Monday, December 20, 2010

A Weary Mind, Body and Spirit

Wow am I ever drained - and very glad that it is Christmas Break (though I could also have dealt with staying a few more days so that we had more time after New Years Day, but oh well). It pretty much feels like I have not slept since Thanksgiving. Combine the busy life with the season change, and it all makes sense.

November was busy at school. You get into the second half of the semester realizing that your courses are nowhere near half-way through their curricula, you don't have the energy to lesson plan, and every committee, club or sport your are involved in is about to get busier. Every weekend, something prevented me from sleep - a hockey tournament, the Future Aces Leadership Conference and an OSSTF new teachers retreat being the most notable. I have definitely learned a lot.

The Future Aces: A Conference Empowering Students was a great experience. It was really nice to get to spend some time with students with amazing leadership potential from across Ontario for a weekend. We had fun getting to know each other and hearing from very inspiring speakers like Matt Evans on the adversities he has overcome through comedy, Amanda on her lemonade 4 heart campaign that she has been running since the age of 2, and Paul Rosen on losing his dream to play in the NHL and almost losing his life. Students learned about various causes like MAD: Making a Difference (where Maddie started raising funds to build a community in Africa as her WISH when she was fighting cancer), OSAID: Ontario Students Against Impaired Driving, and human trafficking in Ontario.

To say the least the weekend away with a small group of students from my school was both rewarding and tiring. I cannot wait to have the chance to go again and am really hoping that I can keep the 8 kids together to accomplish what we have now set out to do. They have decided to host a week-long coin drive at school with various events involved to raise money for Maddie's Wish Project. It is going to be a challenge considering I have never run anything like this before, and neither have any of these students - but that was the whole idea!

On another note, some small milestones have been met in some challenging areas of my teaching life. I am slowly learning to put my foot down sooner, rather than later (it's a tough one for us nice folk). Some of the students I was having trouble reaching are buying into the routines in the classroom and are completing work and causing less trouble. Of course there are those who are not buying into it and I am still having trouble with. Some day I will find ways to deal with students who are vain or overly talkative class clowns, but I doubt that this semester will be the day. I am going to come out of this semester with some new tricks up my sleeves and with the knowledge that I have a lot of support around me. I am going to walk into next semester with a new way of starting things and the conviction to follow through with them and create a better learning environment. And I will do all of this knowing that it will not be perfect, that sometimes I will fail, that it is going to take a lot of time and effort. Time and effort that will be taken away from the already huge challenge of having three new courses to teach. Time and effort that will be taken away from coaching teams and helping Future Aces.

Somehow, it will all work out.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Scientific Adventures

Wow, it is seriously hard to believe that as of the end of tomorrow Term 1 of Semester 1 of the 2010/2011 school year will be over. Midterm marks are due and there is only one term left to lead into exams. And at the same time, this has left like the longest term...I have had many challenges, grown a lot, felt broken down emotionally a few times...Definitely some of the many reasons I have fallen behind on this blog. So much for writing at least once per month!

I have encountered some of the most difficult circumstances of my young life. Working with full-size classes for the first time in my teaching career has brought along with it some interesting challenges - largely classroom management related. I walked into this career with many pieces of advice on the matter, and was told many times that I would learn and create my own style as I went along. I think that hardest part to realize, is that the style that will become my own, will not always be the one I had hoped for. I am not the "hard ass" teacher that I sometimes need to be and sometimes will need to be, especially as I continue to teach applied level course and continue to teach Grade 10 classes (such a fascinating Grade, no longer timid Grade 9s that think they are more mature than they really are).

This was the first experience I had getting to start from scratch with these level courses, and man would I like to take it back and start again. I can now see just how important it is to establish routines that are largely focused in character education and social learning and needs. Boundaries is a word I hear often...and now really understand the value of. It is very difficult to come back and set a tone to reestablish rules that should have been there from the start. And it is amazing to see just how much a 16-year-old will push the gray areas of behaviour. I think that when it comes down to it, the hardest part will be creating these boundaries around students who will always need my empathy and support. There has to be a balance between listening to problems/giving second chances and forcing someone to learn that they have to grow up eventually - no matter what they have had to deal with in their lives.

