The Rearview Mirror

While driving down a Saskatchewan highway may not be the most exciting thing in the world, at least not if you’re from here, it definitely has a sense of calm, and often of retrospection. The peacefulness of just cruising down an open stretch of road, with fields as far as the eye can see, and perhaps a tree or a farm dotting the horizon, is one that evokes a feeling of freedom and carefreeness that I have yet to be able to replicate in the city.

Photo Credit: Hot Meteor Flickr via Compfight cc

You travel on, excitedly anticipating your arrival at your new destination, sometimes looking out the window beside you to check out what might be going on in the world around you, or perhaps chatting with a passenger to pass the time, and make the journey more enjoyable. How often though, do you look behind you? Maybe when we want to pass another vehicle, or when a vehicle behind is coming up quickly, or their lights are just at that wrong angle and you have to adjust to avoid the blinding light. Other than that though, I could probably be that out on an open highway, your rearview mirror is not where your eyes are most of the time. Why would you bother to look back at that boring black asphalt of where you’ve come from? You’ve got your eyes on the road in front of you, steering yourself onward.

In life, I think this is often the way we travel on too. We have our sights set forward, eyes on the prize, looking for the light at the end of the tunnel (wow, that’s a lot of cliches all in one sentence!). Seldom do we really take the time to really look back at the path we’ve travelled to bring us to our current place, as we are too focused on where we are going. Teaching however, is a different sort of practice. It is one that requires you check that rearview mirror all the time; reflect, adapt, and then move forward.

Photo Credit: LabyrinthX-2 Flickr via Compfight cc

So this post is a bit of my rearview mirror on my 3-week block. To write the reflection I probably have stored in my brain would take pages and pages of writing (and a lot of your time to read), so here’s a bit of a snapshot of the adventures I’ve had…

 

 

Heading in, as you’ll know if you read my post “Now THAT’s a Good Idea”, I really wasn’t nervous at all. I was excited, yes, but it really had been such a great transition leading up to the block that adding on a single subject did not seem intimidating at all. Teaching full time seemed somewhat effortless, at least in the sense that it was natural, fluid, and felt like something I was really meant to do (not that it required no effort). That feeling didn’t really change throughout my block either. I felt throughout, as I do now, that teaching is one of my favourite things to do in this world, and I feel it is my purpose more than I ever did.

While I posted a great list of things I learned in my last post “Inside the Block”, this post is really more about what I learned as a whole. I feel that one of the most important things I learned is that good teaching takes time, as does good learning (or perhaps that should say quality learning). Yes, I had some really great ideas, and for the most part they went as planned, but I really should have given them more time for students to work, and to take the time to really “get” the purpose of the lesson. I was so focused on meeting the outcomes, and finishing the units and lessons in the time that was laid out for me that I sometimes missed out on making sure that students were really “getting” the lesson before I moved on. Now, I certainly didn’t jump from one thing to another every day, but looking back, there were probably a few things that I could have taken out, and a few others that I would have liked to have spent a little longer with. I think that I really had some great lessons, activities and assessments planned, and it is my hope over the winter semester to take those things and plan out some better timelines to really get the unit going the way I would have liked.

Photo Credit: Jenni C Flickr

Another area that I would really like to continue working on is assessment. Although I think I had some good formative assessment assignments planned, and certainly could get feedback and formative assessment during my lessons, I know that I can do better. Often as I was working and reflecting I would be reminded of Doug Reeve’s FAST acronym (Fair, Accurate, Specific, and Timely). While I think I got the first 3 down pretty good, the timely part was a struggle. I found it really difficult mostly because my students were not turning in their work. Partly I think it was because they are just not on top of moving their book from their table to the bin, partly because they misused class time and didn’t get it finished, and sometimes perhaps I just didn’t give them enough time, or check in enough to make sure they had substantial time. Regardless of the reason, it was a struggle, and something I really want to do better with. I can really see how students work changes and improves over time, and with accurate feedback it can do even more! I recently watched a video of Doug on “Toxic Grading Practices”, and I think it too really speaks to the ideas that I have about grading student work. While my co-op and I are not ones to give zeros on assignments, and we make the students do the work, it is not an easy task. I still have students finishing assignments from September! I think in the future though, I could be more firm in ensuring that students are doing their work, provide more time for students to stay in and do their work, and have those students who notoriously don’t get their work done actually sit down and do it.

On the positive side of things, I really made some amazing connections with students, found a real “groove” in teaching from day to day, and making great collaborations between subject areas. While our class’ schedule is not ideal to make some of the really awesome cross-curricular connections that I would like to, I felt that I really helped students get the big picture of what I was teaching them, and it is such a wonderful thing to see them making those connections in the work they do. I loved being able to draw connections from math to science to social to literacy, and even to physed in some instances, and I can see the potential to draw out my units to include health, ArtsEd, and career guidance too (although I did not have the opportunity to teach these subjects during my internship). I also really enjoyed using Google Classroom to do work with my students on collaborative projects, to incorporate websites and fun activities, and to teach them positive digital citizenship. These are things that I want to just work more at improving and making even more awesome!

