First day after Christmas Break

January 3, 2017

Welcome back!

This blog post is part of an ongoing series to capture a Day in the Life of a Teacher, a collective project started by Tina Cardone @crstn85.

Today is our first day of classes after Christmas Break.  We had an in-service yesterday.  Because I work at a school with compassionate administrators, we only had 2 hours of meetings and the rest of the day was for working in our rooms.

7:10 – Arrive at school.  I’m trying to remember my morning routine.  Hopefully, I didn’t forget anything at home.

7:30 – I’m in my classroom and ready to receive students.  I’m also looking for some manipulatives that I know I have and can’t find.  I last saw them in August, so there is no telling where they are now.  I bought poker chips to use as a back-up, but since they cost $25, I would rather find the color tiles and return the poker chips to get my money back.

7:50 – The boys trickle in.  My goodness are they loud!  After 2 weeks of peace and quiet with my husband, I forgot what it was like to be around a bunch of kids.

8:00 – We go down to the “Boy’s World” meeting where the boys of the grade gather for character development lessons.  This is run by one of our admin team, so I am excused to work in my room this period.  Yay!

8:10 – One of my students pops in and asks if everyone else is at Boy World.  Well, better late than never!  I go for coffee and think about what I need to do first.

8:28 – I’m back with my coffee.  The consensus in the faculty lounge is that no one knows if there is a faculty meeting today or not.  The principal’s secretary said that he asked her if there was a meeting, and now the members of the admin team are emailing each other to decide.  We just had a meeting yesterday, but perhaps we need one today as well.  I hope not – I’m going to be exhausted after teaching 5 classes for the first time in weeks.

One of the things on my plate for this semester is to add enrichment for the students who already knew all of sixth-grade math before they entered sixth grade.  I’m thinking about asking my star pupil from last year (now an 8th grader) if he wants to help me offer the sessions after school.  The dean of students said that I can offer him volunteer hours for it, which goes to his NJHS requirement.  I’m going to email him and see what he thinks.  I also need to write an introductory email to the parents letting them know about this opportunity.  I’ll have my principal read it before I send it out.  He’s great at word smithing and always helps me to stay out of trouble.

9:00 – I’ve got a class coming in half an hour and I just realized that I forgot to grade one last component of their project.  I’m going to get that done quickly so I can return them.  I especially want to get these turned back because there are a few kids that never emailed me that last component (despite several personal reminders) and I want them to get it to me asap.

9:30 – It’s good to see the kids again after the break.  They are happy to see a WODB problem as their warmup, and they get right to work.  I pass back papers while they are working.  We discuss the warmup and then use color tiles to build patterns formed by linear equations as the value of the variable changes.  This isn’t something any of us have done before, so I learn how to explain the directions from the questions that they ask me.  After the students have finished, we rotate places and they guess the expression modeled by another group.  This is an activity I heard about from my informal twitter mentor, @MarkChubb3.  We debrief with a conversation about how variables are used in different ways in math, and what differences there are between expressions and equations (our next two topics.)

10:15 – My boys come in to eat their snack.  I’ll see them in class after lunch.

10:30 – I teach another class of seventh graders, and this time I front load the activity with the discussion about how variables are used in math.  They seem to have a better understanding of the activity because they finish it more quickly and with less input from me.  We have time for each group to rotate around to every other group’s patterns and see them.  We then debrief with a continuation of the discussion about expressions and equations and some of the vocabulary used to work with each one.

11:25 – I’m off until lunch duty at 12:30. I try to get some personal phone calls taken care of and record test grades for my 6th graders, so they can get their tests back today as well.  I also need to make seating charts for the sixth graders.  It’s always a challenge to remember who can’t sit together because they annoy each other, or who can’t sit together because they’re such good friends that they distract each other.  For whatever reason, that kind of information just doesn’t stick with me.

12:10 – Well, the seating charts are done, but the grades aren’t recorded yet.  Maybe I can get it done in class while they’re playing the integer number line game.  We’ll see.  They can always wait one more day.  I definitely have to go to lunch, since I only have 20 minutes until my recess duty starts.

