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.

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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?!”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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Senior Year: Strategies for Success

Teaching seniors can be so rewarding!

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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

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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.

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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

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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 

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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

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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

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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!

 

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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!

 

6 Strategies for Creating a Positive Classroom Culture

When you walk into a classroom, often the first thing you notice is the “feel” of the room. That is the classroom culture.

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Teachers know that creating a positive classroom culture is vital to having a safe space for students to learn.

Students need a classroom where:

  • they feel safe to express their ideas.
  • they know it is okay to make mistakes.
  • they are invited to ask questions.
  • they are able to take ownership of the culture and their learning.
  • they know their teacher and classmates care about them.

AKA… a positive classroom culture.

Teachers also know that a positive classroom culture does not always occur naturally. We have to make intentional decisions about how to create a positive learning environment for students.

Here are 6 strategies for creating a positive classroom culture:

1. Greet Students at the Door

Greeting students at the door every day is key to welcoming them to a safe learning environment and positive classroom culture. Whether you greet them with a handshake, smile, or friendly “hello” you should use their name–reminding them they are an important part of the class. When your students enter your classroom they should know that you are glad to see them.

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2. Create a Social Contract (with students)

Instead of handing students a list of classroom rules, invite them to join in the conversation about how to make the classroom a positive place for learning to occur. This can be done in many ways depending on what you think will best work for your students. You could start the conversation by defining respect. (What does it mean to be respected by a teacher? To respect our peers? To respect our teacher?) Have students discuss examples and non-examples of behaviors in a safe or positive classroom environment.

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3. Have Procedures

Procedures are different than rules. Procedures should be information for students about how to do things in order to succeed in the environment. These are things like how restroom passes work, where they can find materials, what they should do if they are absent, etc. Having a system in place for these day-to-day events gives students a sense of security because they already know what to do in those situations when they come up. It is also good to practice and review these procedures throughout the year. Note: When a procedure is not followed, it is important to address it without getting angry… adults make mistakes and so do students.

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4. Share “Good News” Every Day

Take the first 2-3 minutes of class to ask students to share some good news. This is something that can start every class period on a positive note. Asking for students to share good news from their academic or personal life sets the stage for positive interaction and lets you learn about your students’ lives. It is a good idea to begin by first sharing good news in your life and showing that this can be something small (you had an awesome coffee for breakfast) or something big (you won an award).
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5. Model Positive Behavior

In order to keep the positive classroom culture going throughout the year, it is important to continue to model positive behavior for your students. Let them see you have positive interactions, conversations, and relationships with students and your colleagues. Use positive and caring tones in your voice when you are talking to your class. Hold yourself accountable in the same way you expect your students to hold themselves accountable. Don’t be afraid to admit when you make a mistake and be sure to apologize when needed.

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6. Make Every Day a New Day

Bad days will happen. They will happen with a class or an individual student. The worst thing you can do is carry your frustration over to the next day. Address the issue (with the class or student) and then remind them that every day is a new day. Learn from it and start on a positive note the following day.

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Creating a positive classroom culture is the first step to setting up a quality learning environment for your students. Discover what works for you!

Read more about creating a positive classroom culture: 

Keep the conversation going…

  • How do you create a positive culture in your room?
  • What strategies have worked or not worked?
  • What advice do you have for new teachers on establishing a positive classroom culture?

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

 

Teachers Texting Students…What!?

Teachers Texting Students…What!?

Last week, the school board in my district approved an updated policy for “Employee Useof Social Media/Electronic Messaging.” The several-page-long document described the expected conduct of employees on all forms of social media.town-sign-1148028_960_720

The release of the policy stirred a lot of conversation between staff members. There were questions of concern and comments of frustration:

  • …but I use Twitter to communicate with my students about school!
  • Is what I post on my personal Facebook page going to get me in trouble?
  • Isn’t this taking away my 1st amendment right to free speech?
  • Does this mean I cannot post a picture of myself enjoying a night out with friends?
  • …but I need to be able to text the athletes on my team to give them activity information!

And the repeated joke… “Careful, big brother is watching…”

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Ultimately, though, the purpose of these policies is to protect students AND staff when it comes to communicating information through social media and electronic messaging.

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It makes sense to communicate with your students using technology… social media is the center of their universe!
With the release of this policy, I thought it a perfect time to talk about a GREAT TOOL I use CONSTANTLY to communicate with students safely.

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www.remind.com

 Remind is:

  • FREE!
  • very simple to sign up for and to begin using immediately with students.
  • NOT associated with your personal phone number OR students’ personal phone numbers.
  • a safe way to send a reminder or announcement to an entire class in seconds!
  • easy for anyone! No technology expertise required!
  • Did I mention… FREE!

