When I put my key in the ignition, my vehicle starts. When I set the alarm on my iPhone, it sounds every weekday at 6AM. When I need a good laugh, memes on Pinterest do the trick. There are just some things in life I can trust in and rely on.
Admittedly, I struggled this week with trusting in far bigger things than my wheels, my alarm, and comic relief. I felt like my classroom management abilities had tanked. I was tense and on-edge over petty things. I felt anxious about my future, was losing faith in the process, and was running critically low on patience.
Fast forward to the scene of me reading my placement letter in the hallway with my grade partners...reading that I was joining the staff at Antonia Middle School...and that I would be teaching Social Studies.
Now that my professional future is certain, I feel confident and excited to think about what's next. I have many questions to be answered soon, but at least in my mind and heart, I have peace.
This makes me feel ashamed of having such a lack of trust in the first place. Every time I lose faith, feel powerless, and hit rock bottom, things turn around and surge back to life. My spirit is renewed, my patience gets refueled, and I trust again. Every. Time. I guess such is life, right?
May this past week of things being unbalanced and difficult remind me of whose refuge I must seek. Every. Day. Life isn't perfect, but His timing and faithfulness are. I am thankful for my new position, and I look forward to the ways in which it will challenge and mature me as a professional.
My husband once called me Queen Pitch from the Land of Throwaway. I was not offended by this nickname. In fact, I sort of pride myself on being able to purge...my files, my classroom, my closet, the fridge, the pantry, you name it. I'm also a chronic deleter of emails, texts, and digital photos on my phone. (I guess you could say I live up to the nickname quite well.)
This gets me thinking... Are there ways in which we teachers can purge and purify our instructional practices? In other words, what needs to go? What is no longer useful and not beneficial to our students?
One instructional practice that I purged this school year is giving students hard copies of things that they can view online or on our Google Classroom. If a student truly needs whatever it is in their hands, then he/she can print out a copy. By being more selective with my handouts and utilizing Google Classroom, I've lessened my workload and reduced the litter in my classroom recycle bin. I know that my students appreciate not being flooded with paperwork, and I'm sure my district appreciates my frugal use of copy paper.
Another instructional practice that I've eliminated is assigning homework. I like to think that my students are receiving a wholesome, challenging education and that we capitalize on (almost) every minute of our learning time together. I know my students have lives outside of school, and I choose to respect their time by not assigning homework for the rest of this school year. By adopting a no-homework rule, I have given my students (and their families) the gift of time...time to do what kids and parents need to do in the evening.
One last instructional practice that I've purified is how I assess learning. Instead of grading nearly every assignment I give, I've honed in on what's essential and what assessment "could" be. I've stripped away from my lessons the typical pencil-paper assessments, and I've allowed for choice and variety in how my students demonstrate what they've learned. The favorite this school year is creating quick Kahoot quizzes. My students create them, and we "play" them. (They don't even realize they're being assessed. So sneaky, right?)
Reflect on your own practices, and seek out ways to purge, pitch, and purify what you and your students are doing. The "Queen" decrees it.
I have to admit, my eyesight is not the best. I should wear glasses to address my nearsightedness, but I don't. Instead, I squint my eyes and scrunch up my face in order to see something at a distance...a street sign, a subtitle in a movie, what a student is doing across the classroom. Glasses would certainly help my vision, but not necessarily my focus. What I choose to look at, that's all me.
The same can be said for any number of us right now. Education is (constantly) changing. The political winds have shifted. Heck, even the weather (at least here in St. Louis lately) is wonky. If I try to stay current with all things EDU, all things political, and even all things weather-related, I wouldn't be able to keep a good charge on my phone, and I'd end up discouraged and drained myself daily.
Now is the time to FOCUS, more so than ever before. Anxiety is high all across the nation. And what many of us are ingesting from TV and social media isn't helping our anxiety levels. Maybe it's time to turn off the TV, put down our devices, and focus.
Focus on our students and their learning.
Focus on our PLN and other resources.
Focus on our local community and its needs.
Focus on our professional development.
Focus on our homes and our families.
Change is inevitable, be it in Education, politics, or the weather. And there will always be something in our lives to feel anxious about. But what we choose to focus on? That is something we CAN control.
Now that the final semester in my current position is under way, I can't help but reflect back on my years of teaching at Guffey. Certain personalities and events stand out, but what strikes me most is what I've learned from my students. In the interest of keeping this post under several volumes long, I narrowed my thoughts down to the top 3 lessons learned.
Lesson 1: It's OK to cry.
I remember the first time I cried in front of my students. I remember the church-like silence that settled over the room as my kids sat and stared while I tried to hide my tears. Since that day, there have been other tearful moments in the classroom. I cried while reading The Cay. (Ok, ok, I cry every. time. I read The Cay.) I cried while packing up the belongings of an expelled student. I cried when I had to tell my class that a grade partner was very sick with cancer. I cried during a class meeting with a rough group of students.
