Well, I’m still here! A lot of things have happened since the beginning of the new school year. To recap, I began my third year of teaching this September. I now teach 7th grade Life Science full time in one school, serve as the 7th grade team leader, and as senior science teacher of two schools.
A lot of things have also been going through my mind and heart lately. Earlier in the school year, I went through depression. It seems impossible to be burned out already in September, but I was, and it began to take a toll on my personal life. My 7th grade team and I really struggled for the first weeks of school; it seemed we couldn’t break through the many behavioral problems that were occurring every day, and we were also heavily discouraged by how unmotivated our scholars were. After three very hard years of working in the same inner-city school, I began to question if I should continue to follow my dream of teaching or find another path.
Then I began praying in the car during my work commutes. I began asking for guidance and direction, for strength to persevere during the tough times, and for help so that I can find my passion for teaching again. I began looking more at the positives in my life; I have a job that provides stability; I have a supportive fiancé, family, friends and colleagues; and I have resources I can turn to for help at work. Slowly, I started to find my way out of the dark funk. I began reflecting on my teaching practices, figured out which tweaks I could do to improve scholar motivation and engagement, and started actively researching and talking to other people.
One cold October day, when all the colors have faded on the trees, I found a nondescript note on my office desk. It was written by a former scholar, who, quite honestly, drove me up the wall for two years. I tried so hard to reach her. When she was expelled, it felt like a personal failure. She wrote about how she regretted her past decisions, and how she missed my class. It drove me to tears, but it also opened my eyes. Her letter showed me that I do make a difference, even if it is just in one person’s life.
In my search for more ideas on how to turn things around at work, I began to reach out to veteran teachers on list serves and in teacher conferences. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve recently heard put things into perspective for me. I can’t expect to change things overnight, especially when I’m up against years of social and cultural influence. In addition, kids will be kids, no matter what school district they are in. They will do crazy things, they will be hot messes— that’s who they are at this developmental stage. I just have to find ways to continue building relationships, find more ways to connect with these kids, and think outside the box when it comes to instruction.
So far, I have been reviewing my units, and these are some of the things I started to tweak. They’re not necessarily in order, or listed in a particular way.
- Switching from using text-specific questions on Do-Nows and Exit Tickets to open-ended short responses
- Rewriting and posting objectives from the teacher perspective (“Students will be able to…”) to the student perspective (“I can…”)
- Asking students more frequently “What do you remember? What do you know? How can you connect this with…?”
- Modifying tests by underlining key academic terms, eliminating confusing questions, and adding more short-response essays
- Starting off Mondays in homeroom and science classes with a brief discussion about what we did over the weekend
- Bringing in more examples from outdoors to supplement what we’re learning in class (For example, we’re currently learning about plants. When I was on a hike, I brought in moss, branches, leaves, and different plants.)
- Researching and reaching out to local colleges and outreach programs to bring in guest speakers who can talk about their careers in science, what skills are needed for these careers, and how they prepare for these careers
- Researching and reaching out to my social media networks to find free field trips for my scholars
- Writing “Good Notes” home for scholars who consistently show integrity and scholarship in class
- Having weekly Friday lunch and dessert dates with different scholars
This weekend, I just finished grading their second unit test. Scores were dismal, but this time, I didn’t let myself become frustrated. When I looked at my materials, I saw that there was a large disconnect. Administration provided a scope and sequence that literally pushes one new lesson a day. With the makeup of my classes, this is unrealistic. They need more time to think about and digest these concepts, to get their hands dirty in lab activities, and to discuss with each other about what they’re learning. I have to get past the “I have to teach them this and this before this date” mentality; I have to put on the “I have to make sure they’re ready before moving on” mentality. I can cut out other lessons, and focus on the main concepts over a longer time frame. What’s the point of rushing through 5-6 lessons a week if they’re not there with me?
Slowly, I am realizing that the teacher I am today is not the teacher I was three years ago. That is a very good thing. Three years ago, I agonized over the perfect lesson plan. Today, I look for clues in their faces and know who needs a pep talk or a hug before class. Three years ago, I yelled to make myself heard in the class. Today, I crack jokes and use more positive framing. Sometimes, after a long grueling day, I still want to cry, but now I move on, and think about how it’s going to be a better day tomorrow.