First year…check!

Well, I’ve had about a week to really sit and reflect after the last day of school. Wow. I still can’t believe I just finished my first year of teaching. It’s hard to believe that a year ago, almost to the day, I was accepting my first teaching position as a high school English teacher. Thus, without saying anything else, you all know me…and you know what’s about to come…my top ten thoughts on my first year of teaching!

10. ALWAYS have high expectations. (And never accept anything less!) I’ve found this to be true not only in regards to pushing myself with achieving my goals, but in regards to my students’ work as well. There were many times when my students would be frustrated with me for not just giving them the answers or for the “big” project I assigned. Yet, in the end, they pushed themselves to answer their own questions with my guidance and their projects were AMAZING. One student was extremely worried about the research essay/PSA that I had my sophomores complete. “5-8 pages?!? Come on!” I sat down, outlined a plan to get bits and pieces done to help ease some of the anxiety, and insisted it could be done. And, in the end, the student rocked the project and did very well. I then heard, “Thank you SO much! Oh my gosh! I can’t believe you gave me this grade!” (B+/A- range) My reply: “Don’t thank me. You’ve known all along that I don’t give out grades. You EARN your grade, and you should be proud because I know I am. And just remember, hard work pays off.” From student frustration to student appreciation, I’ve learned it’s ok to hold your ground and expect the best!

9. Let students’ voices be heard! It’s funny that my own goal throughout my graduate studies became one of the driving forces within my own classroom during this first year of teaching…and will always be a focus every year. I thought it was really neat that in final projects and evaluations many students talked about finding their voice this year and finding ways to broadcast. I’ve seen student blogs, tweets, vlogs…you name it, kids are branching out and putting their thoughts and ideas out there! I also truly believe that providing students with a venue to broadcast their thoughts allows them to make more meaningful connections and have autonomy over their learning. (Check here for an idea spurred at the last minute with kids’ PSAs.)

8. Give students creative options. Each student is a unique, individual learner. Thus, as an educator, our job is VERY challenging. We have to give our students’ options that allow them to showcase their knowledge while giving them freedom to express themselves. Now, I’m not talking about forgetting standards and the like…that’s not my point. My point here is that maybe it means we come up with multiple essay prompts. Or a multigenre project with different components to REALLY check and see what students know. In other words, we have to give our students options to allow their creativity to show AND their knowledge. There were several times throughout the year that I tried to give students multiple options/tools to use/resources to achieve whatever the task was at hand. “Well, just tell us what you want us to use.” I would laugh and reply, “Well, the thing is, in the real world, you aren’t going to have me around to tell you what site to use. So, let’s look at what you have come up with thus far, talk about what you are trying to achieve, and make a list to decide what resource would be most helpful.” In the end, my students will be consuming/producing no matter what their futures hold. I want them to be able to navigate this world and find what works best for them and their unique needs.

7. Modeling for students is key. (But so is play.) Modeling is a great way to help students better understand the task/concept at hand. There were several times throughout the year that if I found students struggling, modeling proved to be key to really help drive home whatever it was we were working on at the time. However, sometimes I found students wanting me to model or show them examples because they wanted the “right” way to do something. I tried to tell them that’s not always the case…and my examples were ultimately designed to help students be able to “work” on their own (thus, the idea where play is key for students, too). I know some teachers who come up with exact essays, projects, etc. for their students to see. While I do see the benefit with showing students good examples, I also want them to think on their own, too. That’s part of the learning process after all!

6. It’s ok to make your students think! Tying back into a few of my previous notes, I’m ok with students thinking of me as the “tough, mean” teacher. I’m not going to give answers away. I’m going to make you think! The real world deals with problem solving skills (whether it’s related to literature and composition or not, ha!). I want my kids to be able to apply what we are working on in class to what goes on outside our classroom walls in one way or another.

5. Our definition of “education” must continue to evolve. And with this in mind, I truly believe that tapping into new literacy practices is imperative to continue to propel us into the future. We are ALREADY in the 21st century. We need to continue to look forward and adapt. It’s not about replacing “traditional” literacy practices; it’s about keeping an open mind and finding ways to engage and challenge the unique, individual learners coming into our classrooms.

4. I am always learning. And it’s important for my kids to see this, too. I remember when I was recording myself teaching throughout all of my classes, and you wouldn’t believe how shocked the kids were. Keep in mind, my recordings came after I had recorded kids giving presentations in which they reviewed how they presented to the class. Then, as I pull out the flip to record myself, the kids couldn’t believe it. “You mean you will watch these clips and see what you do while you teach?…Man, I think ALL of our teachers need things like this too.” I tried to tell them that I learn every day, too. I also learn from them and that’s why I ask them to do evaluations of me and the class. As I’ve said before, I want my kids to be life long learners…what better way to show them what a life long learner looks like then to model it myself.

3. “Me” time is an absolute necessity! I will admit, at the beginning of the year, I was completely immersed with everything teaching. I wouldn’t say that I was burnt out (after all being a D1 athlete, double degree person who found herself a double degree master’s student, while student teaching, while teaching various sections of engineering courses…yeah, you get the idea, ha!) because I’m used to being busy…very busy. However, as we all know, it’s very easy to allow teaching to consume our lives. I wasn’t behind on grading, planning, or prep work, but I just found myself bringing home work all of the time. My teacher brain was on constant duty. And yet I know that if you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t be your best for others. Thus, I started channeling my teacher brain in other ways. Running to audio books. Reading YA lit that I could recommend to kids, but that I really wanted to read myself. Grading work at school. Utilizing “tools” like quizzes on Moodle or Google forms to help with mini assessments. Have check points for project work so that I wasn’t grading everything ALL at once. And, most importantly, finally coming to terms with being ok to simply unplug and truly relax by walking with my pups by the lake, taking a weekend trip to see friends, or sleeping in on BOTH days of the weekend πŸ™‚

2. It’s ok to be a perfectionist. I’ve come to terms with my OCD/perfectionist ways, and I’m OK with it. I was once told the teaching profession would eat people like me alive, and I wouldn’t last if I didn’t change my ways. Well, with one year under my belt, I can honestly say I haven’t changed my ways, but perhaps have changed my thoughts in some ways to find a balance…I think it goes back to having high expectations for myself. That’s just me and how I have always been. I do, however, understand that I will never have the “perfect” lesson plan and I’m ok with that. In fact, that’s why I love teaching…it’s a challenge each and every day! Sometimes what I think will be a perfect lesson will be completely re-worked in mid-teaching just because of the class environment that day. Regardless, I can still embrace my perfectionist ways while remaining flexible…and that is the key!

And last but not least, drum roll please….

1. I love teaching. I love helping people see that reading and writing are a part of their every day lives. I love the challenge of working with diverse thinkers. I work at a great school, with great kids, and great colleagues. I have been very fortunate to have some of the best mentors (and PLNs) who are only a click away. Not to mention the support of my amazing family and friends who continue to encourage me to be the best I can be.

And on this note, I’d like to share a clip from an email that my “homegirl since 6th grade” sent me the other day…

I just wanted to tell you how glad I am that I got to see your classroom.Β  I am really proud of you for working in a career that you are passionate about and that is so important to the future of our country.

[I love teaching.]

As the year winds down for the rest of you out there, I hope your summer break treats you well! I am already two books into my summer reading list for next year with a HUGE stack to go πŸ™‚

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