Now with the the 09-10 school year over here in the states, it is time to reflect a bit. Last year I created a monster with blog post that was inspired by a former co-worker. The idea of the What I Learned This Year blog post was to reflect on my first full year of teaching. After receiving a lot of run from visitors and Dr. Strange and his students, I decided to create another reflection blog post for my second full year of teaching...enjoy.
AdaptThis year held many first for me. It was my first year to teach jr. high students, it was my first time to teach social studies and history, it was my first time to work in a large school district, and it was my first year that I had to three different subjects in the same year. With all of these new challenges that faced me, that meant that I had to adapt my style to now fit the new set of barriers that were before me. Last year I was very comfortable teaching science to 6th graders, and was provided with all of the resources I would ever need to do my job...that all changed in Fayetteville. I had to step outside my comfort zone to teach 8th graders, which meant that I had to ditch the "middle school mentality" that I had adopted from working with 6th graders, and take on the "jr. high mentality" that my 8th graders displayed. The difference between the two mentalities is simply independence. In jr. high students are more independent and do not see the world through rose colored glasses like middle school students typically do. This meant that my style had to adapt to their needs and become a teacher that provided those moments of independence for my students.
The last key component that I had to adapt to this year was the subjects that I taught. I was introduced to a totally new science curriculum, of which I had taught little to none of in the past, and to the subjects of social studies and Arkansas history...both of which I had never taught in the past and was now expected to do so on a high level. Initially having had experience in science in the past, I was able to adapt to the new curriculum and perform well for the most part. However, when it came to teaching history and social studies...it was totally foreign to me from a teaching style point of view. Every teaching experience I had in the past allowed me to use discovery learning and work in groups to complete tasks, how in the world am I going to do that with a subject that is mainly composed of note taking? At this point I found myself returning to the dreaded "survival mode" that they warn you of in education classes. I began assigning the students busy work and giving them pointless notes that did nothing more just waste time and keep them out of trouble. In the area of science I was excelling as a teaching, but in history I had become everything I ever hated about teaching.
At some point in the year I had to make a decision that no matter what I was not going to become the "ghost of history teachers past", instead I was going to find a way to make social studies/history fun and relevant much like I strive to do in my science classes. I began to research different classroom management styles and eventually piece together a style that fit who I am as a teacher and also fit my students as learners. In summary, I had to learn how to adapt when the current situation required it. The lesson to learn from here is to never get too comfortable, change is good and ultimately it makes us better teachers.
The Path Least TraveledAll to often we as teachers get caught up in trying to script out every detail of our lessons with a predicted outcome...We have a specific plan of how and where we want to lead the class conversations. This year I had to learn to be a little more relaxed with these plans of where the class discussion was heading. Teaching a subject like social studies means that we spend a lot of time discussing current events that often included controversial or debatable topics. In my first few attempts I found a glaring problem that stood in the way of our class conversations...my students had never really been taught to think for themselves. During class discussions they would try to feel me out for my opinion and then build upon my opinion assuming that the teacher (me) had the right answer. This was especially frustrating because the topics we discussed in class didn't have right answers...it's all a matter of opinion.
With this problem presenting itself to me, I had to then change the way I presented current events and overall class discussions. I had to approach this portion of class with no expectations of the expected outcome of the conversation and leave all my opinions and bias at the door. As a teacher, I want my students to be independent thinkers and to only lean on me when they feel like they have hit a barrier...and this is an area that I need to get better at. I don't want my students to always look for the right answer, but instead take a different approach that requires them to think analytically and assess each situation on a individual basis.
Find Your School MomI'm a mommas boy...there is no doubt about it. Growing I was the baby and I always depended on my momma to help me out at a moments notice. Even though I am now 25 years old, I still require that mother figure to help me out. The first thing I do when I arrive at a new school is I find my school mom. School moms are ladies that have been at that particular school for at least several years (they know how things work), they are very patient and kind (I'm very forgetful), and they are always willing to offer counseling session if needed (I'm a headcase).
This is the most important piece of advice I could offer to a first year teacher. When you are new to a school it is very hard to pick-up on routines and norms that go with working at that particular school. It is a great asset to have someone that knows the ins and outs of that school. In addition, it is great to have someone who is willing to fight for you. If you handle yourself right and really gain the respect of your school mom (baking cookies doesn't hurt), she will do anything for you...and that's always useful.
Thank you Mrs. Cheatham, Mrs. Hamm, and Mrs. Barron.
Check Your Ego at The DoorThis job that I have is not that easy...think about it, it is my task to speak in front of teenagers everyday and make pre-historic Indian tribes of Arkansas seem interesting and important. It order to do this, some times I have to make an ass of myself make a fool of myself in front of my students to keep them in tune with what I'm talking about. Essentially I'm a salesmen in a sense, and I have to sale what I'm teaching to my students...and I'm willing to do whatever it takes to complete the sell. I often have to fake enthusiasm for lessons I may not have interest in, or I may come up with some type of crazy sequence of gestures to help my students remember information, and even come up with silly ways for them to interact with me through say and response tactics. The bottom line is I'm going to do whatever it takes to teach the curriculum to these kids.
