Author Archives: Dannielle

Beginning Again!

Standard

It’s the night before I go back to school for the year (teacher meetings tomorrow, no kiddos), and I am up late, baking cupcakes for our lunch potluck tomorrow. Why do I never do these things earlier in the day? 4:45am is going to come pretty early tomorrow.

I have met my “class” of Leadership kids. I use the term class lightly because I only have about half of a class so far. I spent my time at Get Your Stuff Day recruiting, and ended up with 50 potentials! Feast or famine, I suppose. So now I have to do a lottery for my class to make it fair. At least I will have a full group of 28-29, though. It will make the year go easier.

I’ve been spending the weekend making posters and figuring out bulletin boards. I am going to make a Twitter board for this year to use for my exit tasks. I thought it would be a fun way to check for understanding of the learning target. At least for a while, anyway.

I applied to be the curriculum leader for Humanities this year. I have an interview tomorrow. I would love to do it, since I am really excited about the 7th grade curriculum. I am so stoked to teach The Outsiders, especially! We’ll see how that goes. I am also going to volunteer to pilot the new teacher evaluation program. I want to really understand it and have a say in what happens with my own evaluations, albeit a small one. Perhaps I am biting off a lot, but that has always been my way.

I am nervous about starting over again. I love where I am working so far: the people are wonderful, the kids seem great so far, and it’s amazing what a difference a discipline plan can make. I’m anxious, but excited for what’s to come.

On New Ground

Standard

July is here. Every teacher’s favorite month of the year. No meetings, no lesson planning, and school seems like it’s light years away. Life is so much slower, we have the time to work on the things we have been planning to do all school year and have never had the time to work on. For me, it’s writing (obviously), sewing, crocheting, and relearning how to eat properly. That last one is a long story and we won’t touch on the too much.

However, I am actually working on school stuff. Last school year, the district began a transition to middle schools instead of junior highs, and going to a 4 year high school format. And since I am still pretty low on the teacher totem pole, I got moved down to a middle school for next year. Honestly, I am far more excited by it than I thought I would be given my feelings last year.

By the end of last school year, I really felt like I was burning out. It was a particularly difficult year for me, especially with classroom management. Everyone I have ever talked to says that year 2 of your teaching career is the hardest, and I now I understand why. As a first-year teacher, you worry about EVERYTHING. You look at everything with fresh eyes, you are doing everything for the very first time. As a second-year teacher, you start to see the chinks in the armor. You begin to evaluate what you could be doing differently, evaluations are a little bit tougher, and you have to get a tougher skin. I can honestly say I learned twice as much my second year than I did in my first.

So, back to this coming year. I am back to square one, curriculum-wise. I’ll be teaching 7th grade Humanities, 8th grade US History, and I have the exciting task of teaching ASB Leadership, too! Right now, I am most focused on Leadership, since it’s the first thing I’m going to encounter this school year. The rest is on the backburner until next month…maybe. (I have a new teaching partner, Amanda, and she likes to frontload a lot. I like that about her, she keeps me moving. So, if she gets her way, I will be working on it sooner!)

A lot is involved in getting the Leadership class going. First, because of new district requirements, it can’t be a full-time class at the middle school level anymore. That means that we have to meet after school several days a week. This class also doubles as my Advisory class for the year, so we will do Leadership things 3 days a week, and Advisory things (college prep, study skills, organization, etc.) 2 days a week. Ideally, most of these kids should be ahead of the game as far as Advisory goes anyway.

So, the first thing going for the year is Leadership Retreat and “Get Your Stuff Day.” I am rebuilding this entire program, since the teacher who had it last year got sick and had a really tough year. We are going to be having a 4-day retreat/training/getting to know each other. And we are going to put together and completely set up and take down “GYSD.” I’m nervous about it for a couple of reasons. 1) I have never taught Leadership before and it’s completely new ground for me. 2) This will be the first thing my new principal sees me complete and I want to slam dunk it and impress her.

So… a little apprehension, a lot of excitement. I am really ready to get the year started, honestly. I’m ecstatic to teach middle school kids again, and I am super excited about the people I am teaching with. So far, I love my job for this coming year, and I am looking forward to moving my classroom in to the building!

Hope all my friends are having an amazing summer, if you have any thoughts or suggestions, please feel free to speak up!

Culmination

Standard

Reader’s Workshop is in its very last few days. We’ve pre-assessed students, taught specific targets, post-assessed and built projects. We’re now displaying the projects in the library.

