Monday, November 29, 2010

The Lessons Learned

One thing that I wish I would have done is keep up this blog better than I did. I thought about it from time and time and wasn't really motivated enough to sit down for 5-10 minutes and update it. I wanted it to be an up-to-date representation of my thoughts/emotions/happening/etc. while I went on this journey with my students.
As of now, I have completed my obligation of filling a maternity leave. I filled in from the beginning of school to Thanksgiving break. I have learned a lot in this process and in this post I am going to tell of the things of which a first year teacher is not told during their course of their “schooling” in college.
  1. To be apart of an amazing, loving, and caring staff is one of the most important things that a first year teacher needs around them. The staff that I worked with is seriously second to none. If you are surrounded by other staff members that are negative minded then that is not a good environment to be around. The problem with this is that teachers that are right out of college are just searching for a job. In these times of finding a job in education, one cannot be too selective.

  2. Data – Data doesn't lie. It can be fudged or excused, but the realization is that it doesn't lie. I have learned a little about how data can be used in the classroom and how to use it to inform my teaching. The one problem with data is that it can expose your shortcomings. True. It can do that, but I take things personally. I feel that it's an attack on my ability to effectively teach something and now I know I need to make changes in my instruction methods.

  3. Linking standards to instruction - I do think the new Common Core standards along with the state's mapping of these standards is a good thing. I feel like as a first-year teacher seeing a whole year of standards to teach and not knowing where the best place to teach things is very daunting. Having these standards laid out by quarters is/will be very helpful for me and others who might struggle with planning a whole year's worth of material.

  4. Classroom Management – I employed many strategies over my short time while working. I think having multiple management strategies can be an effective way to manage the classroom. The problem I ran into is that your strategies can't overlap. Having too many strategies can become redundant to the students, so I chose to only use a couple at a time. When instructing lessons I used a game called Focus Factor Challenge. It was a game in which the table groups would monitor their table to make sure everyone was staying focused. The students always wanted to play this game during lessons. Winners usually got classroom money. In the hallway, I employed a type of game where the leaders of the line would take sole control and ownership of the class in the hallway. I never lead my class in the hallways. I typically follow behind. The leaders were expected to stop if they heard any noise at all behind them. If they didn't take control and stop then the leaders would have to move their citizenship clip down one spot. All in all I tried many strategies but the best one is when they take ownership of the classroom themselves. Then, learning is the focus and not management.

  5. Effective lesson strategies – I learned a lot about effective lesson strategies. As a general statement I tended to teach in mini-lessons followed by small group work or small table discussions on the topic. I had an epiphany when my principal said something about the whole “raise your hand” deal. I had presented a lesson and then asked a couple people to share whole group. Yes, it is an effective strategy to share, but where I lacked in my planning was that I didn't build in a chance for every student to be engaged. The students that shared were the only ones paying attention. I started doing table shares followed by one student “presenting” to the whole class.

  6. Discipline – Discipline must be logical. I didn't have a lot of experience with this, but I did a lot of thinking about it. Whatever you say to discipline a student has to be logical. You can't say something like “If you do that, you'll lose all your recess for a semester.” Yes, it could happen, I guess, but logically it's not correct. The student knows that's not going to happen, so you can't say it. It has to be logical punishment/discipline.

  7. Trust Over Fear – I'm not going to stand up and say I didn't use some kind of fear in my classroom or that I didn't raise my voice when things were happening that shouldn't be happening. It rarely happened as I despise yelling. I always told the students that it makes me more upset to raise my voice than anything else and I absolutely hated doing it. I found that basing my actions on trust and not fear made things a lot better. I would trust them to do the right thing in regards to actions/talking/etc. but once the trust was broken then they had to be given a second chance to earn it back. Of course, the more trust you break, the harder it is to gain back. I don't like motivating by fear or belittling others and I will always strive to not do either.

  8. Time management – I learned a lot about time management during my leave. Mainly that time can be wasted if not used productively. It is something that I have always struggled with. I have always been a last minute type of person. Why? I have no idea. I have tried to change. It usually lasts for a while, but then I go back to not using my time wisely. I come back to these quotes quite often. “Determine never to be idle. No person will have occasion to complain of the want of time who never loses any. It is wonderful how much can be done if we are always doing.”Thomas Jefferson and
    This is the beginning of a new day.
    God has given me this day to use as I will.
    I can waste it or use it for good.
    What I do today is important, because
    I am exchanging a day of my life for it.
    When tomorrow comes,
    this day will be gone forever,
    leaving in its place something
    that I have traded for it.
    I want it to be gain, not loss;
    good not evil; success not failure;
    in order that I shall not regret
    the price I paid for it.
    Author Unknown

  9. Literacy Groups – I really enjoyed my time with my literacy group. We spent a real long time with the book The Pinballs. I was really impressed with the ways shared their book at the end. We had puppet shows, posters, TV interviews, book covers, and a newspaper. They were allowed to select one way to share what they have learned from the book, their favorite part, or some type of summary. At the end of the book, I could see my students putting themselves into the book's characters and taking on the emotions of the book. It made me feel good when the students talked about the life lessons they learned from the book and how they can apply the book to their daily lives. Also, I could see their development as readers by their discussions of the book from start to finish. Our first two discussions were almost all of myself talking about the book and guiding them. By the end of the book, I didn't even have to say anything. 13 students talking about a book = happiness to me.

