School’s Out

Were self-deprecation an admirable quality, parades would be held in my honor, for I can do it on an epic scale.  No one is more critical of my performance as a teacher than me.  It’s so hard to redirect things once your students get stuck in a groove.  At least that’s what I encountered, first when I took over another teacher’s class mid-year, then again when I made every mistake in the book and found myself unable to pick everything up and head in a different direction.  Now that the year’s over (woooo!, by the way), I’ve got the opportunity to hit reset on my teaching and actually implement the changes I need to make.  Here are some in no particular order:

Be Strict

I let students get away with everything this year (I think one student killed a guy in my class–I’m not sure).  This year has been a reality check with regard to how often students (people, really) will do terrible things for no good reason, from the girl who admittedly tried to drive me crazy every day (consider this a shout-out, Jessi) to the kid who said he loved my class because he only got written up once when he should’ve been written up at least eight times.

Stopping all the shenanigans will be hard, but I definitely know that my expectations of acceptable behavior will be much more defined next year.  For example, my co-teacher recently said that allowing on-level freshmen and sophomores to operate without a seating chart is insane.  So I’ll likely stick to alphabetical order for a while, too.

Use the Whole Day

So often, I ended up with a good ten or fifteen minutes at the end of the class period.  After half a year’s worth of lesson planning, I’ve got a better idea of how much I need to fill up a day, and I also have a much better idea of what a unit of study should look like.  It’s incredibly hard to find stuff to teach for fifty minutes (for me, anyway), but I know it’s impossible, especially if I just take the time to slow down when I talk and periodically check for some understanding from my students.

Added bonus: filling up the class period with work helps with the discipline stuff, too.  Things like having some sort of warmup exercise every day gets the kids settled and  ready to work.  I tried it quite a bit this year, but I kept burning out on either coming up with ideas or struggling to get students to actually do them.  I think being consistent with them every day and holding students accountable for them (daily grade sort of thing) will help matters.

[SIDE NOTE: I really think that having a moment at the beginning of class for kids to just be quiet and focus on the task of learning is the real reason schools have a mandatory moment of silence at the beginning of the day, so why not observe it after the pledge and other announcements, immediately before the start of instruction?  Just an idea, people, and I’m totally new here and an idiot.]

Get Involved

I heard from a lot of sources that new teachers often get an unfair proportion of extra responsibilities, but that wasn’t my experience.  If anything, I found myself surprised I wasn’t asked to do more for the school.  Of course, with the grad school stuff looming over my head, it was hard for me to commit to much at all.  I’d like to have more of presence before and after school, because I’ve seen how much it matters to a student’s willingness to do the work for you, so that’s the plan for next year.

So tutoring, sports games, after school Scrabble tournaments.  I’ve still got my fingers crossed for my Film Appreciation Club.  It’s co-sponsored by an established teacher that everyone loves, so that helps.  I never heard anything from the principal about its approval, so I’m assuming it’s pretty much a no-go, but I did give the assistant principal in charge of scheduling advisements the club’s tentative roster.  If the likely communication snafu occurs, I may end up with my club members without the officially-sanctioned club.  Guerrilla operation!  If not, though, I’ll likely have a regular advisement class that wonders why all these other students skip their advisement to come hang out with me (answer: I am an excellent person).

Parents

It’s extremely difficult to keep parents in the loop.  My few attempts to get them involved were awkward at best but more often just impossible.  The kids that need the most support from home often have disconnected phones or trucker dads or multiple siblings tying up the phone line, unwilling to take a message for mom.

One 9th grader of mine needed a note from home to leave early after finals last week.  After I playfully ribbed her for not being able to get a simple note signed, she told me she had been by herself at home for the last week.  I first felt like an asshole, then I felt like taking her back to my house for dinner (I’d get fired for such things, but I wanted to).

Despite its being so hard, I’ve got to make more a commitment to letting my kids’ parents know I’m around.

I’ve got plenty more to work on before the year comes around.  I’ve got to figure out a way to raise my expectations for my students without overwhelming them (they should just whelmed).  I also need to take a few steps back and teach some basic reading strategies.  Most of these kids have some serious comprehension issues, even in the 10th grade, and the stuff I’m hoping to tackle is just too far ahead of their abilities.  Adjustments!  Hopefully, my last semester of grad school will give me some answers, and I’ll be able to criticize myself to death over the rest until I figure it out.

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