Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Week of Tests

In military and police training, they have a week called "Hell Week."  It's considered the toughest week of training, the time when people either step up or step out.  This past week felt a little bit like my teaching "Hell Week."  Let me explain....

On Tuesday, I gave my kids their first test of the year.  It was over literary terms, something that may not be thrillingly exciting, but is very necessary for English class success.  Every class period my students would come in and say "We had a test?!" or "Uh oh, I totally forgot to study." or "Can we just do this tomorrow?"
Uh oh is right.  I was so afraid of what was going to happen when I graded those tests.  And those fears were realized.  Yikes.  However, part of the problem was me.  I gave them wayyyyy too many matching questions in a row.  Talk about test anxiety.  All morning, my seventh graders would open their test packets and stare at the matching with their mouths gaping open.  I have three A's all day.  I teach 127 students.  Enough said.

On Wednesday, Hell Week continued when one of my sixth grade classes pushed me over the edge.  One mistake of the first year, young teacher, at least in my case, is that you have this desire to be the "cool" teacher.  You want to be nice and let things slide, and never really give a detention.  However, on Wednesday in sixth grade, the honeymoon was over.  I felt helpless as they just kept pushing the envelope, seeing just how much talking they could get away with in my class.  Well kids, I mean business.  Thursday started a new era in my teaching career with the advent of the DH List.  I just started writing names on the board whenever I saw a kid talking inappropriately, and then followed up.  No more empty threats from me, kids.  I can't make you learn, but I can make you stay quiet so other people can learn.  I gave four detention halls on Thursday and Friday alone in one class period, and it killed me.  I am terrible at playing "tough teacher."  But I will not be letting up until the problem is contained.  Done and DONE.

Also on Thursday, my kids had to take a module test.  These tests are prep for the Benchmark in the spring.  We have no idea what exactly will be on it.  We can't really completely prepare our kids for it.  We just have to smile and say "Do your best!".  Kids hate it; I hated it.  Yuck.  On top of that, it was their second test in a week.  Sorry kids, Ms. Herring didn't plan so well.....On Friday, I let my kids do a retake on the matching section of their test, to fix the test anxiety problem I had caused.  Since they now knew I meant business, most of them studied this time around, and grades went up considerably.

It was a tough week, for me and for the kids, but I feel like we both stepped up.  I even had a student get a 100% on her module test!  I know this is not the last tough week I will ever have at school.  Far from it, I'm sure it's the first of many.  But I'm stepping up.  I can do this.  And at least I always know I have Saturday and Sunday to recuperate.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

3rd Period

This week has been one of those weeks that seems to fly by, but at the same time, the individual days have seemed so long.  Weird how that works....I started out the week sick.  By sick, I mean congested, can't breathe, can't talk, throat is closing up sick.  Yuck.  Despite that, I went to school everyday, because I would rather try to conduct class as a mime than have to come up with substitute lesson plans.  

And I was greatly rewarded by my decision to teach through it, in more ways than one.  Number one, I'm notorious for being the biggest wimp about being sick.  Going to work anyway helped me prove to myself that I can fight through the sickness, no matter how crummy I feel.  Number two, and the vastly greater reward, was the way my students participated in their work this week.  All of my classes are great.  I look forward to teaching each one for a very distinct and different reason.  However, every teacher knows that there is that one class period that somehow makes you smile everyday.  When I student taught, that class was 6th period.  Sure, they acted out occasionally and may or may not have made a few inappropriate comments from time to time, but they loved school, and they loved English, and I loved them for that.  

This blog entry is going to have to be dedicated to my current 3rd period.  They made my week awesome.  As a first year teacher, I am required to be observed by my mentor teacher throughout the year, and ultimately, by a Praxis III assessor, who will decide if I am competent enough to be a teacher.  My school also requires observations, which are done by our principals.  This week, I had two assessments, one by my mentor teacher and one by my principal.  Let's just say I was a little stressed.  I asked both of them to come visit my 3rd period, because I already had reason to believe that they would do everything they could to make me look good.  All I can say is WOW! They delivered.  

On Tuesday, we held a Socratic seminar on our study of the September 11th attacks and the 10-year anniversary.  This is a type of student-led discussion in which students write their own questions and use them to facilitate classroom discussion.  They did an amazing job!  They held a 30 minute discussion about topics ranging from how children today might feel growing up without a parent who died in the attacks to whether or not the government should tell people how to commemorate the attacks.  They really analyzed what they had learned and read and watched in class and used it all.  

On Thursday (today), we had a far less exciting lesson.  We defined literary terms.  Woohoo!!  But they did a great job!  They had examples for all of the things we talked about, they recalled things I taught up to three weeks ago, and they even high-fived each other for getting the right answer.  Way to make me look like a rock star, 3rd period.