I love that Remind is an instant, safe, efficient, and FREE way to communicate with students!

Student Sign Up: I have students sign up for the classes or groups that apply to them on Day 1 of the class or practice!

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Display the sign-up information on the board, print out handouts, or send out via email.

Assignment Reminders: I send reminders to students about assignments, deadlines, and other announcements. They receive them just like a text message!

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You can even schedule messages ahead of time or attach files of information.

Practice/Meeting Announcements: I send reminders to the clubs I sponsor about meeting times, competitions, or schedule changes.

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Student Responses: Students can respond with questions or issues. All interaction is saved and documented on your Remind account…

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Receive questions back from students.
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Message a student individually.

Get the Mobile App: Remind has a mobile app that allows you to send these safe messages from your phone… but it is still not revealing your personal phone number!

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How other teachers are using Remind:

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Communicating through technology is a part of our current society. Remind is one way to communicate with students in a safe and efficient way! 

Follow @RemindHQ on Twitter for news and updates!

Keep the conversation going…

  • How could you use Remind?
  • What complications do you see with communicating with students via technology?
  • What other tools do you use to safely communicate with your students?

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

Connecting with Students: Be a Jack-Of-All-Trades

If students struggle to connect with you… they may struggle to connect with your content.

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Teenagers are often piled into one rebellious and technology-obsessed category. But teachers know that students are eclectic… they have lots of ideas, interests, and hobbies. 

Some students are so passionate about football that they spend hours a day checking scores, learning statistics, and watching game videos.

Others will perk up in class only when you are discussing politics or current events… they are ready to share their knowledge, opinions, and ideas only when it comes to this.

And still others are just suffering through class until the moment after school that they can reconnect with friends on Call of Duty.

Connecting Can Be Tough

Naturally, as a person, you will connect with some students more than others.

For example, I love watching basketball. I can easily have a conversation with a student about the NCAA tournament or a questionable referee call in the big game against a rival school. 

Or as an avid Harry Potter fan, I can instantly connect with the student who is wearing a Hogwarts shirt or has a Marauder’s Map phone cover. Got a wizard trivia question? Throw it at me.

Unfortunately, not every student is going to share the same passions I do… particularly as I get older and so do my interests.

Yes, as a person, you will connect with some students more than others… but as a TEACHER, you must connect with them ALL.

Connecting with a student is key to getting them to engage in your classroom.

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As teachers, we must be Jacks-Of-All-Trades!

Does this mean striving to stay up to date with the most current teenage culture all the time? Absolutely not. Please do not try… it will not be successful.

You can’t be expected to know everything about everything. However, you should know something about something. Or at least, be prepared to ask questions and show interest.

For example, when students begin talking about working on their trucks… I ask questions. My knowledge of vehicle repair and maintenance is limited… I know how to put gas in my Malibu and use the windshield wipers. And although I do not necessarily have an interest in learning how to change brake pads or work on a transmission, I can easily ask questions to show interest in what my students are doing or talking about.

Not only will your students love that you are genuinely interested in them and their hobbies… but it will give you “insider information” on how to make your content engaging and relevant to them.

Students enjoy talking about themselves. Making them comfortable enough in your classroom to talk about what they love is a step in the right direction to getting them conversing about your content!

Strategies for Connecting with Students

  • Make connections about things you know.

Do you have a similar hobby or interest? Talk about it with students! Draw connections between the things you enjoy and why you enjoy them. Allow students to see your interest.

  • Make connections about things you don’t know.

Do you notice a unique hobby or activity that your student is involved in? Get them talking about it! Let them educate you on the details. Allow students to see your interest.

  • Ask questions.

Do you know nothing? Start with some probing questions! (What did you do this weekend? Where do you work? What plans do you have for after graduation?) When they respond, allow students to see your interest.

  • Research.

Are you really struggling with getting a student to open up? Ask around to your colleagues… someone must know something. Check out what kind of courses a student seems to enjoy or excel in. Take particular notice of what a student is doing on his or her phone… social media? Sports websites? Playing a video game? Start a conversation! Allow students to see your interest.

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When students see that you are interested in them, they are more likely to be interested in you and the things you are talking about (your content). Use these improved relationships and this knowledge to create relevant and engaging lessons for your students.

You don’t have to know everything, but you should certainly know something.

Keep the conversation going…

  • Do you find that connecting with students improves your classroom culture?
  • How do you connect with your students?
  • What can be some obstacles in connecting with students?
  • What strategies would you suggest others try in connecting with students?

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P.S. This is leading into my next post… Student Choice: Ideas for Making It Work. Keep an eye out for it this week!
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