Archive | December, 2011

Things I Learned My First Trimester Teaching

29 Dec

In lieu of anything pressing to blog about, I’ve decided to backtrack and write a blog that’s been on my mind for about a month now. If you’ve been reading me consistently, you’d know that this year is my first year teaching and that I teach sixth grade at the most awesome school in the world. December 2nd was the last day of our first trimester, and it goes without saying that I have learned a TON over the course of the past few months.

“But what, exactly, have you learned?” you might ask. It would be impossible to recall everything I’ve learned and even more impossible to express it all to you with mere words. But, I can comment on some of the bigger epiphanies I’ve had.

1. If you give a lot of assignments, you’ll have a lot to grade
This might seem obvious, and of course it makes perfectly logical sense, but I guess I never truly realized how time-consuming grading actually was. My entire first trimester in my creative writing courses was devoted to poetry. Little poems, which didn’t take a whole lot of class time to produce. Which, in turn, means that we did a lot of them. Fantastic fun. and fantastic experience for my students, but a heck of a lot of work for me. In retrospect, I could have made some of the assignments simply worth participation points and not worry about specific comments and feedback, but I really feel like that’s cheating my students. I want to give them comments and feedback. I want them to improve. So is there really anything I could have (or would have) done differently in this regard? Perhaps not. What I will know going forward, however, is how much time to set aside for grading.

2. As a middle school teacher, you have a lot more students than an elementary teacher
Again, something that is super obvious. I knew when I took my position that instead of 30 students, I’d have 30 students every 45 minutes. What I neglected to realize was (again) how much more time that was going to mean for me. More time for grading. More time preparing for hands-on activities. More time for everything. In addition, it’s also much more expensive. Where I might have been able to splurge for treats from the dollar store for my 30 first-graders I had student teaching, it’s a different story to splurge on my 180 sixth-graders. Sometimes I feel truly bad about this; that it just costs so much more to provide my many sixth graders with activities, special resources and materials. Mais, c’est la vie.

3. End of trimester projects should NOT be assigned the last week of the trimester
I learned this one the hardest of hard ways. Putting together a class book of poetry seemed easy enough, but what it truly meant was that I found myself with 90 beautifully published poems that I then had to grade, comment on, and return in a three-day period in order for them to appear on my students’ first-trimester report cards. Which leads me to my next lesson…

4. Just because you did something one trimester, doesn’t mean it has to appear on that trimester’s report card
After stressing myself into a nervous breakdown over that three-day period, a good cry and an oatmeal-chocolate-chip cookie helped me realize that there was no hard and fast rule that said these final projects HAD to be on first trimester report cards. This allowed me to relax, take my time grading and providing feedback, and overall coming out with a much better product.

5. Middle School allows for immediate changes and reflection
I feel like I should end this blog with a magnificent lesson I’ve learned and taken full advantage of. One of the marvelous things about teaching a 45-minute lesson and then three minutes later teaching it again is that you can immediately make modifications and improve your teaching. If something didn’t work out so well first-hour, change it the next, and continue to change it until you get it right. This has served me so well this year. As a new teacher, there are things about management, distribution of materials, etc. that I sometimes don’t account for the first time around, but you an be damn sure I account for it the second, third, fourth…well, you get my drift. I have to give mad props to the first class of each subject I teach each day, for being my guinea pigs and helping me figure out more efficient and effective ways of doing things.

As I said, I learned much more than these five things first trimester, but these are the five that continue to guide my teaching on a daily basis now that we’re deeply engrossed in second trimester material.

To all the teachers out there, I hope you’re enjoying your winter breaks and your year of teaching as much as I am! And please, if you have any tips or advice that can help me avoid painful lessons similar to those mentioned above, do share!

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Change Is Hard, And Why Coffee Heals All

17 Dec

As I sit here staring at my blog I’m torn about what to write. I find it appalling that I haven’t blogged since Thanksgiving, especially considering that I have about three or four entries that I wrote in my head that just never quite made it to paper (er…screen?). That seems to be my biggest problem in writing, always. I know what I want to write and I have the story. I have the words. I just don’t have the time or the conviction or the courage or the chutzpah to actually get it done.

But regardless, here is a list (in no particular order) of the blogs I wanted to (and still might) write.

1. The beauty of winter and why I still believe in Santa

2. How NaNoWriMo was an epic fail

3. Things I learned my first trimester as a sixth grade teacher

4. Why Santa Claus (and all other costumed beings) are scary as hell

5. My first Middle School book club book finished – a success story

For now I think I’ll just share an update about my life that has dramatically changed my daily existence: I was hired on in another .5 position at my school, making me now a full-time teacher. No more lazy mornings with my son, no more spending the morning writing my lesson plans, no more avoiding those 7:15 a.m. staff meetings. Suffice it to say that this has been a huge adjustment for me, and my family. I love it; I’m ridiculously happy in my new role. But, I am now left with the task of figuring out how to plan, write lessons, grade papers and stay awake for three separate subject areas each day.

Thankfully, the answer lies in the healing powers of coffee. It’s amazing how the sound of the pot brewing all by itself thanks to the “delay brew” function makes that 5:45 wake-up time so much easier. It’s also amazing how clutching that warm travel mug makes my freezing car (and the pitch-black mornings) a more inviting place. Similarly, clutching that warm travel mug makes my freezing car a more inviting place in the pitch-black afternoons as well. How I ever survived without it remains a mystery to me.

I’d like to conclude this post with a random trivia fact from my place of employment. Each morning before the last bell rings, students are given a two-minute warning to prompt them into their classrooms. What is this warning, you might ask. A standard school bell? Oh no, for those two minutes my school plays Katy Perry’s “Firework” through the sound system. That’s reason #54748627648 why my school is awesome.