Saturday, April 05, 2008


i had to write this for my certification class and thought you might enjoy reading it as an insight into the past year

Where I Was
This year I taught at ******. The campus is in a rural area in east *****. There are a lot of new housing developments going in around the school, which is right next to an elementary school, and down the road from the district's high school. The building is pretty small for the number of students it is servicing, and it has about 15 portable buildings to accommodate some of these students. I taught in one of the portable buildings, along with just about all of the other 6th grade teachers. The student body at ***** is predominantly Hispanic and low-income.

What I Did
I taught four sections of 6th grade math, one section of Pre-AP 6th grade math, and one section of 6th grade math for success: a TAKS remediation class for those students who did not pass the math TAKS test last year. I met with the other 6th grade math teachers in the district last summer in an attempt to align the curriculum. We walked away with a very broad scope and sequence as well as 6 benchmark tests to be given at specified times throughout the year. Within the 6 units we came up with, it was my responsibility to set the pace and order of learning the topics. I was also responsible for coming up with lesson plans and ideas for teaching the content. We just adopted Glencoe textbooks that came with a variety of resources that I found very helpful. Our main focuses this year are fraction, percent, and decimal equivalency, along with ratios and proportional reasoning.

This has been a very challenging year. Personally, a 30 mile (1hr) commute each way to school during my first year of marriage has been really taxing. The early mornings and late evenings have caused a lot of stress.

A very difficult situation also arose this year as it became evident that the other 6th grade math teacher was not performing her job as expected, which led to one whole team of 6th graders missing out on the first semester of 6th grade math and the re-assigning of that teacher. I was supposed to be doing my planning with this teacher, which led to some difficulties. Unfortunately, I was then put in a difficult situation as I was supposed to help this teacher with her lessons and hold her accountable, something I did not feel qualified or comfortable doing. A retired teacher was brought on to replace her and try to do some damage control before the TAKS test.

This is the first year that 6th grade has been at ***** and a lot of challenges stemmed from this. The administration was not sure how to handle a lot of issues that came up unexpectedly, and almost all of the 6th grade teachers were first year teachers. A lot of discipline problems arose from novice teachers being unsure of how to handle situations.

The other aspect of this year that I found most challenging was dealing with the apathy of students. It seems there are very few who care about their grades. Every grading cycle was a nightmare of trying to get students to complete missing assignments or projects so they could pass, something they themselves did not actually care about.

Support and the Lack Thereof
The administration failed miserably in providing support to me personally and also the entire 6th grade staff. They compounded the problem by refusing to be strict disciplinarians when classroom discipline did not contain a problem. As students caught on to this, behavior continued to decline. Aside from behavior, there were many procedures that should have been in place from movement of students to scheduling issues that should have been handled by administration and simply were ignored. Not a lot of thought was put into what it would take to have 6th grade included at the school, and it showed.

I was assigned a mentor teacher who will be paid several thousand dollars to serve as my mentor. She never came to my classroom one time the week we were in-service before school started to see my classroom or ask if I had any questions. She observed my classroom one class period in December and emailed me that she was very impressed and thought that maybe I should give her some pointers. While a kind thing to say, it was not very helpful. We met one time in March to fill out some paperwork for something she is supposed to have been doing with me all year long to analyze one of my class periods. She was supposed to meet up with me after spring break to help me analyze, but I have not heard from her again.

The math department head has been very supportive of me, however. He constantly is checking on how I am doing and how he could help me. If I have a question or just want to run an idea by him, he is always ready to listen and give his opinion. He has been very encouraging and supportive of me. Also, the new teacher they brought on to replace the poorly performing math teacher is a 30yr veteran teacher and she has been a good friend to me and very encouraging.

I know for sure that I have made a lot of progress this year. I now can fully understand why the first year of teaching is so difficult. At first I was really concerned about covering all the material, and now I'm learning to take it a little slower so the students don't seem so overwhelmed. The warm-ups used to take forever, but I was able to carve that time back to only 10minutes. Also, I used to always plan way too much for each lesson, and I'm getting better at knowing what the students will be able to handle in a given day. I'm getting a better feel for the order in which to present new information. I am learning to deal with difficult students without them getting under my skin. I have written by far the fewest referrals of any 6th grade teacher, and I feel I am learning how to discuss situations with the students rather than explode at them. There are so many things I want to get better at, but I feel like I've come a long way this year, especially with time management.

Suggestions for a New Teacher
For a new teacher, my first suggestion is make sure this is really what you want to do and commit to the entire year. A teacher quitting is really tough on the kids and on the other team members. I have wanted to quit so many times, but I told myself before I started I was going to make it through to June. You should have a similar pact with yourself.

