Nearing the End

Fact: Keeping up with a blog while teaching full time is hard!

Fact: Next year, I have plans to ACTUALLY keep up with it.

Fact: I’m tired…but there’s still 5 weeks of school.

Fact: I’m sad it’s the end of the school year.

It’s really hard to believe that the school year is coming to an end. I will no longer be a 1st year teacher in just a few short weeks! I will also know very shortly where and what I’ll be teaching next year. I’m not nervous about it, but am excited to learn what I’ll be doing as I now have a WAY better understanding of what and how to prepare for the year.

That being said, I also know what NOT to do next year. I know some times I’ll say no to things. I know that I can stop working sooner. I know that I need to take better care of myself. I read an article today about teacher “burnout” and one line really resonated with me. It suggests that it is, “the most highly motivated and committed teachers who undergo the most stress and who break down simply because they truly care for their students and, against the odds, try to deliver.” After this past year I can definitely say that is true. I have put so much of myself into my lessons and into the students I teach because I just care so much about them and their learning. Other teachers tell me not to do so much, which is probably true some times, but really not when I’m just trying to plan really engaging units for them!

It’s a hard balance this teacher/life thing. It is something I’ll be working on for the rest of my career I imagine, but I also know that I really do love putting the time and effort into planning really great lessons. One of my principals passed on a student comment to me the other day. A student had said, “I like Mrs. Leier’s classes. She makes really boring things not boring.” It totally lifted me and made me realize, YES, I do that! Even today, while teaching a grade 6 Career Education class (which is a notoriously boring subject area at most schools), my students were laughing, smiling, and so engaged while learning about decision making. It could have been that they got candy out of the deal…but they told me it wasn’t!

So as I near the end of the school year I really just hope that I can keep everyone engaged, have some fun, get things done, and really cherish the time I have left with these kids (as it may be the last I have with them ever)!

100 Days Smarter

What? The school year is already more than half over?! Woah. After 100 days of being a “real” full time teacher, I have learned A. LOT. More than I probably realize if we’re going to be real here. 100 days of school has showed me the kind of teacher I really want to be, and the kind of teacher I am. So, what have I learned? Well, I though it would be really great to do a list of 100 things I’ve learned…but that seemed like it would a, take way to long, b, be super boring, and c, really not get into the main lessons I’ve learned. So instead, I’ll give you my top 5 lessons learned as a first year teacher tackling a very busy specialist teacher position where I teach approximately 450 students per week, 8 grades and 5 subject areas (with some special circumstances thrown in).

  1. You can only do what you can do .
    This may seem like a very simple statement, but it is probably one of the hardest lessons to actually learn. In pre-internship and even in internship I feel like I had more than enough time to really prepare my lessons. I could make them focused, have great slides or videos or other supports to accompany them, plan out all of my discussion questions, and feel like everything was just clicking into place. In my position this year though, with so many classes, it’s tough! I am not able to build the same types of relationships with all of the students that I would be able to as a homeroom teacher, yet I still need to try and plan for all of the students in the room, differentiating as needed, and adapting similar lessons for similar grades because each classroom has it’s own personality! That really wasn’t something I’d totally realized until about October/November when I was finally getting to know how each class sort of ‘worked’. What I teach one class of grade 3s I can’t do with the other because they just don’t work and engage in the same ways! It’s really made me look at each classroom teacher that I work with and adjust my lesson style to work with their classroom structure. That being said, you can only do what you can do really comes down to only adapting things so much as you go. If I really made unique lessons for each of my classrooms I would be planning for 17 or 18 different classrooms each week, and most of them times 2 or even 3 lessons per week. That’s just nuts. So, I’ve come to realize that I can’t make everything “perfect”, but I do what I can and what I need to make sure that the students are engaged, are learning, and are having fun while doing it.

