Tuesday, June 15, 2010

What I Learned This Year

P6140003Taken from one of my Arkansas History student's end of the year survey.

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.


This 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 Traveled

All 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 Mom

I'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 Door

This 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 Freak

It'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 Sequence

For 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 Important

I'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 Matters

I 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.

Mr. McClung


Wm Chamberlain said...

Great reflection, I really appreciate how it always seems to go back to student learning. You have come a long ways in the last two years my friend.

jkmcclung said...

Really appreciate it....I also enjoy doing these types of reflections, really helps me put the past year into perspective.

hbhinton said...

I really enjoy your post. Since I am on my way to becoming a teacher it is inspiring to read what you go through and have learned along the way. It makes me excited to become a teacher! Thanks for sharing! USA EDM 310 student

sam gates said...

Hello my name is Sam Gates and I am a student in Dr. Strange's EDM310 class.I completely agree that we should never get complacent with what we have done, but that we should continue to change as time changes. If you have any websites that you could send me about the ways you learned how not to be the ghost of the history teacher's past I would greatly appreciate it. Thanks. My email is gatesboy15@gmail.com.

Leah DiVincenzo said...

Mr. McLung:
I've read "What I've Learned This Year" versions 1 & 2 as assignments for Dr. Strange's EDM310 class. Here is a link to my comments on version 1.

Your comment about the differences in independence in middle vs. Jr. high students is extremely perceptive, and is a well-needed point for teachers. In middle school, children are still experiencing industry vs. inferiority, needing more encouragement and confidence in their skills. But in jr. high, they are entering into identity vs. role confusion. They are exploring independence and developing a sense of self. This is based on Erik Erikson's stages of psychosocial development, and is basically a bunch of "flim-flamery" to say, awesome! I agree whole-heartedly.

We have the obligation to allow people to believe whatever they want, and to foster their search about why they believe those things. If we simply go on and on about our own beliefs, students feel there is no reason to research.
This reminds me of an AP Psychology teacher I had in high school. He was by far the best teacher I’ve had. The reason is because he would take on the characteristics of whatever concept he was teaching. When he was discussing behaviorism, he would BE a behaviorist; when talking about Freud, he “believed” in psychoanalysis. This kept him from running into his own biases, and kept the students from knowing his views on any subject.

Salesman is a good term if you take away the negative connotation of a greased-up man in a 50s style suit trying to sell you a car. =) The best teachers are the ones who aren’t afraid to “make a fool” of themselves, display passion about what they’re teaching, and who encourage interest in that subject. I have recollections of the same psych teacher mentioned above standing on his head, arguing about what made a coffee mug a coffee mug, and encouraging debate. He was so thrilled about schools of psychology, his students were too!

I appreciate your posts, as they have been a great learning tool, and a reminder that we must all be reflective. I've added At the Teacher's Desk to my PLN, and I hope we can communicate more in the future.

Leah DiVincenzo

Christi said...

Mr. McClung,
I don't think we should ever stop learning! You did a great job! You made history and social studies fun for the students and these subjects were foreign to you. I thinking teaching is a learning experience especially in your situation when your grade level switches. You just go with the flow. You should always surround yourself around positive people!! Don't let negative comments bring you down by other teachers. They are probably just jealous anyway. I'm very proud of you and I look up to you!!

Allison Sells said...

It sounds like you have really grown as a professional this year. You have given us some very important tips for survival and I thank you. I love the idea about delegating jobs to students to make your life easier as well as teaching them responsibility. I hope to take this advice with me know matter what grade I teach.
I am a very strong believer that one who proclaims to know everything is only proclaiming ignorance. No matter how much you know there is always someone who you can learn from. Listen to everyone who has more experience than you, you never know what you may learn that you can use. My policy is to take it in, filter it, keep what you can use and throw the rest of it away. It sounds like you are learning this method well. Don't let the petty actions of a few mask your successes and your professional growth as a teacher. It sounds to me like it has been a great year and I agree with the Christi that the other teachers are probably just jealous. You are setting the bar higher and it is easier for them to criticize than to try to compete. I wish for you just as much success with your next year of teaching as you have had this year.
You can read my comments about your blog at My EDM310 Blog

Barry Gartman's EDM310 Class Blog said...

You have matured a lot in the last year. I hope I do as well in my first two years. I too, am terrified about the relationships with the other teachers. How will they like me? Will they shun me for being technological literate? These and many more questions swirl in my head every day.
Good catch on the difference from middle to jr. high schools. This is a very frightful time for most young people, and we need not pile it on by giving extra grief and stress. But it is also a time where they need firm direction and a sense that you really care for them. That you have their best interest at heart.
Anyway, nice to hear from you and your first two years. I plan on following you regularly as I graduate in less than two years. Maybe by then you will have it figured out, or at least know what not to do!

Maeghan Whitmire said...