Enough on the struggles that have made me want to crawl under a rock though...

Being full time in a department that is my second teachable and is not my forte has brought along enough stress to last me a long time. Thankfully I have taught one of these courses already and have an amazingly supportive department. I can ask any of them questions and they are happy to do their best to help. My department head is amazing and provides me with the time and support I need. She has gone out of her way to help me create a major lab for a course that I am new to (and the teacher I work with is not as helpful) and finds ways to create time for me to do things on release days that I need the time for.

Our school is one that is recognized by the Ministry and receives funding for student support. To do this the school has identified 34 students to follow in Grade 10 and has created teams to work on PLCs (professional learning cycles) in certain departments. Science is one of those teams and we are working to develop changes and preparation for the 30% summative. This involves creating transparent assessments around the performance task and identifying true ways to evaluate application of knowledge and develop tasks to help students practice these skills. We have set out to have these 34 students improve their 30% evaluation mark by an average of 10% from their Grade 9 marks.

In any event, it feels like there is a lot of pressure on me to make this happen in Grade 10. Even when my department head will do everything she can (before going on maternity leave) to get the other teacher on board...

I'm sure I could go on for awhile, but I will spare you further digression.
Keep learning!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

My First "First Week" of School

So here it is, we are three days into the school year - and I am actually a teacher in weird. It has been a great experience getting to help set the tone of the school year (both within my classroom and in the halls). I think that this year is going to feel much more at home (even if I am teaching Science and terrified that I am going to screw up every day).

I started my first day of classes with icebreakers to help my students get out of their seats and get to know one another. The only thing Science related they saw was my intro letter that they were to read, sign and have their parent/guardian sign. Grade 9s respond much more timidly to name games on the first day, but I think that everyone learned a few names and had an experience they will look back on and laugh about. I must say, indoor "snowball" fights are fun and Grade 9s and 10s cannot do the Birthday Game in silence to save their lives. Hilarity.

My favourite story so far comes from a Grade 10 class on the second day, when a student asked me "Miss, are you Canadian". When I proceeded to tell him that I was, his response was "oh, because you have a Canadian accent". I didn't really know what to think about that as usual, I laughed! (I laugh way too much in that class...they already know they can distract me with their goofy ways. Oh well!)

I'm teaching an applied Science class for the first time in my career. As expected it comes with a group of unique students; many talk too freely about things that teachers do not want to hear about; some have more life experience than I probably ever will in my life; some live in single parent homes; and others will constantly be a struggle to get to do work (even though they are perfectly capable of it). I have actually had some good experiences so far (they make the struggles worth dealing with most days) with students completing work and willingly asking questions and participating in is definitely less of a struggle than applied math was. All I can do is try to keep up what I am doing so far and hope that most of them hold on. I intend to be there as a role model for them and give them a place where they can feel like they are capable of being successful.

I am both excited and nervous to see what the following weeks hold for me and my students. Every day is different and cannot be predicted. Maybe one of these days I will even learn to get to sleep at a decent hour and have things planned before the 5 minutes before class starts. But just maybe.

Monday, September 6, 2010

A New Beginning

Every day in teaching is a new one, where you can prepare as much as you want and never predict what is going to happen.

Well, here we go for a new beginning. The first day of school. For me this is a first as a teacher, having started in October of last year...I have had the first day jitters since last night and been told that every teacher feels this way before the start of every year. I am going with the assumption that this is a good thing - that I am anticipating a new beginning and looking forward to meeting a new group of students.

Anyway, I had intended to write some powerfully reflective summer entry before school started but that has not happened, and now it is getting late and sleep must be had. For didn't you know, the first day of school is the worst traffic day of the year.

