Today is Thanksgiving. By far my favorite holiday, but not because of the food.
Since its an obvious non-teaching day that’s full of relaxing, cooking, and family, I thought I’d stray away from the norm and make a list of some of the things I’m thankful for so far this school year. Here goes, in no particular order.
- My school. Although this year has been incredibly taxing, I’m still grateful for my new school community. I’m thankful for the risk I took in joining my new school community. They’ve accepted me into their family and believe that I can make a difference in the lives of our students. I appreciate that.
- My first period class. I’ve never had a first period class with as much energy as they have. It must be all those damn iced coffees they in with. But to top it off, they’re seniors. Go figure. The challenge they’ve present to me this year is something new to my career. But they’ve grown on me. They’re a puzzle that I’ve yet to solve…and I’m grateful for that.
- My fourth period class. Each one of these guys and gals are representative of the “average student” at my school. By teaching them, they’re grounded me the most of all my classes this year. I’ve started some yearlong Rock, Paper, Scissors battles with a few students from this class. It’s totally random and I love it. For the record, I’m up in all of them.
- My fifth period class. This is by far the most advanced group of students I’ve ever taught. They’re work ethic is through the roof. Without knowing it, they’ve challenged me to be a better teacher in ways that no class of students ever has. We have this awesome moment each day where they give me a round of applause when I walk in at the beginning of class (during the previous period I teach across the hall). On the days I arrive earlier than usual, I clap for them as they arrive. This has now spread to applauding anytime anyone comes into our room. It’s weird and quirky, but I so appreciate this tradition.
- My ninth period class. This is the first class I’ve co-taught in a few years plus the true first algebra 1 class I’ve had in nine years. I’m learning so much about co-teaching and curriculum with these guys. My co-teacher is easy to work with and takes care of business…which I am very thankful for. I haven’t given as much care and attention to our lessons as my other classes and I’m personally disappointed on that front.
- My colleagues. My in-school peeps have made me part of the team and never looked back. They see me an as enhancement of what they’ve already built – and that feels good. Jeff is a breath of fresh air…someone that takes his craft even more seriously than I do – and he’s damn good at it. He has provided so much inspiration for my classroom this year. I need to steal his brain. And my new AP is going above and beyond for me, and I haven’t really expressed to her how much I really appreciate that, especially given my experiences in the past.
- Math for America. I’ve had a very busy fall term with MfA…probably too busy. But, they have have given me the opportunity to facilitate a book club and given me a space to explore all of the race and identity issues that have been on my mind since the spring. Now I’m pushing myself even further by doing something unimaginable: planning the first ever MfA summer conference.
- My struggles. As a teacher and as a professional, I’ve felt weaker and less apt than ever this school year. It could be the stress talking, but I feel like I’m a first year teacher. Something as simple as printing the day’s handout is a huge challenge right now. But I’m thankful because this dip in performance and my frustration related to it has given me the gift of a struggler’s perspective. I’m learning so much about what it means to start over.
1.Teachers make a lot of decisions throughout the day. Sometimes we make so many it feels overwhelming. When you think about today, what is a decision/teacher move you made that you are proud of? What is one you are worried wasn’t ideal?
This month I learned that I have a student that is selective mute. Not September, this month. She’s been in my class since the beginning of the year and I didn’t know until recently that she’s selective mute. Crazy. I should have noticed something was up earlier in the year when I called on her to provide an answer and all the kids looked at each other like, “he doesn’t know?” Or the many other times when I pulled up to her desk and asked her a question and always thought that she was just really, really shy when didn’t respond.
Anyways, long story short, I severely dropped the ball on this situation.
Thankfully during parent teacher conference this month her mom came in. She only speaks Spanish, so I had someone come into the classroom and translate. It went really, really well and that was the first moment when I fully understood this student and her needs. Since then we meet before school to talk about how things are going in class and I’ve set up a non-verbal cue system that enables her to communicate her level of understanding with me and ask questions. I’m so proud of how far we’ve come in this short time span.
She doesn’t even know it, but she’s making me an immensely better, and more thoughtful, educator.
2. Every person’s life is full of highs and lows. Share with us some of what that is like for a teacher. What are you looking forward to? What has been a challenge for you lately?
This is my first year teaching algebra 2 Common Core and I’m struggling with fully aligning my lessons with the new expectations. I have no major beef with the Common Core standards…or should I say, I have no time to analyze them enough to formulate a complaint.
Instead, my issue is ensuring that my lessons serve my students well. In other words, I want to be the best test prep machine that I can be. I’ve been hit or miss on this lately.
3. We are reminded constantly of how relational teaching is. As teachers we work to build relationships with our coworkers and students. Describe a relational moment you had with someone recently.
I’m beginning to get used to working on an island. This is sad to me. For years, I was so accustomed to feeding off of the energy from my department. There seems to be no time for any of that anymore.
Also, I’ve definitely feel inadequate at times through this last month. I realized that there’s an underlying assumption in the building that you are good enough to succeed on your own, that you shouldn’t outwardly seek help. If I do, there’s something that I’m doing wrong. I get that I could always be better, but it irks me when folks take offense to my ignorance. I need you to genuinely help me. Don’t help me and then look down on me because I needed help.
4. Teachers are always working on improving, and often have specific goals for things to work on throughout a year. What is a goal you have for the year?
My homework policy/routine is improving. This month, to help better accountability and share ownership of the class with my students, I started having a student perform the homework check at the start of class.
There are is a homework leader in each group who checks everyone’s homework. I used to go around and have the leaders inform me who did and who did not do he homework each day. That would take forever and I’d have no time to qualitatively assess their homework because I was so worried about checking off for completion. Now, I select one of those leaders to go around the classroom with a clipboard and check in with each of the other homework leaders and make note of everyone’s homework. That frees me up to bounce around the classroom to qualitatively analyze student homework. This then leads to a whole group discussion about “target” problems (designated by me) from the homework. I’m now much more in sync with how they’re doing on the homework on a daily basis.
5. What else happened this month that you would like to share?
As I mentioned above, I’m struggling. But I will say that there was a moment this when I realized that things were really starting to slow down for me. I cannot recall the exact moment, but I do remember feeling more at ease with my planning, my students, and my overall transition to a new school.