Mr. McClung,

My name is Maeghan Whitmire and I am commenting on this as an assignment in Dr. Strange's EDM310 class at the University of South Alabama. I really enjoyed reading yet another one of your posts. I feel like you are giving me a lot of insight on how to be a better teacher before I even get there. I really appreciate you taking out your time to write your experiences. My favorite part of your post was about finding your school mom. My dad is a teacher and I've him say to me things like this before (maybe not in the same words, but you get my gist). Well, thank you once again. I really enjoyed your post!

crystalrutherford said...

My name is Crystal Rutherford and I'm a student in Dr. Strange's EDM 310 class. I really enjoy reading your post. It seems like you’re doing a great job with encouraging your students to learn. I like how you’re always searching for the right methods to enable your students to stay focused and to enjoy learning. They are very lucky to have you as a teacher!

Ashley J said...

Mr. McClung,
My name is Ashley Johnson and I am commenting on this as an assignment in Dr. Strange's EDM310 class at the University of South Alabama. I thought that your post was great. I enjoyed reading it. I like how you are encouraging all of your students to be learners. You have gave me a lot of knowledge on becoming a better teacher. Thank you!

Stephen said...

I really have enjoyed your two end of the year post. I think that this post shows how you have really changed and how you have had to change. I think your topics in this post will really help me to become a better teach because you show so much of what it is really like to be in the classroom. From comparing your two post and from you talking in this post, I can really tell that you have grown as a teacher. I think my favorite part of the post is " Don't Lose Sight of What's Important". I know that when I become a teacher there will be many things that will be challenging. Like you I want the students to be number one. We teach so that they might have a good future. Thanks for your post.


Katie Watson's EDM310 Blog said...

Mr. McClung,
My name is Katie Watson and I am also a student in Dr. Strange's EDM310 class. Thank you for posting your thoughts and opinions so honestly. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading these posts. It seems that you have come a long way. I will continually come back to your page and read the "helpful hints" that you have provided for us. I hope to one day have the knowledge and insight that you portray. Thank you again!

Melissa said...

Hi, my name is Melissa Jones and I am also a student of Dr. Strange. I really enjoy reading your posts. I have my uneasy feelings about teaching my first class in the future. Your honesty and good advice has been very helpful.I have some family members that teach and they have never been this honest about their teaching experience.

Rebecca Classic said...

Mr. McClung, Thank you for your candid and honest post about what you learned last year. I agree with you that we have to keep the kids first in our minds and figure out a way to keep the politics of our building out of our classrooms. The advice to find a "school mom" is great and I will take it when I start teaching again. I am a student in Dr. Strange's EDM 310 class and we are all enjoying learning from you. My class blog is linked here.

Christina Motes said...

Hi Mr. McClung,
My name is Christina Motes and as you already guessed I am a student at the University of South Alabama and have read your post as part of an assignment for Dr. Strange's EDM310 class. I really enjoyed your post and I particularly liked where you talked about having to change your teaching technique when you starting teaching a new subject. I think we have to definitely find something that works for our particular classroom and then make changes from there. I also agree with your "salesman" attitude of teaching. We definitely have to come up with ways to present our material to get the students to "buy" into it. Thank you again for all of your insight.

Christina Motes

James Marshall said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
James Marshall said...

Thank you for your post. It is very interesting to see how you are growing and changing as a teacher. I like the advice about the school mom. Your caring for your students and your job really show through in your posts.

Nichole said...

Mr. McClung,
I really enjoyed this post because it was honest, insightful, and self-reflective. I like how you can be honest and pick out all of your flaws and come up with reasons to improve and be better the next year. It is great that you are growing as an educator and not stuck in a hole where you think things can't possibly get any better. I'm really grateful that you do not sugarcoat everything, especially how you had to teach different subjects. That's one of my fears, being thrown to historical wolves and not knowing what to do.

Thanks again for your post!

Kimberly Tharp's EDM310 Blog said...

Mr. McClung,
As I read your post, I found the fears that have haunted me all Summer rising up again. How am I going to keep myself from becoming stagnant when real life sets in this fall? I am a junior high math teacher, and am taking Dr. Strange's EDM 310 as part of my re-certification process. I have been the eager young teacher who is innovative and passionate. And I have also been the "survival mode" educator at times when life became too big. I am very intimidated about teaching 4 different math courses this fall, while trying to implement some of the technology that I have become familiar with this Summer. Thank you for some excellent reminders about balancing my instructional time with my assessment, and delegating responsibilities to capable students. I will be looking forward to future posts.

sjh402 said...

Great post. Very eye opening as to what to expect. I am sure you thought with this being your second year, you would have everything set out perfectly. I admire the way you change is good and ultimately makes us better teachers, I agree. Thank you for sharing.

Sara Hendrix
EDM 310 University of South Alabama

Martha Yim said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Martha Yim said...

