Teaching in the Gong Show

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Let’s be real here; middle years students are pretty much walking gong shows. Trying to teach a whole class of grade 7 and 8 students is kind of like trying to wrangle a whole flock of chickens with their heads cut off while they try to figure out who cut off their heads, who’s sitting in their favourite spot, and which head is the prettiest. It’s seriously the craziest atmosphere to work in! If you have another analogy, please share! I love a good analogy.

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Let me start off by saying that my first few days of pre-internship have taught me SO MUCH! My first few days of teaching have been pretty chaotic. No, let’s rephrase; VERY chaotic…but I’ve loved every minute of it (ok, almost every minute), and am continually learning new things! If this is only day 3, I can’t imagine all that I will have learned by the end of my time here. I also already know that I truly LOVE teaching this grade level. Yes, the kids can be pretty crazy, loud, and somewhat obnoxious, but they are also fairly awesome, passionate, and enthusiastic when you find a way to tap into what their personalities. I have learned many things about my students, about myself, and about teaching, and these things are only going to make me a better teacher as I move forward.

I have learned that actually carrying out the plan for a unit is tricky. It all looks great on paper, but the reality can be far from the theoretical. I had an idea about this before in just teaching single lessons, but to now have to link lessons together and create continuity and scaffolding is pretty challenging. My first lesson went great, and even the second lesson was very successful. I learned a few things from both of them, like being really clear about my choice of wording in questioning, and ensuring that directions are both written and verbal. Today though, I learned just how quickly the tables can turn and how students who seem to know what they’re doing can all of a sudden be really stumped and clueless. We’re working with integers, and the introduction and addition lessons went super smooth, and it was clear that almost all students were totally on track. Today’s subtraction lesson though…yikes. I forgot just how difficult of a concept it is to subtract integers! It brought me back to our EMTH 217 class last year when a room full of university students couldn’t comprehend the concept of zero pairs. We did get it eventually, and it was a really cool “ah-ha” moment for a lot of people. So why did I think I could teach grade 7s and 8s the same concept in 20 minutes? Beats me! Needless to say, it took a lot longer to even get to the activity than I’d expected, and many students were still confused, so we’ll be going back to that again tomorrow.

What I have also realized is that sometimes something simple can be so effective. Complicated lessons can be just that: complicated! It’s ok to just focus on something “easy” and ensure that students get the concept before moving on. On the flip side though, too easy can also be a bad thing and students are easily bored and unchallenged. This is where differentiation needs to enter, and is something I’m seeing I need to work on more. Today I think I tried to put too much in. Tomorrow I’ll take another go at things, refresh, refocus, and see where we end up. When I created my unit plan I definitely created some flexibility in my plan, and I’m glad I did so that I have the time to ensure that students really understand the concepts they need.

Here are the key lessons I’ve learned so far:

  1. Flexibility is something that my co-operating teacher has really stressed as an important teacher tool. Things come up, stuff doesn’t go as planned, and kids are unpredictable. You just have to roll with it, adjust, and continue on. If your plan is taken off track, figure out how to get back. This might mean revisiting the lesson the next day, and that’s ok! Your job is to get kids to where they need to be, but you have to help them get there from where they are.
  2. Word choice is key. If you don’t say EXACTLY what you want students to do, then students will do exactly how they interpret the words. Think before you say things (especially when teaching about STI’s! …Mrs. G had a pretty funny moment with this today) because sometimes what you say in your head should not be said out loud, and sometimes what you say out loud is not really what you meant to say.
  3. Admit your mistakes. I’ve heard this one before, but I’ve had the chance to see it in action the last few days. I’ve made mistakes. I’ve seen others make mistakes. It’s ok! Admitting you made an error shows your students that you’re a human and assures them that mistakes are part of learning. Students actually think it’s pretty hilarious to be able to point out your errors.

I’m sure this list will continue to grow in my time in the classroom. I am learning new things every time I teach, and am realizing more about who I am as a teacher. It’s an adventure, and I’m loving it!

In Search of the Hum

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I love watching great TV shows! I’m not one who watches several different series at once like my husband, or one who can just plunk down in front of any show that happens to be on and enjoy watching it. Nope, I have my favourites and will keep up with them as time permits, and will joyously watch the same shows over and over again just because they make me feel happy! I’ve watched some series so many times that I can pretty much tell you exactly where in the season a line in an episode came from, and what other story lines are going on.

My all-time favourites include Friends, Full House, Gilmore Girls, and Grey’s Anatomy.  The creators and writers of these shows are just amazing, and they let me escape the real world and into their “tv world” for just enough time to appreciate all that I have in my life.