I usually blog as the day goes by so that I can capture the realities of my day.  By the time I got back to this blog post, it was three days later, and honestly, I’ve forgotten what happened that afternoon.  I know that I taught three classes, did dismissal duty, and then went home fairly early because I was tired. (The faculty meeting was, in fact, canceled.)

Reflection questions:

1) Teachers make a lot of decisions throughout the day.  Sometimes we make so many it feels overwhelming.  When you think about today, what is a decision/teacher move you made that you are proud of?  What is one you are worried wasn’t ideal?

Everything was such a blur, I really don’t remember.  I can address one from today (1/6/17.)  Mid-day I really didn’t feel like teaching my afternoon classes, so I spoke with a colleague to get a pep-talk.  He surprised by saying “So you don’t feel like teaching?  Don’t.  Play a game with them.  Honor how you feel.”  I considered it and then decided to teach the lesson I had planned.  I’m proud of myself for sticking to my values and making every minute count.  However, I worry that I was grouchy and the value that I got in math learning I might have lost in student relationships.  They certainly wanted to talk not work, and I had to tell them that if they didn’t finish their classwork, it would be homework. I rarely do that, and I definitely don’t believe in using work as punishment. However, I didn’t have a creative idea for how to keep them focused on a Friday afternoon when we’re all tired from adjusting back to our routine.

Ideally, my lessons are so engaging that the kids complete them willingly, but this one wasn’t up to my usual standard, and honestly I’m not sure it would have mattered if it were. We’re all looking forward to the weekend.

2) Every person’s life is full of highs and lows.  Share with us some of what that is like for a teacher.  What are you looking forward to?  What has been a challenge for you lately?

Coming back to work after a long break is very difficult for me.  It takes me a long time to unwind, and then it takes me a long time to get moving again.  I always feel like taking a vacation kills my productivity.  However, I know that I was more patient with the kids today than I was before the break, so I definitely needed it.  I’m looking forward to reaching a more even keel where I’m not so invested in work all the time that taking a couple of weeks of is such a shock.

3) We are reminded constantly of how relational teaching is.  As teachers, we work to build relationships with our coworkers and students.  Describe a relational moment you had with someone recently.

The kids were very excited to share their holiday adventures with me.  I feel like having these conversations about my life and their lives gives them a point where they can connect with me and I can connect with them. It always amazes me how they forget most of what I say about math, but they seem to remember the smallest personal things about me, like my dog’s name or that I got a new FitBit.

4) Teachers are always working on improving, and often have specific goals for things to work on throughout a year.  What have you been doing to work toward your goal?  How do you feel you are doing?

There were so many things that I added this year, and I realize that some of them have faded away.  For instance, today a student was sad because he was raising his hand and everyone else was just calling out answers.  At the beginning of the year, I really made an effort to stop kids from blurting out answers, because I wanted everyone to have time to think and a chance to contribute.  That is something I would like to revisit.  I’m sure there are other small things, like having a student repeat my instructions back before we start a task that I could also re-implement. (Sometimes it feels like changing my teaching habits is like stretching a rubber band. Without constant tension, it goes right back to how it is naturally.  I wonder how long I will need to consciously change a technique before it becomes a habit?)

5) What else happened this month that you would like to share?

Since going back to work from the break, I’ve made a conscious effort to stop thinking and talking about work non-stop.  While my husband certainly appreciates this, I’m mostly doing it for myself.  I need to have time that I am not working in order to be refreshed and ready for students when I am teaching.  Constantly thinking about school doesn’t get much work done, but it creates a lot of stress and exhaustion.  I feel like I’m always on the rat wheel, and I don’t know how to get off.  But after Christmas break, it seems so easy.  How do I stop? Just stop. Do something else, think about something else, stop the impulse to tell my husband every minute of my day.  I think this is an important change for me. After all, a teaching career is a marathon, not a sprint.  Even a single year of teaching cannot be viewed as a sprint.  You have to take care of yourself before you can take care of anyone else.  For that reason, my word for 2017 is “balance.”

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