Tag Archives: teaching

First week of school and my unexpected surprise…

Hello all! I’m excited to be back on here to update you on my adventures as a second year teacher. School in my district started this week, which to be honest seems way earlier than when I was in school. Summers don’t have quite the same connotation to teachers and students as they once did. With that said, I did have a great summer regardless. I finished up my master’s program (CADRE) in June. I went on a 2,800 mile road trip with my hubby and 3 sons… it was awesome! All-in-all, my summer was pretty full and rewarding.

Anyway, back to the topic of school. I met all of my new 8th graders and was able to easily determine on the first day those who will be quite the handful, lol. It’s always those attention seeking kiddos who are the most trying. By Friday, I had already assigned them one homework assignment, given them a survey, and had small group activities to work out our “Be Safe, Be Respectful, Be Responsible” classroom rules. They think I am a little tough, which means I’m doing my job 🙂

So, about that unexpected surprise… yesterday I didn’t quite feel right. I was kinda sad and felt like something was missing. I couldn’t quite figure it out. I noticed that I’d look at a student and would mention that so-and-so looks like so-and-so from last year, or talks like that person, or acts like that person, or has the same name. By the end of the day I was worn out and depressed, but I didn’t know why… then it hit me. I was mourning the loss of my students from last year. They were gone and I wasn’t going to see them again unless they visited me. This revelation caused me to start crying like I lost a loved one. It was horrible and not something that I’ve ever heard another teacher talk about. In fact, I’m crying right now writing about it. What’s even worse is that I was practically shoving them out of the door on the last day last year… now I want them back. I think that what this shows me is that I truly care for my students and that we built some really strong relationships with each other. I hope that this will be the case for me this year as well, and maybe instead of pushing them out the door on the last day, I will savor those last minutes with a new sense of knowing that I may never see them again but that we made a difference in each other’s lives.

Well, I need to get back to working on my class syllabus and preparing for open house. I will post again soon.

— Stephanie

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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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Emergency in the Classroom…

You know how at the beginning of the school year you are given each of your students’ IEPs, 504s, medical information, etc.? You remember how you read through all of it and wondered how on earth you would ever remember everything? And you prayed that those few students who do have serious medical conditions will never have an episode in your class, because you may forget what you were supposed to do and how to handle the situation? Well, it happened to me… a medical crisis in my classroom.

The 26th of January was when it happened. It was 1st hour and we were preparing for the state writing assessment. I had an IEP meeting right before school and was rushing around trying to make sure I had my handouts ready and my practice prompt on the board before school started.

After the bell rang, I was standing in the front of the room explaining the optional graphic organizers and the prompt. As I was looking around the room I noticed one boy who looked like he was falling asleep. I said, “let’s keep our heads off the desks please. This is English class, not sleeping class.” He raised his head back up and looked like he was trying to stay awake. Soon after, his head began to slowly go back down. I thought to myself that it wouldn’t be a big deal in a few seconds because they would be getting up to get their handouts and then actively writing their essays.

So, I told the kids that if they would like to make use of the graphic organizers they could come up and grab the one they preferred. What happened next was a bit of a blur, but the boy did get up to get an organizer. I was standing near his desk talking to another student when I saw him fall and knock over two desks. I instinctively grabbed his arm and tried to pull him back up. We set the desks back up and I made him sit in his desk. I saw that he was trying to get his belongings off the floor but was having difficulties. He kept repeating over and over that this sometimes happens when he gets really tired. Now, the instant that he fell, those notifications I read at the beginning of the year flashed in my mind. I remembered that he had a seizure disorder. However, I also remembered that he and his parents requested that we do nothing when he has one because they usually only last a few seconds and then pass. Looking back over the year, I remember seeing him kind of go to another world and look forward with glassy eyes, but I knew this was different.

After I got the kid back in his desk, he started to try to write his essay. His handwriting was very erratic. I immediately went to the room next door and called the office for help. The nurse wasn’t at school yet, but one of the secretaries came down. I asked him to stand up and walk out to the hall with me, but once he stood up he said he couldn’t walk alone. I had another boy help him into the hall, but on the way he was walking like he was drunk. He was bumping into desks and tripping over his own feet. I was scared he was going to hurt himself, which almost became reality. As soon as he got to the hall, he stumbled and fell to the floor. We had him stay there and one of the counselors brought him a wheelchair and took him to the nurse’s office.

I went back to my class and tried to restore order. I found out that the boy’s parents came to get him and take him home. Apparently his seizures have been occurring more frequently lately. I sure do with I had known that! Amazingly, the boy came back to school later that day and appeared to be completely fine.

I can say for certain that I had one of the biggest adrenaline rushes of my life, and that I need to find out everything I can about all of my students’ medical issues and what I should do if there is an emergency. I really don’t understand why this is not part of our teacher preparation. So, I have linked a document that discusses seizures and what to do when an emergency does happen. I hope that my experience has convinced anyone reading this that we should all be as informed as possible regarding our student’s health problems.

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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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