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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2 Responses to “Things I Learned My First Trimester Teaching”

  1. Ali Trotta December 29, 2011 at 6:24 pm #

    So proud of you, Andrea. I enjoy learning what you’ve learned — and I know that each day brings new wonders. Those kids are lucky to have you. 🙂

    • Andrea January 1, 2012 at 2:42 pm #

      Awww, thanks! I feel pretty lucky to have them as students, so it’s nice to think the feeling is mutual. *grin*

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