Dear Student Teacher, Thank You For Saving My Teaching Career

Dear Student Teacher,

I have never told you this, but about this time last spring I considered quitting teaching.

It had been a rough year. We had lost several students to tragedy and my heart was tired. I was drowning trying to balance being a good teacher, being a good colleague, working on graduate courses, balancing meetings, coaching slam poetry, and all other parts of “real life” outside of my job. I was completely burned out. I just felt like I couldn’t catch my breath and knew I was failing at it all.

4951026891_ec7c47f485

I had even applied for several jobs outside of teaching, assuming I needed a change. When the end of May came, I decided that I should probably at least finish my master’s program in education before completely bailing on the career. And as most teachers will relate, the summer healed some of my stress.

But with the start of the new school year, I felt the weight return to my shoulders. I tried not to show it, but I just felt like I was treading water every day. The smallest things were keeping me up at night and I just didn’t think I could handle the stress of it all. I still deeply cared about my students, but I was so preoccupied with the challenges and problems in my job that I just felt like a poser. On the outside, I tried to act confident and energized, but on the inside, I was falling apart.

In late fall, I was told you would be my student teacher from January to May. I was petrified. I thought:

“I am not the best version of myself right now. I don’t even know if I want to keep teaching and now I’m supposed to guide someone into the path that I don’t even think I can continue?!”

teacher-295387_960_720

 

I was completely terrified that I would ruin you and I had not even met you yet. I worried about this for months. I talked with colleagues who assured me that it would be a good thing, but even they were unaware of my insecurities and struggles with teaching.

And then the day came… you burst into my classroom with the most excited smile and lights behind your eyes. You had such a passionate aura and a ridiculous amount of energy. You were ready to the light the world on fire with your teaching… I could tell. I remembered when I thought I could light the world on fire.

I thought: I’m going to ruin her. I’m going to kill her spirit. She deserves someone better who knows what they are doing and feels confident about the teacher they are.

happy-stick-girl-clip-art

As I began integrating you into my classroom, you asked questions. Lots of them. Some that really made me reflect and think about before answering. Even as we delivered my lessons, you jumped right in and didn’t hesitate. You were so confident in the difference you were going to make. I was floored. I remembered feeling that passion.

As you began taking over, I heard you say “I found this cool lesson idea last night, I’m going to try it today…” I remembered how I used to find that cool lesson idea and try it the next day.

As you got to know our students, you pointed out those who were really struggling and you really dedicated yourself to those students instead of letting them barely slide by… I remembered doing that.

I saw your enthusiasm and remembered why I became a teacher in the first place.

8043814237_61b6ff8456

Your energy was contagious. I loved working side by side with you in the classroom. I loved bouncing ideas off each other and working in tangent to keep all students on task and engaged. I loved how we kept each other motivated when the caffeine wore off. It was seriously awesome. You became a vital part of our classroom.

Then you took over. (And for the record, you were amazing…) You were reflective, passionate, engaging, and dedicated. You were helping students overcome challenges, taking risks with your lessons, listening to your students and building relationships in the classroom… your passion and energy were helping students succeed.

But after a few weeks of not being the teacher, I began missing it desperately. I found myself envying the work you were doing with students. I was so excited for the success you were having with even the “tough” ones and realized I missed those challenges.

teaching

In the last few weeks, I have done some serious soul searching. In this soul searching, I’ve found myself thinking:

I miss seeing students overcome challenges.

I miss being there for them when they need someone to listen.

I miss finding an awesome new tool and trying it out in the classroom.

I miss using my energy to inspire students to succeed.

I miss students.

I miss teaching.

I want to light the world on fire again.

That short time of not teaching made me realize that I belong in the classroom. It is absolutely where I want to be. And I honestly don’t know if I would have come to that same realization without your help.

Next week you are graduating and leaving to run your own classroom. It will feel weird to look over at your desk and not have you grinning back at me. You don’t know what you have done for me, but I will never be able to repay you. I dread saying goodbye to you and I warn you I’m a bit of a crier in those situations.

However, I feel like I’ve found my teacher voice again. I can’t wait to set the world on fire again and pour the same passion I started with (in my student teaching) back into my classroom.smilie-954980_960_720

You know who you are and I can never thank you enough.

Sincerest Thank You,

Sam

 

Read more about having a student teacher:

Keep the conversation going…

  • What have been your student teaching experiences?
  • What experiences have you had as a cooperating teacher?
  • What fears may occur during the student teaching period for both the student teacher and the cooperating teacher?

