Separate school from my time, Free time / ZONE OUT time AFTER lesson planning (shoot for 7:00).
Bedtime at 9:00
Reading before bed (15 minutes)
Exercise daily (tennis, frisbee, or at least a walk with best friend)
In my daily conversations, stop complaining about school so much, and look for opportunities that I can improve on for next year. Change the frame of reference.
Play more games.
Watch more movies.
Enjoy the beautiful outdoors.
Cook more with spouse.
Have more heart-to-hearts.
Be Here Now.
Separate school from my time, i.e. No more lesson planning after 8:00!
Use planning period more effectively, don’t fall into zombie-status for 45 minutes.
Spend an hour after school lesson planning/getting ready for the next day.
Smile more, don’t let the kids get you upset…Just let things go.
Maintain student behavior log and lesson plan notes.
Start planning big goals/management changes for next year.
Don’t reinvent the wheel…This is only your first year. Stop panicking and enjoy the day. Start loosening up, let the kids talk during work time. Bring less work home. Play outside more.
If you are thinking of joining the Mississippi Teacher Corps, or any alternative route teaching program, please, consider the following:
Every day I wake up at 5:30, eat a little something, take a shower, and drive off to school. I am there before most teachers and the principal, getting things ready for the bright new day. Each morning during this time I have big dreams of how the lesson I spent 6 hours on the night before won’t be delivered to deaf ears, but will turn out amazing and the kids will learn and retain SO much in 50 minutes. It’s a peaceful beginning, that ends with unknown but typically frustrating pull-your-hair-out feelings of intense dissatisfaction and lack of fulfillment.
Let’s stop before we go on. Now, before you discount this advice as ramblings, remember you and I are really the same. If you are considering joining such a program to become a teacher and you’re trying to read up on the pros and cons, remember I was exactly in your shoes not too long ago. Except, my vision was clouded in a such a way that I discounted any negative sounding advice about becoming a teacher (teacher burn-out, under-appreciation, non-stop crying, etc. etc.) and replaced it with all the ideas of the positive impact I would be making on my children and the community by becoming that rock and safe harbor. I would whip this school into shape and shame those teachers for allowing their school to sink to such a level that allows such a young, under-qualified, big dreamer such as myself to enter through those doors.
Okay, back to how I feel, or rather, back to how you will feel as I do now. Exhaustion. You’ll be exhausted everyday. Everyday. And not the feelings of exhaustion that you are familiar with currently. Really, remember that one time you pulled that all nighter in college and how tired and zombified you felt the next day? Remember how you were sleepy all day and then you got done with classes and crashed on your dorm bed at 2:30 and slept until 7:00 at night? Grabbed something to eat and were just brain-dead for the rest of your night? Well, take away the nap, because you’ll have to plan for the next day in that time, and get ready to allow your mind and body to experience exhaustion like it never has before.
Let’s regress back to that frustration you will feel each day. You will not just feel frustrated all the time because your students don’t understand the gibberish that comes out of your mouth, but you may vary well even feel real anger and sincerely want to hurt someone. You will slowly realize that your students and no one appreciates you for the the long hours you spend making that perfect lesson, because it turns out: 1) it’s not perfect, and 2) even if it was perfect, no one cares but you, so stop searching for appreciation at this point in your journey (yet know that it will come, and is coming, in ways you don’t yet fully realize—spoilers).
Alright, I hope by now, you have seen a glimmer of the depression you will undoubtedly feel—and no, you won’t be that 5% of teachers who are simply just born teachers, who don’t experience this, so stop holding out hope for that. And, stop. OK, let’s move on to some others things you might feel, or should be looking forward to feeling. Because if you don’t hold out hope for some happy thoughts, this job will consume you and you will quit before your time.