All in all, my 3-week block was really incredible. Yes, there are things I would have done differently, but there are things that also were just amazing! I had some great days with my students, got to bring in some special guests to enhance their learning, and had just an awesome time teaching full time. I’m sure I could probably go on, but as I noted at the start of this already super long blog post, I’m not going to go on forever!

A word of advice to any other pre-service teachers, specifically those in their third year at the UofR, just take it one day and one step at a time. Know that there’s a process in the journey ahead of you, and that you’ll be where you need to be when you get there. Keep looking forward, but don’t forget to check your mirrors every now and then to recognize just how far you’ve come!

Photo Credit: M.J.H. photography Flickr via Compfight cc

 

Inside the Block

My 3-week teaching block is quickly coming to a close. So much faster than I ever anticipated, and it has been absolutely amazing!

Sure, I’ve had some “off” days with students who were unruly, disrespectful and who refused to do their work, but those days taught me how to manage, how to create strategies, and how to persevere. I’ve also had some truly incredible classes with my students where everything was just clicking, and moving through the lesson plan and into the next. My students have really shown me that I have all of the tools to be a really great teacher.

Here’s just a snapshot of what I have learned:

  • I have learned that not all lessons and not all days have to be perfectly planned.
  • I have learned that not all “fun” lessons are actually fun.
  • I have learned that routines are super important.
  • I have learned that university (and even pre-internship) only prepares you for 1% of the classroom management strategies you will have to learn, create and implement.
  • I have learned that some days are really hard (and I mean REALLY hard) and other days flow effortlessly.
  • I have learned over and over again that relationships are the biggest part of teaching. Students have to know you care, even if you have to be strict with them.
  • I have learned that I know how to have control and authority over my class.
  • I have learned that I hate the social studies textbooks. Don’t like them at all.
  • I have learned that other textbooks are ok and some are even pretty great!
  • I have learned that a half an hour class period is pretty much nothing and is best to use to have a discussion or to continue work from a previous class/day.
  • I have learned that boys PE is probably the worst idea ever.
  • I have learned that keeping up with marking is a struggle, but I totally realize the importance.
  • I have learned that what students go through (both inside and outside of school) will break your heart.
  • I have learned that I can function on less than 4 hours of sleep.
  • I have learned that I am far more creative and innovative than I give myself credit for, yet I still want to be more.
  • I have learned that it’s ok for your classroom to be messy. It means learning is happening and the mess is a product of the action.
  • I have learned that flexibility is a huge asset. Things change all the time in the school.
    There are: early recesses you didn’t know about, fire/security drills that take up half your class, gyms times that get cancelled, special guests and assemblies that pop up, impromptu lecture sessions by other teachers that derail your lesson and force you to teach something else, teachers who need/want to swap times with you, laptops that you booked being taken away by others who didn’t book them, laptops becoming magically available and taking the chance to use them (after verifying they really are available), opportunities for your students to go on special field trips that come up and you take them, and sudden illnesses cause you to have to leave at lunch time. (Yes, all of those things have actually happened in the last 3 weeks!)
  • I have learned that prep periods can sometimes be for prepping lessons or marking things, or just for taking deep breaths, having a snack and taking a break from the crazy day.
  • I have learned that lunar cycles are a real thing and can affect your students’ behaviour.
  • I have learned that I love teaching even more than I ever thought I did. I get a huge grin when I think of a cool idea and am able to put it all together for my lessons, and an even bigger one when my students are so into learning that they don’t want to stop.
  • I have learned that math games are magical.
  • I have learned that I can “trick” students into learning.
  • I have learned that learning outside takes practice. A LOT of practice.
  • I have learned that veteran teachers, while intimidating at first, are so willing to help.
  • I have learned that I have my own style of teaching, and that’s ok. It’s even great!
  • I have learned that students do not know how to dress for being outside and you must teach this to them. Even to grade 7s.
  • I have learned that some of the best lessons are unplanned.
  • I have learned that deadlines for student work really don’t mean anything, but also are everything at the same time.
  • I have learned that coffee can be your friend on crazy days, even if you’re not a “real” coffee drinker.
  • I have learned that I have a very high tolerance level for the general shenanigans of students, and know when and how to use my authority effectively.

If these are things I have learned in the past 3 weeks, I cannot even begin to imagine the teachings my first year of teaching will bring me! I also still have 3 more full days and a week of partial teaching days left too, so I’m sure I can still add to this list!

 

Two sides of the same coin

Today was day six of my full-time teaching block. It was terrible…or at least it started out that way.

