Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Advice from 6th Graders

During the last week of school, I asked my kids to write down their advice to the students who would be in my class the following year.  I encouraged them to be honest and got a glimpse into how they really felt about a few things.  Here's what they came up with--

Things to look forward to in sixth grade-
More freedom
Various fieldtrips
Teachers (a few named me, others listed our social studies teacher who is awesome)
Christmas Store
Pi Day (my favorite!!)
STAAR Carnival

Things you need to know about Ms.Stephens - 
Don't talk when she is talking
Give her respect and she will give it to you
She knows what she's doing
Don't make her mad- it ruins her day  (Oops, apparently I show my feelings a bit too easily)
She wants to listen
She wants you to work hard
Be police
She's strict
She's nice
She teaches math
She likes the Aggies
Don't sleep
She doesn't take fooling around
She has fun, but if you take advantage, she won't
Don't be loud
She's not boring
Don't pass notes- she reads them
Don't make her repeat herself (Oops again, I want them to feel like they can ask for clarification)
Helps you
Gives lots of chances (too many?)

Make sure you always-
Do homework (This was a big deal this year, but we are changing homework policy)
Follow directions
Be kind- to teachers, friends, everyone
Eat breakfast
Brush your teeth (This made me laugh)
Bring Supplies
Show respect
do your best
Have fun at the right times
Pay attention
Simplify (Yes!!! haha)
Remember Aunt Sally
Be correct  (Without them putting their names, I know exactly which of my GT boys wrote this)
Stay organized
Show your work

Make sure you never- 
Talk back
Get Zapped (Awesome program my school does to encourage students to turn in work!)
Run in hallway
Cheat on tests
Chew gum
Text in class
Glue paper to desk (Because yes, this happened)
Eat in class without a pass
Forget ID
Goof off during a serious class learning time
Break stuff
Touch girls
Lie, cheat, steal

I miss my kids!  They'll always be my first group and be special to me, but I can't wait to meet my new group and they deserve the very best too.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Remember the Why

Throughout my first year, I heard lots of these type of questions from other teachers (and my parents and friends and boyfriend)-
  • Why do you get here so early?
  • Why do you stay so late?
  • Why do you care so much?
  • Why are you trying so hard?
This was really discouraging.  Why wouldn't I be doing those things?  Why shouldn't I care so much?  But as the year went on, I started to let these questions get to me.  Why was I staying so late?  Why was I trying so hard?  February seemed like the longest month ever, and I was worn out.  Were all of my efforts really making a difference or was I killing myself for nothing?

Towards the end of the year as I was getting my room ready for testing, I took down all of the pictures my students had drawn me throughout the year that I'd hung up around my desk.  I put all of these drawings and notes in slipcovers and kept them all in a binder on my shelf.  Students noticed me doing this, and continued to bring me letters and drawings asking if I would put them in the binder too.  On the last day of school, I got to add many more to the binder.  When several of my kids cried telling me bye that day, I came full circle back to my why. 

Going into this year, I know there will be days that I'm in "just get through today" mode and others that I'm the passionate, positive teacher I want to be.  For those less motivated days, I've created a folder on my desktop with things to remind me of my why-  essays I wrote during college, answers to application questions, youtube videos, TED talks, blog posts, etc.

Does anyone else have these days?  What do you do to remind yourself of your "why"?

Monday, July 2, 2012

Stuck in the Middle

Yesterday I ran into Wal-mart for a few things and was bombarded by school supplies, which means... its almost that time!  I'm 33 days away from the first day of school!  This will be my second year teaching sixth grade math in Brenham, Texas.  Throughout my first year, my brother told me several times I should be blogging-  he wanted to be able to read about the ridiculous things that were said or done in my classroom.  I always meant to start a  blog, and never seemed to make time.  I assured myself there was no way I would forget a single thing about my first year while it was happening... oops.

My first year was certainly a roller coaster, but by no means the disastrous event I've heard from others.  My administration is supportive and awesome and the teachers on my campus would do anything to help.  I'm a very lucky girl :) The biggest struggle I faced my first year was coming to terms with the reality of finally being in the classroom.   I've always dreamed of teaching (minus the brief period when pediatrician was the goal).   My four years at Texas A&M only increased my passion.  I just knew I was going to the best teacher ever.  I was going to change the lives of my students.  I was going to care about them more than any other teacher would.  I would teach them to love themselves, learning, and mathematics (or at least respect it).  I was going to listen to them and love them and teach them about respect, hard work, motivation, generosity, courage, etc.

I'm not so confident that I drastically changed anyone's life for the better this past year.  I do know that I cared about them an insane amount and that they got my best. 

I spent much of my first year feeling stuck.  I came out of school with so many ideas that I couldn't wait to try and so much passion I couldn't wait to share.  And then I was handed binders.  Of worksheets.  Numbered 1-100 or something like that.  I tried to implement as many of the strategies I'd learned, but needed to stay on schedule with the other sixth grade math teachers and didn't want to offend anyone by doing things differently.  I wanted to assign independent projects to my GT students, but was told the parents wouldn't be happy, so I tried to fit it into class time, and it just wasn't as successful as I wanted or expected.  I wanted my students to sit into groups and work together, but the first 4 teachers that walked into my room during in-service week made comments that groups were a dangerous idea...  I did it anyway.  It worked wonderfully.  I was constantly pulled between what I wanted to do, what I felt was the right thing to do, and what others were doing.  I respected their experience and valued their opinions but felt strongly about my own ideas too.  I struggled to have authentic conversations with students, instead feeling rushed to teach each standard in time for the STAAR test.  And I hated seeing myself do things I promised I never would-  Did I really just say "because I said so?" and did I really just write a referral for THAT and did I really yell at my class because they didn't line up quietly?  I was stuck between my idealistic view of who I would be as a teacher and who I really am as one. I read articles and blogs discussing the failure of our education system... and I'm stuck between agreeing and arguing or defending.