Everyday along with having a headache, getting frustrated, and being angry at my position in life, I smile, laugh, and love what I’m doing. I love spending six hours on a lesson the night before and getting the feeling of excitement that my little 6th graders will hopefully get just as excited as I am about Newton’s Laws of Motion, or any science topic that we’re learning about next. I absolutely love kids sneaking to my room in the morning saying, “Good morning Mr. H” to me in the morning, then running out of the room to their homeroom where they were supposed to be in the first place. I love the feeling of excitement that I get every time, it’s happening daily now, one of my children who I never expect to get the right answer answers a question dead on and I have them repeat it to the class, “SAY THAT AGAIN LOUD AND PROUD LAMARCUS!” “DID EVERYONE HEAR THAT?” “I SAID LOUD AND PROUD LAMARCUS!!” “YES, YES, PERFECT!!” I love that I can be a role-model and a confidant to my kids that I have earned trust from. I love those perfect management days I have when I’m on firing at the beginning of class dishing out the consequences, as the remainder of the period runs smooth like melted butter and the kids actually learn something. I love the anticipation of breaks, Fall break, Thanksgiving break, Winter break, Spring break. I get just as excited as the kids get at the anticipation of a snow day. I love that my room is my fortress that I’ve poured my life into and each student helps build it and break it down each day. I love that I try to make us family each period for 50 minutes every day, even though it never seems to work, I love that I can push my ideals onto these young minds just by the way I am naturally. We should all love one another and treat others with respect, be it the person sitting next to you, the bee that flies into the room, or the mouse that has found a home on the piles of writing assignments.
So, in short: should you join MTC? If you want to make meaningful difference in the lives of a couple kids who need someone like you most in their lives and want to learn how to be a good teacher, then yes. However, if your mission is to save some people from their situations, and be a superman, then no, please, no, you will not succeed at this.
Regardless your decision, if you do join you will fail miserably at what you set out to do. How you cope and grow from failing is what makes you a good teacher, a bad teacher, or just a quitter.
As a first year teacher, today I witnessed one of my most unruly and disrespectful students be struck with a paddle by my principal 15 times because of his mocking and disruptive behavior in my class today and for the bad behavior he racked up all last week. At first it was supposed to be *just* five, however, the student blocked the third paddle with his hands and the principal gave him an added 10 licks for defending his bottom. These remaining 12 licks were as hard as my principal could swing a board. My student cried out in pain and tears were jolted from his eyes each swing. I merely witnessed this punishment, rather than administering it, as I have told my principal I refuse to paddle students for misbehavior. Yet, even though I never touched and never will touch a paddle, I feel accomplice to the abuse of my student. I never wanted my child to be hit for his actions, yet he needed a serious time out (in school suspension) for his behavior as my multiple calls home, multiple hall conferences, and multiple alternative assignments were obvious not working. So even though I did not want it, it happened because my principal insists to raise the board. I struggle with this culture, with this school, and with the idea that you can beat behavior into a child. How do you deal with corporal punishment at your school?
In March of this year, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, when speaking of teacher layoffs and increased class sizes nationwide, said that he would rather have his children in a classroom of 28 students with a fantastic teacher than 23 with a mediocre one. I am in neither of these categories: I am a terrible first year teacher teaching science to class sizes ranging from 24 to 33. I teach in a classroom so overcrowded I have had students sitting at the small table in the corner that holds the National Geographic magazines and others who have to sit in the desk reserved for observing parents and administrators. So far, my teaching experience at a critical needs junior high school in North Panola these first 14 weeks of school has shown me not only that Arne Duncan does not understand the current pressures or the needs of teachers and schools, but more importantly, that teaching science in a classroom such as my own is quite difficult for myself and unjust to the students that I serve.
North Panola Junior High School is the nucleus into which all students in the district are funneled from three other elementary schools. This is the first time the different territorial groups meet each other. As a student, the two greatest factors determining whether you will be friends with another sixth grader is: 1) if they have the same last name as you, and 2) if they reside in your town. If they are neither of these, they are instantly an outsider and not your friend. My children constantly want to fight one another, and they typically do not want to work cooperatively in groups because of these divides. My classroom, which just barely accommodates six rows of desks and has no communal table space, has already housed a fistful of fights. Even on a daily basis there is arguing and hateful name-calling between students. Out of the three grades in the school, sixth grade is the one in which the students have to make the biggest transitions. It is understandably the hardest grade to get used to, and the 2011 class has been no exception. This year has seen the largest amount of 11-year-olds to date, 144 and counting, and with this increase in numbers comes more behavioral, capacity, and logistical issues.
