Thursday, May 25, 2017

Year Three

Well, when I lock up room 327 at the end of the day, my third year of teaching will officially be in the books. Which is exciting, but also, how did that happen? How am I at this point? In many ways, I feel like a mom who has to make what feels like 10,000 game time decisions every single day. I've given out more band-aids than is probably reasonable for an English class. Is fighting the cell phone battle worth it today? Should I give this kid a hard time for not bringing a pencil? And not telling me about it until we are 25 minutes into class? And then other days I'm the one updating my friends as to what all the cool kids are saying these days. One of my favorite memories of the year is when a student told me I was being extra. That's when I knew I was doing my job. Though I will never let go of on fleek, I think it's safe to say that this year was lit.

Anyway, I'm still finding it hard to believe that it's really the end of May, and that yesterday I waved my third group of freshman out the door. The end of the year is always a little bittersweet because, while I absolutely welcome the break, I'm also going to miss the ~120 students I watched grow and (somewhat) mature for the last 180 days. I became invested in their lives, and they in mine. For instance, they knew my Monday afternoon routine of running five miles through the surrounding neighborhood because I had club volleyball practice on Mondays and didn't see the point in going home just to get caught in traffic driving to Memorial. And I knew all about spring football and Russian class and the movies I told them I would go see but undoubtedly never would, so I wasn't too mad when they spoiled the ending. 

And now they're sophomores and I hope they know how much they mean to me. That I find so much joy in seeing how far they have come from the awkward, shy, nervous students they were on the first day of school, to the still slightly awkward, but more confident and relaxed students they are now. Sometimes maybe too confident and relaxed - to the point of making me want to pull all of my hairs out, but not a day went by that they didn’t put a smile on my face. And I’m proud of who they are as people as well as who they are as students. I’m proud of the way they engaged with the texts we explored this year – some of them for the first time in their lives. I’m honored that they chose to share their stories with me, because their stories are powerful and they absolutely matter, and I’m thankful for the way they let me learn along with them. So many times this year I found myself saying, “I don’t know, but let’s figure it out together.” It was empowering for all of us. They saw me being vulnerable and realized that they’re not expected to know everything right off the bat. They realized that it’s okay to try and fail, as long as they’re learning from these mistakes and trying again. They saw that getting outside of their comfort zones is a good thing - in fact, it's where the magic happens. And they loved being able to show and explain to the teacher how to do something. Which, I won’t lie, wasn’t always easy for me. But once I let go of the idea that all of the control had to rest solely in my hands, I realized how much more authentic the learning was.

And I think when I look back on my third year of teaching, that’s what I’m most proud of. I’m proud of the authentic learning that took place in my classroom. Of course, I still focused on the objectives that would be covered on the STAAR test, because in the grand scheme of things, many of those skills really are important. But I also tried to do things that would help them build skills they will likely use in the future. Research and analysis and learning how to go back and dive deep into a text. We learned how to compose emails – what not to do: have an email address that looks anything like – we connected the texts we were reading to events that were happening in the world around us, and we even dabbled in the very new-to-me world of coding. It is truly a different language, but it absolutely amazed me as to how quickly so many of my students picked up the skill. And yes, it is kind of cool to say that my students were coding in my class, but what was even cooler to me was that when I took a step back, I watched my students go back into a particular scene in the text, and I listened to each group analyze the characters in Romeo and Juliet so that their virtual reality recreations really matched up to what was happening in the play.

I didn’t always know how something was going to turn out, and yes, some of my attempts were total flops. But on most occasions, my students blew my expectations totally out of the water. They owned their learning and they took pride in their work. It is my greatest hope that they saw value in what they were doing, and that maybe it was hard at first, but it was so much more meaningful than halfheartedly completing a go-through-the-motions worksheet.

It’s crazy to think about where I was in my first year, and how far I’ve come as I wrap up my third. While I’ve still got so much to learn, I owe so much of my transformation to the incredible people I’ve got around me. From my English 1 PLC to the English department to technology gurus to administrators to teachers and clerks all over the building, so many of them have helped me in one way or another and I’m grateful for every single one of them.

I’ve said this before and I’ll likely say it again, but I’ve got a job where I don’t dread Mondays. I know it's in my job description to teach them, but each year they teach me so much more than I could ever dream. And that has made all the difference.

I feel like I grew as a teacher, and I witnessed each one of my students grow as learners. And of course, my learning (and hopefully theirs) doesn’t end with the school year. My mind is already churning with all that I can do to make the next school year even better for my students. And while I’ll probably tackle quite a few of them this summer, there’s a reason teachers have this break. There’s definitely time for a little bit of rest and relaxation. I’m excited to start in on the stack of books that has been collecting dust these past few months, to work on my weird tan lines, to eat lunch with people my own age every now and then, and to keep on running full speed ahead. And I mean that on a couple of different levels. Have a fantastic long weekend!

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