2. Be you. That’s what’s most important to the students.
With teaching so many classes and adapting for their unique needs, it is easy to get caught up in the crazy piles of work to be done, or in the day to day “little deals” that happen in classes, on the playground, or the ones you hear in the staff room. The key is to never let go of who you are in order to get something done. Now, does that mean I haven’t temporarily “lost it” on a grade 1 class and raised my voice when they weren’t listening for the millionth time in a 20 min time span? No, it doesn’t (…cuz ya, that happened). What it does mean though, is that I don’t try to teach or act like their classroom teacher. I’m still me. Sure, I try to use many of the classrooms’ systems for leaving the room or gathering supplies, but I don’t do everything like them. I’m still me, and do things my own way. If I’m having a rough day, I’ll let the kids know! If I’m upset with them I’ll let them know that too (usually in a calm manner, but hey, sometimes they get to you), and we’ll try to find a way to work together. So far I’ve found that if I’ve tried to take on too many ideas or strategies from other teachers that it just gets to be too much, and the kids notice. They know you, and they like you as YOU! I love that kids say hi to me in the hallways, that they’re excited when I get to come work with them, and that they are bummed out when I don’t! That tells me that they really like me just for me, and they appreciate the time I spend with them.

3. Many lessons will be nothing like you imagined.
Another kind of given one, and sure, I experienced this to some extent in my internship, but as a specialist teacher I think the stakes are even higher for lessons that don’t go as planned. With a classroom of your own, you have a really good gauge on how your students are feeling/behaving on any given day, or even week, and can make adjustments in advance for that. Me, I walk into rooms not knowing anything of what’s happened before I arrive. Sometimes I don’t see a class until Thursday or even Friday after they’ve been at school all week! So much can happen in a day or a week that can affect the atmosphere of the classroom and the behaviours and moods of students. There have been many times where I’ve had some discussion-type lessons planned and I walk in and the class is totally shut down, and no one wants to say anything because something’s gone wrong in the day, or their tired, or many other reasons. Similarly, I’ve had classes planned to do a lot of work on a project, or to dive into something that needs a lot of focus, only to find a class that’s totally going off the walls with excitement and chattiness. The other thing I frequently encounter is assemblies, presentations, field trips or other events that the classroom teacher has forgotten to tell me about, and now instead of having 45 minutes for a lesson, I have to do something for 15 minutes. Or, half of the class is going to something, so I need to do something with the other half.

So, what do you do? You just go with it. I’ve learned to have tons of “back up” ideas on hand that I can pull out as required. In a way, it’s kind of how a substitute teacher might have some additional games or activities for students to do.

4. No one is watching you…and yet everyone is watching you.
When you’re doing field experiences, pre-internship, and internship in university you are under the constant supervision of a mentor teacher, yet as soon as you’ve got that teaching certificate in hand you’re on your own. It’s wildly exciting and terrifying at the same time. It’s very cool to be able to spread your wings and fly solo, but it’s also a little scary to try things totally on your own for the first time.

As a new teacher I had this feeling that other teachers (as many homeroom teachers will stay in their rooms when I’m teaching their class) were watching and judging me and that I was always being watched and evaluated in some way. In some cases, sure, they listen in and may perk up when we’re talking about something that they’re interested in, or may chime in with a fun comment in a suggestion, or may give a “look” to a student who’s doing something they’ve already had a discussion about that day, but for the most part they really are just focused on their own work. That being said, I have heard through my administration about what other teachers have commented on with regards to my teaching, and in a way it is nice to hear that others do notice what I’m doing. My admin team also pops in rooms all around the school during the day to say hello, perhaps to mention something quickly, or to thank a student or staff member, so even there I feel like my administration also have a small glimpse into what I’m doing. Overall though, you’re really on your own, and everyone does their own thing without the scrutiny of others. Once I realized this my teaching seemed to become a lot easier, and more freeing. I feel much more at ease trying something new, which makes every day really fun!

5. You are amazing, but you’re not that great.
The power of positive can be really helpful in getting through some days. If you can point out what you did great at, it’s easier to build from. It’s also good to remember though, that you’re still new, so you’re really not all that great at a lot of things and are still trying to figure things out! While you may be awesome at some things, you can always improve at others. The bottom line is that someone is always more amazing, and by realizing that you’re not that great will open up the heart and brain space for you to learn from and with them.

