Kicking Off the Quarter

I try to create routines in my classroom. Although not every day can or should be the same, I think it is helpful for most students know what to expect – or, at least, have a few parts of the class they can grow to expect. One of these routines are my students’ quarterly goals.

The assignment is simple: write down two sentences. One sentence should be your goal to reach by the end of the quarter, and one sentence should be how you will reach that goal.

A wall in the back of my classroom is decorated with these goals. I want them displayed so that my students see them when they walk into class every day. To prep for this activity beforehand, I make sure to create paper cutouts before the quarter begins. Sometimes I make these paper slips in the shape of a book or an apple, but oftentimes, it’s just a circle another easy shape. I hand these out during bell work on one of the first days of school, and give them until the end of their bell work to have their goal written down.

This is a simple way to begin the discussion of forming goals with my students, how those goals need structure, and how we can work to get there. (Also, it looks super cool at the back of my classroom.)

The Return

Year: 2

Two days back from winter break!

We are starting the year off running; after a short review, my students are already reading informational texts and writing about them in order to prep for our class text, Flesh & Blood So Cheap, for quarter three. This is really the only way to start the year again, I think. Had I a more sluggish start to the week, I think I’d still be feeling sluggish today.

Before returning to school, I’d fallen into a bit of a mental trap of thinking that I would return to teaching with the same exhaustion I felt leaving it. I’d felt that last year, but that had been my first year teaching, so I can’t exactly trust that as reliable. As the last few days of winter break closed in on quarter three, I felt a bit of nerves that this year would repeat last year.

And although I felt a bit rusty yesterday, but today felt good. My management was smooth, the kids were engaged in discussions, and I had few disciplinary issues. Now, it is teaching – so is tomorrow, the next day, and the rest of the week going to feel sparkly and flawless? Probably not. But I’m feeling motivated and optimistic about this quarter (or, at least, this week).

Reflections

Year: 2

Clearly, I fell off the blogging bandwagon.

The last month before winter break has been hectic. As, I imagine, it always will be. My motivation dipped significantly low and I focused, more than anything, on reaching winter break. For the last week, I have been in Michigan, spending time with family and relaxing.

This time last year, I seriously considered quitting the teaching profession. I had never felt so emotionally or physically exhausted; I felt like I didn’t recognize my body or my mind anymore. I’d actively dreaded the return to the school year, fantasizing vaguely about joining the Peace Corps or applying to jobs that I’d not previously had any interest in (and still don’t, really). I could not possibly imagine reaching the summer finish line. It seemed truly, painfully impossible.

But I made it. I finished the school year, both as a better teacher and (I think) a better person. My teaching improved, and though I could not have imagined a worse spring semester from the fall semester, I encountered the death of a student and a long, stressful statewide teaching strike. I moved through both, and I finished the school year.

And even though I am tired, and I am wishing this winter break were one week longer than it is, I am very cognizant of the fact that this winter break is about a million times better than the last winter break. My feeling of tired is much better than my feeling of exhausted. My knowing that I can get to the end of the school year is much, much better than my feeling of dreading the next part of the school year.

The first school year of a teacher’s career is unlike anything I’d ever experienced, and certainly not something I’d felt prepared to encounter. This year, only a few months separated, is so immensely better and more enjoyable. It is not perfect. It is not flawless or easy. But, man, is it better. And it will continue to be so with time. Cheers to the veteran teachers and to the new, and enjoy your winter breaks.

The Notebook

Year: 2

I am not about to discuss Nicholas Sparks, I promise.

We are deep into the season of stress and disappearing motivation. Although this year is (genuinely unbelievably) so much better than last year, it is still a time of the school year that is stressful. Students are behaving particularly rebelliously at the moment, and teachers are reaching a level of exhaustion. About a month ago, I began looking for new methods of stress-relief and techniques for maintaining a positive mentality.

There is now a notepad in my desk drawer. It’s not fancy, but it sits in my desk drawer, easily accessible. Every day, I write the date; after every class, I write at least one good part of the class. Most entries are silly or small (ex. “A student wrote “BUTTS” at the bottom of my class sign-in sheet). I’m not writing down life-changing teaching moments. I’m writing down the tiny moments that are so often forgotten in the turbulence of November and December.