As science teachers, we strive for hands-on inquiry, critical thinking, exploration, observation, and serious analysis of the world around us. But how does one facilitate this dream effectively when there is no room and no opportunity for a student to leave their desk during a 50 minute science lesson? I want to be that fantastic science teacher that lights a student’s spark for the natural world and perhaps even motivates some of them into pursuing careers in science. Yet, each day when the mantra “I wish I had a bigger classroom” passes through my head, I fear I may be doing the opposite to inspire my students into science. My bell-to-bell instruction is confined to the board almost every day. My students take notes for part of the period, read a passage or two in their text books, and then work independently on practice problems and their night’s homework. My sixth grade students badly want lab experience; they feel compelled to get up out of their desk, they love touching and messing with props, and science becomes much more real to them when they are the ones making it happen. Currently, the experience that I am able to provide to them is a pathetic attempt but an attempt nonetheless, and I think the students know and appreciate it. When I do a demonstration in class or when we really do have “lab days at our desk,” those are my best days instructionally and my students’ best days behaviorally. Simply put: My students want to pour water into a beaker and measure its contents; they want to use a ruler to measure their pencils; they want to use pipettes and tweezers to investigate a penny or piece of candy.
Going off of this basic desire for participation, getting my students excited at the beginning of a lesson has turned out to be quite easy because they are ravenous for the science experience. Some of the best demonstrations in my classroom have involved very simple household objects and foods from the grocery aisles at Walmart. When explaining the phases of matter recently in class, my students became very excited with a handful of beans placed into a simple plastic bottle. The beans represented the particles of a substance, and the speed at which I was moving the bottle signified what state of matter the substance was in: solid, liquid, or gas. For the solid, I slowly vibrated the particles back and forth with as little movement as possible. The beans then slipped and slid around between one another a little faster, like a flowing liquid. Finally, gas particles chaotically shook and rattled inside the container to represent a gaseous substance, to the wide-eyed amazement of the students before me. They loved this phase the best, partly because of the noise the gas particles made, and partly because it was me, their teacher, making such a racket in the first place.
Even with the challenges that the lack of space presents in a science classroom, more and more I am realizing that it’s no excuse for not bringing any type of activity in for the students. When I can provide my students a glimpse of what they ought to be receiving as young science-minds, it encourages me to to keep trying to encapsulate entire labs in the confines of a desk space. And it also reminds me of why I became a science teacher. I love seeing children play, investigate, smile, and learn. I am encouraged for the rest of the year and for future years as I hone my abilities to engage my students any way I can and present to them the education they deserve.
Fifty one days of teacher training and I somehow have become a fully certified teacher. I’m 23 years old. I have a signed contract, my own classroom, $31,000 salary with benefits, and a whole lot of people counting on me. Like Ben Guest said, this is insane. Under any other circumstances, I should not be held to the same standard as a first year teacher with a traditional licensure. I am not qualified to teach 150 kids about science; I am not qualified to help guide and lead pubescent preteens into what will become the foundations of their lives—no matter what some bureaucrat might see on paper: I am no teacher. But that’s just it, this is a circumstance that we are all in. There is a broken system and desperation is the result of such pressures on the human condition. The school and the kids that I’m serving truly deserve 20+ year experience veteran teachers in every classroom. They certainly do not deserve a first year teacher with fifty one days of training and twenty six lessons under his belt. But at my school, unfortunately, I am their only option. I ought to be teaching at the prep academy in a rich suburb, not at the lowest preforming district in the state, if not the country.
Aside from the misfortune and the injustice of it all and besides having a nice piece of paper laying on my desk in front of me that says I am certified to teach in the state of Mississippi, I have, after an intense training, with me newly chiseled confidence in myself that can get me through anything. I have met an amazing group of people, each of which I can truly call my friends. I have gained knowledge beyond what anyone could teach me. And I have with me now, experience that will guide me into the next stage of this adventure.
