Belated Happy Thanksgiving! It has been a crazy first quarter at school, and I absolutely love it! Like most other jobs, there are always deadlines and new challenges to deal with, but I love coming in to work every morning to see my quirky colleagues and scholars. With this being my third consecutive year at an inner-city urban school, I was fast approaching the burn-out period. To fend off the building negativity and fatigue, I decided back in late September that I needed to start teaching as if each day was my last day at work.
What did that entail exactly? It meant I started making a “bucket list” of things I wanted to do at work— I wanted more engagement, more excitement, and more interaction with scholars. I wanted to come in each day, and think to myself, “I can’t wait to share this with everyone!”. I wanted to get rid of the rote scripted lesson plans, the stress over making sure everyone was perfectly behaving all the time, and just have a more organic experience. Once I realized that I’m working with live middle school scholars, I gave up that mentality that everything had to be a certain way. These kids are growing and finding out who they are as individuals; they’re supposed to be dramatic and moody! I’m human, they’re human, and we all make mistakes and have our days. As soon as I accepted that this is okay, I began to really enjoy teaching again.
My classroom slowly began its transformation. There were more fun, colorful, and humorous posters on the wall. Every nook and corner began filling up with my “treasures” from nature hikes– aquariums full of lichen and moss, river-worn gray pebbles, logs with larvae trails carved into the dead wood, red maple leaves and bird nests in Ziploc bags. From our Plants Unit, various types of plants previously used for a classification lab now graze the windowsills and bookshelf. A collection of paper-white bulbs are now blooming in a makeshift vase by the pencil sharpener.
Across the room, there is a large terrarium that houses the class pet, Max the bearded dragon. Next to the terrarium, there is a neon-LED gallon fish tank that houses four goldfish whose names change every week. Last week they were known as Bob, Matilda, Joey, and Nina. They were all part of an Animals Unit last month.
The scholars attended a scavenger hunt field trip to the local PetCo store before Thanksgiving break as a culminating activity for our lessons. Since they were able to hold a ball python at the store, I have been fielding requests for another class pet. (Sometimes my resistance wavers. I guess I’ll have to apply for another classroom grant next year to add to the class pet collection.)
There are also more real-world connections being made in class. Through social media, I have been working with other people to bring my scholars on more (free) field trips. Aside from the Petco field trip, scholars also attended a field trip to see the labs at SUNY’s College of Nanotechnology. They were able to talk with real scientists and engineers about their work, and toured the “Clean Rooms” where they viewed college students at work in the research lab.
Another big change this year: I began an after school co-ed STEM program with the College of Nanotechnology. Since I attended the NSTA conference in San Antonio last year, I wanted to bring more STEM practices to school. It was out of pure luck that one of the schools dropped out, and the outreach program coordinator contacted me to see if I was interested. Though my hours nowadays are longer, I am much more excited about my work. I love seeing my female scholars get excited about experiments, learn from the college mentors, and make those connections between the lessons in class and what they’re doing in labs.
Before Thanksgiving break, I handed out science surveys to my scholars. We regularly pause and reflect over our learning progress in class, but I wanted to see if they were really benefiting from the personal changes I implemented at work. Based on their feedback, most enjoy our classes because of the large variety of instructional strategies available, the blend of hands-on activities and everyday realia and manipulatives, and incorporation of current events and college prep events.
There were mixed reviews regarding my use of media and technology– I began using more BrainPop videos, news channels, webcams, and web 2.0 tools like Quizlet for academic vocabulary. I think that despite being a technology-rich school, we are still quite low-tech and the scholars are more comfortable with paper and pen. That may be the next thing on my bucket-list agenda; create blogs and transfer some of their science essay writings to that platform.
Though I have my days, teaching is definitely a dynamic field. I can choose to be one of those teachers who use the same lesson plans year after year, who gets upset over the same problems, and dreams of retiring after putting in the minimum amount of years. I’m by no means an expert teacher, but I love that I can try new things and change things up when it starts getting dull at work. I love that I can come in and say, “You know, this didn’t work yesterday, but that’s okay. Let’s try something else today.” I love that I can make these changes, and fall in love with teaching all over again.