  • Grading essays takes a long time.

I’ll leave it at that.

  • Remember that you aren’t perfect.

Nobody is perfect, even a teacher. Stuff is going to go wrong, especially in your first year.

That’s all the advice for now. As far as how my year is going personally, I’ve found myself overwhelmed at times, confused at times, and even in despair at times (although it never lasts very long). I’ve asked myself “is this what I really want to do the rest of my life?” I don’t have all of the answers, but I do know this – I enjoy going into work every day. Honestly, I usually feel the worst about work when I’m at home, considering usually I need to bring my work home with me. My students, though they can sometimes drive me up a wall, make me laugh more than they make me yell.

And It Begins

September 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

After completing seven full days of school, I now am finally getting around to updating my blog that was meant to follow my journey day by day, giving you every harrowing minute of my novice schoolteacher experiences. Obviously there have been more pressing matters than updating my blog – things such as making lesson plans, finalizing seating charts, and also starting up graduate school. In fact, I am currently writing this entry on the train, on my way to class. I never thought I would be one of those guys with his laptop out on the train, and thus here I am. Allow me to bring you, my non-existent yet loyal reader, up to date with my teaching endeavors.

Two weeks ago, on/around August 29th, I entered my classroom for the first time. Upon entering, I was stricken with mixed feelings. The room was relatively clean, but crammed with filing cabinets and metal wardrobes, all loaded with materials that did not belong to me. Being a maternity leave teacher, I was ‘renting’ this classroom. While other new teachers were elated to be filling their empty drawers with fun new teacher toys, I had to work with the extremely limited space I was given. I allowed myself to complain silently in my head for a few minutes, and then I decided to man up and make the best of the situation.

One week later, on Tuesday September 6th, my classroom had been transformed thanks to some colored paper, bulletin board borders, a statue that was on sale at Pier 1, and some discount fabric. I have to say, I was pretty proud of what I did to my room. Tuesday had wisely been deemed a professional development day – a day for us to meet with the guidance counselors, and learn about our incoming students. This helped ease my anxiety at the ‘dreaded’ first day of school. Regardless of the useful information I received regarding my classes, being in school for that full day and being with my colleagues definitely assuaged some of the awkwardness.

Amazingly, I got a fairly good sleep the night before the first day, which is almost miraculous

Not me!

for me. In the past, I’ve had serious problems with anxiety and letting stress get into my head, and the fact I was snoozing at a decent hour may seem like an irrelevant detail, but in fact it’s a testament to how I have moderately overcame my anxious tendencies. And, forgive me for briefly jumping forward a bit, I’m quite proud of myself for not coming close to snapping after the first full week of teaching.

My plans for the first day weren’t exactly innovative. I had the students enter the classroom and sit in assigned seats. I then had them practice the procedure for entering the classroom, including writing down the homework and completing the ‘Do-Now’. I then handed out a sheet that acted as a sort of overview for the class, with classroom rules, required materials, and a picture of Justin Bieber for good measure. To get the students up and moving around, I told them about the bell on my desk that I use to get their attention, and then asked them to get out of their seats and find someone with the same birthday month as them. This worked fairly well, and definitely brought some life into the students.

Aside from finishing slightly ahead of schedule with one class, the day went by seamlessly. Only one student gave me any trouble – a young student with an obvious hatred for language arts, permeating misery and bad attitude. More on her later.

Sweaty, sleepy, but happy that I survived the first day, I headed to my apartment and promptly fell asleep at 8:00.

The next six school days were also not bad. Only slight snags, annoyances, and frustrations, but I’m trying to keep things in perspective. I realize that I have a job in a climate where getting one is extremely difficult, and I also know that I’m not perfect, nor am I ever going to be. This is one constant learning experience for me. For example, my timing in the classroom is a bit off. We have 50 minute periods, and it’s still a challenge for me to predict how much can be covered in that time period. Right now I find myself a bit behind the two other 7th grade teachers, since it’s difficult for me to predict how long activities will take. Also, each of my classes are at slightly different places. I’m currently teaching the ‘plot mountain’ and basic literary terms in preparation for beginning analysis of the summer reading books. The difference between classes isn’t staggering, but some classes are a few terms behind others. For me, this immediately brings me a bit of frustration, but it’s a feeling that’s easily extinguished. Classes shouldn’t always be at the exact same place – sure, it’s convenient to plan if they are, but every class consists of different level students and they may learn at different paces. As a new teacher, this is a skill I need to develop, and I know I will. Perspective.

So inspired.

Back to my student who was giving me a bit of problems: on the second day of school, I had students create a book cover that expresses their personality – it could be a book cover for their life story, a story about a day they particularly enjoyed, or a story based around things that interest them. As a Do-Now, I had the students describe a book that would catch their eye in a bookstore. This particular student told me she didn’t like reading, and so no book would catch her attention. I then told her ‘are you sure? Maybe you haven’t seen it yet, but think of the book that definitely would catch your attention.’ She then wrote that she would pick up “a book about people who hate books,” accompanied by a drawing of the cover, adorned with flaming books.

