Friday, August 26, 2011

"For Real" School

Well, the first week of "real school" is over.  Week One was great, exhausting, overwhelming, but Week Two was the real deal.  We actually started learning stuff.  I am happy to say that I now know all of my students' names, which means I can officially call on them at random and catch them off guard.  This is a good thing, mostly because some of my sweet kiddos are still in summer mode and have absolutely no desire to pay attention.  Now don't get me wrong, my students are awesome.  But I did have a student say this to me this week after I asked them to copy FOUR QUESTIONS off of the board:

Me: "Now guys, you need to be writing this down.  We are going to ask these questions throughout the year, when we discuss the different books we are reading."
Students: "You mean we have to write in here?!"
Me: "Well, yes, actually, this is English class.  We definitely write in here."
Student: "Well then I hate English."

Ok, bro, but you still have to copy this down.  What I learned from this is not necessarily negative.  I was immediately annoyed at this situation, obviously.  I mean, how hard is it to write down four sentences?  I typed them, plus two pages of notes that I GAVE you, so you wouldn't have to take notes.  While it was frustrating for me to see how little work some students were willing to do, it also spoke volumes to me about the type of student we are educating today.  Kids don't have to write in real life anymore.  They type into a computer.  If they really need to know something, they don't look it up in a book, or take notes, or even make copies of pages anymore.  They Google it.  I mean, who am I kidding?  I Googled subordinating clauses today to get a complete list.  They really have no real world context for taking notes that is non-academic.  This doesn't leave me much of a leg to stand on as far as answering "so what" questions from kids.

However, there is one great reason to take notes and focus in school and, in general, to be a good student.  There's a great quote I read this week that said "The most valuable result of all education is the ability to do what one ought to do, when he ought to do it, whether he likes it or not."  What a true statement.  No, what we want to do is not always what we'd like to do.  I would like to not grade papers when I get home from school, but that is already proving to be an impossible dream.  That kid in my class would like to not take notes, but then he would also probably never retain anything I taught this year.  We learn a lot of specific skills and specialized information in school, but the most important, and most lasting, lesson we learn is to do what we don't want to do when it needs to be done.  So get ready to write, kids.  Because we are going to do some learning this year.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Beginning of my Middle School Education

It is finished.  The first week of school has come to a close, and thus concludes my very first, first week of school.  I will never again be going in blind.  In a way that is both comforting and very weird.  Everything is so new right now that it seems strange to think about ever really being a "seasoned" teacher.  Today, as a treat to myself, I have not even opened my handy dandy "teacher bag."  I slept in, had coffee with my sweet friend, Noel (who also got her first job teaching 7th grade and who I am thrilled is living in the Rock town again), and treated myself to an hour long massage and lunch from the always delicious Boulevard Bread Co.  Today has been an excellent day.  However, now that I've taken a step away from Week One, I feel like I can accurately blog about it.

I've already told you about the first day.  It was such an adrenaline rush--meeting the children, realizing that I'm in charge, not only of their behavior but also of their educational fate for the next year, remembering all the gazillion first day tasks required school-wide as well as staying on track with my lesson plan.....I'm can't lie, when I got home, I felt a little bit like a rock star.  Not necessarily because I was a rock star.  Far from it.  Mostly, I was just so pumped that it all went according to plan.  I can tell you this much, by the end of Day Two all that adrenaline had worked its way out of my system and my feet HURT.  I came home and completely crashed out.  I am not exaggerating when I say I went to bed at 7:30 p.m.  Ridiculous.  However, after that momentary crash, the rest of the week seemed to go progressively better each day.  By Friday, the kids were quietly staying on task and even getting a little excited about English (Yay!!).

Instead of walking you through the whole week, I decided to make a Top Three list of my favorite moments.....

1. Student: "Ms. Herring, you look too young to be our teacher."
Me: "Oh yeah?  How old do you think I am?"
Student: "19."
Me: "Well, I am not 19...."
Students begin calling out guesses ranging from 21 to 30 years old.  Finally, I said, "I'm 46."
Student: "Wow! Did you have a facelift?!"
Lesson Learned: 6th graders are not to be trusted with that kind of humor.  Ever.  EVERYTHING is taken at face value.  Literally. Oh yeah, for those of your who don't know, I'm about to turn 23 years old. 

2. On Thursday, I asked my students to paste photographs or pictures in their writer's notebook and write about how each picture told me about them as individuals.  I have one student this year who has a difficult time with verbal communication, but is also obviously very intelligent.  While most of my students did the assignment and chose pictures of sports or family vacations, this student used pictures symbolic of the way he felt.  He chose six pictures that told a story, in extended metaphor, of how he felt overwhelmed at school.  When I asked to see his notebook, and he showed me what he had done, I was a little overwhelmed, too.
Lesson Learned: I can't always know immediately what kind of poetry is hidden in a child's mind, and, no matter what, it's my job to find it and nurture it.

3. On Friday, I had my students draw Heart Maps.  I saw this assignment when I student taught last year, and I blogged about it then.  It was one of my favorite assignments last year, and I knew I wanted to use it to get to know my students this year.  What made my week so wonderful was watching students share their Heart Maps and seeing my name on some of them.  Made. My. Day.
Lesson Learned: Even on a tough day, I might still be the best part of my students' day.  I want to teach in an impactful and exciting way.  I want to always be the very best I can be, not just for myself, but more importantly for my kids.  They deserve every ounce of energy I can give. 