Against my worst fears of public judgement and exhaustion, I have survived and thrived this summer. And the whole time, I’ve done this against my better judgement, against my jerk reaction. I’ve wanted to quit this whole thing twice now and cried myself to sleep numerous times, but I have persisted and become reenergized with purpose after each doubt.
This journey has been the most stressful first step into anything before that I have ever committed to. It’s not necessarily the summer training boot camp that was overly hard, but the prospect of what is to come is what is stressful: 150+ kids every day that are all looking up to me for guidance, knowledge and position in their lives. Lives which I will never fully appreciate, because this culture is so foreign to me. But I am trying with each conversation I have with my students and that gives me hope. I feel as though my eyes have been clouded my whole life, as though I’ve been sheltered inside some opaque bubble of what an “American” should be. I have lived as and am a stereotype; no matter how much I want to reject it. This is the first step in recovery, or growth, no? An acceptance of the problem? Or simply, what I grasp as a problem in my life. Yet, this is not a sad occurrence! This is invigorating! I cannot wait to form real relationships with my students, their parents, this community, and this state. I cannot wait to get to know what it is I do not know. I cannot wait to call the parent and tell them how great their son is doing. I cannot wait to light that spark of science and school for that girl who people assumed less of. I cannot wait for those lightbulb moments. I cannot wait to grow, actually, it is happening right now. Keep this perspective.
And how will I grow? That is, of course is being determined. However, I certainly need to grow my confidence and composure. I need to better learn how to command a classroom with my simple presence. I need to grow my compassion, discipline and tough love. I want my students to recognize me as an educator, their teacher, and a competent adult. I need to be quicker on my feet and more efficient at everything. I need to organize and prioritize beyond what I thought was possible. If I’m going to make it this first year, I must go beyond the ordinary that I’ve lived thus far. I must no longer be an object pushed by my environment around me, but rather I must be a force that pushes itself and does not rely on the external factors. I must, in other words, work on guiding myself into the unknown and trust my judgement. There will be no one there to experience this as intimately as me, therefore I must take the reigns and self determine.
These first fifty four days of Mississippi have been a precipitous leap—and if I’ve learned anything, it is that I have so much to learn about education, children, adults, society, the United States, food, community, power, struggles, injustice, race, religion, hope, compassion, justice, strength, love, and above all my self. I am so thankful and so energized. August the first: here I come.
I sat down today for a good two hours after summer school and wrote lists upon lists of things I need to do to prepare for my first day. About 15 minutes in, I had a good set of supplies, but the interesting part came after the basics were fleshed out.
This exercise got me thinking even more about specifically what I need to prepare for a successful first several days of school. I created an exhaustive list of the materials that I need to purchase, prepare, create, and ask for. From there I have created a plan as to how I am going to partition my room and use the space that is provided for efficiency and organization sake. Some things were obvious but I wrote them out again: rules poster, procedures, consequences, etc., but to my surprise there was also a fair share of materials that did not cross my mind until after really playing the first days in my head out like it was actually happening…What do I need to do? Who should I greet in the morning? Should I give people gifts?
One for instance was keys for my room. I need to be able to open and lock my door whenever I please. Yes, obvious now, but it has amazed me how many things I have been forgetting or just not thinking of at all. On a side note, this also helped remind me that I need to own my room. It’s mine, and I am the teacher now—OK, you said it, now accept it as reality. Another was a welcome letter to substitute teachers that explains where things are located in my room, important contact information at the school, my daily routine, and the bell schedule.
I’m also planning to purchase a set of thank you cards and some candy that will be at the ready should I want to thank my fellow teachers, administrators and, some times most importantly, my support (secretary, janitors, coaches).