Now, I know I said I wasn’t going to make a 100 list, but seriously, there are just so many fun and entertaining things I’ve learned in addition to these five big things. I’m going to try to get to 100, so here goes, my 100 learnings as as first year specialist teacher in the first 100 days of school:

  1. Everyone was new at some point and they can empathize.
  2. Grade 1s aren’t as scary as I first thought.
  3. Kindergartners are still terrifying.
  4. Kids are gross. Like really gross.
  5. Hand sanitizer is amazing. Always have it handy
  6. Kids are really weird and aren’t afraid to show it (at least in the primary grades)
  7. There really is a certain “smell” once you get to grade 5 or 6. Some teachers do a great job at combating this…I hope to do the same if I have a classroom in this grade level.
  8. Bribery will get you a lot of places with kids.
  9. Kids LOVE games and contests. Make anything a competition or a game and they’re engaged.
  10. Dodgeball – even though I don’t teach PE, I still hear about this all the time and still don’t like the game.
  11. Dollar store baskets are the best things ever.
  12. You can always make lessons and materials better, but sometimes you have to be ok with what you have time for.
  13. Being honest with students is key. If you don’t know something, tell them.
  14. Being real with students is also so important. Be you, not someone else.
  15. Have fun. Always.
  16. Try new things.
  17. Be brave.
  18. Write down everything.
  19. Borrow/steal ideas for lessons from other teachers even if you can’t use it right now.
  20. Find a way to use the idea right now with what you are teaching.
  21. Be flexible.
  22. Be vulnerable.
  23. Take time for you.
  24. Say yes as much as you can.
  25. Get involved in the school. Make yourself known.
  26. It’s ok to say no.
  27. Say hello to students, even if you don’t teach them.
  28. Ask students questions about things outside of school
  29. Challenge students to take their learning home.
  30. Connect learning and subjects everywhere you can.
  31. Talk to other teachers.
  32. Avoid negative talk.
  33. Read.
  34. Breathe.
  35. Stock your desk with “essentials” like pain relievers, lotion, hair brush, deodorant, snacks, etc.
  36. Always have a spare phone cord.
  37. Never travel without a pen.
  38. Always know where the projector remote is.
  39. Get kids to help you.
  40. Make a list of helper kids so they don’t fight over who gets to help you.
  41. Make lots of lists.
  42. Get excited about what you’re teaching.
  43. Even the ‘boring’ things.
  44. Photocopy less.
  45. Hands-on more.
  46. Talk more.
  47. Question more.
  48. Read more.
  49. Use tech, even if it’s scary.
  50. Teach kids about tech – they really don’t know anything.
  51. Find connections everywhere and bring them to your teaching.
  52. Listen to music in class (Cirque du Soleil albums are a favourite of mine for work periods)
  53. Laugh a lot with kids.
  54. Read with kids! There’s a book for everything.
  55. Smile!
  56. Check out the resources available at the division office. There are some gems!
  57. Ask your admin, seasoned teachers or other mentors about other great resources they can recommend.
  58. Keep your desk/work space organized. It’s much easier to have a relaxing day of teaching if you can come back to a space where you know things have a home.
  59. Labels are key to organization, and also make your space inviting (because chaos is not so inviting).
  60. File great resources to use later.
  61. Decorate your space for holidays that you enjoy. Students share in your joy of the seasons.
  62. Showcase your support and inclusion of activism – LGBTQ, FNMI, etc.
  63. Bring those activist ideas into your lessons.
  64. Use the resources you have in other teachers as teachers! If someone is an expert, invite them in!
  65. Keep great communication with your administrators.
  66. Talk to as many teachers as you can each day, just to say hello.
  67. Make connections with other teachers in your building, even if you’re not in the same grade or subject area. It may take time, but you may find some great partnerships and be able to do amazing things together.
  68. Stop by the staff room from time to time…there’s often snacks!
  69. Don’t go to the staff room every recess…because there’s often snacks…
  70. Do your photocopying, laminating and other things either after school or on weekends. There’s no one else around usually. Avoid the morning rush!
  71. Get an HP Instant Ink printer and account…then you can print at home (in colour!) for a reasonable cost and not rack up the bills at school printing all of your resources that you plan to use for years to come.
  72. Make your work space cozy. You’ll appreciate it on late nights and weekends.
  73. Bins and drawers are your friends. They make everything look like you’ve got it together.
  74. Library books are also your greatest friends. There is seriously a book for everything! It’s cross-curricular with very minimal effort.
  75. Try new things, especially when it comes to cross-curricular! Don’t settle for “those subjects don’t go together. ” Give them a try – it may surprise you and your students at what is fun and itneresting!
  76. Just go with it! If you’ve got an idea, just try it, even if it’s not “perfect” yet.
  77. Don’t work all. the. time. I’ve done it, and while it seems helpful it’s really not in the long run. Didn’t finish something? Do something simple the next class, even if it’s just talking to the kids!
  78. Give compliments; to students, to teachers, to everyone!
  79. Always pre-watch videos. Always.
  80. No, we can’t always have “free time” days, but they do provide a nice break from time to time.
  81. Incorporate games into lessons! That way they won’t ask for “free time”
  82. Be firm. But be nice. But dont’ give in.
  83. Use a notebook to keep your ideas organized. I keep a coil notebook in my teaching bag and it travels to and from school with me. Beats a million sticky notes!
  84. Use Planboard. Seriously, it’s just the best thing ever.
  85. Stay connected. Don’t loose your PLN!
  86. Seek out new people for your PLN!
  87. Check out the library! There’s often really cool new books that may just spark a lesson idea!
  88. Listen to your students! They might just spark a lesson idea!
  89. Get students to help you. Eager students will help build buletin boards, change displays, cut laminating, and help you organize!
  90. Trust students’s help! Give them opportunities to develop and demonstrate their growth by doing things like helping you make displays and bulletin boards. It might not be “perfect”, but that’s ok!
  91. It’s ok to be loud…just warn your neighbouring classes. Everyone else will want to join in on the fun!
  92. Make connections with people in your community. Reach out to people on Facebook, at a craft market, or through a friend. You’ll never know the kinds of pepole who might be able to help your class learn something.
  93. Take time to breathe. Yes, I know I said this one already, but it’s really important.
  94. Write notes to other teachers. It really brightens their day.
  95. Be silly. It lets kids know it’s ok.
  96. Change when change is needed. Don’t push through something if it’s not going to work or be helpful.
  97. Use a rolling crate  when you’re a specialist teacher. It’s really a life saver. (I added sparkle tape to mine of course)
  98. Drink water. You need it! And join a water club at school if there is one. Filtered water is just so much better.
  99. Support projects and events put on by other teachers and classes. Worth it when you need a favour in return!
  100. Love. Simple.

