Never Stop Learning

July 3, 2014

For those of you that don’t follow me on instagram, here is what my morning looks like. Lots of coffee, lots of water, and even more paper products. Add that to a dual monitor system and it appears that i’m doing serious work over here. Last night I couldn’t sleep so instead I laid in bed thinking of instructional strategies and all the classroom procedures and expectations I need to squeeze into my first day back to school. Mind you it is only the 3rd of July and first day of school isn’t until August 25th and yet this is what is occupying my brain. The journal on top of my planner (Erin Condren, terribly expensive but adorable and I still don’t use it properly) is specifically for me to jot down all of my reflections and ideas about teaching. At the end of this past school year, which was my second year teaching, I felt like I had a better grip on the things I needed to improve upon and I was just brimming with ideas. This was yet another motivation to start long form blogging in earnest, I wanted to create a space where I can talk about all the things i’m hoping to do and how those are actually working out for me. But lets flash back to last night shall we?

Last night as I was trying fruitlessly to fall asleep and all I could think about was all the time i’ve wasted in summer school. Granted I have been grading like a crazy person because these classes are intense, but i’ve absolutely wasted my breaks.  I have a to do list a mile long and I feel like I haven’t done anything. Supposedly the first week before school starts i’ll have time to do all these things but i’m thinking of radically restructuring my approach on classroom management here and I just don’t feel comfortable processing that approach with only a week left. Yes i’m thinking about it constantly but unless I have something in writing it doesn’t feel real. Especially because a big part of this approach is going to be making sure everything is very clearly established in writing and reinforced with speech.

I’m sure most of you are thinking “Isn’t that supposed to be a given? Shouldn’t things always be that clear?” Well, Yes and No. I teach Seniors so a lot of the time I just expect them to know how to be decent students and because of that I make all the wrong assumptions about what does and doesn’t need to be clearly spelled out. I tend to think that because they’re older they don’t need it spelled out so much as younger kids do, but they’re still students and they need clearly defined routines and expectations in order to be successful. For the past 2 years communication has probably been my biggest challenge so this year i’m trying to be more explicit. So this year my procedures section includes very strict guidelines and expectations, all of which are seriously focused on my core belief in ‘Respect’ being the only rule in the classroom. You’d be surprised to find out just how much you have to spell what you mean by Respect. This year i’m taking the time to have that discussion, to put it down in writing, and really make sure we’re all on the same page about what that means.

Classroom management is something that I know i’ll be working on for the rest of my career, I don’t know a single teacher who will tell you that they’ve got perfect CM skills, I think it eludes all of us and I think it’s something we all feel we could be better at. I’m working on it every day and I really hope having written down and gone over expectations like “You need to read what I assign you” and “complaining about an assignment isn’t allowed because it’s disrespectful and you need to start acting like adults” will help. And yes the complaining thing is necessary, it got EXTREME this year and I really feel the need to be proactive about that one because I fall into old school and unhelpful methods when faced with the sheer amount of whining 18 year olds are capable of when you’ve apparently let them think it’s okay to do so.

THAT IS SO IMPORTANT and what i’m trying to focus on. What did I do, what did I not establish, that let you think this behavior was acceptable? What can I do in the future to make sure this has been clearly outlined? What can I do to eliminate my assumptions about what their behavior will be? Because ultimately it’s all on me. If they act out consistently, it’s because i’ve allowed them to do so.

