It could just be beginning of the year excitement, but I've definitely been carrying around some pep in my step since school got underway. Each morning, I'm up and out of bed at 4:30AM ready for my day to begin and excited about what the day will bring. When I get to work, I'm eager to get all of my stuff ready to go and make sure I'm fully prepared for everything I need to get done. When the students come in to the room, I'm happy and cheerful about seeing each of their cute, little faces. And I've found that any time I have something somewhat negative to say, I've started using a "but" follow up statement.
"My kiddos sure are having a tough time with spelling...but they sure are well behaved."
"Some of my kiddos need some serious help with their handwriting...but they sure do try hard."
"Man, my kids did NOT do well on that pretest I gave them... but they work so quietly and do everything that I ask them to do."
It feels really nice to be able to shower my kids with praise, even when stuff isn't going exactly how I'd hoped.
And, I almost feel like I'm right back in my first year of teaching. So excited about the new possibilities that await, with kiddos that are equally as excited about what they're going to learn and to see the improvements they will all make.
My first class was an AMAZING bunch of kiddos. They were so low, bless their little hearts, but they had a dedication and drive that fueled my fire each and every day to do whatever I could to help them achieve the goals they had set for themselves. I had several kids that were reading well below grade level, and they were desperate to catch up. I had kiddos that couldn't add two one-digit numbers together, but wanted to be able to multiply. And, I spent that year doing exactly what THEY wanted, together, and I'm happy to report that my class had AMAZING gains and test scores at the end of the year.
Last year, I had great kids, but the dedication just wasn't there. No matter how much I pushed and shoved, I just couldn't get most of them to buckle down and commit to learning. I had several kiddos that seemed perfectly content not finishing their work, making low grades, and even having privileges taken away for not doing what they were asked to do. They often whined and complained about ANY form of work we had to do, even when I tried to make it more fun. That ended up making me more and more frustrated, because I felt that it was MY fault. If my kids weren't enjoying their learning experience, and striving to be better.. do better... then I was doing something wrong.
I lost count with how many times I cried, last year, out of frustration. I don't know how many weekends I sat in front of my computer researching ways that I could turn their motivation levels around. I had stacks and stacks of parent letters I had sent home, and still not seeing a lick of difference. And, it all got to me so much. I had a wonderful group of kids, but no matter how hard I tried, there were several of them that just weren't interested in anything I had to say. And, when I received my end of year test scores from last year, I wasn't in the least bit surprised to see low scores and not many gains.
But, one thing I will say about my class last year versus the first class I had is the fact that during my first year, I completely marched to the beat of my own drum. I did novel studies with my class, even though most of them couldn't read a paragraph of the books we studied. I incorporated our science and social studies in to those units, and even the math. Last year, I went with a new approach of more student choice activities. Giving them menus of activities to choose from, letting them decide what books they read, giving them lots of choice about how the learning took place. Which I thought was what I needed to do. It seemed to make so much sense...if a student is struggling with following the directions I was giving, why not let them make their own choices? And, I realized very quickly, that probably wasn't the best way to go for those particular kids.
So, this year, I'm going back to the way I did things my first year. Unit learning, novel studies, challenging them to dig deep and overcome the struggles that they are facing. Facilitating the learning. Giving them some choice, but lots of guidance. It's all about high expectations. If a kid isn't succeeding, it may not be the best idea to just let them choose how to succeed. If a kid isn't succeeding, I need to find the best way to motivate them to succeed by guiding them and setting the challenges for them.
I have sixteen students in my class this year (so far). We are getting new kids left, right, and center. But, the kids I have right now are eager to please. They have asked for homework, they want to be the first one finished, and they are excited when I tell them what we're going to do be doing. There is one obstacle I need to overcome, cautiously, and that's the fact that they are all so quiet and shy about sharing and having class discussions. Not a single one of them want to be wrong, and I can see the fear plastered on their face when I call on them to answer a question... even if I know they have the right answer. That's something I had to break my first class out of, too. But, once they realized that our classroom is a safe place to make mistakes, and that's how we grow and learn... our classroom was constantly buzzing with discussion. That same thing will happen this year, I know it.
I love feeling this way. Excited and happy. Not that I was unhappy last year. Well, not unhappy with my kids...more unhappy with myself that I felt like I was letting them down. There were lots of other factors at play, however, and it wasn't my fault or their fault that our year went the way it did. But, this year I need to learn from my mistakes, challenge myself, and really get my kids motivated about the goals they are setting for themselves.
The rumor about me being a "mean teacher" has dissipated. My kiddos all seem to love me, already. I'm full of smiles and sunshine as I walk the hallways, and I'm having such a great time each and every day.
That's what it should be about. I've realized that. Sure, the mean demeanor worked for a while, but it's run it's course. I don't want to be that teacher. I want to be the fun, but firm teacher that gets stuff done... but in a way that the kids enjoy their learning. I want to go back to giving out rewards and parties...just because they're working so hard, not because I'm trying to bribe them to do something. I want to be the funny teacher that always has a smile on her face, and has her kiddos laughing until their sides hurt. All while doing things they never thought they could do.
I can already feel that this year is going to be an AMAZING year. But, we're just getting started. I have to hold on to this feeling every minute of every day. I can't let anything bring me down. If things start to falter, I just need to hold on to how I feel at this very second in order to see clearly, and overcome all the struggles that may come my way.
I got this.