Making the Worst Situation Amazing

Last week, I had a great lesson planned. I was going to have students design their own reference pages in French, using Slides on Google Classroom. I had everything set up, including a template and examples. Using tech had never been an issue as the class shared a computer cart with the class next door, who had a class at the same time that never required technology, so it never required booking and was always available. I was pumped. It was going to be a lot of fun and I had an engaging way to get the students interested in learning French!

I went down to the classroom to meet the students, and as they lined up I asked a couple students to bring the computer cart with us. “It’s dead, Mme Leier! The cart won’t charge any more.” Ouch. Re-calculating lesson… Don’t panic. Don’t let them see your fear!

We head down to our room and I revise my plan for the day. Do I tell the students about my original plan? Eeek!

The students settle in. They look to me, as students tend to do, wondering what I’m about to teach them. What AM I going to teach them? Why, a revised, paper version of my original, of course.

I began by showing them the paper copies of the French resources that a few of my colleagues had given me. They were each a collection of different types of resources and work sheets all put together. I asked the students if they’d like to complete one….silence….”me either,” I replied, which got a giggle out of everyone.

The students and I all agreed that the booklets left something to be desired. It was just too simple to fill them out, so what would we do? Make our own, of course!

Students eagerly selected areas of interest, such as verbs, sports, numbers, months, or clothing, and got to work re-designing a page, along with a game to help them review or learn French words. Were they as “neat” as what we could have made online? No, probably not, but the students really enjoyed making them!