Closing Questions (1)

Another thing i’m hoping to work on aside from establishing expectations very clearly and right off the bat are my opening and closing procedures. I’ve got an updated and much stricter version of my cell phone policy that now involves a fancy calculator pocket (check this baby out) and a zero tolerance policy. I’m considering writing a little post specifically about the policy later so I won’t bore you with it here. Opening procedures work pretty well already, we have a 5 minute warm up every day that is either an allusion or a grammar exercise. Those go smoothly, get the kids focused, and give me time to take attendance. It’ll just be interesting to blend in the cell phone thing to that.  Closing procedures on the other hand I need giant amounts of work on. Our school uses the Fundamental Five method which is all pretty basic stuff like affirmations, actually teaching close to kids, focusing on small group purposeful talk, writing critically, ALL GOOD THINGS. All things I find myself doing anyway which makes me feel good because that means I don’t suck! Yay!  But there’s obviously a 5th thing and that 5th thing is lesson framing. Now lesson framing i’m great at, mostly, it’s the closing activity thing I find myself having a hard time with.

My class is incredibly discussion oriented. If we’re not taking a test or a quiz we are talking about everything under the sun. Every day it’s a different talk about a different element of the book and I never know where it’s going to take us so forming our closing questions has been hard for me mainly because I don’t think the questions i’m developing are an accurate depiction of what I really want them to get out of my class. Every day i’m hoping my kids are making connections to things and I don’t want to confine it to one question that proves they got ‘the point’ because I don’t believe there is one single point. It’s just been plain hard for me to find the motivation to even write the questions on the board every day when a) I don’t feel like i’m doing it right and b) I don’t feel like it’s an accurate reflection of what we’re doing and learning.

So instead i’ve kind of tweaked the closing questions and turned it into a more direct critical writing closing task. The questions are the same every day, but there’s a variety to choose from. There’s even an opportunity for them to write their own questions. I’m not exactly satisfied with these questions yet just because I think there’s so much room for the kids to miss the point and put “yes/no” answers, so i’m still trying to decide if I should elaborate more in writing, or establish that expectation in speech. Probably the latter to be honest, cluttered posters frustrate me.

I’m hoping this accomplishes two things. 1) I’m hoping it serves as a neat close to the lesson like it’s supposed to in accordance with the Fundamental Five and 2) I’m hoping that it actually allows the kids a daily space to reflect about themselves. I’ve been a deeply introspective person my whole life, I over analyze everything, i’m constantly thinking of what effect I have on other people and what effect events and people have on me. Everything in my life is symbolic and imbued with meaning and I do my best to live purposefully. So it’s been shocking to me to discover that not everyone does that! It’s also been shocking that even if they do, it’s hard for them to translate that thinking into writing.When it comes time to have them write a college essay, or a scholarship essay, or just having them write an expository anything about an argument, they flounder. They know that their football injury changed their lives because obviously their life is different, but they don’t know how to really analyze the ways it forced them to grow. They use phrases like ‘My mom has always got my back and that’s why I love her” and leave it at that. Their writing is full of times where i’m left wanting more and their responses are usually “You know what I meant Miss.”

My own sister is about to be a senior and she just wrote her first scholarship essay and had me proof read it. She’s an incredibly intelligent young woman and I will easily admit that she is much smarter than I am, much more driven too. After I was done reading her essay she had to rewrite the whole thing, she made all the same mistakes, it was one platitude after another and no depth. She actually started crying and my mom was trying to reassure her that she was a good writer when she said “I know i’m a good writer! It’s just i’ve never been taught this, no one ever told me that what I know how to write is useless!” This is an AP student mind you, one who can analyze a text or historical event better than I ever could, and also a young woman who suffers from anxiety like I do, she’s deeply conscious of her actions and the effects of everything, and yet here she was unable to write a scholarship essay that asked her to evaluate how something effected her entire generation. She didn’t know how to write about it. After we talked about the purpose of this writing and what these people were looking for and the style it all clicked for her and she wrote a beautiful essay, but it was a serious wake up call for me.

Now i’m not deluded and thinking these 4 closing questions are going to magically make kids stop giving platitudes as essay responses, but I am hopeful it will help give them a space to actually reflect with writing once a day. That’s the theory anyway we’ll see how it goes.

I’m curious to know how many of you are teachers or in education? I’d love to hear your thoughts on these things and know what works for you and what you’re working on.

Until next time,

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