Category Archives: Ramblings

Link: What Students Really Need to Hear

Yesterday, a colleague of mine linked to this post on Facebook:

What Students Really Need to Hear by Chase Mielke at AffectiveLiving

If you haven’t already seen this, go read it. Right now. It’s ok – I’ll wait.

My first response: It’s like Chase Mielke works at my school!

This is exactly what has been causing me the most frustration lately – my students don’t persevere through hardship of any kind. I hear “I don’t get it”, “I can’t do this”, and “This is too hard” more times than I can even count every day, and I’m a math teacher. I can count pretty high. I was having a really hard time expressing in words why I’ve been so frustrated. I couldn’t explain why it drives me crazy to have to repeat instructions 56 times, or why I can’t stand hearing “I don’t get it.” Then I saw this post from Chase and I was floored. This is EXACTLY what’s going on in my classes.

This morning, my first period started asking me why I’ve been so frustrated lately. They’ve asked me this before, but as I mentioned earlier, I couldn’t really put it into words. I explained this to them, and said that another teacher passed along this post to me yesterday that explains it perfectly. I asked if I could read the post to them. I managed to make it to the last few paragraphs before I started to tear up, which I think is pretty good.

I’ve never seen them pay such close attention to anything I’ve ever said. Every eye in the room was on me, and every student’s body language said they were listening. I was interrupted in the middle of the post by an announcement over the intercom, and they asked me to finish reading before we left the room to respond to the announcement.

When I finished reading, the whole class applauded.

I don’t know if this will make any lasting difference in their attitudes about my class or their other classes, or high school in general. It will give me something to go back to with them:

Man up. Woman up. No more excuses. No more justifications. No blaming. No quitting. … Let’s do this.

We have 11 days of school left until final exams. Let’s do this.

Two Weeks In

Yes, I probably could have posted at some point in the last two weeks, but I was tired.

First Day

I had a bunch of stuff I planned to do when I got to school, including unloading my trunk, re-hanging the posters that insist on falling down off my wall, printing off all the stuff I wanted to say on the first day, and making sure all my technology was working the way it was supposed to. Then, on my last trip moving stuff from my trunk to my classroom, I locked myself out of my room. It took two phone calls to the front office and almost 30 minutes for someone to finally come unlock my door and let me in. (I’ve spent the last two weeks triple-checking my pockets to make sure I have my keys every time I leave the room.)

So my first day started in a bit of a panic.

First Week

I only got through about half of what I intended to get through with my students, and had to finish up my first-day stuff on the second day. My students took a test for me on the prerequisite skills they need for Algebra (integers, fractions, decimals, etc) on Tuesday, and I didn’t get around to getting them graded until the end of the week.

On Monday, I was informed during 5th period that the counselors had a senior with nothing to do during 4th period, so would I like a TA? I jumped all over that. Then a student walked into my room during 6th period saying she was my TA. Within about an hour on the first day of school, I went from having 0 TAs to having 2 TAs, and no idea what to do with them. I’ve spent a fair amount of time this week coming up with things they can do. I am loving the fact that I can have them grade, except when I discovered the answer key was wrong after they had graded 3.5 of my 4 periods’ worth of stuff.

The first week went fairly well. The kids weren’t used to the school environment or each other yet, so they stayed pretty quiet and at least pretended to listen while I was teaching. Most of them did their homework. My only issue is my last class of the day – they just won’t stop talking! I rearranged seating charts this week because I couldn’t take it anymore (and because I wanted my students to be sitting in groups, not rows) and that helped a little bit. What really helped, however, was calling the parents of about 4 of the worst offenders and letting them know I’m “really concerned that [your kid] isn’t getting everything he/she could be out of this class”. The parents I talked to were great, and the class was much quieter for the rest of the week.

Second Week

I started my second week feeling panicked and frustrated because I’d had a to-do list a mile long over the weekend and hadn’t gotten much done. Specifically, I hadn’t done lesson plans for the week. (At this point “lesson plans” actually just means “powerpoint presentations”, not all the stuff I’m supposed to be doing.) I went to bed unhappy on Sunday night, and woke up still a little panicked on Monday morning. I didn’t lock my keys in my room this time, and managed to be ready for 1st period.

Now, here’s the trick: my planning period is 2nd, so all I really have to be able to do is get through 1st period on Monday morning, and the rest of the week will be fine.