I know there is really no lesson or great story in this entry.  I thought about my week, and several things came to mind, but I felt like I really needed to brag on these kids.  They are the reason I love going to work everyday.  I am thankful for all my students and for the opportunity to wake up every morning and be a teacher, but today I have to say a special thank you.  So thank you 3rd period.  You are one fantastic group of seventh graders.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

I Don't Speak "Whinese"

Millions of dollars are spent each year on cheesy educational posters.  "Reading is succeeding."  "Attitude is important for success." "Shoot for the moon, even if you miss you'll land among the stars."  You get the idea.  I'm sure you even have your own favorites.  When I started decorating my classroom, I couldn't help but cave and buy at least two or three.  However, my favorite poster I have ever seen in a school still hangs in the attendance office at my high school.  Where Mrs. Head, the head of the attendance office, proudly displays a poster that boasts "I Don't Speak Whinese."  

Now let me just tell you that part of why I chose to be a teacher is that I love school.  As nerdy or trite as it may sound, I simply enjoy the fact that, for the rest of my life, I will learn something new every single day. If I could be a professional college student, and make money doing it, I probably would make it my career. However, I did not necessarily feel that way in high school.  I took several "personal health days" each quarter.  So much so, during my junior and senior year, that I got a letter with each report card threatening summer school if I continued my "personal health day" trend.  Needless to say, I spent some time in the attendance office "speaking Whinese" while I explained away these "necessary" absences.  

While I may have been a native Whinese speaker in high school, I realized this week that I am no longer fluent in this language as a teacher.  However, it seems to be a language that is widely spoken in the middle school.  In the same way that fluent Spanish-speakers can flip flop between languages, I have students who flip flop between English and Whinese all day.  Whether they forgot their notebook at home or brought their notebook but just can't fathom the effort of writing ONE WHOLE PAGE or they don't want to read or they don't like to read, the amount of Whinese I am trying to translate into English this week seems a little silly.  On Wednesday, a student started to ask me why he had to write so much, and I found myself saying, without skipping a beat, "I'm sorry.  I don't speak Whinese."  And in that moment, I knew I had reached a new plateau in adulthood.  So here's to you Mrs. Head.  Thank you for not speaking Whinese.  I vow to uphold your legacy and hold my students to a higher standard.  No more Whinese in Ms. Herring's room.  It's called English class for a reason.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Past the Scowl

Something happened at school today that reminded me why I love teaching middle school so much.  Before I tell you what happened, a little background is necessary.  I teach sixth and seventh graders.  While you may think that one grade doesn't make much difference, just believe me when I say that it definitely does.  Sixth graders are still nervous, a little confused, paranoid of getting detention hall, and, most of all, they are still little kids.  Seventh graders have started hitting puberty and moving on to adolescence.  While sixth graders may be adolescents in the physical sense, their minds are still in elementary school at this point.  They are still little. 

Anyway, the very first day of school, my first class of sixth graders came in right after lunch.  This group includes a girl who, I must say, does not come off as still being a kid.  She came in late and frazzled, sank down into the seat closest to the door, and scowled at me the entire class period.  With the exception of a few occasions where she has talked to other students (while I'm talking), this girl has scowled at me since Day One.  I initially thought, well, here's to adolescent angst.  Bring it on, sister.  I started working hard to get beyond that scowl.  I even got her to crack a smile for a millisecond, when I complimented her earrings one day.  Today, she showed me just how to get through to her.

This week, we worked on grammar.  Specifically, we talked about types and kinds of sentences.  The kinds of sentences are declarative, interrogative, etc. etc...We all learn them in elementary and grade school and then store that information with all the other school stuff you don't use when you're a grownup.  Anyway, I put the kids in groups and had them write skits where each character was a kind of sentence and could only speak in that kind of sentence.  It's harder than it sounds.  You try only talking in questions.  The kids have done a great job and had a lot of fun with it.  But what made this whole week worth it was a short, five second conversation I had with scowling girl.  

I was walking around, monitoring group progress, and she stopped me.
Girl: "Ms. Herring?"
Me: "Yeah, what's up?  How can I help?"
Girl: "Oh, we're doing fine.  I just wanted you to know--this is so fun!"

She had the biggest smile on her face.  All I could think was "I got past the scowl!"  I was so excited to see her excited.  I now know that she had a rough first couple of weeks at school.  She was tardy to classes because she was learning her schedule; she got sent to the office a few times.  But beneath that tough exterior, she's a kid, too.  She wants to have fun, and she wants somebody to care about what she wants.  I obviously can't make every day fun, but I can keep in mind the ways she wants to learn.  I can also try everyday to make her, and all my students, feel that their thoughts and opinions are valued.  So I guess I can say "one down, a bunch more to go."  I am learning more and more each day that it is a never-ending task to truly know your students, but I am determined to get it down.  Happy long weekend!  I've never been so excited about a Monday off!