This year was, to be sure, difficult. Crazy. Busy. Just plain tough and insane, really.
I started with nothing, less than nothing. No behavior plan, no experience, no class rosters, no curriculum, NADA.
But you know what? By the time this year ended, I had a modicum of control and classroom management. It wasn't really that effective, but the kids knew that when I counted to five or put two fingers up, they needed to do the same and be quiet.
At the beginning of the year, I had problem students literally everywhere I turned. Almost all were boys who did no work, who called out, who had an attitude, who hit, who threw things, who refused to listen or cooperate.
At the end of the year, there were still some of those students, for sure. But some of them had come over to "my side", who wanted to do their work, who wanted to succeed, who changed their attitude and their motivation. I think I will take that as my biggest victory, that I came across as a teacher who cared about their success, and encouraged their intelligence, to be shown through their work and persistence.
I also changed, by occasionally taking aside those "problem students" and speaking to them quietly about how I wanted them to succeed and participate. When I did that, they would nod quietly and sit patiently, mostly doing their work. If I had figured out how to keep that up and not lose my temper and challenge them, they might have been that "good kid" more often that the "bad kid."
I definitely got a lot tougher. As I have said multiple times, walking into a nonwhite, urban classroom as a young, white, West Coast, female, first year teacher means that I had FIVE huge cards stacked against me. Other first-year female teachers who are tough black women had it much easier than I did in gaining students' respect right off the bat. But my voice got louder, it got meaner, I got the teacher face and Teacher Death Glare pretty much down, and I could sometimes intimidate the students. (Yes, that IS a good thing, in this kind of environment.) But when I allowed students to hang out in my room at lunch, when I selected students to help me out by cleaning or writing on the board, when I participated in the field trips, I got to be a calm, real person with them. We got to chat easily and let go of the "teacher" and "student" roles. So they got to see that I am a reasonable, mostly nice person who just wants to help them do their best.
I still really need to work on lesson planning and unit planning. But hey, I did this shit by the seat of my pants. I had no clue what I was doing. Next year should be easier because our department actually mapped out lesson ideas (things to teach, not how to teach them), activities and goals for most of the units. Also, because I will remember what things worked and what didn't, and will have more ideas about fun/interesting/worthwhile things to do.
Obviously behavior management is a HUGE deal for me. The biggest, really. Still not sure how I will tackle it all. Linked with that is rituals and routines, which is really the basis for a well-managed classroom.
Another thing I need to work on is matching my speech and assignments better with the students' level. From the beginning of the year, I've had to scale down my vocabulary, and it's still sometimes above their level.
So, one of my goals, which I only did a little this year, is to help the students increase their vocabularies. It will definitely be easier this year, by the way, because my Donors Choose request got funded just last week: 35 dictionaries AND 35 thesauri for my classroom! Woohoo! Words are one way to explore the world around you and expand your imagination. Words make better readers and writers, and I believe better professionals.
From my students:
I gave an evaluation with eight questions. I have typed up all the responses. (Because I'm a bit anal like that.) Here are some of the responses. I think you will find them as entertaining and thought-provoking as I did.
2. What do you still need to learn?
--Onomonopia because it is kinda hard.
--I still need to learn how to talk French
--I still need to learn is really nothing.
--I not show.
--the intermediate of everything she taught us (when I’ll probably learn in 8th grade or something)
--I still need to learn many things. Things I don’t ever know existed.
--I still need to learn more about poetry
--I think I am supposed to learn more how to write good storys and how to publish them
--I need to learn plenty of figurative language
--I do not need to learn any thing else more
--I need to learn about homophones, I didn’t quite get that this year
--how to listen rather than to talk
--how to behave
--I do not need to learn any thing this year because we coverd everything
--script writing or good hand writing
--how to perfect my writing and poetry and many other things
--Nothing because, I have learned enough and I feel soooooooo smart
--how to write more neater
--I think I need to learn a lot more but I don’t know what it is yet
--I still need to understand SNOT [Show and NOt Tell]
--I have to learn how to rhyme
--Nothing for now
--focusing on my reading
--How to speak different languages
3. What's the best thing we've done all year?
--the plays were a lot of fun
--The best thing that we’ve done all year is when we play Apples to Apples and Apples to Oranges
--to do a play but in different groups
--story writing and Greek mythology
--Poetry I think that was really fun
--the plays, games and getting a good teacher
--the best thing was apples to oranges and apples to apples
--have free days and no homework
--the best thing we done this year is when we had to write 15 poems and did it on Spongebob
--the best was when we wrote some play [and act] it out
--nothing, everything was learn, learn, learn
--We did no work and just had fun. And we met Mrs C’s mama.
--I think the best thing we’ve done all year was the challenges to test our brains and us learning new words
4. What grade would you give to your teacher and why? [A lot of the kids use the 1-4 scale because that's what the teachers/tests use. So 3s and 4s are actually good. :) Some also used 1-10]
--4 because Ms C trys her best to teach use every day and make shure you do good. [This is from my most problematic student in Class B!]
--I would give her a 9-10 because she was too nice.
--I will my teacher a 4 because she teached us very good and well
--I would give my teacher a 4 because she did what you suppose to do. She helps me and try to put things into fun things.
--I will give my teacher the higher grade because she teach so much to us I just want to thank her 10
--3 because although she is a good teacher she blows the whistle too much.