She completed the assignment, but obviously the attitude wasn’t appropriate. The first rule in my classroom is to “Be Respectful,” and I later told her that mocking my class, and my field of study, is not respectful to me. The next few days, she participated a lot, and every answer she gave was completely sarcastic. To be honest, it didn’t offend me very much, but it definitely was giving my classroom climate a negative edge. After holding her momentarily after class, she admitted she was being obnoxious and that she would stop. Luckily, she generally has. Earlier this week, I gave her a quick reminder as she was leaving to remember to be respectful, and so far she has done a pretty good job of shaping up her attitude. Will it last? I don’t know. I guess I’ll find out.

Currently, I am a few days ahead in my lesson planning, which is an amazing feeling. Being a teacher means, for me at least, that there is a tiny bug implanted into your brain that constantly reminds you that you’ll be teaching tomorrow, that you should plan more, that you should try this, that you need to go and buy that, that you have a meeting on Monday, that you need to call some parents, etc. Although I’m all for being prepared and I want to constantly be on alert for things to improve my teaching, having a few minutes to think about something else, or better yet, nothing, is refreshing.

One of my big fears upon entering the teaching world was not enjoying my job. There was a slight chance of me dreading every class, struggling to wake up in the morning, and leaving school every day completely defeated. So far, although waking up is still sometimes a struggle, I find myself during the day sitting at my desk, or walking around the class, or interacting with my students, and feeling satisfied – happy, even.

Of course, it’s only the beginning. But I’m going to hold on to that feeling of accomplishment for as long as I can.

Fully Trained?

August 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

Today marked the final day of ‘teacher training’ provided by my district. My mind is still reeling from the week – it was not particularly intense, but ever since the moment I arrived I was thinking critically about myself as a teacher. How will I apply these methods in the classroom? Which ones will I be able to successfully implement, instead of getting in over my head and failing miserably? I believe I now have a solid idea of what I want to bring to my classroom, which is all that I wanted all along.

My students grew up with this guy

Of course, there were seminars about brain research – get the students moving, don’t teach similar concepts, make emotional connections, that kind of thing. The strange thing about brain research is that all of it seems like common sense – once you’ve heard about it, of course. Additionally, it all sounds easy in practice. “Just make the content meaningful. Have what you are teaching be relatable and relevant to the students’ lives.” Even though I’m young, I’m still ten years older than my students. They were born in 1998 and 1999. For reference, here are some things that happened in 1999:

  • In March, the “Melissa Worm” attacked the internet. Which means the internet was not only around when they were born, it also had cultural relevance. Additionally, 1999 was the year Napster was released.
  • The Columbine massacre.
  • American Pie was released in theaters. Yeah. American Pie is as old as my students.
  • In the same vein, Spongebob Squarepants first aired on Nickelodeon.

I consider myself to be someone who has always been immersed in technology, but it really is staggering when I think about my students. They don’t know a world without the internet. I want more than anything to create meaning in my lessons for them – obviously, I’m going to give it my best shot, but I’m sure it will be a work in progress throughout the whole year.

During training, we also learned a lot about Problem-Based Learning, which I think is an excellent way to engage students. The only problem is that for language arts, I didn’t receive any examples of problem-based tasks that result in a tangible product. The only tasks were to examine answers to lofty questions, such as “how does society shape our self-identity?” Truth be told, I think delving into these huge questions is imperative in the study of literature, and may be why it interests me so much, but having the students discover these questions through actually producing something may be more engaging. I’m definitely going to explore this concept more. Luckily, my school has an awesome instructional facilitator who I will brainstorm with.

Everyone who I met, whether they are part of my actual school or just in the district, is extremely friendly and helpful. Today, to wrap up our training, my principal and two assistant principals took the new staff on an in-depth tour of the building, basically answering all of our logistical questions. I got to check out my classroom, as bare as it currently is. I will be returning at least two days next week to do some organizing and decorating – even more exciting is that I’m going to be receiving new desks. Although I want to make my classroom welcoming and vibrant, I definitely do not want to overdo it. I definitely need to do something with the front of my desk, which is facing students. If I was in the class, I would not want to stare at a bare and scarred metal sheet for the duration of the day. I considered buying some fabric from a store and draping it over, but that does not seem very practical. I also need to find things to decorate the walls – it looks like a trip to the teacher’s store (which I’ve never been to before) is in order. Luckily, my room has a whole wall of  windows, complete with ample shade outside. I get sunlight, but not directly. Some plants are probably also in order. One negative about being a full year maternity leave position is that much of the cabinets and drawers are still being utilized by the teacher I’m replacing, but I’m confident that I can make do.

Now that training is over, I have a plethora of planning to do. The skeleton for my first few days is set – the first day is a Wednesday, so I will be taking the three days of the first week to do icebreakers while discussing rules and goals for the school year, but after that I’m basically blank. Some heavy planning will be taking place next week, because on the first day of school, I want to be comfortable.

