Middle School Kerfuffles

middle schoolAs school winds down (3.5 days and counting!), I’m thinking about my first year of teaching. Not only was it my “signature” year but I received my induction into the world of middle school. Yikes! It was a year of firsts… and lasts. I learned a lot about what to do and what not to do when teaching middle schoolers.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from my 6-8 graders was that conflict, especially at this delicate “tween” age, is a part of their everyday lives.

Every look, every whisper, every walk down the hallway can potentially be a game changer for better or worse. Peer influence is at an all time high. It is the MOST important aspect of their day.

I guess I had forgotten that or maybe blocked out my own “tween” trauma of junior high.

As their teacher, however, my goals are in direct conflict with their line of thinking. I am MOST concerned about closing those skill gaps through content while attempting to find fun ways (ie: projects they like to do but will rarely grace me with their true opinion — that Ms. Terry does actually design cool things for us to do) to solidify those missing pieces of the learning puzzle.

Day in and day out, my hormone-laden teens and tweens, walked through my classroom door filled with internal and external conflicts.

Restorative Justice, differentiated instruction, rotations, unit plans, project-based learning, soliciting the help of administrators, colleagues, and counselors — I feel like I’ve run the gamut trying to implement best practice when the reality was that — as is true in middle school life – my day will never be without conflict.

And that, in itself, is the conflict.

So do I love it or leave it?

I love seeing a student begin to internalize the perseverance needed to be successful. I love building upon that newfound growth and challenging them to move forward in school and in life. I will, however, be leaving behind some of my first year learning curves (ie: novice mistakes) and replacing those with more consistent classroom management, more detailed unit plans, a more neutral tone, more relationship-building, more active listening and less reactive thinking, and more self-care.

I am looking forward to these precious 64 days of summer to rejuvenate and revive myself before returning for Round 2 of The Middle School Years.

God speed to all you Middle School Teachers. Now, I get it.


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Terry Tutors Specialized Education Services, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) charitable and educational nonprofit with a focus on providing wraparound academic, behavior and advocacy support services for struggling students in southern California. Learn More at TerryTutors.com

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GenX Teacher Mixes Tech & Teaching

When I was a kid in the 80’s, our school’s technology consisted of Schoolhouse Rock, Mrs. Frizzle, Reading Rainbow and, of course, the classic — Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. Oh and let’s not forget the typing test on our version of 1:1 Tech (ie: a couple of Macintosh PC’s in the actual computer lab) where they put a makeshift cardboard cutout over the keys so you couldn’t cheat your way to 40 wpm.

Image result for old macintosh PC

It wasn’t until college that I had an email address and not until after graduation did I get my very first cell phone.

There’s no question that the advancement of technology has changed the face of education in and out of the classroom. As a GenX Teacher, I’m inclined to use a complementary mix of tech and teaching. In fact, I’m pretty pumped that I can pre-teach explanatory writing on Quizizz, assign an informative article on Achieve 3000, re-teach paragraph format on Kahoot, assess on Accelerated Reader, and require homework submission via Schoology.

It’s definitely a different world.

That’s not to say I don’t see the value in teaching without tech. In fact, just today my students were struggling to grasp the concept of Cause and Effect. We had done the videos and assigned the online tutorials, but there’s nothing can replace engaging classroom discussion and good, old-fashioned teaching.

Teaching is truly an art.

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Terry Tutors Specialized Education Services, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) charitable and educational nonprofit with a focus on providing wraparound academic, behavior and advocacy support services for struggling students in southern California. Learn More at TerryTutors.com

If You’re Happy and You Know It…

Cinnamon Rolls.jpgFall makes me crave cinnamon — its comforting aroma wafting through my home gives me a sense that the holidays are near and Thanksgiving and Christmakkah memories are right around the corner.

A Happy Teacher is a Better Teacher

It may seem unrelated but I found myself happily unraveling a cinnamon roll while happily grading papers and planning lessons.

I wondered: Are my lessons better, filled with more fun and creativity, because I’m happier in this moment? Maybe. Just maybe.

How Can I Bottle this Feeling of Contentment?

Becoming a teacher makes me think about my teachers.

Being a person in a position of power and authority can shape a child’s memories of school and help them learn to love or loathe learning, depending on who is standing in front of them.

This is not to say that we all have an off-day or two (ummm, like last Tuesday) but I wonder if I seem more content, more self-assured standing in front of my middle-schoolers Monday-Friday from 8:00-3:08 because I am feeling more content.

