This school year's Spring Break has felt like an extended coffee break. It has allowed me to switch up my daily routine a bit, to get in some neighborhood walks and family time, to think about the remaining 24 days of learning, and to finally post on my blog. A question that has toyed with me for the past couple of days of break is: How can I keep the learning as relevant as Day 1?
This question poked its head out of the ground after I read a recent blog post by Pernille Ripp titled "To the Very Last Day". In her post, she reflected on the message sent to students when we educators do The Countdown. As I finished reading her post, I had to find myself guilty on a few counts.
I'm guilty of doing The Countdown (mentally).
I'm guilty of not approaching some subjects with Day 1 enthusiasm.
I'm guilty of letting the focus shift from engaging lessons to bad moods.
(Break came at the right time, needless to say.)
With just one day left of this coffee (Spring) break, I promise to take Pernille's advice and finish strong. I promise to keep The Countdown private. I promise to leave my mood in the car. I promise to focus whole-heartedly on planning engaging activities, assessments, and projects. I even promise to try something new with my class before the last day of school. (Can you say green screen?) The coffee break ends soon, and the work continues...
I'm an over-thinker.
I used to be an anxious worrier. Now I'm an over-thinker, which may just be a nicer way of labeling myself, but that's beside the point. The point is: I over-think things.
I found myself guilty this week of over-thinking about how I will manage and reward my future 7th Graders. I reached out to my future teammate and even to my future principal, and I asked for honest feedback on my ideas, which I fleshed out in a lengthy email. The end result was receiving feedback (which I greatly appreciated) and realizing that I was over-thinking. I had turned students into lions and was reinventing how to tame them. How ridiculous.
I like to draw a blueprint of my classroom and play around with the layout of furniture and whatnot. This usually helps me when the school year starts because I already have in my mind what the room looks like before I even set foot back in it. Since I'm moving to a new building and to a new learning space, I can only use some shapes on a building map to sketch my blueprint, and as I was attempting to play architect this week, I had to stop myself. I have no idea what my future classroom actually looks like. I don't know its dimensions, its nooks and crannies, or even where the bulletin boards are placed. I was over-thinking. Again.
All of this over-thinking, though, has allowed me to open my mind up to the things that I will undoubtedly need to unlearn. That's right. Unlearn. I've known an elementary-style of classroom management and set-up for 16 years. And although some of my knowledge will transfer to the new setting, I have to be open to unlearning what will not serve me and my students. I plan to rely on my teammates to show and explain what works and what doesn't, because the process of unlearning old things is just as important as learning new things.
For about a week straight, I kept receiving calls from a number that I didn't recognize. My phone would ring during the school day and at night, even at bedtime. One day, enough was enough. I dialed the number right back immediately after receiving yet another call. Long story short, the person who answered revealed that he was a Jamaican scuba diver with a jealous fiance, and he believed his fiance was the one calling me. Although I had no idea how this man (or his jealous fiance) got my phone number, I wasn't going to argue with him or create a big commotion over some random (annoying) calls. I spoke professionally and kindly to the man, and he apologized profusely for the disturbances.
During our brief phone conversation, he asked me who I was and what I did for a living (I assume to determine if his jealous fiance somehow knew me). I answered by telling him my name and that I was "just a teacher". As soon as the words left my mouth, I realized that I had totally diminished not only myself but also my profession. I spent the next few days mulling this over in my mind, knowing that once my thoughts were fully formed I'd blog about being "just a teacher". So here I am...and here I go...
Being "just a teacher" means using every minute of the school day to your advantage, and expecting your students to do the same.
Being "just a teacher" means going without breakfast (so that you can get to school and work on something) and going without lunch (so that you can continue to be productive (send emails, make phone calls, make copies, touch base with a colleague, etc.).
Being "just a teacher" means constantly searching for ways to improve upon whatever you taught last year, last month, last week, and the day before.
Being "just a teacher" means spending (an absurd amount of) your own money on everything from supplies you need to supplies your students need to rewards like tacos, bagels, and Starbucks.
Being "just a teacher" means worrying about, praying for, and crying over kids who aren't yours biologically.
Being "just a teacher" means perhaps being the one adult who actually loves on, cares for, and provides for a kid consistently, non-judgmentally, and generously without any strings attached.
Being "just a teacher" means bonding with your colleagues when the waves of Life get choppy, or when the test scores tank, or when the building suffers a loss.
Being "just a teacher" means starting over. Every. Day. And never giving up.
Being "just a teacher" means feeling rung out, irrelevant, and disrespected on some days...and satisfied, needed, and loved on other days.
I guess it's safe to say that being "just a teacher" is definitely a calling and not just a career. There are people who cannot handle all that the job demands, and having the Summer "off" isn't as luxurious as non-educators assume. I am proud to label myself as "just a teacher" because now I realize who I am, what I do, and who I impact. And it's ALL worth it.