  10. Bein' Real – This goes along with being logical in discipline. I learned that you have to be real and actually do as you say you're going to do. Students can see and feel when you're not being extremely truthful with them. It's like lying in a way.

  11. Implementing new ideas vs staying in your comfort zone – I felt that in social studies I got into a comfort zone of doing things a certain way. I think the students did too. I agree that consistency is a very integral part of education, but when I was told to do a visualization and predicting lesson in nonfiction texts I was reluctant at first. I was thinking about me and not going out of my comfort zone. I wasn't thinking about the advantages of implementing new ideas to the classroom and the effects it could have on student engagement and learning.

  12. Full Classroom Engagement during a lesson – In my lessons, I want full classroom participation and on some days I got it and others I didn't. On the days I didn't, I feel that I cheated some students. I think that they were given ample time to share, but I know that some chose not to share their thoughts in a small group or in a journal. This needs to be improved.

  13. You must walk the walk if you're talking the talk. - I am a leader. My actions and words are my students number one observation about me and my classroom. Do I follow the same classroom rules that I expect of the students. I would like to say that I do but knowing this needs to be improved. I tend to be too sarcastic at times with the students. Just something to work on for myself.

  14. Expectations – I learned a lot about expressing expectations at the beginning of the school year. What is expected? At when? How? All these questions are what drives my expectations. The next time around I will stress things a lot more and quicker. I did like my 3 expectations I had for writing and that was a good start for me. I think I could expand on them and implement them into other subject areas also.
  15. Motivation – Motivation seems to be something I am good at and something I struggle with at the same time. I feel that I can motivate certain students very easily and others I feel that there is a disconnect with them. I know that teachers are basically psychologists in the realm of dealing with students and figuring out what motivates them, I'm just not there yet.

Things I still struggle with but are acknowledging them so as to put them down on paper and in essence make them real to me. If things aren't written down for me I tend to forgot or not work on them.
  1. Setting up students for success before the lesson – I struggle with this.

  2. Effectively planning ahead. I tend to plan everything in my head and then lack to put all my ideas onto paper into plans in a timely manner. As in, I will write my lesson plans for the next week Sunday night or early Monday morning. I guess this could be wrapped up into time management. So ….

  3. Time management – During my preps at school I tend to do things that are beneficial to me in the outside world of education. I'll check email, think about random thoughts (which I'm pretty good at by the way), daydream, look at the newspaper for yesterday's sports scores, etc. I think it comes from the fact that I just need a couple minutes to recharge my internal batteries. I need to use this time to benefit my teaching by planning, getting materials ready, and the like.

  4. Organization – My organization is not the best. Yes, I leave my desk everyday really neat when I go home. It's a pet peeve of mine. Where I struggle is with organization of many things at once and with filing things away for next month/year whatever.

  5. Beginning of the day and End of the day – In the morning, I get so flustered with all the noise and activity in the morning when students come in and at the end of the day when students are packing up. It's really the only “unstructured” times of the day. I don't mean totally unstructured, there is just a lot of freedom that happens. I know I need to do a better job of setting expectations during these times from the beginning of the year.

I look forward to seeing where my next endeavor takes me. I feel that I have learned a lot and look forward to another door opening in the near future. Currently, I will be subbing.
I also look to keep this going because I enjoy it. Now to just find the time so I don't have to write so much in one sitting......

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


I had to have my grades in tomorrow by 8:00 am. I got them done tonight by 8:00pm.  I am calling this a total success.  A week ago, I would have thought that this wouldn't have been able to happen. I had a pile of thundering, booming, volcano mountain of a pile of papers at home that I need to grade. Finally, it got done. Now, there are a lot of my students who have missing assignments and that is really pulling down their grades. I am hoping that through their midterm grades being sent home and a list of missing assignments that it will make them get in gear in the classroom and at home. I am anticipating parent phone calls regarding the low grades. I am pretty demanding, I think, and I want them to understand that it is their responsibility to get their assignments turned in on time. As 5th graders, getting ready to move onto the middle school next year, they have to start being organized and taking personal responsibility.

I am thankful for a team teacher that is understanding what I am going through as a first year teacher. I think I am finally understanding the logistics of things in the classroom, but throw me for a loop or something new I have to learn and I'm out again.
I also have an awesome mentor teacher that is keeping me "afloat." Even if she doesn't think so. Her words of encouragement mean a lot to me.