Make Your Mark

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Last week (well actually more like the end of the week before…) my students and I celebrated International Dot Day by watching/listening to the story, “The Dot”, by Peter H. Reynolds, discussing the importance of giving things a try, and starting somewhere to see where things go. As I was planning the lessons for it I thought, “What a great lesson for the students!  Such a fabulous way to introduce growth mindset in Arts Ed!” And I was right! The students really enjoyed the story and the chance to be expressive, and we got to use a cool app too!

What I didn’t realize at the time was that the story was really an inspirational message for me too!

So far in this, my first year of teaching, I’ve been trying to focus on what I’m teaching the students and trying to get them set up for lessons and units I want to begin. I’ve been trying to get in a groove and to keep my head above the proverbial water, trying to stay afloat in the madness of teaching 14 different classrooms  across 8 grade levels 5 different subjects. I’ve been trying to make an impact with what I teach, but at the same time be realistic. Other teachers try to help, offering units or resources, but ones that I’d still have to adapt to suit my teaching style or an end goal that I had in mind. The trouble is that thoughts just keep swirling around and I just feel stressed and overwhelmed.

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Enter the lesson from “The Dot”: Just make a mark and see where it takes you! I’m beginning to realize that the key to making it through is just to take an idea, and see where it goes. I’m still trying to take in bits and pieces of advice that others care to offer, but I’m realizing that I need to make my own mark with my own ideas and try new things! Sure, my internship last fall gave me many opportunities to try all sorts of things, but since none of the subjects and almost none of the grades are ones I’ve taught before, in some ways I’m back to teaching like I did in internship as everything is brand new. It’s all about discovery, learning, and making a mark; trying something to see where it takes me.

Why I stopped blogging…until now.

So I haven’t blogged in forever…about 7 months. I used to blog a few times a month! Why the sudden lack of content?

Why the sudden lack of content?

Lack of motivation? Not really. I’ve always got things I want to share, want to think through, and want to explore!

Photo Credit: ntr23 Flickr via Compfight cc

Lack of time? Partially. My final semester of university was crazy busy as I finished 3 heavy courses, subbed as an Educational Assistant, and continued with my coaching and teaching of Sunday School each week. I was pretty busy, but really should have carved out some time to write even just a quick blog!

What else could there be besides those to “excuses”? Well, that’s where the real reason lies. While my semester was super busy, it finished in April, so why no blogging since then? I should have had all sorts of time with no school work to do, with my extra activities winding down, but It really wasn’t why I stopped blogging.

The real reason is that every time I opened my dashboard on my blog, I started to tear up. You see, for the last two years, on the majority of my heartfelt, or poignant blog posts, there has always been one person out there who’s made a wonderful comment, sent out a tweet, or spoken to me personally about the post I created. He was one of my instructors at the university and was just the kindest, most well-read, thought-provoking people I’ve known. He always had the time to chat, to provide an opinion, or to have a laugh with. I loved reading his comments, and he inspired me to write more and to think more every time I spoke with him. Sadly, he passed away very suddenly, the very last week of my semester at the start of April. At a time when I should have been overjoyed about finishing my degree and excitedly preparing for the next steps in my education journey, I was suddenly faced with this great loss in my life that I didn’t even know how to deal with.

From then on, I didn’t feel like writing anything, because every time I opened my blog site the first thing I would see on my dashboard was the last comments he had made on my blog. Every time I even thought about writing a post I would feel sad because I knew he wouldn’t be around to read it or to chat with about what I wrote. I felt kind of lost.

The last few weeks though, I have been more inspired to write. I’ve realized that my blog posts really aren’t about getting tons of people to read them, or even just one specific person to read; they are for me to get my thoughts out and to work through them. I blog to explore new ideas, to work through frustrations, and to ponder heavy things. While I’m still sad that my beloved instructor will not be able to comment on them, it doesn’t mean that I should stop questioning, wondering, and exploring the world of education. In fact, it may mean that I will just have to make a more concerted effort to reach out and explore more!

In just a few weeks I’ll be starting my very first teaching contract, and I am beyond excited. I need to get back into my blogging mode so that I can hopefully keep it up as I teach! I kind of missed the mark during my internship and I really would like to make a solid effort to write about something, anything, each week.

So here we go, I’m climbing back on the blogging train, and getting ready to journey on. I’ve got this!