So that's Week One wrap-up.  I'm excited to see what this year has in store for me.  I know there will be days I want to go home and cry, but I also know that there will be lots of tiny little blessings and pieces of wisdom hidden in every day.  For now, I'm just going to enjoy the rest of this lazy Saturday and bask in my lack of productivity for at least a few more hours.  Happy Back-To-School, guys!

P.S. Please check out Noel's blog, too.  You can find it right here.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The First Day

Day One is complete!! Woohoo! This is how I felt at the end of the day....
I made it!  I spent the whole weekend being so nervous.  What if I'm not as good as they think I'm going to be?  What if the kids think I'm terrible?  I didn't want to be too friendly or too tough--just enough of both for the kids to like and respect me....

And after all that worrying, it went just fine.  Sometimes, you really do have to let go and let God.  I was trying to do it all by myself, but I'm not kidding when I say that there was some definite Divine intervention in my first day of school.  I expected things to go wrong all day.  I expected major monitoring and adjusting to have to occur.  But I walked in at 7:15 AM, collected my thoughts, put an objective on the board, and it was like everything just worked.  Now, don't get me wrong.  It wasn't perfect.  I still have a long way to go toward being the teacher I want to be.  But I also didn't feel like my classroom was going down like the Titanic.  Not even once.  Therefore, I declare today a personal success. I  kept my cool, and (hopefully) fooled those kids into thinking I knew exactly what I was doing all day.  I'll try to post more on Friday about the first week.  Just wanted to share a little excitement and get out those first day jitters.  Happy back-to-school everyone! 

P.S.  You can follow my English classes and their progress this year here.  Hope you find the time to check it out!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Razzle Dazzle 'Em

To say that the past three weeks have been overwhelming would be an understatement....and I haven't even starting teaching the children yet!  I'm not complaining, I promise.  Every step of the "get ready" process has been so fun.  I've learned a lot in the past few weeks, and every time I think I like my classroom just the way it is, I seem to think of at least three other things I need to add to the always-in-flux list I keep on my phone.  Despite the feelings of slight unpreparedness, I am genuinely so excited for the first day of school!  I can't wait to officially meet my first group of kiddos.

Technically, I've already met some of my students.  Monday was Open House, and I can't lie to you and say I wasn't nervous.  To be perfectly honest, Open House probably scared me more than the first day of school.  Nothing like jumping in feet first and meeting parents, students, siblings, and various extended family members before school's even started, right?  Right!  I had very little idea what I was doing, but I shook a lot of hands and answered questions and smiled, and I feel like it went well.  One of my favorite musicals/movie musicals is Chicago, and there's a great number in the show called "Razzle Dazzle".  I couldn't help but smile to myself and think about how that's what first year teachers are kind of doing.  I'm not saying that myself, or any other first year teacher, doesn't know what he or she is doing, but I do think there's a certain amount of "faking it 'til you're making it" that occurs in those first few weeks of figuring everything out....

So here I am now.  Open House was as successful as I could have expected it to be, staff development went really well, and now the first day of school is only three days away.  I've made my copies and soaked up as much information as my overloaded brain can take, and I'm going to make every attempt to "razzle dazzle" those kids on Monday.  There's a great Henry Ford quote that says, "Enthusiasm is the yeast that makes your hopes rise to the stars.  Enthusiasm is the sparkle in your eyes, the swing in your gait, the grip of your hand, the irresistible surge of will, and energy to execute your ideas." I may not have a perfect first day.  In fact, I'm almost positive it won't go exactly the way I've played it out in my mind.  But I am enthusiastic about being a teacher to my students.  I've found that positivity and enthusiasm can go a long way toward convincing yourself that your know what you're doing.  Who knows...with a little enthusiasm I may even "razzle dazzle" myself.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


Last week was "get my classroom looking like a classroom and not a prison cell week," similar to shark week, except no one get attacked....Anyway, much was accomplished.  I'm going to try to take pictures today when I head to the middle school and post them later this week.  On Friday last week, after working all week in my classroom and getting more and more excited about school, I kind of had what I call a "blah" day.  Everybody has them.  Nothing's going wrong, but you just need a little lift in your spirits.  Anyhow, I got on Facebook and found this on my wall:

Dear Miss Herring, 
we, the previous 7th and 8th graders, miss you dearly. we all wish we could see you again, but as we know you will be working soon so we wish you love and luck.
♥ Jordan and everyone who has ever known you ever

Well, that was just the "lift" I needed!  This was one of my student from my student teaching semester a year ago.  In addition to her message on my wall, two other students sent me messages on Facebook, wishing me good luck at my new school. There's just something about encouragement from an unexpected place that makes you feel good inside.  There's a great John C. Maxwell quote that says, "Remember, man does not live on bread alone; sometimes he needs a little buttering up."  We all love to hear that we're doing a good job.  I don't think it's selfish, but I do think it's necessary for the human spirit.  My principal is one the best encouragers I have ever met.  Working in my room last Friday, I could hear her all the way down the hall, stopping in every open classroom door and commenting on everyone's hard work.  All she had to do was tell me she liked how my desks were arranged, and I couldn't help but smile and feel a little bit better about how my room was coming together.  

Anyway, I say all that to say that I'm going to do my best to do a little "buttering up" this week and this school year.  When my roommates or my friends or the teacher across the hall seems to need a little lift, I'm going to try to be encouraging the way those former students encouraged me without even knowing it.  When my students work hard or have a rough day, I want to be the teacher that praises them and makes them feel important.  School is a place where it's easy to feel lost in the crowd, and I want all my students to remember that they stand out.