Category Archives: Uncategorized

On New Ground

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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!

Reader’s Workshop

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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?

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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

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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.

Being Involved

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This year, I took on several extra-curricular activities. I chose to take on the Key Club as its adviser, and then was asked to co-coach the dance team. Funny enough, about a week after that, I was also asked to help out with the Debate team as the assistant coach. I have really enjoyed being a part of all of the activities this year. It has been interesting to learn about Key Club, and all of the ins and outs of advising a group like this. I’ve learned a lot about community service, the Kiwanis organization (which sponsors the Key Club), and have made some interesting relationships with students.

However, I definitely feel like all of the activities I have taken on (paid or no) have taken a toll on me. And probably on my family, too. While I know myself, and that I am perpetually a member of the over-committed club, I think I might need to scale it back some next year.

I think I really need to stick to doing things I am passionate about. I learned that with Debate this year. I’ve never been particularly passionate about Debate, even in high school. And although getting to know the kids was a lot of fun, I think that my time might be better served working on Key Club more regularly, or doing more for Crimson Haze.

It’s crazy, but I would also dearly love to start a Glee Club! I think with Patti’s choreography skills and my musical knowledge, we could have a blast! She doesn’t seem so excited about the idea, but I think that’s because she actually has some sense, whereas I apparently have none.

And So It Begins

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Well, it’s a little over a month since my last post. Up until recently, there was little to talk about, since my search for a job remained just that–a search. But a job interview at a high school in the Bethel School District turned into “we’re checking your references,” which turned into a new job for me! So, this week I have been spending some time learning what I will be teaching and what some of the rules ans expectations of me in this new capacity will be.

Here’s what I know: I will definitely be teaching junior and senior English. I have 5 class periods, and one planning period. So, only two preps, which isn’t terrible. I know I was hired because of a death of one of the faculty members, and I know that the turnover at this particular high school sees very little turnover.

The high school is in an influx of change right now. All of the administration is brand new, so most of the other teachers will be on a level playing field with me that way. The administration seems very glad to have me, and I have to admit that I am more than grateful to be a part of this faculty. So far, everyone I’ve met has been gracious and wonderful, and I am hoping that I might end up having some good new friendships and working relationships out of it.

Tomorrow I have the district orientation. I’m excited to do something job-related, which I suppose proves how green I really am, though orientations are notoriously boring. Friday is the first all-staff meeting, and then next week will be spent cleaning and organizing my classroom and writing lesson plans. I’m a bit overwhelmed, but so excited!

Hard Times

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It’s been a difficult month. I’ve applied for many jobs, interviewed for just a few of them, and have been turned down for all the ones for which I’ve interviewed. I’ve even applied for some outside the teaching field, and still can’t find anything. I have to say that I feel very frustrated and defeated right now. I’m trying to feel optimistic about the whole job situation, but I never dreamed it would be so hard to find a job after college.

At this point, I’m prepared to substitute teach in the fall for a few different districts. It’s not ideal, and I am not entirely excited about the idea. I know that subbing can perhaps open some doors I might not be able to get otherwise, but I guess the idea of no one wanting me full-time is a bit frustrating.

I’m taking the WEST-E for Mid-Level Humanities on Saturday. I’m nervous about taking it. I hope I know enough from teaching and studying that it will be something not too difficult. Other than that, there isn’t much going on right now. Cross your fingers for me, readers.