Saturday, September 21, 2013

Being an Adult is Weird

Not so long ago I was hanging out with my friends in my high school locker room after cross country practice. I was deciding where I would learn to become a teacher. I was moving into Suite G in Thorp Hall. I was planning ice cream parties for the 1200 students who live at RIC.

Now I chaperone school dances with colleagues who could practically be my parents. I am deciding how to best use what I learned about being a teacher. I am hanging inspirational posters to decorate Room 111. I am planning a field trip to Salem for the 100+ students on my team.

Being an adult is weird.

In this role of teacher, of course, there’s a lot to manage. SLOs, reading logs, emergency cards, copy codes, induction meetings, seating charts, NECAP schedules, and jammed lockers. So. Many. Jammed. Lockers.  

But of all this, one of my favorite things (besides homeroom joke of the day) is just watching my students and their interactions with one another. This week, I had to opportunity to see some of my students outside of my classroom and their usual front hallway stomping ground. I spent some time at dusty Foster Field for the girls soccer game and the b.o. stenched gymnasium for the first dance of the school year.

As I observed, I couldn't help but imagine who I was at age 13 - a much quieter, less social, still nerdy version of my current self. It’s fun to try to figure out which of my students I was most like, and who my friends would have been. It’s a way to reflect on my own practice as a teacher. What would 13-year-old student-me think about 23-year-old teacher-me? Am I creating a learning environment that would have been conducive to my needs? Am I falling into habits of that teacher who I vowed I would never become?

My observations have also led me to be curious about the people that my students will be. They all have some pretty distinct personality traits and I am wondering what role I will play - intentional or not - in influencing them to become kind, productive people in the world. What can I/will I do to help them become better versions of themselves?  

Because the other thing about being an adult is how my conception of time has dramatically shifted.

Gone is the age when I waited light years and eons for Christmas to come again. As I get older, time goes by faster and faster and faster.

We are already starting week five?

Wait, what? I have never taught students for more than seven weeks at a time! Well, I guess that’s a topic for another blog...

In any case, it’s unbelievable.

There have been so many amazing moments in just the first few weeks of school - academic or otherwise. I have seen students light up at a correct answer, help open a classmate’s locker, present in front of the whole class after explaining they were too shy to do the same at their old school . . . But I know this is only the beginning.

I want to capture all of these things and keep them tucked away to return to at some point in the future. In the back of my head, I recall the end of my student teaching when so many of Mrs. Ballard’s conversations with students would start with, “Remember how hard it was for you to write just one sentence at the beginning of last year? Look, now you wrote paragraphs and paragraphs all on your own.” I just think there is so much power in looping with students for two years.

However, since I’m in a one year position, there is no guarantee that I will be teaching at the same school next year, never mind even being on the same team. This means that the time I have with my students now is all the more precious. I want to spend as much of it as I can getting to know who they are academically and socially.

This means some more afternoons at the soccer field and Friday nights in the gym.   
Being a teacher is weird . . .

I wouldn't trade it for the world.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Reading and Writing and Pancakes

At Coventry, every teacher, regardless of content area, teaches a literacy class. Last year, literacy classes included a vocabulary development program centered on instruction about prefixes, suffixes, and root words. Since this year’s Literacy curriculum hasn’t been established or implemented yet, I have freedom to do what I want.


Before our first class met on Tuesday, I knew that my goal for the next week was to read a whole class novel. However, since I didn’t have a book yet and wasn’t ready to start that, I decided to do a carousel activity with a variety of quotes about reading and writing. I put each quote on a piece of poster paper, hung the quotes around the room, gave each student a marker, and let them walk from poster-to-poster to respond to each of the quotations. After the students made their journey around, I asked for volunteers to share which quote stuck out  to them the most and why.

Immediately, a student’s face lit up and hand shot up. I really thought he was going to fall out of his desk from the excess enthusiasm. Attempting to avoid this disaster, I invited him to share. He read out a quote on the back wall from Frank Serafini: “There is no such thing as a child who hates to read; there are only children who have not found the right book.” He eagerly asked if he could share his response and I, of course, couldn’t  refuse his smile.

“Anyone can make pancakes but they have to find the right batter.”

Seriously? Pancakes? I thought to myself. Well, I know who the funny man is now.

“Okay…” I said slowly. “And how does that connect to the quote?”

I expected something off-topic and was trying to quickly figure out how  I would bring the class back together . . . even if it was last period.

But the student impressed me. He wasn’t just being a funny man. He very eloquently explained how his metaphor was just an example to help explain the concept: just like anyone can be a reader or make pancakes, both either need to find the right book or the right batter to be successful.

On that same poster, another student wrote, “I love books.” And other confessed, “I hated books til I found Diary of a Wimpy Kid.”  I’m  not so sure I would have seen or heard these same responses if this were an individual or purely discussion-based activity.

I’m not claiming to make any earth-shattering conclusions here, but, overall, the responses I received reminded me why activities like this are so important. Having large pieces of poster paper for students to write on literally gives them the space to think and share their ideas. Students who might not want to speak in class regain power with a marker of their own.

Plus, now I get to decorate my class with their smart scribbles :)

Monday, September 2, 2013

A Reckless #Actofhope

On Friday, when sharing my Ten Things About Me, I told my students that one of my favorite  things to write about is my experience as a teacher. Saying it aloud to each of my four classes really left me with no choice but to stick to my word and return to my blog.

So here I am...

Each week, I hope to share a glimpse into my 7th grade ELA classroom. I hope to share a glimpse into the mind of a first year teacher. I hope to share a glimpse of a reckless #actofhope.

I know it’s not going to be easy. I know I will always have papers to read, emails to write, students to conference with, PD to attend, clothes to wash, and groceries to buy. But taking time to write and reflect will make me a better teacher. I have so much to learn and I want this blog to be a place to record that learning.

I've debated changing the name of my blog to reflect my new role as professional grown up - and the fact that there isn't a chalkboard to be found at my school - but I can’t seem to part with it. “Pencils and Chalk Dust” was the name of an essay I wrote in sixth grade about one of my favorite teachers. The name reminds me of the person I admired so much, with a pencil always tucked in her bun and chalk dust smudged on her hands after a lesson about Robert Frost. It reminds me that being a teacher is about being a person to my students. One who is interesting and interested. Who models kindness and curiosity. Who smiles so much that her students ask, “Why do you smile so much?” (Yep, that happened.)

And there are lots more smiles to come. I decided that I want to start homeroom with a joke of the day. I couldn't have been happier when students called dibs on bringing in corny laughs to share with their classmates.

What did one plate say to the other?
The food’s on me.

And I couldn't help but chuckle as a student oh-so-proudly shared in her Ten Things About Me that, when she was younger, she pretended to be a mermaid with a pillowcase on her legs.

I can’t wait to learn more about my students.

I can’t wait to read and write alongside them.

I can’t wait to see how they grow as people.

It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon...and with my team of friends and family and colleagues beside me, I am ready for the journey ahead!