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!


What Happens When You Fail?

What happens when you don’t make the right choices?

What happens when you don’t do the things you should have?

What happens when you break your promises?

What happens when everything you hoped for comes crashing down around you?

What does it look like to fail?

Yes, these are some pretty heavy questions, but they are ones I’ve had to face in recent weeks. You see, I’ve let a lot of people down, but most importantly, I’ve let myself down. I promised I would read two books each month this summer, I was dedicating myself to living an active and healthy lifestyle, and I had made a goal to blog at least once a week.

I have done none of these things.

I did not make the right choices.
I did not do what I should have done.
I broke my promises.
I had hoped so many things for this summer, and it is all falling apart.
This is what failure looks like.

Exactly two months ago, I was finished my 3rd year of my education degree, I had two great jobs lined up for the summer, I was just finishing up a great year of rhythmic gymnastics, I had the best summer reading list lined up, and I was so pumped to get outside, get moving, and make this summer fantastic. Well, half way through my summer already and I have nothing to show for it. I feel pretty bummed about it. I’ve cried once or twice about the frustrations with my jobs (one of which I nearly quit), I haven’t finished one teacher-type book (although I did read 2 novels in a week, so that’s at least something), and despite living two blocks from Wascana Park I seem to have only made it out for a stroll two times in the last two months. Brutal.

To some this may not seem like much, and really, I can admit that all of these woes are very “first world problems,” and I’m fortunate to have a job (let alone 2!), the ability to read, the means to do it, the means to walk, and the proximity to such a great park.

So why complain?

Because students will.

It is inevitable; students will fail. Students will fail at the most simple tasks. For some, they will barely even notice, but for others, even small failures can seem devastating. So what do we, as educators need to do with this failure?

  1. Acknowledge it
    • Photo Credit: TurtleCreek-Branson via Compfight cc

      Failure may be new to some students (and parents!). We live in a world with instant gratification, and failure may not be something kids have really experienced. Some may even come from a home where “failure is not allowed” (This type of parenting style has it’s own problems!).

    • Teach resiliency. This may be new to many students, so be patient, and take steps one at a time to work through things when they don’t go the way that was intended.
  2. Model it
    • Let students see you make mistakes (here’s a brief bit from a great-sounding book).
    • Walk through the process of picking up the pieces and going another way
    • Teach students to reach beyond the “expectations”, to take risks, and to be ok with the outcome
    • Show them examples of others who have failed
  3. Encourage it

Photo Credit: keepitsurreal via Compfight cc

I love this video, and how the speaker reiterates that failure is not the opposite of success, but part of the pathway to it.

At the end of it all, our job as teachers is to help our students gain the skills that will help them as they journey in life, right? So isn’t failure part of life? Don’t students need these skills?

elon musk quote

If a brilliant innovator like Elon Musk can live by this, then we all can. Photo from @ajjuliani, another great innovator and supporter of education.

I sometimes forget that in my own little world. I forget that sometimes, as someone, somewhere, once said, “When things are falling apart, they may actually be falling into place.” This is a great thing to remember, and one that I was recently reminded by a little piece of paper posted on a back wall at a shop the other day. In just looking up that quote I found several articles written in response to it, but I really enjoyed this one. It really spoke to the idea of making failure part of your journey. I have to remember how much failure I’ve had in my life, but it has all brought me to this point, and where I am is exactly where I need to be.

So, where do I go now?

Well, I still have exactly 2 months left to go in my summer. I still have time to read, to blog, to enjoy the beautiful weather that is to come, to enjoy time with my family and friends, to have so much fun teaching engineering summer camps to kids, to plan the best science unit that any grade 6/7 class has ever seen, to get out and get active, and to remember that everything that happens in my summer and the years to come will only help to shape me as an educator, and as a person.

Believe, make plans, fail. Believe again, make new plans, maybe fail some more. Believe some more, try those plans again, and find success.

And…if all of that doesn’t do it for you, take a trip back to the 90s, and remember the timeless words of one, Mrs. Frizzle, “Time to take chances, make mistakes and get messy!” Oh, Magic School Bus, you definitely had a hand in making me the educator I am today!