This unit has been a very interesting journey, and I feel as if I have really learned a lot as a teacher during the ride. I definitely know some of the things I did well (creating engaging lessons and allowing students to do as well as read), as well as the things I didn’t do so well (not to rush through lessons so much, work at being more organized for myself so as not to appear so scattered). And I know what I would do differently next time in my execution of the teaching part (More structure during group discussions? More involved lessons toward the beginning of the week?). I even have a vague idea of what I might change for next time (Should I be more involved in group discussions, or leave myself out of the equation? Maybe students should have a more defined assignment to bring to group discussions, much like Literature Circles?). I haven’t graded the assessments yet (Patti and I are grading them together to ensure continuity in grading), but I will be curious to see if the work we did in class changed students’ understanding and synthesis/evaluation of the subject matter. I’m really hoping that it has, but it is the first time this sort of thing has been done at the secondary level in this school with these students. So, in my opinion, any growth is encouraging.

In general, this year has been a tremendous learning experience for me. I’ve learned a lot about teaching, a lot about learning, and a lot about myself–strengths and weaknesses included. I know what it means to have integrity in this profession, and while I don’t profess to know everything about teaching or even my subject matter, I know my learning curve next year won’t be so great. I have no delusions of grandeur—that I am the best teacher to ever hit the classroom, that I am better than my peers, etc. But I do know that I work hard and that I am confident in my abilities. Much more so than when I began this year.

There are several things I want to focus on for year two of teaching (like securing a job, first of all!): classroom management, organization, streamlining classroom practices, parent contact and connections, and especially reaching my students on a more in-depth level. I also want to learn more about socio-economic factors, diversity as it pertains to the classroom and community, and I want to find ways to bring community aspects into the classroom (including community service, social kindness and developing a sense of global awareness in my students).

I’m going to be reading some books over the summer to give me some ideas and tips for going about remedying some of these problem areas (suggestions are welcome!), but teaching is always fluid. There will always be things on which to improve and room for growth. It’s part of why I chose the profession I did—because being a teacher requires being a lifelong learner.

Last Ins, First Outs

Standard

Well, the inevitable thing has happened. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I hoped that it might not happen to me, that I was good enough to be overlooked or that maybe, just maybe, I’m high enough on the seniority list. But I wasn’t. High on the seniority list, I mean.

I’ve been RIFed. The three-letter acronym every teacher fears. Reduction In Force. I have so many feelings about it. Not one of which is a good one. I know that it’s common for teachers to be recalled through the summer, I know that there will inevitably be some jobs out there later on. I know that there are other things out there, and that I am meant to do some wonderful ones. But I have to confess that I am heartbroken.

My place in the teaching world isn’t perfect. There are personal conflicts sometimes, students aren’t always perfect, things don’t always go the way I want them to. But it’s my place. It’s where I have nestled myself into, and I have come to love my niche there. I know the people, I learn them more every day. I know my kids. They are happy to see me and they talk to me, and they come visit me in my classroom all of the time. I like that. I like them.

And now, I find myself thinking that I had better savor the moments I have left. I’m counting moments and weeks and days. I look around my classroom and think to myself, “Where will I find space for all of this stuff in my house?”

Most of all, I am so sad that Patti and I will be splitting up. I have never worked with anyone so symbiotic to me. We think so much the same, we work the same, and more than that, she has been my mentor when I have most needed one. I would not have survived this year without her. I know we will always stay friends, and I think we always will, but I also hope we have the opportunity to work together again in the future. Maybe if we’re lucky, they will find a way to keep us together where we are. I really hope so, because I just don’t see myself feeling at home anywhere else.

This is such a new, strange feeling for me. I feel like I’m on a precipice, like everything is coming apart at the seams, and like nothing is permanent. I really hope I stop feeling like this soon. I need something to feel concrete underneath my feet again.

Reader’s Workshop

Standard

So much has been happening at school and there are so many things I would like to talk about. It has been an exciting few months!

First, Patti and I got the amazing opportunity to meet with Nancy Skerritt, an amazing curriculum creator and the assistant superintendent of instruction in a local school district. She, along with a colleague, has created a reading curriculum called Reader’s Workshop. In this amazing plan, students read books under a theme and work together in many different groups to learn about reading comprehension, fluency, and fostering a love of reading. Originally, this program was designed for elementary students. But Skerritt has been working to implement it for secondary as well.

Patti and I decided that it would be a great thing to try with our junior classes. We pitched the idea to our principal and a couple of other administrators, who all agreed that it would be a great new way to further student success in our school. Luckily, our principal approved the funds to purchase books for it!