I started the day feeling completely exhausted. I had stayed up til nearly 3am the night before desperately trying to make an interesting and engaging lesson on the power of the media through advertising for my two literacy classes and reading student writing work, and running on just over 3 hours of sleep was not making for a great start to the day. My students also seemed a little sleepy, or at least a little “out of it” first thing, but I couldn’t really be certain that it wasn’t just my over-tiredness fogging my judgement. Regardless, our numeracy class to start the day off seemed to go all right. The students were making progress on their latest Explore +4 menu, and I was checking in with each of them, and also pulling the last few details together for my literacy lessons. I thought things were going to be ok.

Then the grade 7s returned, the volume increased, I tried to quiet the class, and waited….

…called for the class’ attention, then waited more…

…It was actually quite ridiculous. Students noticed, then paid attention…sort of.

We got into a discussion about advertisements versus brands, which seemed to go, well, ok. It wasn’t great. Something felt off. Some of my students seemed really restless and unfocused, which then threw others off too. I re-set the class, re-focused and we tried again. I felt like I kept having to keep a close watch on a couple students, which then distracted my brain, and threw me off. It just didn’t feel quite right, and we didn’t get through what I had planned. Not even close, so I planned to continue my lesson after recess.

After recess we did a carousel-style activity of looking at how media is constructed, and who it’s intended audiences are. It did not go as well as I’d hoped. I think it was partly that my instructions and prompts for the students were not as clear as they should have been (likely due to my late night creating combined with my rushed gathering and assembling of things before class), and also this unsettled feeling I was getting from the students. I think that it would have been a lot better if I’d had them go to a station, watch the quick video, then move on to another spot to do something else, then to another to do some questions, rather than expecting them to stay at one place for 12 or 15 minutes and just change materials with a group beside them. I think they really needed short tasks and some movement within the room to help them focus.

We didn’t even get to the other lesson I’d spent half of my evening planning. By lunch time I felt a little exhausted, drained, and defeated. I tried to chalk it up to an “off” day, but my co-op encouraged me to look at is as an opportunity to develop more strategies for working with my students. Over lunch we discussed some ways that I could have handled some of the student disruptions. I outlined my plans for the afternoon, which felt even more vague, and I was feeling less than confident going into my social studies lessons with the grade 6s then with the grade 7s.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/52734530@N06/16441857285/

Photo Credit: MorboKat via Compfight cc

Surprisingly, both lessons went extremely well. Though I didn’t get to the video that I’d planned to look at with the 6s, we got into a great discussion about social justice. The students had never heard of the term before, so it was important to look at that before we started our discussions about inequalities and lack of power. I was very impressed that the students were really into the idea that we could discuss openly about the injustices they see in our society. Later, my class with the grade 7s was also just excellent! The students were completely engaged in the lesson on privilege, and demonstrated great maturity as we examined our privileges and discussed the poem “White Boy Privilege“. The 7s also had some excellent questions and throughout the lesson had even all brought their chairs all together so we were one little discussion group. This is a big step for them as they rarely even want to sit at a table together and only do so with much disdain.

In all, I felt like my day was really two sides of the same class. The morning felt so draining, chaotic, and just without flow, whereas the afternoon felt sort of effortless, smooth and engaging. I’m not sure if it was because I just really had the time at lunch to readjust my focus, or if it was because the students just settled in the afternoon more, but whatever it was it was great.

Here’s hoping that tomorrow (last day before a long weekend for students) goes well!

Now THAT’s a Good Idea!

As I begin my three week block of solo teaching, I’ve been asked if I’m ready, or if I’m nervous, or if I’m stressed. Surprisingly, I’m going into my block feeling ready, confident, and pretty un-stressed. I feel like I’ve been preparing for my solo teaching, but not really any  differently than I did for any of my subjects leading up to this point. Really, I’ve just had a great gradual increase of responsibility, and done good planning along the way, so nothing really feels that different.

In fact, prior to my block (so, early last week), on a night where I really didn’t need to do much prep for the next day, I sort of ended up planning my whole three week block in all subject areas…in one evening. Yup, I went from spending hours creating ONE lesson to spending 3 or 4 hours planning almost 4 weeks of content over multiple subjects. As a result of this, it really allowed my creativity to flow, to pull in pieces from all sorts of different ideas, and to really see how I could truly integrate the various subjects I teach. Now, is it perfect? Not even close. But, it’s a start, and I’ve got a very clear direction of where I’m going and how I’m going to help my students get there.

I’m really excited for the plans I have in place for my students. We have already begun to examine various types of power in our Social Studies unit, and next week will be starting to bridge that into our Literacy class. It is an idea that keeps growing. As I talk to more people, attend more PD events, and connect with more teachers my idea continues to grow and grow. Steven Johnson even suggests in his TED Talk video that this is exactly where good ideas come from. He suggests that ideas come from a network of ideas and connections, and they eventually become something larger, something great. I kind of agree! I feel like I’m just inspired to do great things when I see what others are doing, and have a chance to share my ideas with people too! Just this past weekend I came across some great Tweets from Aaron Warner, chatted with several awesome teachers at EdCampYQR, and it allowed me to add even more to my already great ideas for my unit!

