∆ Jackson

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Nov 03 2013

The Legend of October

In the teacher-world there is saying that October is the worst month.  You’re just getting out of that “honey-mooning” phase, it’s the beginning of a new term, kids are restless, teachers are tired, and let’s face it: October is just plain LONG and meanwhile Thanksgiving and Christmas still seem a world away.

So is it true?  Is October the worst month?

Well, for this year at least, I hope so.  I had more than my share of bad days in October and I hope that from here on out its looking up.

Why the October Blues?  Well, a myriad of reasons I suppose.  But mostly, I’m not as far along as I thought I would be at this point in the year.  Yes, I’m slightly behind on content, but that doesn’t bother me that much.  I’m more upset because my classroom culture is not where I’d wanted it to be.  I guess when I spent almost two weeks on classroom-culture and goal-setting at the beginning of the year, I thought that by the time we got to October  my class would be running smoothly and all my kids would love science, know how much I love them, get along with each other, and participate attentively each day in class.  …Or AT LEAST that they would all bring a notebook and pencil each day.  Not so much.

Maybe I’m a little harsh on myself, but it seems like we still have a long way to go and I’m not giving up yet.  October consisted of one bad week after another.  A lesson I thought was great would work with three classes and not the others.  Students surveys came back and I found that my kids didn’t feel respected in my classroom and didn’t feel like they could be themselves.  Students still come in without notebooks and I struggle trying to get them to participate.  I still hear teasing and put-downs that I wanted to work really hard to minimize this year.  Students still talk over me when I try to explain something.  It’s frustrating.

At the same time, October consisted of a lot of opportunities.  Parent teacher conferences were a couple weeks ago and although I didn’t see as many parents as last year, it is always great to collaborate with the ones who know their kids best.  I’ve since then been going through my list of students and calling any parents who didn’t come to conferences.  I’m on the letter “R” and going strong.  We also had our first “All Corps Mississippi Teacher Leadership Summit” which is like a longer, glorified ProSat since most of our professional development is being done locally this year.  This was awesome because I went to three different sessions of my choosing that really helped me focus in on what I want to change in my classroom.  I also had the opportunity this past week to take a professional development day and visit two classrooms, which gave me so many great ideas.

And that, of course, brings me to the part of my blog where I stop complaining and start problem solving.

The things I will be changing or implementing in the last six weeks before Christmas break:

-We will be having more focus on revisiting our goals every few weeks and thinking about what we need to do, both individually and as a class, to reach our goals.  This is especially important since kids just got their first term report cards.

-We will do more reflection when we track our data.  My friend who is an awesome French teacher here in Jackson sent me a reflection sheet that her kids fill out the day after they take the test, thinking about how they think they did and then looking at their actual score and thinking about where they need to improve.

-I will give weekly or bi-weekly award certificates for students who are exemplifying our four mindsets: courage, confidence, creativity, and compassion.  Hopefully this will keep us thinking about what it looks like to be a model citizen in the classroom.

-I will implement a better positive reinforcement system.  Another bit stolen from a certain French teacher I know, students will receive tickets when they do something great and at the end of class they will add them to the class draw bag.  These tickets can be used ANYTIME for positive consequences, such as choosing which student gets to pass something out or even randomly raffling off a prize.

-I will implement a better negative consequence system in which I will work together with my vice principal to try to create a restorative justice system, so that when a student is sent out of my room they do not just get punished and forget about what happened and why, but they actually must reflect on WHY they did what they did, HOW it effected those around them, and how THEY might feel if they were in the other person’s shoes.  This is my way doing what is within my locus of control, trying to chip away at the school to prison pipeline.  Learn more here.

-I will increase the rigor in my Physics class and move a little more quickly.  I actually think my Physics kids will have more fun when class is a little more challenging.

-I will contact parents more regularly.  This is something I was doing well at in the beginning of the year and it fell away when things started getting busy.  But all the parent phone calls I have been making have reminded me just how important this simple step is.

So, that’s it for now.  I have a lot to do to get ready for these last six weeks before Christmas, because my classroom culture and my own sanity depends on it.

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