What I Learned in 2014/2015

Shout out to Sam G., who tagged me in her recent blog post! You have motivated me to write, lady. Please check out her blog–it has some great ideas that I’ve totally “borrowed!”

I have had about a month off teaching, and it has been a glorious month filled with everything not teaching related—climbing, hiking, a wedding, various bodies of water, catching up on old relationships and starting new ones, and the most glorious of all: gratuitous sleep. I mean, ridiculous amounts that I am (almost) ashamed of, especially since my husband just had his first 30 hour call shift. These things are necessary for recharging, but I caught myself picking up Penny Kittle’s Write Beside Them, getting ideas for my classes, and I knew it was time to start prepping for next school year and reflecting on the one past.

What better way to kick off my summer blogging than a good ol’ reflection? I made my kids do them, so I might as well have a taste of my own medicine.

(If you are at my blog for the first time, here is a quick recap of my teaching history and why this year was significant: I used to teach at a very small, specialized charter school in Cincinnati, Ohio that serves 7-12th grade students in the foster care system with needs that public schools can’t meet, and now I work at a public alternative high school just outside Denver that serves students who have not been successful in traditional high school and want a more individualized, tight-knit school that keeps them accountable by extreme amounts of care, relationships, and discipline. We don’t have letter grades, and all of our students must graduate from our school performing at 11th grade level in reading, writing, and math).

Phew. Let me say that this year kicked my butt. But no butt-kicking can be survived without making sure it doesn’t happen again.

What I learned in the 2014/2015 school year

1. Understand the amount of time I have to teach. This includes planning for units that are too idealistic to the point where I ended the session in a weird stopping point like not getting to the summative assessment (my school has six week grading periods. It’s rough.) This also includes classroom daily pacing. Don’t ever give the students too much time because things lag, there’s no urgency, and I also get bored.

2. Align the objective to the essential question. Make the students explain how each day fits into the big picture. It doesn’t take a lot of time, and their understanding of the “so what?” is so crucial. It also prevents the annoying but sometimes accurate question of “why are we doing this??”

3. Know the tornado drill/lockdown procedure at the new building or I end up looking like an idiot.

4.  Moving classrooms three times in one year just means that I have to worry about less and less stuff. Minimalism is a good thing.

5. Fancy presentations are fun to make for the first 20 minutes but then I get too caught up in being pragmatic vs. artistic, and I’m also trying to live up to an unattainable graphic design standard. Also the kids really do not care.

6. Post it note lists are necessary, or I will forget to bring student X’s earplugs that I promised him so he can sleep while his roommate plays video games. If I don’t write it down, it’s gone.

7. Public schools come with a lot more bureaucracy that sometimes makes sense but most of the time is just a pain.

8. Staying late during the fall and leaving on-time during the spring is a good time management strategy.

9. Teaching a yoga and meditation class has big payoffs in the classroom—for me and my students.

10. We gave three different standardized tests (THREE!!) but I have no idea what kind of information and feedback I’m going to get from them, and if it will even be useful.

11. Kids work crazy hours after school and come to school and crush it. I admire that.

12. This isn’t anything ‘new’ to me, but: Wine helps at the end of a long day.

13. I get a huge kick out of teaching argumentative writing and seeing students improve.

14. I actually have the skill to make my students improve.

15. Yes, you can teach a class about zombies, and you can make it Common Core relevant, and the kids will grow and learn all at the same time.

16. I have the power to limit cell phone use in my classroom, and it really does change engagement. I am now a firm believer in no cellphone zones.

17. Being a candidate for National Board Certification sounds cool. I looked into it. Maybe next year?

18. The education world changes so rapidly that it’s disheartening. Sometimes I have to shut off Edweek or the news or even the emails and just teach. I have learned to love the freedom of being in the moment and being with my students, learning with them, and leaving all the mess and noise behind.

19. Kids screw up and sometimes you will have to be the one that helps decide to remove them from school. It is a very difficult thing to do, and I don’t enjoy it. But I’m glad I get a voice.

20. Good schools like the one I teach at really do have the power to change lives, as I have seen this year. The testimonials I heard at graduation were so motivating that I think I’m just going to have to come back another year 🙂

I would love to hear what you learned this year, whether it’s teaching-related or not teaching related. Comment below!

-S

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