Thursday, May 31, 2018

What I Have Learned

Today was the last day of my 14th year of teaching. This was an extra special year because it was my last year in a district that I have worked the entirety of my teaching career. I am moving, so I'm changing districts. But I'm still teaching.

I thought this would be a good time to reflect on everything I have learned during the past 14 years.

College does not prepare you for teaching
This is something any first year teacher can tell you, but I thought it was worth noting. I've seen what the new teachers have to do. The hoops they have to jump through. It's a lot. While I think it might be a way of weeding out those that don't want to put their all into teaching, the tasks teachers have to do are unrealistic and don't actually teach teachers what it's like to be a teacher.

Teachers need to stand up
It's becoming pretty evident that teachers are picked on. Many won't say it, but I will. I believe teachers are underpaid and picked on by big business and politicians because we're a female dominated profession. It becomes exhausting having to fight for our retirement fund, school supplies, salary, class sizes. You name it. I work in California where we have one of the strongest teacher unions. It's no joke. The union is your greatest ally. Join! If you are a right-to-work state, still consider contributing to the National Education Association.

It's expensive
I'm pretty sure there are no other professions in which people buy for their jobs. While I don't believe teachers should spend so much, I understand why we do it. I buy the pretty decorations that make my classroom look pretty. I buy a bookshelf that matches better with my decor. I buy books from Amazon like I have unlimited funds. I buy these things because I want to. My classroom is my second home. I want to be happy there.

Things may not go as planned and that's OK
Some days your kids are extra talkative. Some days there a five kids absent. Some days the classroom phone rings 20 times. Things may not always go as planned, but that's OK. Nothing goes as planned. The real test is if you can manage when things don't go as planned. If kids aren't "getting it," stop and go over it again.

Teaching is more than academics
Over my years of teaching, I've noticed the lack of empathy in many of my students. I'm not saying they're terrible kids. They just haven't been taught to think of others' feelings. Empathy is something that needs to be learned. It's something we need to teach. I love to use children's books to teach it and many other character traits.

The kid that causes you the most trouble, may be the one that loves you the most
Today, my little guy sat, on his own, and wrote a long letter for me. I could tell he was writing me a letter and I was excited to get it. I didn't let on that I knew because I wanted him to keep writing. I watched as he reread the letter and made corrections (YAY!). He handed it to me and, while I was hoping for this 7 year old to tell me I changed his life, he expressed how much he loved me and loved playing Math Prodigy on the computer. It's fine. I get it. He's only 7. The letter meant the world to me. What meant most to me is that he sat and wrote when he could have been playing Math Prodigy.

Kids love personalized notes
I do this each year, but this year I did it differently. I had the students sit in a circle. I sat with them. I called it the "circle of love," and they take it seriously. I'm pretty sure a bunch of 5th graders would think I was ridiculous. I could be wrong. So I talked to the kids about things they didn't understand and probably forgot two minutes after I said it. . . I told them that I know sometimes I seemed like a Grinch, but it was because I care about them and all that jazz. I told them that the one thing I want for them when they get older is to be good people. After all that, I handed out cards with notes to each student. I told them that if they had a hard time reading it, I would read it to them. One of my best readers wanted me to read hers. I think she just wanted to hear the words from my mouth. One even suggested sharing what I wrote with the rest of the class. So we sat in our circle of love and everyone read their cards.

Try everything once
This was my year of trying everything with a good attitude. I generally don't like scripted programs. I don't like worksheets. I don't like boring Power Points. But I tried all of them because my grade level wanted to try them. We also implemented a scripted intervention program, which was not very exciting. I did it. I learned that I needed to add voices, which added some flare. I followed the script and told myself, "It's only for 15 minutes." And guess what? Kids made progress. As for the other things I tried, that leads to the next thing I learned. . .

Use best practices
At the end of the day, I am a clown. I am here for the entertainment of my students. Useless worksheets that don't challenge a student's thinking, don't teach students concepts. Replacing writing with long Power Point grammar lessons does not help kids either. Applying grammar knowledge into writing does. We cannot keep teaching students using practices our teachers used. Especially me. I was in elementary school in the 80s and 90s. And while I do value the knowledge of experienced teachers, they are sometimes the worst offenders.

Keep learning 
As teachers, we need to set professional goals. Read a book about teaching math or adding close reading into your teaching. We must always do better for our kids. We don't want our hair dressers to give us "the Monica" in 2018.We need to stop giving spelling tests.

The end.


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