I got an extremely odd feeling right before I left the school today. I picked up my bag, and I stood in front of my classroom, looking at the empty desks. This is my classroom. I’ll be teaching 111 students, every weekday, for the next 10 months. It seemed like after four years of college, I would never reach this point. But here I am.

When I began writing this blog post, I pondered how I would feel after flushing out my thoughts about training. My prediction was that I would realize how much stuff I still need to do, and a wave of apprehension would come over me. That didn’t happen. I’m excited.

Required Reading v. I: The First Days of School

August 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

When I first met with the Board of Education for my district to formally accept my teaching position, I did not expect to walk out of their office with my hands full of education-related swag. They were nice enough to provide me, at no cost, with three books to look over before my teaching started. Never in my life did I think I would be excited about receiving summer homework. It was an indication that my district was on my side, wanting me to succeed – a nice feeling, to say the least. I am going to attempt to go through the three books before my teacher training (beginning August 15th), but I’ll be on vacation the majority of next week, so it just may not happen. Either way, I’ll begin with the book that caught my eye first.

I shouldn’t have to provide much explanation as to why The First Days of School: How to be an Effective Teacher by Harry K. Wong and Rosemary T. Wong was the first book I delved into. I mean, come on, the title claims that it will tell me how to be good at my job. It even includes a DVD (which I have not yet watched) – fancy stuff. Interestingly enough, during my student teaching I cruised Amazon for education-related books and this one popped up numerous times, with good reviews. As far as I’m concerned, the good reviews are warranted.

When I began reading, I was hoping for a simple look at tips and tricks to get through the first days of school unscathed. What I found myself with was an easy to understand yet comprehensive look at what makes a teacher affective, with research to back everything up. Much of the information I read was not foreign to me – many concepts had been covered in my various education classes in college. This is not a negative thing, though. I was refreshed to many basic ideas that I maybe would have forgotten to consider in September.

Right from the get-go this book murders the overzealous new teacher who doesn’t believe they need any help. On page 15, a boxed quote reads:

The First Year of Teaching Can Be Frightening.

  1. Teacher education will not have prepared you.
  2. Student teaching will not have prepared you.
  3. The district may not have prepared you.
  4. Yet, you will be expected to perform immediately.

Upon first reading these words, I was a bit terrified. But after letting them sink in for a while, it had a profound effect on me; it made me want to be prepared, get help, and understand that I’m not going to be the perfect teacher when I first get into the classroom. That list may seem cynical, but it’s a truth that many new teachers need to understand in order for them to improve themselves (but what the hell do I know? I haven’t even started teaching yet.)

This book also drilled home the importance of classroom management. Whether in my education classes, on the internet, or from the mouths of current teachers, I’ve been told that management is the most important skill to have when running a class for the first time. The First Days of School not only explained, in detail, why it is important, but it gave practical procedures to use that improve upon classroom management. I’m thrilled to use some of these methods once the year begins.

So, it seems so far my district has done a good job of giving me materials to prepare. The First Days of School is loaded with research and useful information, while not making me dread September – hell, I think I’m maybe even more excited now.

– T

PS: I apologize if this entry seems rushed, particularly at the end – I’m currently vacationing. Posts with more TLC will start pouring in this weekend.

The Beginning (Let’s get the boring stuff out of the way)

July 28, 2011 § 2 Comments

If someone had approached me four months ago and told me I would be running my own classroom come September, I would have assumed they were making a joke about the terrible teacher market and overwhelming lack of hope for recent education graduates. Lo and behold, I am blessed to have landed a teaching job, prompting me to create this blog. I’ve made other blogs in the past, usually dedicated to my boring day-to-day activities or discoveries about the world that I assumed were extremely profound and new. This blog is going to chronicle my headfirst dive into the world of teaching, maybe giving some insight to new teachers. Or maybe not.

I’ll be providing more information in later posts about my background, but here are the basics: I was hired for a year-long maternity leave position teaching 7th grade English in a middle school. My full-time student teaching, during my senior year of college, was completed at the high school in the same district I received this job. Come September, I will have five sections of students. In mid-August, I am attending four days of teacher training provided by my district, for which I was assigned three books to read (which will be addressed in a later post). As for myself, I am currently 22 years old, in a relationship, and living alone (for the first time in my life) in the same town my school is located. While I tackle my first year of teaching, I will also be attending graduate school for an MA in English Literature. My first semester only consists of one class, which I will take every Thursday night.

My feelings regarding being thrust from one education world right after leaving another are mostly positive, although I’m sure as the first day approaches my apprehension will rise. I’m attempting to be as prepared as possible come that day, and also be ready for anything.

Now that the boring stuff is out of the way, I’ll be updating in the coming days with how I’m preparing, whether by thumbing through assigned reading or doing my own thing.

– T