Each time I've had an emotional moment with students, I've learned something. I've learned that my students care about me. I've learned that the things I cry about publically are nothing compared to what they cry about privately. And I've learned that it's OK to be vulnerable and human in front of students.
Lesson 2: Respect is earned.
Not long ago, I taught my 2nd roughest class. I felt like I was the only teacher in the building who gave them chances, who went to bat for them, and who cared about their character and their success. Truth be told, I fought tooth and nail for those kids every. day. I fought to keep the focus on learning in our classroom. I fought to get quality work from them. I fought to protect several of them from unfair discipline.
And at the end of the day, although they were an exhausting class, those kids knew how much I cared and how hard I was trying to get the BEST from them, and they respected me. In fact, I was the only teacher to whom they showed respect. They respected me because I had earned their respect. I was real, honest, patient, and tough with them (when it was warranted). That class taught me that respect really is earned.
Lesson 3: If it's broke, fix it. Together.
My first few years of teaching, I had no idea how to address conflict between students or a whole-class issue. I fumbled around with this technique and that strategy. Some were box office hits. Some were total flops. There is struggle in learning, though, and I'm proud to say that now I feel confident in my ability to help students with interpersonal issues. I also feel skilled at addressing whole-class beefs, so to speak.
Whether it's a private hallway conversation or a whole-class meeting, my students have taught me that if something is broken, we have to fix it, and we have to fix it together. I've learned how important it is to let students talk and be heard. I've learned that privately discussing a situation is better than calling everyone's attention to it. I've learned that students need to be involved in the problem-solving process. It's our classroom community. If it's broke, let's fix it, but let's fix it together.
I know there are countless lessons yet to learn as I leave Guffey and further my career as a Middle School teacher. I look forward to what my future students will teach me.
I've had it wrong for too long.
All this time I've been thinking that Middle School teachers are tough. Bootcamp drill sergeant tough. I've occassionally used the tough-love approach over the years with my 6th-graders, thinking that such an approach prepares them for moving to Middle School. I've lectured. I've guilt-tripped. I've gone all Teacher-on-the-Ledge (which is not a pretty look for any of us, by the way). And boy have I been wrong to use such tactics.
I learned at a professional development session yesterday that Middle School teachers must (yes, MUST) nurture their students. Because of where 12 through 14 year-olds are in their social, moral, and intellectual development, they need nurturing. They need teachers who will challenge them academically (because they can do higher-order thinking). They need teachers who will present them with opportunities to discuss and debate moral issues (because they can grapple with real-life issues if properly scaffolded). They need teachers who will listen, counsel, and be role models (because they are in the process of defining who they want to ultimately be).
Middle Schoolers are in the most transitional and foundational period of their entire lives. All the more reason for tough-love tactics to be replaced with a more nurturing approach. My goal for the rest of this school year is to be just that: more nurturing. Don't get me wrong. There are times when tough love is exactly what the doctor ordered, but to best meet the unique developmental needs of Middle Schoolers, a little love (actual LOVE) goes a long way.
They are the key to peaceful, productive classrooms. They have the power to unlock students' abilities and motivation and to give teachers a platform from which to help students reach goals and experience success. Without solid, authentic relationships between teachers and students, a classroom can feel like a cage.
I've learned this the hard way by making mistakes with past students. I'm thankful for mistakes, though. I learn from them. And I carry what I've learned into my relationships with current students.
One nagging question I have about being a Middle School teacher is: Will I be able to cultivate relationships with all of my students? This question does not come from feeling insecure about my ability to build a rapport with students and a safe, loving classroom community. This question has every bit to do with the nature of a Middle School setting, the larger population of students I'll serve, and the schedule we'll be subjected to. Since I've learned how vital relationships are, I worry that a Middle School's program won't be conducive to establishing the kind of closeness I now enjoy with my students.
Instead of letting this question and worry burn an acidic hole through my outlook, I seek answers and assurance from colleagues. I look for resources that will aid my transition. I listen to discussions, I read books, and I try to envision what next school year will feel like. With mostly courage and curiosity, I look ahead to my professional future...and smile.
New year. New semester. New ideas!
Here's what I have planned for my students and I as we wrap up the school year:
To promote my classroom literacy, I've also decided to include DEAR time in our weekly schedule. I want to literally drop everything and read for 15-20 minutes whenever the mood strikes. My students have personal reading goals to achieve, and I have a seemingly never-ending list of books to peruse. Needless to say, we will all benefit from the DEAR time.
Besides the plans to keep 2nd semester instruction off life-support, I also sketched out a redesign for our classroom's layout. I plan to continue our flexible seating program, thanks to the reassuring feedback I got from my students pre-break. Adding some new choice seats and reconfiguring the other seating options will change the scene and liven up our learning space.
The winter break ends in 48 hours, but with all of these new plans, I'm ready to return to class tomorrow! I hope my students will enjoy and benefit from what I have in store for our 2nd semester together.
My name is