Tag Archives: teach

It’s not the end… It’s just the beginning.

I apologize… I thought I had posted about my last days of school awhile ago, but I can’t find that post… darn iPad app, lol.

My last day of school, with students, was on Wednesday June 1st. My time teaching 8th grade has been very interesting and educational, not just for the kids but also for me. But now, I need to take the summer to reflect on the past year and plan for the future.

I was surprised by how emotional the kids were… although, I think some of the girls thrive on drama and really played that part well. 🙂 There were lots of hugs and tears, and some surprises… One in particular really caught me off guard. One of my students, who was new to the school this year, wrote me a letter telling me how much I made a difference in her life and how appreciative of me she was. It was really amazing actually. I have never received such a humbling and heartfelt gift!

Then, on June 3rd, I presented on NBPTS’ Proposition 3: Teachers are responsible for managing and monitoring student learning. My presentation focused on creating classroom rules based on Be Safe, Be Respectful, Be Responsible (this was discussed in an earlier post). The presentation was done in the presence of other teachers, administration, family, and friends. I feel like this was a great way to show off my final portfolio and to listen to what my fellow CADRE members learned over the course of the year.

I finished the CADRE program on June 30th. I have never been so relieved in my life. I loved having the opportunity and privilege to get my Master’s Degree through the UNO CADRE Program… it has been the best and hardest time of my educational career… so far. I hope to continue my education, but I think it’s time for a little break.

Have a great summer everyone! I will post again soon.

— Stephanie

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Closing out a wonderful year!

YAY! I made it! … well, almost. We don’t get out for a little over a week, but it’ll be a breeze. This year has been amazing, educational, insightful (both about myself and my profession), and really hard; however, I wouldn’t give up my first year teaching for anything. I believe I have been blessed to have such a wonderful group of kids this year. I have been fortunate to have a great cohort of teachers to help me through my Master’s program. I have definitely been lucky to have had the stamina and strength to handle all of the challenges and pressures that come along with teaching 13 and 14 year olds.

Today my fingers itched to start taking down my bulletin boards and posters, to pack my boxes of teacher paraphernalia, and to begin the process of planning for next year, but, I didn’t start. It will be hard for me to say good-bye to this bunch of kids, but it will hurt them to see me putting the year behind me before they are gone.

Tears will be shed, but they will be tears of joy and excitement. Hugs will be shared, but they will be hugs of congratulation. High-fives will fly and knuckle-pounds will explode, all because we made it… students and teachers alike. Good-byes will be said, and for some it may be for good… but for me and my fellow teachers, we will hope for a future glimpse of the student we taught, just for a second, when they were developing into their adulthood.

I am so proud of what I’ve done over this last year, and I’m proud of who I’ve become; but, most of all, I’m proud of the lives who have touched mine, just for a second, when I was developing into my profession. It has been the exuberance… and trust… and trials… that these kids — my kids — have spread over my first year of teaching that will forever resonate in my heart.

I wish, just as most teachers wish, that I will not be forgotten. I will never forget my first year as a teacher.

— Stephanie

P.S. I guess I get to add a new tagline to my blog in a few weeks 🙂 I will no longer be a first year teacher!

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Suicidal Tendencies…

It really hurts and confuses me when kids believe that suicide is the best answer to their problems. Since I teach at a middle school, suicide becomes an increasing problem in these young people’s lives. My 8th graders are going through a very tough time in their lives; they are going through the bodily and emotional changes that everyone goes through at this age. I remember clearly how difficult that was for me, especially since I moved from one state to another in the middle of my 7th grade year. But why does suicide sound like the answer?

When I was 16, I was going through a really tough time, and I remember telling my mom that I wished I had the courage to kill myself. She looked at me very seriously and said, “Suicide causes so much harm to the people who love you and it is the most selfish thing you could ever do.” When I think back to that moment, I remember the shame and fear that I felt, because I knew that I couldn’t go through with it, but I also knew I said it because 1. I wanted to hurt my mom, and 2. I was asking for help by shifting the attention, albeit negative, to me. I was hurting emotionally and I didn’t know why. I had next to zero self-esteem and I perceived the world as my enemy, one that didn’t like or love me. I was convinced that I was going to feel that way forever. After that, I always think about how selfish suicide is and how it is a permanent solution to the person who takes their own life, but it is a life long scar to those left behind.

Here is an article about teen suicide statistics and risk factors. There are also links about related issues and suicide prevention. This is a growing epidemic that is quickly becoming the #1 cause of teen deaths. Bullying, in its many forms, is on the rise, which I’m sure is causing teen suicides to also increase.

You may be asking yourself why I’m writing about this. Why now? Well… I know of a girl who has tried upwards of 3 times to take her own life. She is only 14. Her family is extremely supportive and has been actively seeking the appropriate help… however, it just hurts to know that if she keeps trying, she will eventually be successful.