I’m stuck wondering with all of this information and all of this mostly half-planned work what it all will actually look like those first few days I am at my classroom before students arrive. During the list making, I ran across advice somewhere that said: “Don’t merely think about how you would like your organizational system to work. Create it. Buy the crates, buy the folders, put them in the places where you believe they should go. Many inherent weaknesses that are invisible in the conception become immediately clear in the execution.” This is a problem for me at this point and I’m left with anxiety that I can’t seem to shake. I need even more time outside of lesson planning, summer school, role plays, meetings, and finding a place to live to actually plan, buy, prepare, and implement all of this to see if it will actually work as well as I am planning. We shall see…I guess I should just go buy some bins :P
With full time detention duty, I didn’t think that I would get a chance this second summer session to interact with students in the lunch room. Luckily, however, I got the opportunity yesterday as I had another teacher take my post. I love lunch time! I love being there. Smelling that wonderful school food. Hearing all the students laugh, talk, and yell sometimes. Yeah, I love lunch. Lunch is a time when the students get to be themselves more than any other time at school. It’s a great feeling to see them break out of their quiet or combative shell as soon as they sit down with their lunch and start chatting with friends. During first summer session I was quite scared of interacting with students who I previously gave consequences for misbehavior to. Even if it was one writing assignment, I would feel as though that student hates me and I should just not waste my time getting to know them because they’ll just shut down even more. But this, in fact, was the total opposite of what I should do, so I’ve come to realize.
Light bulb moment: students know when they are misbehaving and if you catch them breaking a rule their respect for you grows.
This statement has become so real to me this second session of summer school. I’m teaching more and giving more consequences out, yet I’m interacting more with students in engaging and meaningful ways both to me and them. AND they seem to really like me, or at least respectfully laugh at me…which means they like me, no? I realized just how true this statement is at lunch and after school on Friday. I asked my students questions about their interestes. I joked and laughed with them. I had genuine conversation with 15 year olds. But that’s easy. The amazing part was realizing that, not 30 minutes ago, I had given these same students consequences for loudly walking into my room, talking out of turn, and making noises. Yet, they were treating me with respect and not disdain!
It was awesome to see in myself the growth that has occurred in me compared to the first weeks of summer school to now, the end of summer school. I am so much more confident and not afraid to speak up and ask questions! I think realizing that when I give consequences, I am not correcting the person, I am correcting the behavior (and they do honestly know better and are better than to act like that).
I wish there were more days that I could have lunch with my science whiz kids at HSHS.
Always be consistent with your classroom management and know your students.
The Mississippi Teacher Corps role plays that I’ve been partaking in 2 hours a day 5 days a week have been quite helpful and quite inconvenient at the same time. Helpful because they are real situations that most likely I will encounter and the feedback is usually pretty excellent advice on how to deal with situations. Though, after a long day of teaching and just wanting get back, eat something simple and quick and get to lesson planning, all in an attempt to avoid staying up all night working, they also feel quite inconvenient. The help that they are providing me does however outweigh my negative feelings to them and am grateful for the experiences they push upon me after it is all over with.
I video taped a role play last week where essentially three students were to misbehave. Of course, I had no idea of any of these plans as I stepped into the classroom, this was just the facilitators’ plans. One student was crumpling and throwing papers into a trash can, another was persistently getting out of his seat, and finally another was a total goof ball who was bored and had no fear of authority.
As I entered the classroom I explained the directions to my made up Moon phases assignment, passed out papers, and had them working. Right away I saw one student throwing papers into the trash can, which was followed by a firm warning. Unfortunately I did not take the other two crumpled papers that were ready and waiting on his desk, for the moment I turned my back they would be airborne. As I was dealing with the paper throwing I had my back turned to a student across the room who was getting out of his seat and wandering the room. I very firmly had him return to his seat and get to work.
At this point into the video, I noticed that when I gave consequences to these students my shoulders became more broad and my voice more powerful, but when I would be roaming the room not dealing with misbehavior my shoulders would slump and I would not look as confident.
Before I was able to regain composure in my thoughts, the student throwing papers started that up yet again and I had to go further into the consequences—When I really should have just made him clear his desk of those papers and warn him if he crumpled up another paper that he would be getting a detention. At this point, I again turned my back to the antsy student at the other side of the room and he had changed seats. I told him to get back to his seat and that he has a writing assignment while I dealt with student number three who was at first very bored and seemed to want to play with items he had found near his desk.