--I would give Mrs C a 9+ because she tried her best to teach even though are class is really bad but she has to work on her yelling.
--4 because she’s a hardworking teacher
--I give you a 2+ because sometimes you got on my nerves and you was mean to [me]
--a 100% for pushing us
--I would give you a 3 because you lost your cool sometimes but found a way to make us learn
--a +3 because she never gave up on me!
--I give Miss C a 4 because she is nice and a hardworking teacher
--6 because their have been times that I was extremely pissed off at her but I have managed to get over it
--9/10 because she really helped me but screamed too much
--out of 1-4 I gave you a 2+ because I was kind of bad all year but when I was good you was nice to me
--9+ because when the class some wrong she doesn’t have to punish the whole class only the bad students
--4 because you are a good teacher
--A+++++, because even though I got fresh and rude with her she always told me that I was such a smart girl that need to try harder.
--85% because you have taught us a lot
--I would give her a 10, she really explains stuff and makes things look easier
--I would give her an 8 because she yells too much
--I would give her a 2 because she dose not hold a class
--9+ she’s sometimes nice. And kinda yells a lot
--I would give a b because she try hers best to teach but can be punishing
--8 because she screams to much
--a 10 because she helped a LOT
--a 55, U, 3/10 because she is mean (peace jean grey, just kidding)
--I give the teacher a 9 out of 10 because she lets us do fun things
--9-she has been a good teacher and helped a lot
--I would give a 8 because she helps and teaches us a lot and sometimes she doesn’t listen to us
--I would give her a 80/100 because she’s a good teacher but need to be stricer
--A 4+ because she showed us ho to do our work
--4-because sometimes she yells for reson but she stell pushed me to be the best
--a 4 because she is smart [From my worst student of Class A!]
--I give my teacher a 10 because she teach us good writing skills that I never [knew], things I did notice in books
--8/10 because shes good even though she’s mean sometimes because we’re bad I learned a lot with her
--she has good ideas 2+ because she is not that organized about some things any that she needs to understand to be patient
--4 because she is teaching us things that we need to know in 7th grade
--I would give my teacher a 3 because she’s done all she can to make us be smart
--A 4 because she can be nice but she has reasons to yell all the time. Plus she works as hard as she can
--A 90 because she’s smart
--3, she is determined to make us do our best
--I don’t now because sometimes I don’t do my homework
--105% because she explains some things when we don’t get it
--I would give her a 4 because she tries her best to make learning easy
--8 because she is too patient. But she’s smart and taught me things I didn’t know
--I would give my teacher a 10 because she has taught me so much she has done her best to set me for the 7th - 12th grade. I thank my teacher.
--7 because….mmm…that the first number that came up in my head. I can’t explain why.
--I would give you a 4 because you made the lessons fun
--I give my teacher a 4+ because my teacher help every body and go over stuff and sometime have fun
--I gave her a 7 because she is a good teacher but sometimes she is mean
6. If you could re-live this school year, what would you do differently?
--Do better on my citywide test
--Not chew gum and make jokes
--Try my hardest from the beginning of the school year.
--Change the homework into fun homework that is easy to do
--pay more attion.
--I would do my work more efficiently; I would do a lot more homework than I actually did.
--the way I act I would pay attention more and listen and do all my homework
7. How have you changed as a result of this class?
--I don’t know.
--I have gotten a larger range of vocabulary. I understand things that I never knew before.
--I’ve payed attention more tried not to talk so much and listen.
--I think I have changed a lot with my attitude
--I changed my ways of making ELA fun
--I learned to pick my friends
--I changed to be good
--I have become smarter
--better skill of ela
--I have changed a lot
--I have tried harder to stop talking
--My reading ability
--I don’t think I have changed because I think I just improved a little
--I can express myself through poetry
8. If you had a brother/sister or cousin coming into this class, what advice would you give them?
This cracks me up. Bwa ha ha!
--I would give him warnings of what to watch out for and stay out of trouble. Mostly have a fun year
--I don’t know.
--Don’t get on Ms C’s bad side. Do all your work (and homework) Have fun! But not too much
--No talking, pay attention, hand in your homework, and DON’T MAKE MRS C MAD!!
--Not to slack around like I did
--I would tell them to be very very good
--to always obey the teacher and do your work and don’t give miss c any thing to yell at you
--Be themself have fun but know when to be serious
--do the work then the teacher will give you treats
--follow direction and do all your work and don’t get in trouble
--Keep your mouth close!!! Why? She put your grade low
--Don’t mess with Miss C!!
--To keep your head up and try your hardest
--don’t get in trouble!
--less talk more learn
--Don’t be like anyone. Be yourself and try and be a good student
--To do their work and they’re hw and listen
--Do a lot of work and work as hard as you can
--pay attention and do your work and don’t get on her nerves
--Don’t mess with Ms C
--Be nice and do all your work.
--do not slack and always give effort
--do homework, listen, and do projects
--Do your work!!
--To do good because these teachers don’t play games
--Don’t get on Ms C’s bad side
--to do homework and work because if you don’t you will have a 0
Though I'm in education more for the love of knowledge and learning than, "oh my god, I just love children", I came to enjoy most of my kids. They were good, sweet kids that wanted to please and help out their teachers. I will miss them next year and look forward to watching their progress as they get older. I hope that I have helped them see that they are intelligent and can be very successful when they put their minds to it.