I have no dilusions that I will experience the loss of a student while teaching… especially since I teach in an urban district, but I hope and pray that if that happens to one of my own students I can look back and know that I tried to do everything I could for all of my students. Maybe that is also dilusional…

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When I reflect, I don’t always like what I see…

Don’t try to fix the students, fix ourselves first. The good teacher makes the poor student good and the good student superior. When our students fail, we, as teachers, too, have failed. ~Marva Collins

I have 38 students who are failing my class. Out of 122 students, that is a 31% failure rate. This is for a 6-week time-frame, which is a relatively short amount of time. After a lot of reflection, I know that the reason this has happened is due to my lack of follow through regarding the completion of my students’ assignments, or lack thereof. I don’t know if there is an acceptable excuse for this, so I will just state the facts and what I plan to do to change this.

My students were working on their research papers, which were due at the beginning of November. I tried very hard to get these graded in a timely manner, as per Marzano’s strategy, but I began to feel bogged down for a few reasons. First, I had a rubric that I was using to grade the papers, but I wonder if it was too in-depth. I graded them based on all of the 6+1 Traits for Writing with only 2-3 criteria under each trait. Second, I felt that since my students spent a lot of time writing their papers, I should spend quality time grading them. I began to realize that spending 1 hour on 1 paper was not going to be very effective. Once I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to grade the papers the way that I thought they should be graded, I began to avoid them altogether. I did eventually get them done, but it took me way longer than it should have. This leads me to where I am now.I have a lot of upset parents who are not happy with the grades their students earned on their papers. Then there are the parents who are not happy that I failed to call them to let them know that their student did not turn in their paper at all.

My reflection has revealed the following mistakes and the solutions I plan to employ to ensure I don’t make them again:

1. I realized after I graded the papers that I should have checked off the names of those papers turned in and those that were still missing. I didn’t attempt to gather missing papers until after I entered grades and saw whose papers were still outstanding. This is a simple solution… check off the names BEFORE I start grading.

2. I need to set a time limit for grading each paper. Also, I cannot avoid grading the papers because I have backed myself into a corner. The solution to these problems is to schedule a specific time to grade papers and then set a timer for each paper so I can pace myself.

3. Most importantly and probably my biggest mistake, I need to contact parents to let them know about the status of their student’s grades. My solution is to schedule a time each week to check for failing grades and make those necessary phone calls. When I finally did this after the research paper debacle, the number one complaint was that I should have called them sooner so they could be proactive with their child. I agree. I should have done this sooner. I also need to keep a log of when I do interact with a parent, so when I am called into my principal’s office to account for my actions, I will have some sort of time line of events, if needed.

This is what I have done so far to try to rectify and improve upon this critical error:

1. I have begun a binder/journal with a designated page for each student. I plan to log all parent interactions, student progress, behavioral issues, and important student interactions.

2. I have scheduled blocks of time specifically for grading and parent contacts. I think that I need the added structure of an appointment to help me become more accountable to these important issues.

I’d appreciate any feedback on what you do to keep from letting things get out of control…

– Stephanie

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School Shooting… too close to home.

I always knew that school violence existed and could affect me, but I honestly never thought that there would be a school shooting just a couple miles from my own school. Unfortunately, this dark and scary scenario did become reality this past Wednesday, January 5th, 2011, my district’s first day back after winter break.

Robert Butler, Jr., the son of an Omaha police officer, entered Millard South High School and decided to take the life of Vice Principal Dr. Vicki Kaspar and seriously injuring Principal Curtis Case. He then drove a short distance away and took his own life.I cannot imagine what it was like for the administrators and students who were in the office when the shooting occurred, but I can tell you what it was like for me and my students at the time.

My students and I were in our school library when our principal came over the intercom telling us that we were in a code red. Prior to this, we had practiced code yellow and code red three times, so I knew exactly what to do. I gathered my students and ushered them into the aisles of books in the library. The doors were locked and the lights were turned off and I instructed my students to remain still and quiet. I knew right away that this was a real code red and not just a drill, because we did not practice a code yellow right before. I was concerned but not overly fearful at first. But as we sat there for what seemed like forever, I started to become more scared. The administrators announced that we could check our emails for updates regarding the situation, however, I did not have my laptop and was unable to find out what was going on. The principal finally came over the intercom, after about 40 minutes, to let us know that there was an incident at another school but that we were completely safe. We remained in a code red for about another 15 minutes and then went into a code yellow until school let out at 2:45.

When I found out, at about 2 pm,  what had happened, I was in total shock. This was literally a couple miles from my school! I attended all of the Millard North football home games at the Millard South stadium, all of my new teacher training was at Millard South, and my CADRE mentor was a teacher there for a long time. I know that this seems like a flimsy connection, but it feels personal. I can’t help but imagine what was going on in that school or how I would have reacted. Would I have been able to think rationally enough to follow procedure? I hope so. I know the administrators, teachers, and office personnel at Millard South did. They did a fabulous job keeping the students safe and getting help to the school quickly.