Now, the test will be if I can pull it all off! I’ve certainly got the drive, but do I have the time and the resources to really make it work? While I do plan to use this long weekend to do a little bit of relaxing, I also hope to do some pretty intense planning. Although I have my outline and direction and flow pretty nailed down, I hope to focus more on exactly what each lesson will present, incorporate some of the great resources and ideas I’ve accumulated. Wish me luck!

And good luck to all of my fellow interns who are into, or close to entering, their three week teaching block! We got this!

 

Third time’s the charm…and sometimes the fourth is even better!

We’ve all heard that internship teaches you a lot. We’ve all heard that interns make mistakes and learn from them. We’ve all heard that there can be a lot of stress, and even tears, during internship. We’ve all heard that internship is challenging and some days you feel like you hit a wall. We’ve all heard that it can be a tough four months, but we don’t always hear the rest of the story.

What we don’t hear about is HOW interns learn, and what that process looks like.

Let me start out by saying that I’ve been really enjoying my internship. I have a great class, a wonderful co-operating teacher, and have been having a lot of fun. Sure, some nights I’m up quite late (or is it early…) planning things and making sure my lessons for the next day are just right, and sometimes I’ve stressed about getting the curriculum covered the way I think it should be, but overall it’s been great.

Now to the story…

Last Tuesday my advisor visited my class to do an observation of my teaching. I was beginning a brand new unit in subject I’d never taught before, social studies. I had worked with my co-op to make a great outline of the unit and I had a great concept for my first lesson. It was going to get the students excited about the unit, introduce the concept and be a lot of fun. Now, my class schedule is a little funny and on this particular day I had all of my students for half an hour and then the grade 6s went to band while the 7s stayed for more of the same subject. I thought the first part of the lesson went great. I did a bit of a modified think-pair-share concept as we explored the topic of our unit of inquiry, and all of the students were so engaged in the conversation. It was maybe a little noisy, but I don’t mind a kind of excited topic-related noise in the room. After the first half though, when I just had my 10 grade 7 students is where things started to go sideways.

I’ve struggled with management of my 7s before. They are just a loud and rowdy group; always blurting things out (subject related or not), and keeping them in check can be an issue. I moved them to a central point (which is usually a must with them), and we carried on with a deeper conversation that we had started with the whole class. For some reason though, my 7s thought that this period was one where they could just be silly and blurty and disrespectful to everyone in the room. I tried all my usual tricks – moving students, removing distractions, re-setting the focus of the class, and nothing worked. But hey, my advisor was there, what was I to do? So I tried to push on with the discussion, continually battling with a few students who were struggling to stay focused and on topic, and what should have been a 15 minute discussion took the entire 30 minute period.  I was exhausted. I knew I should have stopped, really addressed the issues, and then tried again to re-set the lesson. But I didn’t, and I felt so terrible.

Photo Credit: cyndisuewho Flickr via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: cyndisuewho Flickr via Compfight cc

Following my lesson, as it was the end of the day, my co-op and I sat down to de-brief. I knew I could have and should have done better. I tried to be strong, and explain why I did what I did, but I knew there was more I wanted to do. I tried to be brave and hold back my tears of frustration, but they came anyhow. I let it all out. Through it all though, my co-op and my advisor reminded me that I have the power in my class; I’m in control. I can stop things. I can start again. I can require my students to listen. I think the tears came more because I knew this was totally true.

Ironically, my unit and my lesson are all about power. Who has it in different situations and how we must work within a system of power and navigate amongst the good and the bad sources of it. I have the power in my classroom, and I need to use it. My students know that teachers have power and the authority to use it, I just have to have the courage to show it.

So, after 90 minutes of tears and realizations I tried to regroup and make a plan for action. Should I have used more power? Yes. But were my students still acting irresponsibly? Yes! So I made a plan for my next lesson to be about social obligations to others, about respecting those who have rightful power and authority, and taking ownership for their actions. I took a cue from my good friend, Amie, who had a very similar experience a few weeks earlier. She had her students write apology letters and explain their behaviour, and I tried the same with my students.

Photo by Simon Howden. Published on 22 February 2009 Stock photo - Image ID: 1004778

Photo by Simon Howden. Published on 22 February 2009 Stock photo – Image ID: 1004778

The next class was a VERY different one for sure. We discussed the previous class, why the behaviour they exhibited was not acceptable, considered what could have gone better, and establish an understanding of expectations. We even took a “field trip” to view the banner hanging in the front of the school that showcases the values that we are to uphold: I am responsible, I belong, I want to know,  I respect. Students were very sombre, realizing that they were not upholding any of these values in the previous lesson. Upon our return, students wrote formal letters outlining what happened and how they hoped to adjust their actions for future classes. I applauded students for being able to reflect on their actions, and shared some of my own reflections also. This hour long class went by quickly, and really helped set the tone with my students.