I’ve started teaching material from the textbook this week, which has provided some much-needed structure to my plans. I’m struggling to get through everything I need to in the amount of time I have, although I’m getting better. I’m sure in a few months I’ll be pacing my lessons much more consistently. Pacing has always been a big issue for me – I tend to talk too much and not move on to the next thing when I should.

This week, I got an email asking how things were going with my mentor, and if I’d had a chance to talk to him yet, which I thought was funny. My mentor’s classroom is across the hall from mine, and I talk to him almost every day. Clearly, not everyone is lucky enough to have an easily-accessible mentor like I am.

Another teacher from the department, my instructional coach, commented on Friday that I looked a lot more relaxed this week than I did the first week. I was. Honestly, I’ve learned the hard way that even if I don’t get everything done that I want to over the weekend, I’ll still survive, and that has gone a long way toward my mental well-being. (In the future, that may not be such a good thing for me to know, but for right now, I needed it.)

My instructional coach also came in and observed my last-period class (at my request) to see what I can be doing better to discourage the constant talking. She had a lot of positive feedback on my teaching, including telling me that she couldn’t tell that I was completely unprepared for the class. (I had been typing bellwork questions for the students during the passing period when I realized I had forgotten to finish my powerpoint for that class.) She also had a few helpful suggestions for me to focus on in that class. The one I’m going to focus on first is how I position myself in the classroom. On Friday, I had the kids working on homework for a while, and then a review worksheet. As they did so, they had lots of questions, so I ran around the class answering them. My instructional coach recognized that when I do that, I often position myself with my back to half the class, making it very obvious that I’m not paying attention to them, and they take advantage of that. This week, I’m going to work on where I stand and how much I appear to be aware of what is going on in the class.

My students have their first quiz tomorrow and their first test on Friday, and then we’re finished with chapter 1 of the text! I can’t believe how fast this has already gone by. As the teacher, the day never feels like it’s dragging – usually I don’t have enough time to say everything I need to say. I can’t even remember how many times the bell has rung and I’ve nearly growled in frustration. “What?! Class can’t be over – I’m not done!” And because it’s high school, I have to let them go so they can get to their next class.

It’s only Sunday morning, and I feel much more prepared for this week. I have a couple of finishing touches to add to my powerpoints when I get to school tomorrow morning, but I have them written for the first 3 days of the week. I may even write up formal lesson plans this afternoon so I can say I’ve done it. I would work on writing my chapter test, but it’s saved on the hard drive at school, not in the cloud, so that will just have to wait.

I have a funny story to post from one of my classes on Friday, but I have to get ready to leave, so I’ll do it later.

Job Update

Big news…I got a job! It’s been a bit of a roller coaster but I finally received an offer! I am going to be teaching Algebra 1 – and only Algebra 1. I’ll only have 1 prep my first year of teaching! This means, of course, that I can completely obsess over my lesson plans until either I believe they are perfect or I collapse from exhaustion. It’ll be interesting to see which of those happens first.

Of course, I still have lots of stuff to do. I have to convince someone at the department of education to give me an intern certificate so I can actually sign a contract. They’ve told me this will take 2 weeks to process but I’m hoping I can beg and someone will take mercy on me.

I need to get in touch with my department head (I have a department head now!) and find out what curriculum we’re using this year (I have a curriculum!) and figure out what I’m supposed to be teaching when the school year starts (I will have students!).

Interestingly, the school year starts on my birthday. I’m going to try to avoid telling the students it’s my birthday, because that is likely to lead to some of those questions I don’t want to answer, like “How old are you?” and “Do you have a boyfriend?” and “How long have you been teaching?” Especially that last one. I really don’t want to answer that one on the first day of school.

I have to figure out what school supplies I will need, what I want my classroom to look like, and what I want to go over with my students the first day/week of school. I’ll be teaching freshmen, so there will probably be a lot of “Since you’re in high school now, you are responsible for your own messes” and “If you fail this class, you won’t just move on to the next one like you did in middle school”. That will be a rude awakening come May.

While I’m doing all this prep stuff, I have to finish my Calculus 1 class and Education Psychology class. The Ed Psych class doesn’t even end until a week after school starts.

I’m really excited about my new position, but that excitement is tempered by an increasing amount of oh-shit-I’m-actually-doing-this. Seriously? What kind of idiot puts someone who has no idea what they’re doing in charge of the academic success of 125 kids?

That right there is the real problem with becoming a teacher. I have just as much responsibility as the 30-year veterans, but I have no clue what I’m doing yet.