To all my fellow teachers, good luck this year, have a blast making a difference in the life of someone young. Think outside the box. Try something new. Love what you do.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Walking on Thin Ice

It's funny how self-centered humans are as adolescents. How we can go through 3 or 4 or 5 years of high school and never really understand what our teachers, parents, principals, guardians and what have you are going through. How easy an adolescent finds it to walk through their day-to-day life and believe that a teacher has it out for them or doesn't believe them or whatever experience you can come up with. And I say this with absolutely no authority as a teacher, but with the authority of having been a teenager not all that long ago.

I was, what most, would call a good student. I did my homework, went to my symphony rehearsals, did well on tests and assignments and went off to accomplish things I had dreamed of for a long time (mind you, I was late for everything). Granted, I was (and still am) a rare case. I love(d) school - friends, teachers, sports, name it - and I knew the whole time that I wanted to teach high school. But I can still look back and know that I took for granted what I had, and failed to recognize a lot of what my teachers, etc were doing for me.

Over the past couple of months I have had so many things run through my mind, so many things I wanted to discuss with myself, with colleagues, with friends...things I wanted to ramble on about on my blog...things I never got around to mentioning to anyone. I do not recall ever wanting to talk about teenagers and their ability to believe outright that one of their teachers wasn't trying to do what is best for them, but maybe that is what it has all boiled down to...I think I worry about this a lot.

I feel like I am often walking on thin ice. Like everything I do changes my students' perception of me. Like I need to be superwoman for them everyday. But I also feel like my students need to see me fail, to make mistakes, to pick myself up again and forge through the day. I have started to realize that, by seeing my parents and family as successful people, by being in the company of friends who were driven and amazing, I have spent very little of my life learning how to fail. Maybe this is something that many of the students at my school (and elsewhere) can see in their teachers. Maybe they can tell that few of us had to truly struggle through a high school course (especially not in a subject we teach). Maybe, that makes us...some kind of enemy...

I have seriously digressed from where I thought I was going to go with this. In the end, what I am trying to understand is how to help those kids who are at risk. Whether at risk, in this case, means of failing a course or dropping out of school. How can I diversify myself enough, that the ones who really need me, can find a way in?

Funny thing is, when I was changing the layout of this blog today...trying to find a background picture...I was thinking about how I want to teach kids to see the bigger picture. I want them to see school as a tool to shape them and change who they will become. I want them to stop analyzing the little things in my math class and start truly learning how to think from themselves. How to problem solve and become independent people. I want learn how to learn about themselves - to become those people and love who they are. Maybe the way to do this, is to reach them all...maybe that's why this entry turned into what it is now.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Second Time Around

We are finally well enough into second semester that I can actually say that it feels like I am doing this for the second time. This being teaching...and this really being only one course, but still. At least it finally feels a little bit less like a scramble every day. I think.

My Grade 11 course does not have a current textbook and teaching Science for the first time is beyond a scramble. So really, the newbie status has a long while to go before it's behind me (I'm still on probation after all - and will be until the end of October).

I am sure that I have come up with a million little things that I wanted to blog about since my last post, and a couple of big ones too...but it appears as though they have all gotten lost in the shuffle. Pushed back into the complex storm of brain activity that goes on...lost in the madness of a first year teacher.

This week is a fundraising drive for camp that has a patient facility for children with cancer. It has been quite the site to see all of these kids pull out their spare change, run bake sales, sell perogies, sell roses, etc etc etc. So many of the homeforms have contributed some kind of lunch fundraiser and they have had other major events (such as a talent show) to boot. It is really neat to see what these kids can manage when many of them come from less affluent homes. Such great spirit (and I've heard that this hasn't been the most involved year, it's still amazing).