Now, the next class, that’s where things really changed. Just this Tuesday I had another shot with my grade 7s all on their own, again after a half hour period with the entire class. This time though, was great. I took the time to totally re-set the lesson, outline the expectations again, did a fun dance break, and got into a topic that was a little different than what we’d been doing with the whole class. Was it the most exciting thing? Nope, not even a little. We were looking at some sources of power, had some really good discussions about what they would look like, and recorded some student-created definitions of some terms. The class was very respectful, engaged in the discussion, and we got done what needed to be accomplished for the period. I was very proud of them, and of myself, for the turn around in attitude and outcome.

Photo by Danilo Rizzuti. Published on 17 November 2009 Stock photo - Image ID: 1009981

Photo by Danilo Rizzuti. Published on 17 November 2009 Stock photo – Image ID: 1009981

When I started writing this post after my lesson on Tuesday, and now it’s Thursday, and I’ve had another hour long class with my 7s. I thought that 3rd class with them was something pretty great, but today was even better! Today’s lesson was a look into some organizational power and  the levels of government in Canada. We played games, worked as a team, watched videos, answered questions, had discussions, had some disagreements, looked up answers, played more games, learned new things, and ALL of it in a very respectful, calm, yet totally engaging setting! It was a wonderful way to end out the day. I was so pleased with today’s class and am so proud of both my students and myself for really coming full circle on the issues we had been experiencing.

I start my 3-week solo teaching block on Monday, and after today’s lessons I definitely am going into things feeling more confident in my ability to get things done, and not only done well, but done with the cooperation and engagement of my students. I thought the third time was the charm, but today really showed me that sometimes the fourth can be even better.

Return of the Long-Lost Blogger

Before I started my internship I thought, YES, I will blog every week, even more, because I’ll have so much so say and want to share it! Well, yes, I have certainly found that I have learned an incredible number of things that I want to share, finding the time to actually share them is so difficult!

Now I think that I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again; you learn a LOT in internship. Every day. All day. So the fact that it’s been 2 weeks since my last post means 2 weeks of learning have occurred! And wow, have I ever learned some awesome things in the last two weeks! Let me re-cap and share my adventures!

  1. Lit Circles
    • My Lit Circles have been going really well! Students are really into their books, and for the most part are having some great conversations. The downside to being new to this set up, and new to teaching is that I haven’t had the time to really read all of the books my students are reading. I’ve read many summaries and information packages on them, heard from other teachers about them, and read snippets from all of the books, but it’s not quite the same as feeling confident in what happened in the entire book.
    • I think if I were to do this again (which I totally intend to!), I would definitely want to pick the selection of books in advance and have the chance to read them. I think that I would really love to do something with biographies/autobiographies like “I am Malala” and “Diary of a Young Girl” to incorporate some world issues along with a non-fiction style and getting the students to look at how they could write their own auto-biographies!
    • I’ve been adding in little bits here and there of how to improve the jobs that my students are rotating through, and how to have better discussions. These mini-lessons are going over great with the kids, as they’re just long enough to get the point across (15-20 min) and they they go right away and apply the concept to their jobs and discussions!
  2. Inquiry Project
    • The process of having students do research over the last 2 weeks has been awesome. Students already knew how to use Google Slides to make presentations (well, all but one, and he picked it up quickly), and I structured the requirements with some definitive guidelines for my grade 6s and a little less for the grade 7s.
    • We started presentations today! From what I’ve observed so far, here are some take-aways:
      • Kids are not confident in what they know. They insist on reading from slides or print-outs even though they really do know a lot when you ask them questions! This will be an area to work on improving confidence in throughout the year.
      • The structure was awesome for the grade 6s. So far the presentations have included all of the elements that we’d discussed in class.
      • The slightly unstructured was not as great for the grade 7s. So far the presentations have been hit and miss on including information that we had talked about in class. Some students hit it right on, one went over an above, and one missed the boat. We’ll see how the next round goes to get a good sense of what’s up with them!
  3. BreakoutEDU
    • I had the opportunity to partake in a Breakout with my 7/8s in my pre-internship, and also with my ECS311 class, and I can’t say enough good things about it! It’s engaging, really fun, challenging, and encourages team work like nothing else!
    • I hyped up the lesson that would be the Breakout for an entire week and the students were so excited about it!
    • The actual Breakout was super chaotic, but also super fun. Most of the students were really into the process of breaking the codes and working on clues, and it gave me a good chance to see some of the teamwork dynamics in our class. It also gave students a chance to figure out what works and what doesn’t work for solving clues and working with others.
    • There were some students who really “got it” and others…not so much, or so it seemed during the Breakout itself. I had students do a self-reflection afterwards and it helped me see what they were thinking and how I can address their triumphs and concerns in future lessons and future Breakouts.
    • Hoping to do another in a couple weeks!
  4. Substitute Teachers
    • My co-op was away for 3 days last week, giving me the opportunity to work with a substitute teacher. It was a great experience!
    • It was interesting to see how students behaved around a guest teacher, yet how they stayed the same with me. It gave me confidence that my students really do respect and trust me in teaching.
    • Receiving feedback from another teacher was also very helpful. He noticed things that my co-op hadn’t mentioned before, and also encouraged me and praised my teaching abilities, which was a real positive boost.
  5. PhysEd
    • I took on another subject at the end of last week, PhysEd. Certainly not my favourite, and a little intimidating as it’s such a different dynamic from subjects that are primarily classroom-based.
    • Our PhysEd is set up in a way that I’m really sure I enjoy. We combine with the grade 6 class, and split the boys and girls. One groups has PhysEd and the other does health. One class a week each group has a 45 minute class, and then the other time we do the flip, either the boys OR the girls get 1 hour of PhysEd (rather than trying to get each group in for half an hour, which would really be about 15-20 minutes with transition time). This set up makes it really difficult/interesting to plan units, as one group has 2 lessons a week and the other just one.
    • On the up side, my first double class was a success, and my first hour long class with the boys was awesome! I’m learning more about class management and how things change in a gymnasium, and also how to connect to students in a new subject.