As teachers, if we're not careful we can allow our own egos to get in our way and maybe be afraid to act crazy passionate about what we are teaching to our students. It's almost like we are in high school again and it's not "cool" to show passion or enthusiasm about education. I want my students to know that I care about what I'm teaching and I truly love what I'm doing so much that I'm willing to act like a dork sometimes. Our students need to know that we have passion for our jobs if we ever expect them to take our subjects serious.
Don't Be a Control FreakIt's okay to be in control, but some people can go over board with the concept of control. Teachers as a whole are very guilty of trying to control everything our kids do in our class. We know exactly what we are going to teach before the year starts (thanks to standards), we design pacing guides that tell us what we are doing each week of the quarter, and we even script out our daily lessons...and with all this planning and controlling we as teachers can become a bit batty. This year I decided to try and save my sanity by alleviating myself of so many duties and start relying on cheap labor...my students. I began giving students minor jobs that teachers often do but don't think about. Like handing out papers...I stopped doing this about two years ago. I now simple place one stack in the front of the room and one at the back of the room and tell my students they have 15 seconds to get one. Doesn't seems like a big deal right? By doing this I'm saving myself the trouble of having to pass out papers to my students and maintain the attention of my students and I'm actually saving time by doing this...it takes me more than 15 seconds to pass out papers. Very simple classroom duties don't have to also be completed by the teacher, assess what's important and give the jobs that are not important to your students...they are more than happy to do them.
As I stated before, I have been using tactics like the paper handout for a couple of years...nothing really new learned there. However, this year I felt a lot of pressure in my blogging. There were times that I felt like I was not producing blog post fast enough and I had the idea that maybe our readers would like to her a different point of view other than mine own. I feel like my students produce very thought provoking conversation, so I felt like it was a natural fit to select students to be guest bloggers on our classblog. This worked wonderfully for a couple of reasons, it relieved some of the pressure on me to produce so many blog post and it provided an outlet for my students to have their work and opinions heard.
While control is a good thing, there is such thing as too much of it. I feel like as teachers we need to teach our students how to preform task in the classroom rather than depend on us to do it for them. This requires them to be responsible and take ownership for the classroom experience.
Scope and SequenceFor all of my education professors in college...you were right. When I was in college my professors spoke a lot about scope and sequence, and it was something that I really blew off and didn't really take seriously. Now that I'm a bit older and have more experience, I'm starting to understand why those professors of mine spent some much time on this one subject.
This year I noticed a glaring flaw in my instruction...and that was that I was very inconsistent with my the amount of time I would spend on a subject and the dept in which I would cover that topic in my classes. I found myself spending more time on subjects that interested me and not enough time on subjects that might be more important or pivotal for an 8th graders progress as a student. I had to start making sure that I spent adequate time on these subjects and that I was consistent assessments as well. A key component of scope and sequence is the assessment portion...I often times found myself spending a lot of time on a subject then my assessments didn't match the depth in which I went into.
Teaching methods and classroom management are absolutely essential as a teacher, but they don't mean much if you don't have an adequete plan in place for the dept of what your teaching and the sequence of when you teach these lessons.
Don't Lose Sight of What's ImportantI'm going to be quite frank here...this has been a terrible year for me when it comes to dealing with administration. I don't mean to air my dirty laundry, but for the purpose of this lesson it's important to know that my job wasn't that great this year...and it had nothing to do with the kids, it was the behavior of the "grown-ups" in our building that caused the problems. Throughout this year I have encountered adversity that has made my job hard at times and really difficult for me to give my best effort to my lessons...but, no matter what I still made my students the priority and tried not to let that adversity hinder my performance in the classroom.
One day when speaking to a colleague about the adversity that I was facing, she made the comment that if it was her that she would have "shut it down" a long time ago and her effort would reflect how the administration had handled the situation. While this seems like a good way to really stick it to someone who had done me wrong, it's really not. I thought about this for quite some time after this comment was made to me, and I just couldn't make myself think that way. This train of thought does not hurt my administration...it only hurts my students. No matter how bad things may be, as a teacher you can not let surrounding factors effect how you conduct yourself in the classroom. The reason is because the students are what is really important. It's not about petty differences you may have with your boss or co-workers, it's about bringing your best effort for your students.
It's What Your Learn After You Know It All That MattersI really feel like progressed quite a bit since I first started teaching two and a half years ago...but I understand that I have a long way to go. I must admit that I got a big head after my first full year of teaching, and my second year has served as a humbling reminder that I don't know as much as I thought I once did. My flaws accompany my strengths well and I know that I cannot be satisfied with standing still and running the risk of becoming professional stagnant...the most valuable thing that I can do to prevent this is to continue to listen to those around me that have more experience than I do and alter their advice to fit my style as an educator. I am a work in progress, but I am confident in my abilities and that's exactly what I want to be.