Anyway, I have survived my second Parent's Night now and Math GAINS has been going in full force. We have one more lesson to observe and debrief and one more anchor session to attend. The missing classes thing has been difficult at times but all of my classes are coping so far (and probably used to my absence). It has definitely be interesting though, I have learned a lot and it has been a great experience. Getting to build lessons with colleagues and actually see them in action is very cool - and very Japanese (seriously, they have led the way a lot with this type of Professional Development).

It is late now, and though I have much to say it will have to wait for another time!


Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Learning Continues

March Break is drawing to a close, and of course I have spent the majority of my time lying on the couch trying to get over this cold. It has made getting my errands finished quite difficult, not to mention being sick is rather annoying. But I guess I expected to fall ill this week - being fine on Monday just gave me false hope.

The Semester is shaping up to be a relatively interesting one. My Grade 11 class has been tough, it's a pretty good class but we do not have textbooks for this "new" Grade 11 course. And the department doesn't have a day-to-day outline set up either so it has been really easy for me to miss things as I go. As a result their tests have been a tad difficult, and on the unfair side. Something I totally recognize and am working to correct for them (I adjusted one of the tests even). What really got me was that I had to find out how they felt through the Grapevine of my former students - at least I know that those students still had some respect for me. Anyway, I got the class to do a Start Stop Continue reflection for me and reiterated that it is their class and they need to speak up so that I hear it from them. Hopefully this has shown them that I am willing to make changes and that I do want them to succeed. Hopefully. Hence, my learning I expect it to for the rest of my career!

We had a curriculum development day for Math recently so I spent some of my time creating an authentic assessment for the quadratic relations unit for the Grade 10 Academic course. I already have one for the Analytic Geometry Unit so it made sense to try to have one for each of the units in the course (one more to go). I want to give my students who have trouble on tests the opportunity to show their understanding...which will hopefully help them to be successful in the long run - maybe it can help them build some self-confidence. The goal is for the assessments to look at a variety of skills and communications and be graded through a rubric. The rubric allows students to know exactly what I am looking for and allows for a shorter marking time.

Finally, Grade 9 Science. Interesting to say the least. Chemistry is almost finished. It was a lot of lab/activities so it was hands on for the students and we had a practical test so they could show us what they had learned in an appropriate way. It seems as though leading off with this unit may have given them a misconception of a lazy teacher in front of them, but this is generally the way the department goes through Chemistry - and seeing as though it is my first time through and Chem is NOT my thing I guess it has gone relatively well. One thing is for sure, this has involved a lot of written formative feedback. We return for one last lesson or two on compounds and their summative lab assessment before moving onto Earth and Space Sciences.

Needless to say I've had my ups and downs so far this semester, but it has also reaffirmed that I love teaching and that working with my colleagues at this school has been an amazing experience.

I guess the next two weeks will tell if I get to spend another year with them or not. Here's to hoping!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A Beginning

This week I completed my first full week of starting my own classes from day one of a Semester. I got to try some things - not doing course outlines the first day, developing classroom expectations with my students (instead of dictating them), teaching Science for the very first time, using a Culture Assignment with my Grade 10 Math class, using Student Conferences from the start to try to get to know (a few of) my students so that I could really know who I was teaching instead of just knowing the material, using Math Journals with my Grade 10s...

Wow...that is the first time I've really sat back and thought about all of the things I have been doing, and now I think I really understand why I was so tired this week! And I haven't even met with half of my students...they keep missing their time slots (oie vay).

But so far I can say that it has been fun. I did get to start planning a little bit before things got underway, so in some ways it has been less overwhelming (but teaching in two departments, makes the overwhelmed feelings come right back). It is a challenge to work for two different department heads - they will never have the same style/expectations/etc and I have two sets of department meetings to attend and keep track of. But more of the challenge is trying to feel comfortable with my science lessons before I walk into the classroom. I am finding it really difficult to stay ahead of the game, so it goes day-by-day which makes it hard to be prepared - something always get forgotten...but I teach next door to a colleague with the same class so I am surviving.