I try to write down as much as I can for each class, but some days, I only scribble down one note per period. That’s okay. I’m not trying to get to a specific number of notes every day. I’m trying to remind myself how many good, funny, sweet, positive moments exist in a day of teaching.

It is such an incredible reminder, when I sit at the end of the day and glance at this notebook, how good days can feel like bad days simply because of stress. I’m stressed, yes – but, in reality, my days are pretty good. This notebook is just one small way to help keep a healthy perspective in mind.

Weekly Review

Monday: Day off!

Tuesday: Today, after class, a former student came in to say hello to me and found out I was hosting study hall. He called home to ask if he could stay and I overheard him say, “yeah, I wasn’t planning to stay, but my favorite teacher’s hosting study hall, so I can just take the bus after if that’s okay.”

Wednesday: Halfway through class, one of my students raised his hand and asked for a pencil. I asked him what happened to the pencil he’d been using. With a look of pure, painful confusion, he replied “Um. It went…. under the wall.” (I have not told them one of the walls can fold back between classrooms.)

Thursday: The highlight of my day today was discovering a student wrote “BUTTS” on the class sign-in sheet. I looked at it and, calmly, silently, tore off the bottom of the sign-in sheet before turning around. As soon as I faced the class, a boy in the back turned bright red and began hysterically giggling in his hand. Naturally, the only appropriate response I found was to take a photo of the culprit – him – holding the paper.

Friday: Today, I told one of my more rowdy students that he should be in theatre (because of how dramatic he was being in our conversation). He threw his hand to his chest, dropped his jaw, and – genuinely, I think – said, “thank you, Miss!”

Weekly Review: Halfway

Monday: Before school started, I left my classroom to put in copies for later this week. Immediately, I saw a student lying on the ground. He was fine. He just wanted to lie down and stare at the sky (at 7:20am). You know. Chillin’.

Tuesday: One of my former students brought a “book of puns” that he drew. My favorite was a picture of a grandma skateboarding. The caption was Insta-Gram.

Wednesday: During my planning period, I walked across the empty campus and spotted a kid dancing to his own reflection in the window of the library. I called out to him and reminded him that it was a window, not a mirror, and that people could see him. He genuinely didn’t seem to know that.

Thursday/Friday: I’ve taken some rare time off to go to a wedding out of town, and just gotten back into town.

Finding the Balance

Year: 2

Today is a Wednesday. We’re officially halfway through the week.

Within the last week, there have been seven fights in the high school of my district. In my school, there have been two or three fights. One student has been hit by a car. Two of my students have been sitting through in-school suspension. I’ve given four lunch detentions for behavioral disruptive. Generally, students have been highly fidgety, emotional, and disruptive.

Today is a Wednesday. We’re halfway through the week.

This is not normal for my school district, but if you were to spread out all of these incidents throughout a school year, this would not be normal for the average school district’s full year. I work in a district that is in an area of town with high poverty, high trauma, and all the cyclical symptoms of high poverty and trauma within families. This, of course, drastically affects students’ health and behavior.

One of the difficulties of teaching in a school like this is that, in addition to the normal difficulties of teaching generally, you’re confronted regularly with two problems: the problem of incessant worrying and the problem of normalizing. Last year, I had the problem of incessant worrying; I’d go home, thinking about the trauma my students held, feeling guilty about my safe apartment and my healthy diet and all the things I had that my students did not.

This year, I have the problem of normalizing all of these terrible traumas. I still worry about my students and still think about how I can help them, but I have stood close to some extraordinary pain. I have seen students wait for their mothers to be possibly deported. I have seen students under the stress of extreme poverty. I have a seen a student die. I am embedded in this world, this environment, every day, and I cannot help these students to the extent that I want to help them. I regularly have to remind myself, this year, that my students’ behavior is due to these terrible traumas. I have to remind myself that not every school would see this level of trauma in children.

It feels to me that these are two ends of the same spectrum. To worry constantly, and fixate on the pain my students endure, is to drain myself of the energy I need to function well on a daily basis. To normalize it is to dull the natural emotional reactions to witnessing such a trauma. I don’t know what the healthy balance is between these two ends. I don’t know where I should be in the spectrum, or how long it will take me to get there.