I know there are things that I need to do regarding my teaching...differentiating some of the ways I deliver content comes first to mind. I need to be aware of specific students and their actions. I need to use moodle and start a classroom blog. These are things that will come with time, I know, but having time is always going to be an issue. I need to get over that. Time is not an excuse. Everyone has 24 hours in each day, it's in how you use those 24 hours. I need to get better at this. Plus, my amazing mentor teacher, told me to go home tonight at school. So.... I did. :)

I have my first observation on Thursday. I have chosen to do a word choice lesson. We're going to eat some salsa and rice cakes. Then we'll talk about how you want "salsa" words not "rice cake" words in our writing. Salsa, a little spicy and has kick keeping the reader interested. Rice cake, boring, dull, and bland. I hope it goes well. Met with the principal today to go over it. He sounded cool with it. We'll have to see. I hope the kids cooperate :)

Well, it's off to fix supper and pick up our house a little. It's gotten to the point of no return....urgh.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

I Survived

I survived my first week of teaching. It has been filled with long hours. Wait, it is still being filled with long hours. I have a ton of grading to do this weekend. It's bogging me down, but I know that I can't get behind because I will never get caught up. It will be like a recurring nightmare of papers/folders/contracts to grade and I don't want to have that.  I have most of the planning done for the next week. I just have to get everything ready.  I'm going to start having assigned jobs for the students on Monday.  The main reason for this is for me to get a little help in the classroom.  I need to make a chart of the job. I thought about having a job for every student, but then I figured it would be too hard to keep track of.  I'm not going to abandon the idea of it for my future classrooms, but I think I'll stick to a just a couple of jobs. 
Best part of recess this week was when I blew my whistle and 110ish kids stopped dead in their tracks. It had a pretty eerie feeling with it and I think it struck fear into a couple of kids. :)
I'm wishing you a good week.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


Today, I received my first note from a student.  It was left on my desk after school. I got it when I returned from taking my students to the buses.  Nothing sweet. It was just a question. So I typed something up and left it for her on her desk. I thought it was a nice gesture. It did feel good to get it though.
Things are calming down a bit as we're getting into the swing of things. The next problem is that our lunch time is going to change tomorrow so we'll have to shuffle our schedule around. But hey, flexibility is the key. I need to start thinking about what to do in a literacy group. What books? What types of things to do? All the standard questions without having all the answers I need right now. I do know I need to take some initiative and get rolling.

There are always two choices, two paths to take. One is easy. That’s its only reward.


Monday, August 16, 2010

Down and Out

I feel down today.  Today took a lot out of me. I do feel things are coming together though. Classroom management needs some work. I need to get them more engaged and to keep their time on task a lot better. No downtime. No downtime. No downtime. Minimize distractions. Keep the flow going.
I am liking getting to know my students better. I need to get more organized so as to meet my students' needs individually. The rest of the week is going to go smoothly. I can feel it. I just have to do my part in the hopes that the kids don't know it's my part that I'm doing. I am thrilled to start writing and for them to start expressing themselves onto a piece of paper.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Dice and New Posters

Today, I learned that games that involve dice being rolled on desks can be pretty loud. I might recommend soft dice, paper-made dice, or rolling them onto a pad of paper or something a little softer than wood desktops. This week I am going to strive to get ahead and be fully prepared a week out.  I know that is asking a lot, I feel that I am taking this one day at a time right now, but I need to start looking forward and getting things figured out.
I did get my first poster for my room yesterday.  It is a descriptive word poster.  You can find it here. 
I'm hoping it will help. Now to put my own name on it so that it I know it's mine :)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

First Day As a Teacher

Today was my first day as an actual teacher. I had a good day. I am going to enjoy my class. I am getting a ton of support from the other 5th grade teacher, which is helping a ton. Leading up to the first day has been pretty rough and exhausting. I am feeling overwhelmed by all the planning, the organizing, and getting the room ready. I need to work on getting ahead now.  I know that when we get into a flow things will calm down and a routine will be formed, which will be sweet.

The best part of the day...well, after it happened it was the best part of the day. I'm up talking in front of the class and a girl on my left screams "SNAKE!" I'm thinking "What?" and wondering if I heard her correctly.  Then she climbs up and stands on her chair and screams "SNAKE!" again. I walk over to her and lo and behold a real, live garter snake is on the floor.  Where did it come from? I am not really sure, and neither was anybody else.  It had to have fallen from the light or the ceiling tiles, or off a cabinet. The only think I know is that it came from above and landed on her shoulder.  That's right...her shoulder. A snake had landed on her shoulder. I wasn't going to pick it up.  I'm not scared of snakes, but there is no way that I am picking one of them up. About then, one of the boys says that he'll take it outside. I told him to wait and I asked him the "Do you know what you're doing?", "Have you done this before?" and "Do you know anything about this snake?" questions.  He seemed to know what he was doing. He picked it up. Marched it right to my door that goes outside, and he let it free. The class gave him two claps for his amazing "talent." I then preceded to tell him to wash his hands. :)  It was the talk of the grade for the rest of the day.  One of the kids told their mom. She didn't believe her. That is how unreal it was!! I don't think there are too many 1st days like I experienced. I'm sure it will provide me with a great story for years to come.

I'm exhausted and am going to bed. Tomorrow brings new hope for me followed by a weekend to rejuvenate and recharge.