Teachers: We Need to Take Better Care of Ourselves

Too often we look at educators, their arms loaded down with bags of books, papers and snacks for the staff meeting, and think of them as martyrs. I often hear, “I could never do what you do.” or “Teachers do not get paid enough, that’s for sure. I commend you.” or “I’d kill to have so much vacation. I mean you work for it, but that’s the life!”

The sentiment and encouragement are nice (and yes, the vacations are lovely), but what I really want is for teachers to take better care of themselves. We can’t pour from an empty vessel.

As summer turns into fall, projects and papers and tests (oh, my!) are coming to a head. It is the season of 12-15 hour work days, day-light savings time, IEP Meetings, and no vacation until November 11th.

It’s a time of burnout.

Instead of just trudging through, I’m going to make a promise to myself — to go to that yoga class, to watch my favorite tv show, to try to go to bed before the clock strikes midnight.

Why? Because a teacher who values self-care is a happier teacher. And learning is just more fun when the person teaching you is happier to be there.

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Terry Tutors Specialized Education Services, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) charitable and educational nonprofit providing wraparound academic, behavior and advocacy support services for struggling students in southern California. Learn More at TerryTutors.com

 

 

Being a Good Teacher is Really Hard

_MG_7334Law school taught me the importance of considering both sides — hearing both arguments. When I started my nonprofit, I attended several IEP Meetings as a Parent Advocate. As I sat on one side of the table, I realized that I knew the law but not the reality of the day-to-day implementation of this legal document.

How do these goals really play out in the classroom?

So I got myself a job as a 1:1 Aide in a Moderate/Severe elementary classroom. I was only going to stay one year, assuming that’s all the research I really needed. One year turned into three — you never stop caring for your students, wanting to see them exceed their goals, and learning about the realities of working within the system of public education.

As there is always more to learn, I now find myself at the helm of the classroom wheel — the teacher.

Being a good teacher is really hard. 

It’s only been three weeks and every day I find myself planning lessons, changing lessons on the fly, ensuring I meet state benchmarks, attending professional development meetings, going to extra trainings, instituting a behavior rewards system, revising that rewards system, figuring out which seat works best for which kid, looking for engagement and interaction from my students, making sure each child’s needs are met, cleaning out my inbox, learning how to teach curriculum, changing up the curriculum to better suit my students in the moment, preparing for IEPs, making sure my Word Wall is growing, and building relationships with my middle schoolers, their parents, and my colleagues.

In the last 15 days, I have gone through a Story Hill of emotions. I’ve doubted my choice to sign that contract, had to step out of the room to catch my breath, questioned my 5:30 am alarm clock, eaten the extra cookie and gone to bed thinking about what I could be doing better.

With all of those requirements, pulling at my time and attention, I’ve been thinking a lot about what really makes a good teacher good?

Although I’m brand new to this role, I get the sense that checking off all of the “to-do’s” don’t necessarily make a teacher a good one.

I realize that I’m just one part of my students’ lives, but I hope that at the end of this year, my first year of teaching, I can say with certainty that:

  •  I walked into that classroom everyday, turned on the lights, and made it a welcomed space for thinking and learning;
  • I had conversations and community circles that helped me learn how to tailor those lessons for that individual kid;
  • I advocated for their needs at the IEP table and thought about how to write those goals in a way that will challenge my students one step at a time;
  • I listened to what my students wanted and gave them the dignity of choosing how to get there;
  • I took care of myself so I could, in turn, care for them;
  • I recognized our differences and similarities, connecting and teaching in a culturally responsive way;
  • I helped them increase their lexile level and celebrated those tough and triumphant moments;
  • I taught my students something new that will stick with them throughout life’s journey; and
  • I was a person who they could count on.

Teaching is hard because relationships are hard.

That’s what I’m really building – meaningful relationship with each of my students who have various challenges, learning differences, needs, hopes, and dreams.

If I can be a person — as a teacher, an advocate, a mentor, a role model — that provides a brave and safe classroom space, a “Hi, how are you?” in the hallway, or a note of encouragement on a paper, I will have done my job well.

As for being a good teacher, I hope I will be able to work towards that challenge. Maybe that’s the true test, in and of itself.


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Terry Tutors Specialized Education Services, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) charitable and educational nonprofit providing wraparound academic, behavior and advocacy support services for struggling students in southern California. Learn More at TerryTutors.com