Friday, June 22, 2012

First Year Reflection

               My one blog stalker, Amy, constantly reminds me about putting up a new post. I usually reply with the standard, “I’m busy.” deal. Which tis’ true, but I have learned that everyone is busy and if you want something done, you must make time for it. So right now, I am making time. I am listening to Spotify at the moment and am settled in to write a little. Even though this is the end-of-year reflection, I’m going to start with beginning of the year and how it went.
                At the beginning of the year, I felt overwhelmed a lot. Mainly with just getting everything done that I needed to in a day. I was struggling with time management. I was taking a lot of things home to grade. I wasn’t getting enough sleep. I wasn’t exercising. I just existed day to day. I enjoyed getting to know all my students and demonstrating how the class was going to be “controlled” this year. I say “controlled” but it’s more of just a calm atmosphere filled with minds that are yearning to learn new things.  It took me a while to create the atmosphere, but in the end it was totally worth it. It was built on trust and not fear. Not demeaning, but uplifting. Not self-centered, but selfless. If there is one thing that I want my students to know, understand, and be able to do when leaving my classroom is how a community can help each other along each other’s path to success, to not put others down, to lift yourself up, and that anything worth achieving takes lots of hard work. That’s what I like to emphasize early on in the year. If all that happens, then the rest of the year will flow smoothly as students accept others for who they are and begin to show love towards one another.
                Around Christmas break, I felt things were going pretty smoothly in the classroom. I was still struggling with some time management, but it was getting better. I continued coaching for the 9th year and picked up the 8th grade assistant basketball position. The “A” team finished 18-1, losing their final game in the semi-finals of the county tourney. I think having their 7th game in 6 days finally took a toll on them as they succumbed to the eventual county champ. The “B” team finished .500 at 4-4. I loved coaching this group of kids. They worked hard and had great attitudes. Basketball proved a little more demanding than in previous years because I was teaching as well. I worked a lot of Saturdays to stay caught up and ahead.
                Towards the end of the year, I really noticed a behavior slip in most of my students. I wasn’t sure if it was summer jitters or what, but it seemed a lot of the kids’ behavior took a nose dive. I was having conversations that I hadn’t had to have all year. I was getting upset more often at the negative choices the students were making. We only had 12 days of school in April and I think those small breaks gave them a taste of summer and it was tough to reel them back in during instructional periods. With all that being said, I loved having this group of kids. I have watched them grow physically, (Man, some of them got tall in 9 months!) intellectually (Oh, the things we covered this year!), emotionally, (they are teenagers now and mood swings can be quite frequent), and in some cases, morally (to see perspectives from other points of view helps to really see the unseen in situations). At the end of the year, I had tons of gift cards, money, notes, emails, and gifts from the parents telling me what a good year their son/daughter had in my classroom. For me, this is what I live for. Just a simple thanks. I don’t need money or gifts or anything like that. I get me fill and my battery recharged with simple thank you notes. I save all of them and they carry me through tough times. Thank you to the students and the parents for a great year.
                My passion this year has intensified as the year has gone by. I really enjoy the standards for 6th grade and I think having something that I enjoy translates into a great experience for the students. I have been doing a lot of thinking over the summer about next year already and how I want to change things. This little story happened about 3-4 years ago. One of the players dove for a loose ball and ended up busting his chin on the floor. He wanted to keep playing, but everyone knows that if you’re bleeding you have to come out and get it all cleaned up before you can reenter the game. This player never took a play off. He played extremely hard and did the “dirty work” for our team at the time. As he came off the court to get a band-aid, I told him that it wasn’t blood that was dripping. I told him it was “Passion Juice” that was squirting out. I have some of that Passion Juice inside of me right now.
                I love my team. Let me repeat this. I LOVE MY TEAM. I couldn’t be any more happier with the people I get to teach with every day. They support me like no other. They help me. I try to help them when I can. That ratio is somewhere around 85% to 15%. The 85% is the help that I get for my measly 15% of giving back. I always feel that all of us are on the same page. Yes, of course, we might not agree whole-heartedly on everything, but we listen to others’ opinion and choose what is the best route for the students. And if it wasn’t the best route, we go back reassess the situation and start again. These coworkers are not just coworkers, but my friends. There are seven of us that teach 6th grade, one special education teacher, and one special education aide. I love them all. They make coming to school (I don’t call it work, because it’s not “work”) so much fun and enjoyable.
Sidenote – When I was filling a maternity leave in 5th grade, I was one of two 5th grade teachers. We taught some of the same subjects and we taught some different subjects as well. For the ones where I was the only one to teach that subject, I was my only resource. There wasn’t anyone who was working on the same standards as I was. I was responsible for everything. Like I said earlier, I have 6 teachers who I can collaborate with on the same thing. At least 4 of them teach the exact same subjects that I do. I think this has really helped a first year teacher. So, if you can be choosy, really you can’t in this economy/marketplace, BUT if you could choose, I would choose some sort of setup like I have currently.