I had a student tell me in this first week that she has realized that I can make math fun again. That had to have been the highlight...getting to see something make a difference so soon. Another student expressed concern over her success and what she can do in the future, so we have agreed to meet to try to work through it. I have really enjoyed these journals, I feel like I know these Grade 10 students better after a week than I knew many of those in my Semester 1 class. Definitely feel enlightened by some of their perspectives.

If I had to address one realization from this week it would probably be the realization that this feeling of being the young teacher that the kids relate to will not last as long as I would like it to. I look young for my age, so it will happen for awhile, but it will slowly fade and they will fool me with their technologies and slang terms more and more often. I find the students are more real in my class than they would be in a more experienced teachers room...and it's not just about age. They think they can get away with stuff without me noticing it as a new teacher...but they are wrong so it's funny. Maybe I will know things have changed when I stop being able to hear the "mosquito" ring on their cell phones.

For now I will be content with how things are (and I am more than content) and enjoy the things I get to hear, see and learn in my classroom and in the halls. I will keep enforcing things in my class that force the kids to take ownership for what they do and say and try to teach them how to be better, charismatic people. I will keep working to be the teacher that I have always wanted to be. I will keep trying to make math something that doesn't suck for most students. I will keep being me, and letting my students be themselves.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Semester Ending

Semester 1 of my first year of teaching is coming to a close. An interesting one it has been.

I have spent the last three or so weeks counting down the end of this semester while looking forward to new and exciting things to come. It is not as much that I want this Semester to end, and more that I cannot wait to finally get to start classes that are my own from day 1! It has been quite the challenge to take on students that had already fallen into routines with another teacher - I am just looking forward to a new challenge that is my own (and more realistic to what I will experience for the rest of my career).

I have found that especially the older students I have (at the level of course they are in) had lost interest in large parts of the course long before I arrived at their school. Many of them were content to aim for a 50 to get their last mandatory credit in Mathematics. Some strove for better and worked sometimes...but it is hard to say that any of them really put their hearts into it. But I still loved it - getting to see students for who they are and having some open up about their struggles (whether it be at home or school). It is hard not to appreciate people who are trying to be true to be real. I only wish I had found a way to motivate them better.

We are in Exam week right now, so classes are finished and the final marking and report cards are all that are left for my responsibilities. I am spending time starting to prepare for the next Semesters classes (I am only repeating one of my three preps) but constantly find myself reflecting on how this Semesters classes went. What would I do differently next time? What would I continue doing? What would I stop doing all-together? Despite the fact that I will not be teaching a 1P course this Semester it is the one I had the most trouble with this time around so I am thinking about it a lot.

How do we reach such an eclectic variety of students? There are so many unique needs, despite the fact that some of them have similar backgrounds. Many are misplaced in the P stream and lack the core math skills that are needed. Most are motivated only by marks (and even that comes and goes) and all of them were pretty much shut down by the time the performance task and EQAO came along...never mind when they write their exams this week. I honestly don't know how that class functioned as a class of 18 before it was split. I constantly needed to be in three places at once and was using the phrase "focus" or "get back to work" at least 40 times per class. I know that when I teach this (or a similar) course again that I will separate from the use of the TIPS books much more often. I would love to be able to create partial notes for students like this that they can fill in during a short lesson and use as a model to complete their work. Page after page of application is, frankly, useless to them if there are no examples.

Now I will go back to writing reports and preparing for the upcoming Semester. All the meanwhile trying not to take it personally that too many of my students were unsuccessful this time around. I will focus on how I can make a difference for and motivate my next group. I will take what I have experienced so far and use it to make myself a better teacher.

Personal Goals
- Bring back goals students set for themselves throughout the Semester
- Use Student Conferences to check in with students about their progress and get them to talk about their goals and fears
- Teach students to self-evaluate their struggles and successes and give them the tools to figure out and execute their next steps
- Keep My Class Sites updated throughout the Semester