Now, by this point you might be asking, what is a blog post about my favourite TV shows doing on my teaching blog? Well, you see, the creator of Grey’s Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes, who is also the creator of my two “new” favourites, Scandal, and How to Get Away With Murder, presented this amazing TED talk recently, and I think once you watch it you’ll see why it can have everything to do with teaching.

[ted id=2438]

Amazing right?

Now, if you didn’t watch it…well…I’m afraid to tell you that you cannot pass Go, you cannot collect your $200, and you probably won’t really get the rest of my blog post…but I hope you’ll keep reading anyhow!

The Hum. I know exactly what she means. I love the Hum!

“There’s some kind of shift inside me when the work gets good. A hum begins in my brain, and it grows, and it grows, and that hum sounds like the open road and I could drive it forever.” 

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I hope you have experienced it in your life too! It is a magical feeling when everything is just humming along, falling into place. You’re able to think, to write, to express your thoughts and feelings and put ideas into plans, and plans into action. You smile as you work and might even forget to stop for a meal because you’ve simply lost all track of time, and are just lost in your own creativity and process.

 

As an aspiring teacher, I feel like the Hum is something that you need both for yourself and for your students. It can be fostered in the classroom by creating a safe space, a creative place, and a comfortable home for students to express their thoughts, ideas, and dreams. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to encourage all of your students to find their own Hum in their work?!

“When you have a hum like that, you can’t help but strive for greatness.”

But, what happens when you loose the Hum?

Ms. Rhimes discussed what her experience with loosing the Hum was like in her “Titan work.” She kept going, but felt nothing inside.

“What do you do when the thing you do, the work you do, starts to taste like dust?”

This line got me. I know this feeling. I’m living this feeling. Right now.

They say that teacher burnout is a real thing. There’s lots of articles out there on it. Like this one about warning signs, or this one that includes some scary statistics, or this one that looks at some of the social causes behind teacher burnout. Is it all really about burn out though? Or is it about teachers not having that hum? Are they missing their drive, their raison d’être?

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So am I experiencing teacher burn out? I don’t think so. Really, I don’t think I have a lot to be burned out about! Sure, I’ve got lots of projects, lessons and units to plan, a gymnastics business to run, a family to love, friends to keep up with, and my own sanity to deal with, but I wouldn’t say I have all of the bureaucratic and administrative loads that are often a contributing factor of burn out. No, I’ve just lost my hum.

I used to LOVE doing school work! As an elementary and high school student I would eagerly dive into doing my work because I loved it! I loved working on my gymnastics business too, and creating all sorts of fun events and classes! Even this past semester at university I throughly enjoyed working on the majority of my school work, and I have been continually praised for the great work that I do! But in the last while, it’s declined. I’ve lost it. I’ve lost the hum.

It came in stages. I lost my hum for gymnastics a while ago, and it has been through the persistence of my husband that I have been able to keep going, finding glimpses of that hum every now and then. The school one was lost just recently though, and I’m not sure yet how to get it back.

“When the hum stops, who are you? What are you? Who am I?”

I’m at a point in the semester where I should be growing excited for my 3-week pre-internship block, wrapping up projects due in the next week or so, and really finding my grove in unit and lesson planning. It’s not happening though. At least, not the way I want it to. Sure, I’ve got cool ideas for my unit, and am kind of excited to see it all laying out, but it’s not the same. It feels forced without the hum. I don’t feel like me, and I’m not sure what I’m doing.

“If the song of my heart ceases to play, can I survive in the silence?”

I am hopeful that I will find my hum again, but I do hope that it is soon. I feel a lot of pressure (even though I know I don’t need to and it’s all coming from my own perceptions) to be this amazing teacher. People tell me “you’ll be the most amazing teacher!” But what if I disappoint them? What if I’m not as amazing as other people want me to be? As amazing as I want me to be? What then? I’m fearful that without my hum I do not know who I am.

So perhaps you can help me friends. Don’t just tell me, “Oh you’re going to be great!” or “There’s no way you could be anything but awesome,” because that’s not going to help me find my hum. If I’m to follow the advice of Shonda Rhimes, I need to play, to hang out, to just do something fun. I need to find joy and love in something other than finding the hum. I need to find my own confidence again. I need to work AND play. I need to find the balance in order for my hum to find its way back into my life. Like Ms Rhimes, I need to find a new hum; one that can bring back the passion and drive in both my life and my work. So, will you help me? I brought rainbow
kittens if that helps!

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