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

The Learning Never Stops

As I look back on my pre-internship, I am almost at a loss for words about what I have learned. I feel this way, because I feel like at almost every moment that I was teaching I was learning something new. Every sentence I spoke showed me if I was on the right track with the students or not, every demo or example, every game, and every video taught me something about my students, what they were learning, and how I needed to proceed. Every conversation I had with a student allowed me to learn more about them, their learning needs, and how I needed to teach them. So how is it possible to even begin trying to put those thousands of little moments into words?

Well, I’m going to try to put it into just two main ideas…ok, maybe three.

Photo Credit: Steve Corey via Compfight cc

The most important lesson that I learned through the process of my pre-internship is FLEXIBILITY. Now, as gymnastics coach, you might think I understand the concept of flexibility pretty well, but, when it comes to teaching in the classroom, it was a concept that I had a difficult time adjusting to. When I’m coaching my gymnasts my flexibility and adaptability seems to come naturally to me. Didn’t finish a routine in the timeline I wanted to? No big deal, we’ll do it next class. Didn’t finish a lesson, a worksheet, or a project in the timeline I wanted to? I freaked out, cried, and thought I was an awful teacher. (Don’t worry, this was not in front of students, or anyone but my husband.) So what made this concept so difficult for me to grasp? Why was it that I could just let things roll of in an easy flow as a coach, and not as a teacher?

I think it comes down to my own perfectionist tendencies. I wanted my lessons to be perfect, and I wanted my unit to go smoothly, making sure to get in all of the fun lessons that I had planned. The problem is that students are not perfect, and neither is the classroom environment. Things come up that you can’t control! Students are away for various reasons, kids get into disagreements outside the classroom that migrate into the classroom, technology is sometimes not the friendliest of friends, students sometimes don’t “get” what you think is pretty straight forward, and your great ideas are not always that great in reality. I had a difficult time adjusting to this. I wanted my lesson plan to go as I planned it, and not have to somehow find a way to stop in the middle and pick up again next day. Having another teacher coming in right after me to teach (as we had to go teach another class usually), also meant that I had no option to even take a few extra minutes from the next period to finish something. At first, this was really devastating to me. I was so frustrated that the students just weren’t getting what I needed them to get or being able to finish what I needed them to finish, which meant having to find ways to add in more lessons, shuffle things around, and make the unit plan work somehow. My flexibility skills were being put to the test every day.

Photo Credit: One Way Stock via Compfight cc

In addition to my own lessons, I also saw the need for flexibility in many other ways each day. Things just tended to “pop up”. There was the surprise arts workshop that de-railed the plan for the day for our classes outside of our grade 7/8 room and interrupted a super great lesson at the end of the day. There were times we forgot to book the laptops or iPads and had to make plans to share with another class. There were demos that didn’t go as planned, sound systems that didn’t work, photocopiers out of toner, computers that locked, accounts that crashed, fights between students, teaching guides misplaced, major power outages, and many more things that just meant that we, as teachers, had to always have a Plan B (or C or D!) ready to go. As the days went by, I definitely got better at this. I became less stressed about the “perfect” lesson, because I understood that it wasn’t real, or at least not in the way I had originally imagined it to be. The perfect lesson is not getting through what you planned out. I now understand the perfect lesson to be one in which you really connect with the students, and they connect with you, and you all are on the same page, and you are all learning together, are all engaged in what is going on, and all come away with some newly learned concept, even if it is learning more about each other.

Photo Credit: 藍川芥 aikawake via Compfight cc

The next most important thing that I learned is that CLARITY is crucial. If nothing else, you have to be so clear in your instructions to students that there’s no question about what you need them to do. And you need to give these instructions to students in many ways; telling them is not enough. Say it, give them a copy, have them write it down, post it on the board, write it in the sky, and even then you still have a chance that they will ask you, “What are we supposed to do?” When explaining what to do it’s also key to give an example of what you’re looking for from students. Don’t just expect students to be able to read or listen to something and then go and do it. I learned this the hard way a few times during my pre-internship, and then the next day had to back it up and re-explain how to do the activity. One great moment though, was when a pair of boys really listened to the re-explanation, realized they had done the activity incorrectly the first time, tried it again, and got 100% on the assignment!

This lesson also became very important when outlining expectations of students during a lesson. Sometimes you want students to discuss things, and it’s ok for them to just talk, but other times you need them to raise their hand. Sometimes it is ok for students to work in partners, but other times they need to work alone. Sometimes it’s ok for students to work in their own space in or just outside the classroom, but sometimes you need them in their desks. If you don’t outline these expectations at the start of the lesson, then students will just assume whatever they want, which can quickly turn classroom management into a living nightmare.

This concept snuck up on me multiple times during my pre-internship, and I think it’s one important area that I feel I still need to work on a lot. I certainly got better at outlining expectations and providing instructions the more I taught, but there were still many times where I could look back and go, “Right…that’s why things went as they did. I should have fixed that.” This is definitely an area that I hope I’ll get much better with during my internship.
I just learned so much during my time in the classroom, and I cannot wait to learn so much more during my internship! I had an uphill battle going into a classroom that I didn’t get the chance to work with during my first 7-week experience in the fall, but I am so grateful for all that this experience taught me. I learned so much from the students, the staff, my partner, and especially from my co-operating teacher. I’m not quite sure how I’m going to be able to go back to university next week, and stick it out for nearly three more weeks, but I’m hoping that the next three weeks will allow me to get even more excited about going back out to the classroom, and that I’ll be able to go and visit my class again soon!

