Wow this school year was really great! I started teaching at a brand new Charter School and it was quite the experience. I moved from teaching High School to Middle School. So many people told me I should be afraid because 7th/8th graders are the worst, but after this year I have to say I honestly think they are the best. In High School it seems you find a lot of students who think they already know everything so they check out when they get to class. In Middle School the kids are still eager to learn, sure there are a few who don’t seem to care, but I think that is more the exception than the rule. I really loved this school year and I am actually really excited for next year. Although I think we had a very successful year there is always room for improvement. I have created a list about what I learned and I plan to use this list to help me be more successful next year. My hope is that someone else might find some value in one or more of the items in this list.
1. Demand organization
My school is unique in the fact that I have 7th and 8th grade students combined together and we are all together all day. We do every subject in the same classroom, so it feels a little like an elementary classroom. That being said we did not have a lot of room in our class and we worked in rotations so students couldn’t have an assigned desk. I created folders for all of the students so they could store their work, but I learned this did cut it. The last term I finally offered 2 points of extra credit for each week if a student could show me they were organized. The extra credit was good motivation but there were still a few in class who did not even try.
This next year I plan to make organization mandatory. I have decided that all students need to have a 2 inch 3-ring binder. After watching all of my students this year those who seemed to be the most successful used 3-ring binders and some sort file system inside. I know this might be a head ache waiting to happen but I am going to do my darnedest to make it happen.
2. There is such thing as too much trust
I tend to be a very trusting person and with students this is not always a good thing. In my school students are on computers on and off throughout the day. I mistakenly assumed my students would follow instructions and stay on the assigned website. Now don’t get me wrong I worked on monitoring my students, but my classroom works in rotations and sometimes they may have a few minutes when I was away working with another group. As far as I know my students didn’t get into too much trouble but during the 3rd term I noticed they were starting to fall behind on their work. After a little investigation I found that they had created a “chat room” using their emails. They made sure to hide the tab when I walked by so I remained clueless for about a month. I am hoping no one is judging me for this confession, but I thought I should share so no one else makes the same mistake. Once I found out what was going on I started looking into the emails and found out that almost the entire class was in on this “chat room.” Term 4 was very different because I laid down the law about what was and was not allowed when it came to the computers and 2 of my students lost computer privileges because they decided to test me.
Long story short… do not trust your sweet doe eyed students! They are in reality quite devious.
3. Co-workers gossip
This may be very obvious to everyone but me but be careful what you say when you are around your co-workers! I luckily did not have anything drastic happen to me, but my co-teacher had her fair share of gossip about her. She is technically a paraprofessional, but she helps teach in my classroom. She really wants to be a full time teacher, but unfortunately my school did not have room to hire her as full time. The last few months she has been interviewing for positions at other schools. One of the schools she had applied at told her that another teacher from our school told them (during a bunko game) she was a terrible teacher and not to hire her. This teacher also told the school that she was not invited to come back to our school next year (which was not true at all). Luckily this other school called me as a reference and I set them strait about the whole thing. This little piece of gossip almost cost my friend a job opportunity. Luckily she was offered the job (although she chose to stay with me. YAY!)
4. All parents are not equal
In our society we like to use blanket terms when referring to groups of people, but that really is not fair to anyone. One of the blanket ideas I have heard a lot is that parents are a teachers worst enemy. During this school year I have learned you never know what to expect from parents. (My previous school was a residential treatment center so I didn’t really work with parents very often) This last year I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly of parents. We as teachers need to do our best to get to know parents as well as our students. Getting to know parents will help us understand our students better and it will help us better meet their needs. At the beginning of the year I dreaded parent teacher conference, but then I learned this was a great opportunity for me to sit down and really get to know them.
5. Small room = big smell
My classroom is inside a modular building. We have two windows, one door, and our bathroom is connected. We also eat lunch inside the classroom. We tried opening windows, but if you ever went outside and came back in you were assaulted with the most horrendous smell. Winter time was a little better, the kids weren’t running around as much during lunch, but summer and fall oh my! We finally settled on a sentsy (technically prohibited) to help us with the odor. I had to change that thing twice a week to keep it strong enough to over power the smell of the kids.
6. It’s amazing to have a teaching partner
Like I said before I work with a paraprofessional. In my school we call them instructors because they really do more than typical paraprofessionals. My Instructor helped me so much this last year. The way our class is structured you really have to have at least one more teacher in the room. (3 groups that rotate every 30 minutes) When I was bogged down with one project or another she was always there to help. She would grade or organize or clean, anything to help out. I had never worked with a teaching partner before and after this year I don’t know that I would ever want to go back.
7. You can never be too organized
I already talked about student organization, but this time I mean me. I try to be as organized as I can but I have learned you need to have organization within organization. We basically began the year with desks and chairs. I have no cabinets, no storage cubbies, nothing. During the year we tried to bring what we could to get organized but it wasn’t easy. We don’t have very much space so we have to be careful of what we put in there. Now having gone through a year in that class, I fell like I have a better grasp of what will work. I am so excited to make my vision happen as the next school year begins. I am so so excited I will be able to post it on here and share my excitement.
8. First year at a charter school is chaos
My school is a charter school and this was is first year. Many of you have probably been in that situation before but I had no Idea what I was getting myself into. As I said previously all I had were desks and chairs, well half of the classes in the school didn’t even have chairs for the first week. We had no curriculum until two weeks in and when we started coming it was in bits and pieces. Everything in our school was used; my desk, the students desks, my projector (that never worked) even the curriculum. I only had bits and pieces of my math curriculum. I really do think the concept behind my school is great, but it is going to take another year or two to be able to achieve our goal. I have also really loved this last year so if I had to I would do it all again.
9. Be grateful for the little things
Starting the school year with basically nothing helped me appreciate all the things we had. I was grateful my class had chairs when most of the other classes didn’t. I was grateful I had taught before, one of my coworkers had never taught before and it was really hard on her; she actually left around christmas because it was too much. We had basically no playground equipment so I was extremely grateful when a grandparent found a way to get us a basketball hoop. My students used it every day after it was put in. I was grateful for the fun people I worked with and their positive attitudes. I was grateful for parent volunteers who made our load a little lighter.
10. I really do love my job!
After working at a treatment center for two years I started to get a little burned out and I was really wondering if teaching was form me. This school year has been such a blessing to me because it helped me remember how much I really do love teaching. I did not dread going to school once this year. My students were so amazing! I could go to school in a bad mood and within 10 minutes of being around them I would be cheered up. There was not a single day when I wanted to quit. Teaching is definitely a difficult profession but it is also one of the most rewarding professions there is!