Sunday, May 22, 2011

Here are my Suggestions:

It's almost the end of May! I have almost finished my first year as a 6th/7th/8th SPED math and science teacher/counselor/stand-in parent/shoulder to cry on/much needed disciplinarian and bringer of structure!

As the year is closing out, I am already beginning to feel excitement for year two. (That is how you know that this is the job for you - your administrators may not support you and make you cry, but you still want to teach the little nuggets!) I hope year two continues to be a year of growth and positive change.

Below are some growths and changes that I would welcome at my school for the 2011-2012 school year.

1. An overflow of flora. I would love if we had flowers outside the building and in the courtyard which is currently harboring too many patches of weeds. Flowers make people happy. Happy people raise student achievement (and close the achievement gap).

Update: Our maintenance staff has been so wonderful as to plant flowers outside of our school. I AM SO THANKFUL FOR THE FACT THAT THEY CONTINUE TO IMPROVE OUR SCHOOL even though I know that several children are not always (read: rarely) respectful of our school grounds.

2. Decked out hallways. This is one of my BIG GOALS for myself this coming school year. Our hallways need love. College banners hanging on the walls. Possible career aspirations dancing among them. A colleague and I were discussing that we aren't all about the movement to college. Most of our students won't go to college. Some of them probably shouldn't. To us, pushing college as the "only option" is silliness on our part as adults. When a kid doesn't like school, the last thing they need is being told to go through even more (optional) schooling. Yes, I think college is a great opportunity that opens many doors. However, not everyone aspires to a career that requires extensive schooling - and that's okay. If we can lasso them in with practical skills and connect to what they want to do and learn while teaching them about the greatness that is continued high education, I think that's a winning formula. No Charlie Sheen involvement intended.

     >>>We interrupt with rare praise for my school! One of our teachers took the initiative to make name cards for all the faculty in the building. Below our names are the degrees we have and the colleges we went to. It's totally cute.

3. Repainted bathrooms. With sinks that don't require you to hold the knob when you want water to flow out. Also, with waste baskets in the stalls because the girls are gross and throw them on the floor. Let's also add on a student conduct assembly at the beginning of the year. Amen to that. I'll lead it. And it'll begin like this: "Trash. It goes in the trash can. Here's how..." I'll have slides that go along with it.

4. Lockers that don't just pop open when you hit them. This is just a pipe dream...

5. Middle school appropriate desks. No cubby desks, please! Oh, and water fountains I will consider drinking from. One day I was incredibly thirsty, went to the fountain to fill up my water bottle and it was cloudy. Needless to say, I bring my own liquids now and would rather be dehydrated than drink that stuff.

6. Staff as a community. We should do something to pull our school community together. People should know other peoples' names. Hold conversations and learn about one another. It doesn't have to be anything big. A monthly breakfast. An icebreaker activity before the staff meeting officially begins. A calendar with everyone's birthdays. A bulletin board with information about or pictures of the staff. And I mean all the staff. Teachers, paras, DAs, administration, coaches, custodians, lunch staff, secretaries, and everyone else who contributes to the daily functioning of our school. Everyone matters.

7. SOLID school rules and consequences. School rules like RESPECT everyone and everything in the school (and hopefully, outside of it). School rules like COME PREPARED AND TRY YOUR BEST. Currently, our school stands meekly stand at: walk to the right side of the hallway, no backpacks or electronics, wear your uniform properly, and no destructive behavior or language. These are little not-so hairy or audacious goals.

8. Minimal requirement for cart teachers. It sucks. 'Nough said.

9. R-E-S-P-E-C-T for SPED. Teachers at my school have openly said that SPED belongs somewhere else and certainly not in their classrooms. No other way to say it: rude. While some students who are SPED should be in more intensive programs, many of our SPED students aren't too behind their peers.

10. Admin support for all teachers. And no telling us that our job is easy.

11. Time to meet and plan with co-teachers, department and team members. We need to be able to be on the same page with each other so we can teach strong lessons and convey a united front. Especially on the discipline side.

12. Again, assemblies and discussions with our students about proper conduct. Before the ideas of college can be pushed into their heads, they need common courtesies and practices of students to be drilled in there.

A school could be falling apart. But if the staff is positive, hard-working and united, I don't really think it matters. Improvements in student learning will be seen and we'll do the work we set out to do.

I will update soon on the things that I personally will bring to my classroom for SY 2011-2012. :)

The Reality of It

In my co-teaching science class, I am sitting with two students, D and J, playing Dots.

FF: "D, where are your parents from?"

D: "My mom is from the Dominican Republic and my dad is black."

FF: "Well, where is your dad from?"

D: "I don't know. I don't know my dad."

J: "Where'd he go?"

D: "My dad left me when I was a kid."

J: "Oh, me too. Man! I hate when that happens!"

I laughed, but upon reflection quickly after the conversation, I felt really sad for my kids. The fact that not having a father be present in your life is so common is pretty terrible. I think, often, that if my kids had two parents that their lives might be better. Because being a parent is hard work and probably, overwhelming at times, when you do it alone.

I also realized that for most of this year, I have not been annoyed or upset with my students. Less than 10 times, probably. My rationale was always that it is never the child's fault. They are children. They can't help their circumstances. Their upbringing. I spent most of this year feeling sorry for my kids. About a month ago, I began to rethink these feelings. Yes, their circumstances suck at times. But is it all that defines them? Half of life is what is given to you, but the other half, is what you do with what you are given. Some kids at school have horrible circumstances, but are working towards honor roll every quarter so they can get out of those circumstances. Some kids use it as a crutch. One of my kids has begun to state regularly, "but it's not [their/my] fault that [their/my] parents raised me poorly..."

Side note: he's hilarious and smart, so I can't take him seriously. But I appreciate that he understands the effects nurture has on a person's life.

I wish I had more time to talk to my kids about this kind of stuff. Next year I want to do weekly or biweekly conferences with all my students. (Very excited for year two. It's going to be much more eye-opening what kind of teacher I am, now that I have experience.)

"Maybe a pipe will burst outside the school and the whole first floor will flood! Fingers crossed!"

Monday, May 2, 2011

Eco-Friendlier Teaching

It may appear that we teachers hate the Earth. We make copy after copy, and then make extra copies of those copies. As an eco-conscious person, it hasn't been easy for me to adjust. I began the year with keeping electronic copies of everything, avoiding printouts as much as possible. In the middle of the year, I just gave in. This year I've been toying with ways to balance out my paper/toner usage. Please share any eco-friendlier ideas you have as a teacher/concerned citizen!

1. Meatless Mondays - just as it sounds. I don't eat meat for 24 hours. About 2,000 gallons of water goes into producing a single pound of beef! Incredible! Next year I want to try Meatless Metro Mondays, but I don't know how I feel about taking a 40 minute metro trip as opposed to just driving it...

2. Sidewalk Saturdays - on Saturdays, I don't drive for 24 hours. I put all my errands on hold until Sunday, where I try to plan out the trip as conservatively as possible.

(Can you tell that I love alliterations?)

3. Setting up a recycling bin in the classroom - My school doesn't recycle (neither does the county my school is in, really, and that is so 1991), but I got a paper recycling bin from my county and use it in the room. I empty it about once a quarter by taking it home to my apartment complex. It's kind of annoying but it definitely beats the guilt of shaving down trees!

Also, thank you to EVERYONE who read my last post/left constructive comments. I super appreciate it! Right now, I'm working on logging my hours for the week as a blog about how, as a new teacher, I spend my time. Thank you again for the help!