Always be prepared…for anything!

Day two of my pre-internship experience was once again an interesting one! I’m beginning to realize that teachers just have to be prepared for absolutely anything. You’ve got to have a plethora of things to use as back-up plans in case your lesson just isn’t working out, or for those times when something else comes up and you’ve got space to fill, or you have to fill in last-minute for a colleague who hasn’t left you anything for the students to do. Let me give you a hint, one of these things happened today!

I spent my morning observing my colleague, Mr. C, teach two phys ed lessons to our grade 7/8s and then the 6/7s. This was really a little challenging for me, as I was not really sure what to do. Do I just stand by the sidelines and truly observe, even though I could easily  just jump in and do a little something or say something to one or two of the kids that would help them, or do I step in say/do something? Well, I did a little of both, and also gave my partner a few suggestions as to where he might be able to do better based on some of the things I observed that he may not have seen. While there may have been some tactical lesson opportunities missed, all of the students really enjoyed the game. Though not the approach I would perhaps have taken, it has me questioning how I will set up my phys ed lesson for next week, considering how I have witnessed two classes where the students are quite eager to play games for a continuous amount of time.

After recess I enjoyed being able to see my co-op teacher lead his class through a lesson. I appreciated that he asked a lot of questions about the students’ reasoning behind answering the questions he put on the board, and I really liked that he had the grade 7s try to solve the problem and then have the grade 8s decide if they liked what the grade 7s had done. By doing this not only was he able to check that the grade 7s had retained what they had learned from the day before, but he could check that the grade 8s also remembered it from last year. To the students though, it gave them power over their learning.

In assisting students with their math assignment it showed me just how diverse a class can be. One grade 7 student had the assignment done in minutes, whereas a few of the grade 8s were struggling. I also noticed how reliant many students were on their calculators, even to calculate 5×2. I found this quite alarming, as although I don’t have a problem with students using calculators for problems, I would think that simple problems, including single digit multiplication tables and factors should be able to be done without one at a grade 8 level. It was mainly due to this lack of basic math that many students were struggling on their fraction problems, because without that knowledge it’s very difficult to find common factors, which are needed in fraction problems!

My lesson was up right after lunch. I was feeling confident. I had a solid lesson plan, a supporting power point, a clear target sheet, and I knew what I wanted to accomplish. Over lunch though I did end up creating my own slide show, similar to pechaflickr, so that I could have total control over the images the students would see. I was feeling a little hesitant to use the actual website for fear that a questionable photo just might appear in our game! I was all set to go, when 5 minutes before I was to start teaching, my co-op informed me that he had to leave unexpectedly! So this now meant that we were scrambling to find a teacher to come and be in our classroom as the bell was ringing, the laptop I was going to be using was now going with my co-op, the students were coming into the room, and I was not ready to roll! Eeek! Thankfully, the grade 6/7 teacher, along with her two pre-interns, were able to join our class, help me get a computer set up, and keep on going ahead.

I felt that my lesson went quite well, despite the students being quite unruly! I did try a few call and response strategies to get their attention, in addition to asking for their attention several times. I was not, however, super successful every time in getting them to actually all be quiet so that I could explain something, ask a question, or hear the responses. In speaking to the other teacher afterward she said I did a good job in managing the class though, as they were certainly being unusually rowdy.  I knew that the target of class management would be difficult on just the second week since I had not witnessed many class management strategies to play off of in the week before, and then to add to it that their teacher wasn’t there made it even more difficult. Next time I think I may try practicing a call and response  type of strategy at the start of the lesson to see if that will help. I may also have to outline several different types of instruction, like the “do now,” as it seemed that students had not experienced something like that. Again, it’s difficult to establish routine with a group you only see and teach once a week.

Overall though, I think the students enjoyed the lesson. They had fun playing the story game, and enjoyed making a whole lot of 6-word stories. They were hesitant at first, but once they got the hang of it could keep creating them! I felt slightly panicked for time during the lesson, and as it seemed that I didn’t plan enough! In the end though, the lesson took almost exactly the time I had planned, and by that time students had had enough of what we were working on. I think that if I were to have added any extra extensions to the lessons I would also have had to plan a brain break or something after the 60 minute mark or so. I could probably have even put a short break in the middle of what I had done as I noticed that a few students were getting a bit restless in their seats. Thankfully, when I was finished my lesson the other teacher was able to get them up and playing a really fun interactive math game, as our teacher was not able to leave us a lesson plan for the next subject slot. That game will definitely be added to my list of activities to have on hand when there’s extra time!

Having my first lesson finished though feels quite good. I am definitely more confident that I can actually teach what I plan to a group of students, as opposed to just a group of my peers. I do need to work on my class management, but I think that this will come with time. As I get more comfortable teaching, and as the students get more accustomed to me I think that it will be easier to work with them.

Next week…phys ed! Wish me luck! Time to break out some skillful movement games!

Any tips for me on managing the class in the gymnasium?