I am a student in Dr. Strange's EDM 310 class. Thank you so much for posting your classroom experiences. I enjoy reading your struggles and solutions and I am sure that I will be better prepared to enter the classroom because of your posts. It is obvious that you are a wonderful and caring teacher or you would not go to the lengths that you have to make sure your lessons are interesting and appropriate for both you and the students. You persevere not to be "professionally stagnant" and I think that is wonderful. You are the kind of teacher that I want for my children. Keep up the great work and I look forward to reading more posts.

Anna Dumas said...

I am a student in Dr. Strange's EDM310 class and I have really enjoyed reading your reflections on your past two years of teaching. I have really gained some great tips from reading your blog. I can honestly say that with your positive attitude toward teaching and bonding with your students, I have less fear of becoming a teacher myself. A new school is definitely hard to get used to, but you seem to run through your survival guide (that you have constructed yourself) fairly well. I hope you can continue to invent new ways to motivate your students to learn subjects that they may otherwise feel are unnecessary to their immediate lives.

Shoronda Charles said...

Hi Mr. McClung,

My name is Shoronda Charles and I am a student in Dr. Strange's EDM 310 class. We were assigned to read your first year's comment, and it is a great experience to see the changes and adaptations that you made. I liked how you took the time to specify the change between the age groups of students you had to teach as well as the change in the curriculum. Thank you for sharing this!

Della said...

Hello, My is Della Ervin and I am a Student at University of South Alabama. Honestly I love your blog and you are honest and very open minded about things. In your last blog you talked about your first year of teaching and how you amended. This year you had more of a challenge because you was teaching on a higher level and in a different educational field. In order to be a good teacher you must be as much about passion as it is about cause. It's not only about inspiring students to learn, except teaching them how to learn, and doing accordingly in a way that is appropriate, significant, and unforgettable. Teachers who care about there technique will convey that passion to the students. I believe that Mr. McClung is a good teacher because he was very honest in his blog about having trouble with his new grade level and subject. Of course, we all have some trouble or obstacle in our life, but it is all about jumping over the hurdles and pushing forward until we accomplish your goal. Thank you for allowing me to read your blog I really enjoyed it.

Jackie G. said...

Thanks a million, Mr. McClung, for sending us "Year Two." I enjoyed your reflection of year one and the Skype call last semester with Dr. Strange's class. This is priceless stuff for us teachers-in-training.

Your comments on bringing the kids in on classroom duties are fantastic. Kids that age LOVE to have special privileges, which make them feel so important. I also think, since on the brink of young adulthood, they would like to feel as if they are partnered with the teacher.

I truly appreciate your humility, and honest reflection. Thank you for your efforts!! Great, great stuff!!!

Jackie Gorski

Allison Kirby said...

I am a student in Dr. Strange's EDM310 class as well. I have enjoyed reading your posts about what you have learned. I intend to take what you have learned and apply it when I began teaching. It seems that you have learned a lot over the past two years and that you are able to adapt quite well. Thank you for sharing what you have learned.
Allison Kirby

Pauline Brown said...

Hi. I'm a student in Dr. Strange's EDM 310 class. I've read your first blog post about what you have learned during your first year of teaching.
After reading this one, the one thing I can see is that your are consistent. Does it make sense when I say that you are consistent in being flexible?

And I totally agree with the other lady who said you were perceptive in the difference between 6th and 8th graders. I work more so with older high schoolers and I have to admit when a jr. high or middle schooler gets thrown into the mix, I'm at a lost sometimes. But being flexible is the key, right :)

Erin Knowles said...

Hello. I'm a student in Dr. Strange's EDM 310 class. I thought your reflections from your second year of teaching were quite honest and helpful. Not only did you reveal your challenges but your tactics for coping. Tactics I can take with me and use when I start teaching. Thank you for your time.

Erin Knowles

Alissa Logan EDM310 Class Blog said...

Mr. McClung,
I am another one of Dr. Strange's students. I have enjoyed reading about your two years of teaching. I am also afraid of the "survival mode" I hope to not get there, but it is good to know you did not stay there long. I would rather teach something hands on and not reading a book and answering questions.
One thing I would like to offer you is to know it is okay to not know the answer to something. I know I learn something everyday. Sometimes it is even from my six year old son or my two year old daughter. All I am saying is it is okay to still be learning things...who knows you might learn something from your students as well.
Keep up the great work! I have added you to my PLN and plan on following you to see how you are doing.

Jillian LeRouge said...

Your reflections are most helpful-- Honesty is the best policy. So many of the people reading your blog, myself included, are studying to become teachers and want to hear words of advice from someone closer to our own level. Like you said, veteran teachers are great for advice about the school, but I really appreciate hearing about the real obstacles to look out for. So, thank you for posting the warning signs. The more we know to check for in ourselves, the better off our students will be.
Jillian LeRouge, Dr.Strange's Student