My last day is Tuesday, but my students promoted last Thursday. Naturally, the last couple of days have led to a lot of introspection about the past school year as I’ve packed up my room and taken care of a lot of odds and ends with data reports.
When I look at the content of my blog posts this year, I notice that I didn’t talk about content as nearly as much as I wrote about the human element of my teaching. I also notice that I didn’t write often and I fell out of the routine of keeping my personal journal. More often than not, I discussed lessons with colleagues or just prayed about students on drive home. The following may seem like a stream of consciousness without unity, but I need to write these thoughts down as reminders for the future.
This year was my first teaching 8th graders, planning for subjects besides math, and teaching without a block schedule. I walked into the year apprehensive at the thought of teaching some students for the second time, not knowing how to make a science class work, unaware of how unique teaching PE would be, and uncertain about how much more responsibility I could expect out of my students. I was also kind of bitter with all of the changes I was experiencing.
In retrospect, I think my attitude at the beginning of the year characterized some of the struggles I had later in the year. Objectively, I was probably just dealing with typical growing pains. Subjectively, I was frustrated that I was spending so much time adapting instead of deepening the quality of my questioning, scaffolding, and other academic elements of my teaching. My attitude got in the way of seeing the truth of the situation. Ironic, when you consider that I teach 8th graders.
In terms of my management, this year revealed my weaknesses and strengths. Routines were fine once we established them, but I found myself altering what a “typical day” looked liked as the year unfolded. I realized the value of asking students continually about what works, what motivates them to work, and offering options. I held class meetings, which always sounded dumb in theory, but proved to be valuable in practice. Sometimes the meetings were collaborative (“I don’t know what to do. You tell me what to do about it. I can be the teacher you want me to be. Let’s use this time.”), while other times meetings felt polemical (“You know what to do. I’m reminding you to do it. I’m being the teacher you need me to be. Don’t waste this time.”)
I realized how much I want my classes to be relaxed, but productive. I know learning can occur in silent classrooms or loud classrooms, but for my sanity I need something in between those extremes. I learned that I need organized group work as much as my students need it. I need the days where students are working through practice or projects just as much as they probably need that time. I learned that I need the balance between me doing stuff and my students doing stuff. I have to stop rushing and be more flexible with my plans. At the same time, I need to help my students find the happy medium between rushing to get things done and somehow only getting 6 problems done in 20 minutes of partner work.
I discovered how much I need to create time to talk with students individually. I was inconsistent with this practice this year, but I know my students need these conversations (both good and bad) as much as I need them. In some cases, I regret that I didn’t really recognize how much a student changed or worked this year until the last week of school. I also discovered that I honestly knew very little about some of my students as the year drew to a close, which I cannot change but I still regret. I know talking to students more will help me be more aware of how much they are growing and who they are outside of the four walls of my classroom.
I need to say, “Thank you,” more often and for more reasons besides a student or class working hard. I need to say, “I’m proud of you,” more often. I need to say, “I’m here for you,” more often. I need to say, “I’m sorry,” more often. When I consider the students who worked hardest for me this year or filled me with joy to the point where I was holding back tears, I realize those phrases popped up multiple times in conversations with them or with their classes.
I need apologies and forgiveness to become part of the culture of my classroom and my teaching. I apologized on many occasions this year when a lesson flopped because of me. I admitted when I was too harsh on a class. I told students to apologize to each other for rude comments. I asked classes to show me they were sorry, which in a way was asking for an apology. For as much as I promote responsibility through my teaching, I know that I need to include apologies as part of that expectation in the future.
I regret how often I put off calling parents or sending a quick email home. In the past week, I called some parents to let them know how much I enjoyed having their children in my class. While it was a great way to wrap up the year, I realize that I should’ve made more of these calls throughout the year. These calls might have been the third or fourth parent contact for me during a normal week, but it might be the first teacher contact for the person on the other end of the line. I also look back at the year and realize how many behaviors or attitudes could have been improved simply by sending a strongly worded message home about consequences. I know I teach students who are reaching the age where I don’t have to call home about everything, but I need to improve the frequency I communicate with parents.
This post was really heavy on the first person metacognitive language, but I need to have something to look back to in the future. It was the product of processing the events of the year. In my next post, I’ll include some of the things my students and coworkers taught me throughout the year.