P.S. If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment below or sharing it on Facebook or Twitter!

Senior Year: Strategies for Success

Teaching seniors can be so rewarding!

student_graduation_faculty_of_economics_ulbs_jun_2013
Graduation day approaches…

However, senior students present many challenges…

On any given day of the school year, seniors may be:

excited to be the upperclassmen

invincible in their final endeavors

anxious to graduate (aka senioritis)

sad to leave the security of a school

concerned about becoming adults

frustrated by being confined to rules

nervous about the future

unsure of what comes next

maxresdefault1
That is a lot of emotion for one human… one might think students could explode from all that… and sometimes they do have an occasional explosion of emotion. 

But senior year is so many things for so many different students…

  • It can be the last chance to bump up that GPA for college.
  • It can be the last sentimental year for activities.
  • It can be the last chance to make up credits needed for graduation.
  • It can be the last opportunity to build those lasting connections with classmates.
  • It can be the longest-shortest 10 months of their life.

In supporting them through this roller coaster of feelings, teachers have the opportunity to be part of the final influence and push into adult life. We get to challenge them in coursework, discuss future plans, help them with college and job applications, give them a preview of what college and adulthood will look like, and help them to reflect on the years they have spent in school.

Getting to be a part of this monumental year helps me to remember the true rewards of teaching and value being a part of my amazing students’ lives.

takabisha_roller_coaster
The roller coaster of senior year

My favorite lessons with seniors:

1. Life Infographic 

We live in a very digital world and as an audience for this world, we really have short attention spans. Infographic use is becoming more and more popular as a way to communicate information.

In this activity, students create an infographic on a real world process of something they will need to know how to do in their future… perhaps something they have not yet learned about.

Resources Used: a) Piktochart–for creating b) Blogger–for sharing c) Google –for research

Post Secondary School Survival.png
Infographic by student on “Job Interviews”

2. Vacation Research Project

In this activity, students work cooperatively to research a country’s history, culture, and tourism; then they plan a vacation to visit. They need to use internet research skills, organizational skills, and budgeting skills.

Students were engaged in learning about the history and culture of other places and had some quality discussion on how they should budget their money and what they should do on the vacation. Finally, students presented their vacation to classmates in an effort to persuade them to participate in the vacation.

Resources Used: a) Google Docs–for creating/orgainizing b) Google –for research c) Google Slides –for presenting 

5
Students work in groups to research and plan a vacation to a far off destination!

3. Student-Choice Research Paper

While the “senior paper” has in the past been dreaded and overwhelming for students, I’ve found that really preparing students with the essential research and writing skills, in small doses prior to assigning it, helps the paper run more smoothly for students. But the most important concept that helps students to engage is by allowing them some choice in the subject of the writing and research. Allowing this choice also makes it more authentic and relevant for students. Read more about student choice…

Resources Used: a) Google Docs–for creating/orgainizing b) Google & Google Scholar–for research c) Purdue OWL–for formating and style d) Turn It In–for submission & revision

-Research Paper  Day One   Google Docs
Research topics can vary for students’ interest!

4. Where Have I Been: TimeLine Project

My favorite part of teaching seniors is giving them the opportunity to reflect on their past, present, and future. While they do not yet fully realize it, they are about to enter the next part of their lives and it will be VERY different from their life so far. As a final project, students create a timeline of their lives. This is often a project that brings students and parents together to remember the years that have passed and to discuss the years that are to come. It is amazing to hear some of the reflection that occurs on the last day of class, as students walk around and remember times they’ve had with family and classmates and reflect on their life experiences thus far. (I tend to play really cheesy reflection music to enhance the mood.)

Resources Used: a) Google Docs–for planning/orgainizing b) Google –for research c) posters and other supplies

Jaime H..jpg
Students often have a true sense of pride when these projects are complete.

And finally…. when senior year comes to an end… there I am in the audience at graduation with tears in my eyes and a smile on my face. The roller-coaster of senior year has ended and it is time to get off and head to the next ride. All I can hope is that they are ready for it!

 

6
Thumbs up for senior year! 

Read more about teaching seniors:

Keep the conversation going…

  • How do you engage seniors in your classroom?
  • What do you do to help prepare seniors for college or adult life?
  • What challenges do you find in engaging seniors in the classroom?

P.S. If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment below or sharing it on Facebook or Twitter!