So, we have spent the last four weeks putting this whole thing in motion. It’s been an amazing learning opportunity–both for our students, and I think for us, too. We have seen the usual teenage apathy in some cases. We have also seen the other end of the spectrum, with students we have never seen take an interest in ANYTHING academic before run to the library to get the sequel to a book he has thoroughly enjoyed. We are still working through our last week of group work, but I am curious to see how the test scores reflect growth.

One of the best parts of being a teacher, in my opinion, is the ability to test things scientifically in the classroom. It excites me, even though I’m not terribly good at math or science. There are things that have occurred as part of this process that I didn’t expect and there are things that I have. But I have been so excited to have the opportunity to try it, especially in my first year of teaching!

The American Dream?

Standard

Lately, Patti and I have been teaching a unit on Of Mice & Men. Because we wanted students not to put their focus on [spoiler alert] George shooting Lennie at the end or on Lennie’s obvious mental retardation, we came at teaching the book a different way. We chose not to actually read the book, but instead teach the background historical information about the Great Depression and migrant workers and have a class discussion on whether the American Dream is still a viability in our nation. We wanted students to then watch the film (the 1992 version, starring Gary Sinise and John Malkovich) through the lens of the attainability (0r lack thereof) of the American Dream. Then, they needed to take the information they found in watching the movie and write about their own ideas of the American Dream, and whether it’s something they can ever expect to attain themselves.

For some reason, I have been hearing and reading a lot of information about the American Dream. I heard Suze Orman talking about her views on it on NPR, and I have been thinking about it a lot in light of my own situation as an educator. Thinking about whether the American Dream is a viability hits home for me as well.

Even just a couple of generations ago, it was possible to find a good, stable job that supports you until you retire, live off of your retirement savings and/or pension, and not have to worry about money after retirement (at least, not every day). But that is not something that is within reach of most Americans anymore. There are many reasons for the shift, but the fact is that there is one. I’m not sure I have any answers about it. But I am sure that it worries me some and it makes me wonder what kind of hope will be left for the generations that follow mine.

The Conundrum of Staffing Educators

Standard

American education is faced with an interesting paradox at the moment: wanting innovative, collaboration-based teaching/learning going on in the classroom, while at the same time trying to acquire said practices with antiquated rules, regulations, and procedures. In essence, the system that is in place right now is broken.

School districts, and even state-level educational administrators are faced with a very difficult decision: Should the state hold on to the older, more seasoned teachers simply because they were there first, or should the state begin to consider a more revolutionary tactic? While teachers who hold more seniority are indeed more educated, more practiced, and know their content areas well, there is also the potential for a higher level of complacency and a lower chance of newer, innovative teaching styles. This is not to say that every seasoned teacher cannot be an innovator, just that the median generally creates the rule.

With the onslaught of new educational legislation, it seems that every teacher’s job is potentially in jeopardy. Not only those who are new to the profession (myself included), but those who have gone ten rounds with the bureaucracy that is the district/state/federal government. This article got me thinking about it this evening: http://www.cnn.com/2011/OPINION/02/23/rhee.layoff.policy/index.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+rss%2Fcnn_education+%28RSS%3A+Education%29

There are a few things I need to preface before giving my own opinion of this particular article. First, I have to say that I am not vehemently pro-union. In fact, I would say I am closer to riding the line between not caring and anti-union. That is not a popular place to be when you are a teacher. Part of the reason I feel this way is that I can see the merits of the ideals of merit-based pay and employment based on what is earned.

Second, I truly believe that what will change the educational gap that our country experiences is innovation and reaching students where they are. This cannot happen using tactics that have always been in use. Students today come to school from a different place than any generation ever has. They have technology right at their fingertips at all times, information is much easier to come by. They don’t have to work for it the way we did as students. Because of this, they also question what they are learning and why more often than any other generation ever has.

In the article above, Michelle Rhee, founder of StudentsFirst.org, outlines that districts are facing some of the largest layoffs they have faced in recent history and that the status quo of retaining seasoned teachers may not be every district’s best course of action. She outlines why it might be smarter for districts to hold on to those teachers who may have a new perspective and are passionately bringing new eyes to the same subject.

Now, you might call me biased, being that I am a first-year teacher. But I also hope that I will always have the same passion for what I am doing ten years from now as I do today. Maybe that is naivete on my part. Maybe I am overly-optimistic. Only time will tell, I guess.