Teaching it busy, (It took me 4 days to write this post!) but I’m having so much fun! I’m going to really try to write more in the next couple weeks leading up to my 3-week block, as I find it such a great way to reflect on my thoughts.

It’s Been a Monday

Photo Credit: Silver James

Mondays are rough. They’re even rougher when your field trip is cancelled, you were sick on Sunday and couldn’t get to the school to prep for the new literacy unit you’re starting and now have only 30 minutes to get it all together and somehow pull it off, you are fielding crazy students who are bummed that the trip got cancelled and aren’t really prepared for the day, the photocopier runs out of paper and you have to find some in another part of the school, the projector isn’t working properly, students left their notebooks at home because they thought we were going on the field trip, and oh yeah, you’re still feeling sick.

Today was a tough one. I’ve had a few tough Mondays actually. I think it’s because I’m trying to get myself back into gear for the week, and so are the students. There’s some of that tired unwillingness to be there, wishing that the weekend was just a tad longer, but also the sort of itch to get into doing something “good”, with a nice rhythm and flow. It takes time and practice to get there I’m learning.

The literacy unit that I’m beginning is with Lit Circles. This is a concept I heard about and wanted to try, and my co-op was most willing to let me go for it, as he has had great success with them in the past. I’m working in themes of Identity, Peace/Conflict, and Standing Up for What you Believe in and Doing One’s Best, which fit within the grade 6 and 7 English Language Arts curriculums. I did a lot of looking around to see how other teachers do Lit Circles, and there’s sure a lot of methods out there! I chose to start with something pretty basic, and helped students create a reading schedule, and assign tasks for each section of reading. The introduction was a little rocky as the students were just a little “off” still, but the second portion, after recess, was really great, and helped me get an idea of how students would work in their groups, and what the dynamic of the classroom would be like. While I was a little down on myself for not settling the class in better, it was a decent start.

In Science, we started our Inquiry Projects, which I introduced on Friday. I’m SO EXCITED to be able to do a project like this near the start of the school year. I really tried to set it up so that there could be a gradual release of responsibility to the students, which will make future inquiry projects, and perhaps even Genius Hour projects can be possible in the class. The students worked quite well, despite a LOT of questions about where to search, how best to set up their research and slides, and a lot of monitoring of the class. I think it was a really good start to the project, and I’m glad that I was able to partially set it up last week, as it made today’s lesson much smoother. While there were a few small bumps in getting things going off of Google Classroom, showing a student who had never used Google Drive before how to navigate and create slides, and dealing with some glitchy internet,  it was really great, and certainly made me feel more confident in my abilities.

By the end of the day, I was a mixture of emotions. I was happy to have made it through, frustrated that I could have done better, sad that our field trip was officially cancelled and unable to be rescheduled, and totally exhausted knowing I still had more work to prep for tomorrow. But tomorrow is another day, and another opportunity for me to do better, to make more connections with my students, and to continue on my journey of becoming the best teacher I can be.

Big Picture, Small Screen

I’ve always thought in really broad ideas. I see the world of teaching as one giant canvas, and each unit and subject area plays a part in a masterpiece; their lessons and projects contributing delicate brushstrokes and colours of various hues.