                Two years ago, if someone would have asked me who I was I wouldn’t have really been able to tell them. I would have given them an IDK. I had my education degree. I substitute taught. I was an aide. I filled a maternity leave. I filled 3 small leaves. I coach basketball. On the side, I work as a screen print graphic designer (that sounds more professional than “I design t-shirts”) and a senior portrait and wedding photographer. I earn money at these things. Not a lot, but some. Within the last 6 months, without me really thinking about it I became an educator. If someone asks me who I am or what I do I immediately say, “I teach 6th grade.” I don’t know when this transition happened for me. I think it was more of an internal thing and it outwardly came out. I’m now living as an educator. I love it. I love the feeling of helping others be successful and helping them along the way. Educating is what I want to do, to be, and to still become.  
                Right now, my summer plans are to lay low. Lindsay, my wife, (she is a K-2 literacy aide and all-star cheerleading coach) is still working this summer coaching and running summer care. I’m sitting at home right now writing this. I’m trying to lay low and lose some weight. My goal is to weigh 220 by time school starts back up. That’s a pretty hefty goal for me. (Did you laugh at the use of hefty there? I did.) I’ve always been kind of big. I got some blood work back and I had some bad news. I’ve been running a lot. It’s working. I need to eat better and exercise more. Other than that, laying low is the key this summer. I’m not even photographing any weddings this summer. Lay low. Be slow. That’s how I roll.
                The Common Core Standards go into effect this coming school year. I’m ok with it. I think it’s good. I think it helps to let everyone in the country be on the same standards for each year in school. My school district is going away from the A-F grading scale and will start to implement more of a mastery scale based on the standards. I think it is ok. Change is always tough, but sometimes necessary. We will use professional development to come up with sample tasks for each standard that the students will be mastering. You can check out on what our district is striving for.
                In Indiana, the state is mandating that every school district go to a teacher evaluation model that they developed called the RISE Evaluation and Development System. It will be interesting to see how I do. Our administration has had training all year on what it will be like. The main thing I got from what our admin have told us is that they will be in our classroom a lot more than this past year. They will be doing the evaluating along with some other teachers who have went to the training as well. I now know what I will be “graded” on. I’m not a fan of merit pay when dealing with people. Merit pay with products, say like in a factory I totally get. You can definitely count that. I don’t think that my pay should be tied to students’ performance on one test. This year during the ISTEP+ test, the air conditioning was not working. It was up to 88 degrees in the computer lab. The servers kept timing out after each question for each student. That downtime between questions was up to more than 5 minutes as times. What do 6th graders do when working on a test and it times out? Spinning in their chair comes to mind.  Being a distraction comes to mind as well. How accurate are their tests going to be with all those unfavorable test conditions? Straight from the site - “Measures of student learning make up between 20 to 50 percent of a teacher’s final evaluation rating.” I’m not scared of the evaluation. I am confident in my abilities and my students’ abilities. I just don’t think it’s the right way to do it.

    What I want to accomplish next year -
1.       All my students, which will be around 64, to be reading at grade level or above.
2.       All my students pass the ISTEP in ELA. I would have liked to have more of students pass the test this year.
3.       Assess my student’s knowledge more often. I don’t mean more testing, but more ways of authentic assessment to show growth of the material.

          When you get to the end of the year, you look back and see of all the improvement that students have done. Where they came from. What they did. Where they are going. That is what matters. It’s in these moments where a thought becomes an idea, and idea becomes a goal, and a goal gets accomplished.
It’s in the journey.
Have a good summer. I’m layin’ low. 


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