Considering that it’s been more than a year since my last blog post, it seems like I should add another. Especially since I didn’t actually blog anything during the whole first year. But I think there were a lot of lessons from that first year that I suppose it would make sense to share, in the process of getting ready for year two.
- Plan, but don’t overplan: I spent a lot of time on a unit plan for the final six-weeks of classes. As writing a research paper is part of the seventh-grade TEKS (Texas guidelines for teaching), I was excited to have my students research and learn about a specific college. But if I had spent all of that time and was switched to another grade level, as happened to some of my colleagues, it would have been moot. You can’t plan for the moment, but you need to anticipate that things you expect to happen are not always certainties.
- Your first unit plan is bound to fail: Similarly, the research paper unit, while a moderate success, was not the blockbuster I was hoping for. I didn’t think about students who would completely refuse to complete the project, nor did I adequately design a way for students who missed classes to make up in-class research assignments. And although I made changes, I don’t think I did an exemplary job of modifying the assignments for special education students. That being said, without a plan, the papers wouldn’t have happened, period. But it took one go-around to figure out the challenges I need to anticipate as I plan out the first six weeks.
- Take it seriously: Sometimes, something funny would happen, and I would work a joke about the funny occurance into the day’s lesson. Not only did this lead students to not take the class seriously, but seeing as I teach primarily middle school ESL classes, students didn’t understand the higher-level humor in the joke in the first place.
- Be direct with parents: I suppose it depends on one’s placement. But whenever I spoke with parents, I did so in a “compliment sandwich fashion” (e.g., José did great on his quiz, but José needs to stay seated in class, oh and by the way José is doing great group work). I didn’t want to make it sound to parents like I didn’t like their kids. And of course I did. But in the end, I think parents really just wanted the facts: what’s going on, why, and what they can do. Especially when I’m communicating in a language that isn’t my first, I think I need to be a bit stronger on why we are having this conversation.
- Be consistent: Biggest struggle of the past school year, without question. I think this explains itself.
- Live somewhere that you like: You work a long day. Maybe the rent means you’re not putting as much in your savings account. Don’t go into debt over your house or apartment, but treat yourself to a private bathroom. A granite kitchen countertop. The 200 channels of HD television package. The apartment complex with a clubhouse (where available, which would not be in my region…).
After a year, I have far from mastered what I do in the classroom. And some aspects of teaching I haven’t encountered yet. The biggest one is how to manage the relationships I have built with students over the past year. I want to make sure somehow that I what I learned about them and their writing is communicated onto their new writing teachers.
And how do I make sure that they’re still on the right track?
One student from this past year comes to mind as having amazing potential and plans for a career in the forensic sciences… and I have no doubt that she can make that happen.
That is, if she can graduate from the social horrors of middle school and receive the encouragement and support from teachers, coaches, and role models that she will need to get there.
She also needs to overcome being in a household where her parents don’t speak English, and are thus connected to this small town but not the country as a whole.
But who is watching out for students like her, who aren’t in any special programs and could so easily fall through the cracks?
Because she is far from the only one.