Photo Credit: appelogen.be via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: appelogen.be via Compfight cc

While seeing the big picture in all its masterful glory is certainly a great tool for a teacher to possess, it becomes increasingly difficult to live in a “big picture world”, when you have to live your day to day life with the reality of the small window of time that you have to execute anything in on a given day. Living in the small screen can be really difficult, as you want so desperately to fit enough of the big picture in that you don’t loose the memory of it, but small enough that you can actually understand what you’re looking at.

Photo Credit: TheTruthAbout via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: TheTruthAbout via Compfight cc

I’ve written about this before, and yet it is still something that I struggle a lot with. This past week in my internship has been a great reminder of just how much I struggle with this concept of narrowing the day-to-day while having the big picture in my mind. The great problem comes not even in breaking down that big idea into tangible pieces, but in actually executing the small piece in a way that students will “get” the point of the lesson while being able to connect it to the much larger picture. Far too often have I come across a lesson plan, whether it is online, in a teacher guide, or from another teacher, and I struggle to see how you can either get all of it in one lesson, or how to get students to connect it with the previous days’ lessons, and the lessons you will have coming up.

In the science unit I’m currently teaching I also have the added challenge of teaching a split grade classroom. We have a rather challenging schedule too, where I sometimes have just one of the grades and sometimes both, so I must find ways to link their units together at some points, but also keep them separate!  Then if that wasn’t enough, there’s also the constant problem of not always being able to get everything you want in a lesson, but not being able to move on until you do!

I’ve been running into this collision of worlds all last week and into this one…trying to think of the day-to-day lessons, while trying to fit everything into the unit that is needed, while also planning ahead, picking up more subject areas, and finding a way to keep it all together. I also keep thinking that it’s only going to get worse before it gets better, as I still have more subject areas to add to my schedule!

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Photo Credit: SammCox via Compfight cc

Maybe I need to start looking at things a little differently? I don’t think I’ll ever loose my big picture mindset, but I think maybe I just need to slow things down a little, and step back for a moment. If I’m really going to do this teaching thing right, I’ve got to. I need to find some time to think about things other than school. I need to have fun taking the time away from doing school things and not be stressed about the school things I “should” be doing! I think it all comes back to balance. There’s lots of talk about a good work-life balance, but maybe I also need some future-present balance too. Perhaps I need to take the time to remember the saying, “You can only do what you can with what you have.” If I only have an evening, or even an hour to plan a stellar lesson, then I will make it the best I can in the time I have with the materials that are available.

This is my goal for the rest of the week. Do what I can with what I have. All I can do is all I can do, and there’s no need to over-work and over-stress about it all. Tonight I will plan a fun lesson for tomorrow, and go in with my head held high, knowing that it will all work out in the end, because I know that I have the ability to take those kids on their small screens and show them the big picture.

Huff Post

Photo Credit: Huff Post

 

A week in the life of a teacher

It’s been a week (and a day) since we first met our students.

It’s been a week of teaching every day.

It’s been a week of ups.

It’s been a week of downs.

It’s been a week of building relationships.

It’s been a week of being tested by 11 and 12  year olds.

It’s been a week in which I have learned so much!

The first day of school, just like the kids, I was both really nervous and really excited! I was really curious to meet all of the children we would be working with, and for whom we had been planning for all these weeks.

Let me just say that I’ve thought more than once this week that we’ve got a GREAT bunch of students, and other teachers have also commented on this, so it’s gotta be pretty true! It’s a really great mix of strong leaders, hard workers, creative types, kooky ones, quiet kids, and the ones that kind of get on your nerves and know how to push the limits. I’ve really been enjoying getting to know the kids and making connections with them both in class, and through little conversations in the hallway, during work time, and on the playground.

In the classroom, I started out the first few days doing a bit of an art lesson. It turned out really well, and many of the students are really proud of their completed pieces, which are now hanging on our lockers (well almost all of them are)!
Self-Portrait Locker Art

Tuesday I began my science unit. This will be the subject (along with social) that I will teach throughout my internship. My co-op has it set up so that we focus more intensely (with 4 classes a week!) of a science unit, and then flip to doing a social unit, and so on. I actually really like this, as it gives us the opportunity to easily pick up from the day before and have more consistency. I’m working on a life science unit on the Diversity of Living Things and Interconnectedness of Ecosystems. Content wise I have a good handle on my unit and where it’s going, and I’m looking forward to working through it!

Photo Credit: BobboSphere via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: BobboSphere via Compfight cc

My first couple of lessons went pretty well. Tuesday was more of an introduction to science and the scientific process, which worked as a pre-assessment so I could know where students were coming from. Wednesday we did some fun games, and ended with a bit of an outdoor observation session. While I don’t think that they were perfect lessons, I think they went really well; all the students were engaged and on task. Thursday, yesterday, however, was a bit of a different story. I only had 8 students (the 6’s were at band and two students were away), so you’d think that might be a pretty sweet class, and so did I! I went in thinking it was going to lead to some great discussions and engagement, but it took a pretty drastic turn part way through the lesson when one student decided that it would be super great to argue with the class about a point we were discussing, and any disagreements only fuelled his fire. Try as I might to divert the attention being given to him back to the lesson, nothing I did really made it work, and though we finished the lesson on a decent point, I certainly was not really happy with the overall impression left by it.

