Three Days in. Third Year Plans.

Third Year Reflection
I can’t believe that I’m in my third year of teaching. Sometimes I can’t believe that I’m entrusted with the future of my students. It’s surreal to me. Every time students listen or are working on the appropriate task, it amazes me that they actually listen. Other than that feeling, this has been the best first week of school. I’ve felt the most confident walking into a room full of students. This may be in part to that fact that the past two years, I was sharing an advisory (think homeroom) with more experienced (and truly inspirational) teachers than me. I’ve always been hesitant dealing with students when they have conflicts with each other (and middle schoolers do that A LOT). I was able to deal with my first conflict resolution session this year without having to think through it. It just felt natural. I’m not really sure if that is the right word for it, but I can’t think of anything else. It’s a hard feeling to put into words.

Three Days In
The students have been back at school for three days and we already have a 4 day weekend. Due to Jewish and Muslim (yay!) holidays, we won’t be having a full week of school until the last week of September. Throw in a bunch of benchmark assessments, there isn’t much teaching going on right now. I’ve used this time to set expectations and some routines for my students. I’m taking my time with this because my first two years I was just trying to just make it to the end of the day without losing my sanity, but realized too late that rushing through the introductory stuff (expectations, norms, routines) added to the chaos that was my room. I need to slow things down with entering 6th graders so, I’ve literally been narrating and modeling all week.

Some things I’ve taken into account:

  • desk organization – expectations of what students have on their desk as soon as they enter.
  • sound cues – last year I had a transition songs for the beginning class. This year I plan to have more sound cues.  So far I have introduced the entry ticket song: Peter Hollen’s cover of Bastille’s Pompeii.  Thanks to Matt Vaudrey, I’m planning on using some shorter sound cues for things other than work time.
  • Expectation of listening to each other – I’ve been cold calling students to summarize what they heard a peer say. I’ve found that many weren’t paying attention initially or couldn’t hear what was said. I then had a student who did hear summarize and then go back to the original student. Then I cold call another. I’ve also modeled to them that they can raise their hand and ask a peer to repeat what they said because they couldn’t hear or didn’t understand.
  • turn in bins – I’ve more or less been a traveling teacher every year so I didn’t think it would be helpful to have a place for students to turn in things. I would just collect everything at the end of the period or have a student collect and then give it to me. There have been times when things have not made it back to me because students put it on top of my laptop, somewhere in front of the room, or I misplace them. NO MORE! Students will turn in things in the turn in bin. This way even if I have to rush out of the room to my next class, I know exactly where they will be.
  • student roles – I’ve been doing way too much and this year my goal is to train my minions…errr my students as much as possible with day to day tasks. This year, I had students apply for house jobs and will be letting them know who was hired by next week.
  • accountable talk – this is a school wide expectation/goal for our students to be engaged through meaningful discussion. Our plan is to roll out a few accountable talk stems. Right now, I am focusing on I agree/disagree with —- because…. and I’d like to add on…

Top 3 Priorities for Year #3:

  1. My #1TMCthing: Vertical Whiteboards (or Vertical non-Permanent Surfaces – VNPS)
    I went to TMC (Twitter Math Camp) for the first time this year and my mind was blown. I want to do everything! But then again, I want to also not burn out by the end of this year. Everyone at TMC could relate to this and thanks to Mattie B, #1tmcthing was born. I didn’t tweet out (oops…) my 1TMC thing because up until the end of August I didn’t know what it was. The vertical whiteboards are the thing that I have been the MOST excited about this year. One of my colleagues also jumped on the bandwagon. And then the teachers whose rooms I travel to, agreed to let me hang some whiteboards in their room!I’ve always found students to be more excited writing on the board. The pairs that worked at a whiteboard during work time also seemed to be collaborating the most. I didn’t realize this observation was backed by research (Peter Liljedahl).  I think the amount of tweets on VNPS and this pushed me the most to make it happen in my room.


    I’m still in the process of hanging them up, but I’m super excited to see how it goes.

  2. Interactive Notebooks: This was the one thing that I knew I wanted to do sometime in June. I was tired of giving students guided notes every day that would end up on the floor. While I won’t be using everyday, the INBs will be used for students to synthesize a few days of class in some sort of graphic organizer, a place to put reference materials, and work on some guided practice problems.
  3. Being ORGANIZED: This is my personal goal for the year.
    • creating lists: I’ve been creating lists and crossing things off as I do them. I give myself at most 3 priority tasks to finish for each day. If I don’t get to the others, it’s okay because they weren’t the priority.
    • labels: I’m in the process of labeling things in my room so that each group has its own items that they are responsible for.
    • Place for everything: I’m trying to give everything a home in my room and then being conscience of putting them away immediately. I also have specific nook for students. They can take things from there when I am not in the room instead of allowing them to go into the supply closet.
    • Having multiple of things: I’m traveling to three different rooms this year, so instead of moving things around, I’ve gotten multiple whiteboards, markers, and manipulatives.
    • Using preps wisely: I never really plan what I want accomplished in my preps. This will change this year!

New Teacher Reflections: Two Months In

It has been approximately two months in to the first school year of my life as a teacher. However, it feels like it has been more like 2 years.  Every time I meet someone who asks me how things are going, I tell them I‘m tired as hell, I should probably be getting a lot more sleep, I’m totally married to my job, but I love it! I’ve learned a great deal in these two months:

  • It’s all about them kids! No matter what I do, ultimately the question is what will be best for my students? 
  • Considering the first point, I am slowly learning to prioritize my huge to do list.  There will always be a lot to do, but whatever is for the well being of my students either academic or otherwise there will most likely be on top of the list. I have to pick and chose my battles. There are certain things worth taking stress over, while there ares somethings that will just have to be put on the burner for later.
  • Effective co-teaching requires a whole other layer of planning. Especially when you work with three different people. So I currently suck at it and it’s become a goal for the year to improve day by day.
  • I won’t remember later. It worked for me for 20 odd years of my life, but no more! I need to write things down.
  • Sleep is vital. I love it. I wish I had more of it. Sometimes I just have to STOP working and just sleep. Sleep is so awesome! I learned it the hard way:

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  • Bulletin boards are annoying, but I should have some work prepared to put up at any time.
  • Questions are an essential part of planning.  Coming up with one really concise and rich question can be enough for the class to explore for the entire period.
  • Middle school students are on a roller coaster. They are constantly on highs and lows. I’m slowly learning how to identify when they are on a high or low.
  • Students really love to help-middle schoolers anyways. I promise to take advantage of that.
  • It’s important to think about the highs and lows from the week and reflect on them. It’s easy to get the good moments lost in the “a lot-ness” of things that have to be done, the horrible lessons, misbehaviors of students, etc. 

Above all else, I feel extremely blessed to be working where I am for my first year. I feel extremely supported by my administration as well as working with a really great math team. I definitely felt nervous walking in the first day, but I feel that I can take risks, try new things, and make mistakes (which I have made a ton of already).  I love the conversations I have with my math coach and co-teacher and appreciate the thought we put into our lessons. I have a great new teacher mentor at my school who listens to my venting and frustrations.  

Looking forward to what comes next (though it would be nice if the papers to be graded would disappear).