Every summer, I dream big and think of all the things I want to accomplish as a teacher. And each October, I am jolted back to reality and struggling to stay afloat. It turns out that I can’t do it all, or if by some small miracle I do, I can’t do it all well.
As a planner and perfectionist, this is a difficult truth to face. I think this is why I end up wallowing on my failures and shortcomings instead of celebrating my successes. (A flaw that my husband regularly points out to me).
So in the spirit of optimism, I am choosing to focus on what dreams have been made real:
Productive First Days. The first day of school is too often a boring, repetitive task for students as they are lectured on the syllabus, policies, and rules. I purposefully did none of this for the first week; instead, I focused on building community. Students worked in small groups to describe what an ideal community looks, sounds, and feels like. I made a word cloud of each class period’s descriptions and then had each class brainstorm community expectations that would serve as our “rules” for the year so that we could strive for that ideal each day. Those first days were focused, collaborative, and student driven – exactly the tone I want to set for the year.
Celebrating Students. The first text sophomores read is The Tragedy of Macbeth. Most often, we read this text aloud and in roles. I held my students accountable to reading a part at least once, but many students volunteered to read day after day. Shakespeare can be hard to read aloud, so I wanted to honor students for taking a risk. And then, in a moment of pure genius, the Golden globe award was born. Download this free resource here.
Turning awkward in to awesome. We offered one section of pre-AP freshman English this year, which I teach. At the start of September, our class size was down to 10 students… all girls. With so much empty space in our classroom, the environment turned a bit awkward. The girls whispered during small group discussions and were hesitant to share out in class, which makes perfect sense when everyone stands out because there are only a handful of people in the room. After talks with my colleagues (especially my BSWP fellows), I made two changes that really turned this class in to a vibrant and productive environment. First, I was able to recruit 5 additional students for the class – 2 boys, even! Second, I implemented Treat Yo’ Self Fridays, where we listen to our class playlist and enjoy treats while we work. Obviously, this was a bit hit with my class.
Ditched the desks. Over the last few years, I have been gathering pieces to try flexible seating in my classroom. This summer, I acquired some new tables and decided to commit fully. I moved all of the desks out of my classroom. This was a scary step to take, as it moves the control of the space from teacher to students. Happily, the space is working for almost all of my students and allows me to make fast and easy changes to the space between class periods when needed.