In conferencing with my co-op it became very apparent where I’d gone astray in my classroom management, and we discussed some strategies on how I could have corrected the mistake once it happened, and also how to avoid it in future lessons. I could really see what things I could have improved on, and felt really supported in being allowed to have those things happen so that I COULD improve for another time. We had a really great discussion, and I left feeling confident that I could take some of those ideas and strategies and apply them to my lesson the next day.

Today was a brand new day, and I had the grade 7’s again (now 10 as the students who were away had returned). Last period of the day. On a Friday. It could have been a total gong show, but it was actually amazing! I laid out the expectations right from the start, the class was in on the rules that we established together, and we carried on! We got through the work we didn’t have time to finish the day before, shared some stories, looked at some alternative world view perspectives, read more stories, did some reflections, and really had a great, relaxing and chill sort of class! It was just the best way to end a Friday! I wasn’t stressed, or taxed by the students, and I really think we had some great conversations. It was a completely different class from the day before. I felt really proud that I could show that I could really handle the class and all of its characters and have an engaging lesson where everyone contributes and we do some great work.

I’m now really looking forward to next week!

Photo Credit: glendon27 via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: glendon27 via Compfight cc

…and it begins!

Tomorrow’s the big day, the day I will meet the 26 young, enthusiastic children that I will call “my kids” for the next four months!

I’m ready.
I’m confident.
I’m excited!

The months (and years!) leading up to this point in time have been stressful, and there have been many tears, but they have all helped shape the person, the educator, that I am at this moment. Will it all have been enough? Will it all have been worth it?

No matter what happens tomorrow, or in the months to come, I am trusting myself to say, yes, they have been enough. I am enough. I have enough knowledge, skill, and talent. I have enough ideas, and I can do enough planning. I can be enough of everything that these students need and deserve.

Photo Credit: kyleabedalov via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: kyleabedalov via Compfight cc

While I don’t think I’ve got quite as much totally laid out as I may have originally thought I would have by now, I know that there is a reason for it. I know the outcomes I will be teaching in science, my first, and longest-lasting subject for the next four months. I know where I want to lead my students, guided by the outcomes, and I know several other assessments I’d like to do along the way. I know the fun and engaging things I want to share with the students, and the adventures I would like to go on with them. Do I have all of my lessons totally planned out? No, and that’s ok! Even just six months ago I would have been freaking out that I don’t have my lessons firmly planned yet, but today I am not. Why the change? It’s the change in me! I have learned a lot from my pre-internship, and from my adventures over the summer, and even from my co-op already, and I know that it’s ok to be a little loose until I know the students, and can begin to build those relationships with them to know how to get them to where they need to go.

Will I have a classroom full of eager students who are interested in inquiry-based learning? Will I have students who need a lot of guidance, and perhaps need more structure? Odds are there will likely be a combination of these, and I’ll have to adjust my plans and goals accordingly. Right now though, I’m focused on the now, and about building for tomorrow.

Going into the first days of school I really thought that I’d be freaking out, yet tonight, on the eve of the school year beginning, while I’m excited and have a smile on my face, I’m actually very calm! I feel that even in the last three days of preparations with my co-operating teacher that I have already found a comfort zone at the school, with some of the other staff, and certainly with my co-op, and that comfort makes it way less scary going into the first day of school. I know that my co-op is there to help me, and to encourage me to be the best that I can be. If I mess up, oh well, try again tomorrow. If a lesson doesn’t really fly, then I can take more time to work with the students; no big deal! I think that this type of comfortable relationship is exactly the type that I hope to foster with the students too. We’re all there to learn, we all take unexpected turns, and we all need second chances, extra time, and support from those around us that all of that is ok!

I am really excited to get going in my science unit, where I’ll be working with the 6s and 7s rather separately as we investigate ecosystems, classification of living things, interconnectedness of living things, how humans impact and are impacted by ecosystems around us, and how First Nations and Indigenous perspectives of the natural world can be considered and appreciated by everyone. While it is a little unsettling that we don’t totally have our daily schedule confirmed yet, I know that I will use whatever time I have with the students to share my enthusiasm for this subject area, and broaden their awareness and spark their curiosity about the world around them. I think that science is such a fun subject, and though I’m certainly not a biology expert, I’m looking forward to adventuring alongside my class through these engaging topics. I am really hoping to do a guided inquiry project as a major assessment in the unit, and though I’m still working out the details of how to get there, I’m sure we will make something fun happen no matter what.

Tomorrow it begins. I’m ready for whatever turns this internship adventure takes me on! Bring it!

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Photo Credit: Cox Academy