What I realize now at this point, is that these students, all of them, were not disrupting my learning environment. They were simply acting out because they needed some alternative instruction—I needed to re-focus them on the assignment.
The bored student who had found some items started playing with them and a took them from him. The student who was getting out of his seat, antsy, was then immediately thrown out of the room to wait for a hall conference as I saw him change seat again. He was pretty sad at that point and I felt bad, because, again he was disrupting anyone at that point. Thankfully, the message got to the student throwing papers and he was focused on his work. As I was heading to the hall conference I noticed the good ball student who was bored was playing with a projector cap and was using it as a monocle. I firmly told him to put that in my hand, but he refused after three of my requests. I then wrote a referral for insubordination as I had a hallway conference with the antsy student. He had a choice of a referral or to go back to his original seat and get to work. he took option two, thankfully. And it was a cut.
I did so much wrong in this role play. I didn’t think about what they needed or why they were acting out. Instead, I jumped on them with consequences immediately and the situations were not diffused, but rather, they got much much worse.
If I were to do it again, I would have proximity with the antsy student who wanted to get out of his desk AND if he really needed to get up, allowed him to stand up in the back of the room and do some jumping or something. I would have done a seat change with the bored student. And I would have nailed the paper throwing student immediately with a warning followed by a detention (and made him walk over and throw his papers away.). Essentially, these students were only a distraction to themselves and my class as a whole. I needed to deal with them individually and rengage them, rather than punishing them up the ladder. Next time I will first think to myself, “what does that student need?” and “how can I provide that to them?”
At the end of school today I saw a student that I had first session. He was talking with a few of his friends and I sort of imposed my self on their group as they waited for their bus. I said hi to my former student and asked him what class he’s taking now, second session. “Algebra” he said. “Oh great!” I replied. I followed with a snarky, “what’s better? Algebra or GENERAL SCIENCE?!” Picking up on my snarkiness, he replied with a big smile, “General Science.” I said, “Yeah! That’s right!” and a more serious, “what did you like about General Science?” “Umm, I liked it when you had us make those DNA,” referring to one of my last lessons where I had students construct their own DNA models from pipe cleaners. I smiled and was a bit taken aback by his comment, unsure of what to say back. I simply smiled and said, “Ah, great, well, you have a good afternoon. See you tomorrow.” I didn’t know how to properly respond. It actually felt more like I was in a role play and had to pause to find the perfect reply because all my peers were watching and judging me. I have never before been put into a situation in my very short teaching career where a student actually, to my face, told me that they genuinely enjoyed something I planned for them.
This situation today, makes me reflect that, even though I’m a terrible-teacher-getting-better-every-day, I’m a teacher nonetheless, putting 6 hours or more into each of my lessons, working my tail off just to step in it time and time again. And I do it for myself, or at least that’s what is pushed on us new teachers; that in our first years as a teacher we are doomed to fail our kids. So, I do it for myself, keeping that mantra alive as I plan these lessons to perfection on paper, never really realizing that I did touch someone in the process of actually teaching it, maybe just one, because my vision is myopic…I’m waiting for that second year status—that metal of courage, that I made it: I persisted…Yet, until I can grasp the notion that I made some kind of a difference in one of my students’ lives (albeit, that difference is as little as he payed attention and enjoyed a moment in class), and that I am in fact a qualified teacher in the eyes of my students, then it will be rare for me to not only open myself up to my students, but for them to open up to me. There is certainly a lot I still need to learn from these kids. One of them being pushing myself to build relationships, and two being accepting myself and all that I bring to that school and to my students each day.
And what? This all started from him saying he liked my lesson on DNA? How cheesy, please. ;) A month in and this is my inspiration. One brick at a time.
On a side note, Mississippi is great, I’m very home sick, missing my wife and everyone. But I’m learning something positive each day and growing—oh, am I growing.