 

Graduate School: A Rewarding Challenge

As posted on Teaching and Learning blog on November 1, 2014

stack-of-books-1001655__340

After three years of teaching at Abraham Lincoln High School in Council Bluffs, IA, I decided to accept the challenge to further my education. Last spring, I began the online Professional Educator’s Graduate Program through Morningside College. I believe I made this decision rather lightly as I did not realize the monumental challenges and rewards that would come with participating in education as a genuine learner once again.

The Challenges:

TIME: I completely underestimated the amount of time that I would need to dedicate to my work as a graduate student. This became most stressful during the school year, particularly during the current fall semester. As I tried to manage both learning and teaching, I sometimes felt like I was not able to give my highest priority to either. Additionally, with the time commitment to both teaching and learning, I struggled to incorporate the necessary time to enjoy my friends, family, and enjoyment of life.

WORKING WITH OTHERS: Other times, I struggled with specific course requirements that frustrated me. I became irritated when I had to work in groups with educators I did not know (communicating usually only via technology) to complete specific projects and assignments. As I hold myself to very high expectations, I did not like that my performance evaluation would be impacted by the work of others.

ENTERING THE UNKNOWN: Particularly this semester, I really struggled with some of the academic reading about educational issues that I had never considered before. I have spent the majority of my teaching career only considering the problems and successes of my district, my school, and primarily my classroom because these are the only educational worlds I really knew and felt I could impact. I became frustrated having to read about topics like vouchers, private schools, mandated pre-school, state mandates, etc. I would often ask myself: How can this possibly help me to become a better educator in my 12th grade English class in Council Bluffs, IA?

working on school work

The Rewards: 

TIME: While some weeks the challenge of managing the piling up of 90 papers from my 12th-grade students and the 15-page paper that I need to write on the Common Core feels impossible, I have found that somehow it all works out. More importantly, I am able to remember that students are struggling with this same type of time managing with their schoolwork, part-time jobs, activities, friends, and families. I’ve discovered though, that not only am I able to discuss my own struggles with time managing to students, but I am able to offer real strategies that I use to juggle my life with those students that are approaching adulthood themselves. I find myself often tweeting out (to my many student followers) when I am finding time and strategies to study… followed by #ILearnToo.

WORKING WITH OTHERS: While initially my frustrations and emotions were high when having to work with other educators in the program, I’ve found that so many things evolve from these relationships that I am building. I have begun forming an extended world of educators who support my ideas and have ideas of their own. I’m networking with teachers in schools all across the Midwest and hearing about how things are different and similar to what is happening in my school. I’ve been able to offer my input and get advice on things like 1:1 initiatives, the Teacher Leadership Compensation Program, and the Common Core Standards. I will shamefully admit that I originally underestimated the brilliance and input of my fellow educators… I’m excited that I now get to really enjoy these challenging conversations and collaboration projects. (Although I’ll admit the conversations are more intriguing to me than the actual project completion now.)

ENTERING THE UNKNOWN: Specifically after the last two months, while enrolled in an Issues in Education Course in my graduate program, I am starting to see the big picture. I have never been a “big picture” person… quite the opposite of many of my friends and colleagues. However, I feel that I have made monumental progress in having to stretch my mind to address and discuss big questions like:

  • How can transformation in education create greater cohesion in our society and globally?
  • How do you define an exemplary teacher and how do we ensure all teachers are performing at the highest competency levels?
  • How “democratic” are student-centered classrooms? Can an inclusive classroom be democratic?
  • How do we leverage the immense power and potential of the Internet, digital tools and social media to enable learners and teachers to connect in purposeful ways across borders and boundaries to contribute to making the world a safer, saner and more just place?

Two months ago, just reading these question made my brain feel like it was going to explode. However, the more I read about education problems, policies, and theories, the more confident I feel synthesizing this information into having plans and ideas of my own that address these big pictures.

I have really come to a very basic conclusion: If it affects education then it affects me and I need to know about it. 

While the challenges of graduate school are great, so are the rewards. I feel in the last year of participating in learning and teaching, I’ve grown in so many ways. I value time and am able to better balance my duty to my students, my duty to myself as a learner, and my duty to my colleagues. I value interacting, communicating, and collaborating with educators from all across the profession. Most importantly, I am able to see how all of these things amount to a bigger picture… improving education for my students, my colleagues’ students, and all students.

Keep learning in teaching!