When you talk to a student about his/her grade or behavior, do you think about how they are going to react? Does it ever occur to you that the consequences they earn for their behavior will be taken out on you? I never did before the 5th. I am a teacher, someone who holds pieces of my students’ futures in my hands. If I screw up or upset a student, especially one who may be unstable, I could be putting myself at risk. But, my job requires me to be the best teacher I can be and to follow the district and school policies regarding discipline. What if a student blames me for THEIR consequences? That’s what happened to Dr. Kaspar and she lost her life. I think that I will have these thoughts for a little while, but I don’t think they will get in the way of what I’ve always done. However,  I feel like my innocence as a teacher has been taken away… but I’m not entirely sure that is a bad thing. I just wish that it didn’t happen as the result of such a horrible incident.

I don’t know what else to say. My prayers go out to all of the victims of this tragedy.

School Shooting in the News

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Conferences: the student-led kind

At my school, we hold student-led conferences, in which, the students invite their parents to view their portfolio and discuss their progress in school. I have never heard of student-led conferences before and imagined something a little different. What I want to do in this post is describe how our conferences were conducted and discuss how I think a few minor changes could improve their effectiveness.

First, our students are provided a binder with their name on the spine and dividers within. Each teacher is to provide direction on what should be included under their content area’s section. Now, I have no clue what the other members of my team had their students include or how they went about that process, but I asked each of my kids to include four pieces of poetry from their poetry portfolios that we had just finished. I gave each kid ten different reflection slips they could fill out and staple to the top of the pieces they chose. My only input on this was that they needed to include at least one piece that had a rough draft and a final draft with visible revisions, the other three pieces were their choice.

I really liked the pieces that my students chose and their reasons for choosing those pieces. I was quite impressed by their reflection and how in-depth they went both in the reflections and the poems. The only think I will change for next year will have to do with the poetry portfolio, not the reflections and decision-making process.

On the nights of conferences, we opened up the divider between two classrooms and set up the desks into four seat pods. The students would then grab their binder and take their parent/guardian to a pod and discuss each section of the conference binder. What was supposed to happen was that the students would discuss each portion of the binder, and the parents would then ask questions if there was a pressing concern. Otherwise, the student was supposed to be the leader of the conference process and once they were finished, they would leave.

This is what really happened: the student retrieved his/her binder and took their parents to a pod. They would discuss briefly the binder and its contents. Then the parents would wait until every teacher made his/her way to their pod to discuss that student. So, with maybe ten-ish pods full at the busiest times, each teacher was trying to make his/her way to all parents and discuss the student. Imagine how long that took… and guess what? Most of the parents would wait, and wait, and wait for you. *sigh* It was a long night.

SO, how do I think we could improve student-led conferences? Well, for one, I think the students need to have a script or schedule of items they should discuss with their parents. I think that many of them showed their work and then MAYBE talked a little about it, but that was about it. These kids can’t remember what they need to say or how to say it. So what if this is their second or third year of doing this… they just can’t remember. Maybe even have a little diddy on the cover of the binder about how a student-led conference should flow?

Second, I think that the student should have the choice in what is included in their binders with minor coaching from the teacher. Maybe a few requirements, such as your favorite piece or the work you improved the most on, etc. Like I said before, I don’t know what the other teachers required of their students, but I know it helped my students focus on why they chose what they chose.

Third, I think that each student should have included a SMART goal or something that they could work on academically to improve. Then, each teacher should reflect on that goal and describe what we will do to help the student reach that goal… and most importantly… actually follow-up. After the student and teacher have fulfilled their portion of the goal section, the parent should discuss how he/she will help the student reach their goal.

Anyways, these are my thoughts… for what they are worth. I enjoyed meeting the parents of my student and seeing how they behave in front of adults they are most comfortable with. It was very enlightening! 🙂

— Stephanie

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Field Trip…

I’m about to head off on my first full day field trip as a teacher. We are going to the Arbor Day Farm in Nebraska City. I remember going there when I was a middle schooler; It was one of my fondest memories from middle school.

I have a bunch of kids from my rowdy 5th hour class in my group. I’m pretty nervous about that, but I think that it will be fun regardless. I just hope I can keep up!! I’m so tired right now that I considered laying on my classroom beanbag chairs to “relax” for a bit, but I think that will just make me want to sleep more.

This field trip will hopefully be a nice break from the chaos and stress I’ve been trying to cope with for the last couple weeks. I had to turn in grades last night, which was the most stressful undertaking in my life. I’d rather give birth again than have to post grades. But, ’tis the job and I need to get a better grading system to help make posting grades less stressful.

Well, wish me luck! We are leaving in 30 minutes. I can’t wait to get a nice caramel apple to bring home with me… I love Autumn! 🙂

— Steph

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