61 Days

There’s plenty of markers I’ve made a note of in my head as my first year of teaching has hurtled along at several times the speed of light.  My first day is on the list.  My first week is another.  My first two weeks was labeled and celebrated.  That first month, phew.  I certainly felt a wave of relief pass over me as I discovered I’d made it 30 days.  And then we come to today, October 16th.  It’s been 61 long days in which I’ve been planning, teaching, meeting, working, grading, reteaching, building, relating, discussing, answering, questioning, and more with my students.  My students.  It continues to confound me at times that I have my own students, my own class, and my own path to follow as I cut a haphazard path down the yellow brick road. Reflection is something we do plenty of within our classes with our students, and since I follow Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle as if they’re the messiahs of English Teaching – I decided if I was going to reflexively redouble my reflections on my students, I should set the raid loose on myself.  It’s time this teacher become the student, if only for a rhetorical moment.

“I’ve learned that tackling
the backward planning is key.”

Photos from my classroom

Our quarter is nearly over – one full unit of instruction is coming to an end.  Something I would encourage new teachers to do (if it’s possible) is to get your hands on the curriculum as soon as you can.  Whenever it’s given to you, I’ve learned that tackling the backward planning is key.  Yes, I learned it in college and my professors (bless them) drilled it into our heads that backwards planning from the end of the unit is the best way to have a successful quarter/semester.  There’s lots of things I would have done far better if I had been aggressive in looking at the big picture of the next two months. 

“Find a friend in your content area and do whatever it takes to get as much information…from them.”

It’s advice I’d jump into a TARDIS and swing back to August to deliver to myself.  The other thing I had that helped was I had a friend.  I had an insider.  And that’s something else I would encourage new teachers to do – find a friend who is in your content area and do whatever it takes to get as much information, details, and whatever else from them.  Don’t overwhelm them (like I did – he’s still my friend thankgoodness) but soak what you can from them.

“Look at the big picture every so often.”

I go a little crazy in my class.  Technology is fun to experiment with.

It’s hard as a new teacher to come up for air.  It can feel, at times, as if you’re in the midst of the most dangerous hurricane in modern history with a rowboat.  You’re trying to rethink tomorrow’s lesson plan after today wasn’t as strong as you’d hoped.  You’re also thinking ahead to the lesson plans you have to prepare over the weekend to turn in on Monday morning to your admin.  Note – some schools ask this of first years, others do not.  Mine does and I actually appreciate it as a reminder to me to keep taking that step back to plan for the week and even the month.  Which leads me to my next piece of learning – Look at the big picture every so often.  I wish I had done this more often this quarter as it would have helped me realize that I was having to push some lessons and concepts back further and further – and I was pushing them right up against the end of quarter and the summative assessments I had planned.  In true first year teacher fashion, I had to make a triage decision between a 90 question vocab exam and a Socratic Seminar.  And that was hard because we’d spent time, effort, and quiz time on those words.  But I also had to pull myself over to the side and pep talk myself.  If I wanted to see that the students understood the concepts, the ideas, the characters, and the essential question – I had to choose the Seminar.

“It just keeps spinning
through the upchuck,
a vomit soaked shower of
madness and insanity”

My classroom for reading day – I aim to make it a welcoming and comfortable place for them to read.

There’s been plenty of little things I’ve either discovered or had confirmed for me.  Things like not sweating the small stuff.  If I’m playing music during a work time and my students sing along softly, let that go.  If someone leaves color paper in the copier, and you get a few color copies – just chuckle and move on.  Remember your students are your job.  You need to relate to them, accept them, understand them, and exercise a great amount of mercy, grace, patience, compassion, and kindness upon them.  With my 6th graders, their world is a constant Tilt-A-Whirl that doesn’t even deign to stop when someone barfs.  It just keeps spinning through the upchuck, a vomit soaked shower of madness and insanity.  Someone needs to be there when the ride slows down enough for them to take a short break before clamoring back on.   Love on the office ladies.  Talk to your librarian.  Fight for them.  Make sure your students know the honor due the people who tend the books and the office books.

“Keep listening.  Keep rethinking.  Keep adjusting.  And never stop learning.”

I was able to meet Penny Kittle at our local NCTE affiliate conference and just listening to her speak blew my heart and mind open to amazing ideas.

Find people to connect with on twitter.  Engage with your local subject specific council that is associated with your national org.  Ask people in to your classroom – chose people you trust to encourage and suggest.  And keep inviting them throughout the weeks, months, and years ahead.  Keep listening.  Keep rethinking.  Keep adjusting.  And never stop learning.  I am a teacher today because I’ve committed to being a life long learner.  I believe (and that’s a big statement.  Usually I say ‘I feel’ to avoid making blanket statements) that anyone who teaches in either elementary, secondary, or academia – if they’re worth their salt they’ll never stop seeking something new, something different, or something out of their comfort zone.

“Ask people in to your classroom – chose people you trust to encourage and suggest.”

I’ve got 216 more days to go until the end of the year.  I’ve learned so much in just over 60 days.  I cannot imagine what I’ll have learned in that time.  And I cannot wait.

Bring me that horizon!

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