Find some plan for grading that does not take up your whole life. During the fall I spent every Saturday morning at Starbucks grading for 4hours, and every Sunday afternoon lesson planning for 2 hours. As much as possible, try to save the weekends for yourself instead. I burned out around Thanksgiving and have yet to recover from it. This spring I have given less homework, had the students grade their own homework, taken grades on class work instead, graded while students are testing...and I've thrown a LOT of papers away without more than just glancing through them to vaguely assess them! Okay honestly, I’ve thrown away stacks of papers without even looking at them. Don't be afraid to throw things away. I'm still looking for a good plan, but I feel I am closer to it.

Make friends. School is so much more fun when you can go complain or swap stories with someone at lunch, or discuss basketball games with after school. Plus, you always need to know someone can drop by and watch your class for 2min so you can run to the restroom! Friends at school, whether they are the other teachers or the custodians, can keep you sane and employed on those tough days.

Review. It’s about TAKS time and I am mortified by how much my students have forgotten. All that fraction stuff we did during the fall seems to have vanished from their memories. I wish I had been using my warm-ups as reviews, not of the day before, but of the month before. In fact, I think this is the number one thing I would change if I had it to do over. Maybe even every Friday I would spend some portion of the class period reviewing major topics we had already covered.

Manage your classroom. There are several first year teachers at my school that cannot manage their classroom- their students walk all over them. And they are miserable. From day 1, I have let my students know I am the boss. I am a fun person, but I have no room in my class for discipline issues. The kids respond to that, they really really do. My administration has moved 15 students into my class from the other team because they were discipline problems. None of them have even been a small discipline problem for me, but continue to cause troubles in their other classes. I'm not saying I'm the only factor in this equation, but there was fear in their eyes the day they stepped into my classroom. They know Mrs. H doesn't accept any crazy stuff. Students really do live up to the expectations you have for them. I set these expectations on day 1 and I stuck by them, even when I thought they were too high. And now the kids remind each other of them, I really have to do very little work managing my classroom. Part of this is being explicitly clear with them on how you want them to act. Being consistent with these expectations is also key, because if you slack off, they will too. When these expectations are met, you can joke around with the kids and let them share things with you from their lives, and do fun activities. Many times this school year students have told me they love my class and it is fun. Many times I have also heard I am a mean teacher and that's why no one disobeys. Kids know the difference between someone who is a pushover and nice, and someone who is firm but also nice. You are the the adult or be miserable.

If something isn't working just stop doing it. There are a lot of things I have started this year that just weren't working for me so I just abruptly stop them and never mention them again. Mostly the kids just forget about them!

Switch it up. When I try to use the same instructional strategy for teaching a lesson more than 2 days in a row, they start to get rowdy. But if I will use powerpoint one day, class rotations the next, group work the next, mini-white boards the next, and a quiz on Friday...I will have no issues all week long. Keep them busy and engaged. Boredom is your worst enemy.

Keep it in perspective. Summer WILL arrive. This is only temporary. If you hate it, it will be over soon and you can move on. If you love it, you will have an opportunity to improve next year. It’s easy to be overwhelmed and overcome by despair. Keep work at work as much as possible…this is really hard as a teacher. But go home, have fun, and go back to school and really care about the kids. They are why you are there. It’s easy to forget that. So remind yourself often.

it's that time again

its official. i am looking for a new job. as of june 5th, i will be finished with my first year of teaching. sometime in june i will receive my standard teaching certificate for the state of texas, qualifying me to teach 4th-8th grade math. but i'm not sure i'm quite up for it next year.

since graduating college in may '05, i have spent 3 months working at the church up in oregon (quite possibly the greatest time EVER), 15 months working as a programmer/analyst in san antonio (6months of culture shock & unhappiness, followed by 9months of a pretty cool job and falling in love), 3 months of being a stay at home wife (this was not for me: i think i drove ross crazy!), 6wks of teacher training (i was just glad to have something to do, but it was pretty boring), and almost 9months of teaching 6th grade (what a ride!). you can note my apparent attention span towards work and see that it is clearly time for a new career.

i have been scouring craigslist since december, trying to get a feel for what's out there and what i might be interested in doing next. i have considered and even interviewed for teaching position next year. i have considered and even interviewed for another programming job. but something inside me is looking for something a little bit more exciting. :) i don't necessarily feel that it is discontentment, because really i like my life, but i think the bottom line is i do not want to be old and have my life boxed in to a certain path. i like dreaming and not knowing what in the world my future will hold. i want to do something cool. i just don't know what it is yet. in fact, i want to do a LOT of cool things...hopefully i will have time and the ability to accomplish them all.

ross is very supportive in me doing whatever i want, if thats staying home, going to school, going to work. "do whatever you want babe-really", thats what he tells me. after all, as i reminded him the other day "everything i have is yours (i think he wanted a dollar off the counter)...but more importantly: everything of yours is MINE!"

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." --Jeremiah 29.11