A week ago, I had the privilege of visiting Antonia Middle School for three hours. During my time there, I chatted with future colleagues, sat in on three class periods, and had a question/answer session with the building principal. When I had to leave for lunch and to commute to another professional development opportunity, I felt sad. I didn't want to leave Antonia Middle.
In just three hours, I discovered what's waiting for me at Antonia Middle.
Peace and professionalism.
Focus and fun.
Learning and love.
Since my visit, I've thought of nothing but what next school year is going to feel like, sound like, and look like. I've had some restless nights of sleep from being so excited about what's on the horizon. I feel blessed by my new placement and cannot wait to learn and love at Antonia Middle.
I'm a bit like Garfield the cat when it comes to Mondays. They're not my favorite day of the week, and they are usually greeted with groans, mumbling under my breath, and a long morning shower. But today, I woke to the reality that I have just 9 Mondays left to the school year.
I think about what I have left to accomplish as a 6th-grade teacher. Of course there is some ground to cover with 4th Quarter units to teach. And there will be a standardized test in May to measure what has been taught or learned, depending on your point of view. But I have a few other things that I want to accomplish before I seal up the last box and move out of my current building.
I want to continue to give my students a fun, safe, productive learning space. A place that allows choices and voices and questions. I want to continue to align assignments so that my students aren't doing things in isolation. I want to continue to read good literature and to moderate discussions about what we read. I want to continue to encourage my students to scratch below the surface of a topic and to go deeper with their learning. I want to continue to keep instruction fresh, relevant, and engaging...even while doing the countdown.
Recently I was watching a college athletic game on TV, and when the teams took a timeout, I noticed some things.
One coach crouched down with his team around him and went over future plays. While the coach explained plays, every player was listening in and paying attention. Not one player was zoned out, tying shoes, wiping sweat, or gawking at fans. When the timeout ended, the players headed back out onto the court with a renewed focus and energy.
This left me wondering...
What if teachers behaved more like coaches?
What if lessons were coordinated plays, allowing students to play to their strengths?
What if students approached every learning opportunity with a big-game mentality?
What if teachers could keep every student's head in the game?
How would motivation, engagement, and learning change with coach-player roles?
These questions need answers.
It's going to be awhile before I call myself an expert in anything, let alone Economics, but as I educate myself about the concepts I'll be teaching next school year, I'm realizing how the concepts relate and intertwine. I'm actually making connections that I never made when I was learning the same concepts yeeeeears ago.
This helps me build a cohesive Economics unit and challenges me to find ways for my students to make connections, too. Although Economics is only 1 of 6 units in my curriculum next school year, the concepts relate to units that will precede and follow it. The line-up of units is:
The curriculum writing team that I joined a week ago decided on the scope and sequence of the 7th Grade Geography course, and I'm already falling in love with it. I see how important the work will be for us to design units that flow one into the other and connect like chain links. I want my students to walk out of class everyday feeling like we're making connections, one lesson at a time.
So I've done some self-directed professional development and have learned some key things about my future content area. I've discovered that Geography has 2 major components: the physical and the human. Under the umbrella of physical geography, we find things like maps, landforms, bodies of water, natural resources, etc. Human geography encompasses things like culture, types of government, economics, etc.
As I gradually start to wrap my brain around how to teach both sides of Geography, I also grapple with these essential questions:
This last question is easy to plan for compared to the first two. Without even knowing what my future classroom looks like, I plan to create an inviting and student-friendly learning space by incorporating the following:
The aesthetics will hopefully be appreciated by my students and will cultivate an academic setting that is truly welcoming and worldly. I don't expect 7th graders to care much for cutesy bulletin board displays, so my focus will be on providing a more mature palette of art, photography, and music for them to enjoy and to enhance our learning. As for the other two essential questions, I think more research and PD are what the doctor ordered.
My name isn't Dorothy. I don't own Ruby slippers. And I don't have a dog named Toto. But one thing is certain: I have a new professional home come August.
A week ago, I found out that I was joining the staff at Antonia Middle School, and that I would be teaching 6th Grade Social Studies. I've taught the content in that subject area (and that grade level) for the past 14 years, so my placement news was something to celebrate. Just a couple of days ago, though, my future principal offered me a change of grade level and subject--and I took it. I'll now be teaching 7th Grade Geography!
Now, truth be told, I am probably one of the most navigationally-challenged women on the planet. I'm a landmark driver, not a compass-direction follower. Anyone who knows me well understands this (and laughs heartily at me for it). The thought of teaching Middle Schoolers map skills is ironic and hilarious.
But teach them I shall. Until my district is finished writing my subject area's curriculum for the upcoming school year, I plan to study the Geography curricula of other school districts. I'll also connect with my future 7th Grade teammate to get an idea of how she has concepts organized and paced out. I love, love, LOVE putting together units and finding just-right resources to use with students, so really, the fun has only just begun!
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 name is