Public schools, by law, have to be open 180 days per school year. I started this past school year on the second day of school with the advice of “fake it until you make it.” 179 school days later I have finished my first full school year in the US. I finish this year not only successfully but having secured a full-time position at my school for next year too. I have to change grades which is exciting and challenging in equal measure but the prospect of no August interviews is what haves me absolutely ecstatic.
Having finished this year I thought some reflections were in order. Firstly, I have been struck by how tired I have felt this year. I think being in the classroom can sneak up on you with the constant interactions with students and the constant paper chase of creating and grading student work. When vacations came around I was passed out the first couple nights. I think in a few years I’ll have even more structures and lessons that allow students to work more while I facilitate in the background but this year I was really tired.
Secondly, while this year went mostly very smoothly and I mostly had great students I know where I need to improve. I’ve read many places that it takes about 5+ years for teachers to really master being in the classroom. With three years under my belt I am feeling that. I’ve had successes in every place I have taught but also recognize patterns where I need to improve. My biggest weakness at the moment is my overall classroom management. Really its how I present myself to my students. I have typically (and not always intentionally) been too lenient in what I let students do or say in my classroom. Part of this is always coming in as a “long-term substitute.” My students have always perceived as the replacement teacher instead of “the teacher.” Starting next year in my own classroom will go a long way to remedying this but I will need to begin with a strong place and structures in place to keep improving in this area.
Finally, the thing I am most pleased with about this year is the way I was able to be myself and impact students in positive ways. I want to share just one story about a student named Sarah.* Sarah is an English Language Learner (ELL), a student who doesn’t speak English at home or whose English is not up to grade level yet. Sarah was a sweet student who wanted to do well and put pressure on herself to do so but could not quite overcome obstacles in her way. What hurt her the most was she was usually absent at least once a week. Some students can overcome that but for Sarah that really prevented her from raising her grades.
Over the course of the year Sarah and I developed a rapport and I saw that she wanted to do well. Over the first three quarters though she was stuck in the C range. Recognizing that she seemed to enjoy my class I decided to try something I learned in graduate school: high expectations. I brought her over at the end of quarter three and said she should go for As in the 4th quarter. She thought about that for a moment and said “that’s a lot of work…” But without missing a beat she followed that up with “I’m going to do it!”
Her fourth quarter was a stunning reversal on her previous three. She started getting nearly all her work in on-time in all her classes. Multiple times during the final quarter she would mention to me how her grades were at the A- range. In so many ways she was a completely different student. She did struggle to get one big assignment in on time but her 4th quarter average was an A-. The picture at the top of the post was a gift from Sarah on the last day of school. She seemed surprised that I liked it but for a map loving teacher from Massachusetts it was
perfect. It will sit proudly on my desk for the rest of my career.
I love Sarah’s story because of how simple it is. She did all the work she just needed a little push forward. I wish I could have had a positive influence on a number of other, even more challenging students. But at the end of this first year I have much to be thankful for and much to look forward too.
*Not her real name.