Summer is here! I’m basking in the glow of few responsibilities and playoff basketball. In the popular vernacular, I “survived” my first year of teaching. If you have friends on Facebook who are similar to the friends I have on Facebook, you might have seen them post THIS specious “news” article about a Chinese miner who supposedly survived 17 years buried underground, surviving on a diet of rice and rats and painstakingly burying 78 of his colleagues, only to be rediscovered and escape his subterranean purgatory. Well, the story is a hoax (check your sources, students), but the experience of reemerging into the daylight of human civilization is similar to how I feel. I have time to read for pleasure? I can pursue hobbies that have little or no direct bearing on the academic progress of my students? Eight hours of sleep AND personal hygiene? What is this life?!
Because effective teachers are reflective (at least that’s what they tell me), I thought it might be fun to briefly look back on my first year as a full fledged teacher and glean some bright kernels of wisdom from the chaff. Here, then, are some thoughts.
Yeah. This is something that all earnest teachers know: you work a lot of hours. At first, I was like, “Woo! Let’s do all the work! I can be a teaching/grading/curriculum creating machine!” And then I got tired. Not immediately, mind you, and not “burnt out” level fatigued, but significantly and undeniably. Teachers are human–despite what some of their students might think–so, after numerous evenings spent staring at a computer screen or holding a grading pen into the wee hours of the night, I found it beneficial to make 10 pm my closing time. If I hadn’t gotten everything graded by then, I knew it would still be there for me in the morning. Of course, I broke this rule quite a bit, especially during research paper season, but it’s still nice to set standards and have goals. 🙂
Be the Mattress
I know. This is a strange metaphor. But let me explain. My first few months of teaching, I was a bit too permissive. I allowed certain student behaviors to take hold in the classroom that were detrimental to focus and learning. As a teacher, it’s important to be like a mattress: firm, supportive, and welcoming. You can achieve all three. Neglect firmness at your own peril, however. Students like boundaries, even if they habitually test them. Nobody likes a lumpy mattress.
Common Core Standards are all the rage. They’re pretty decent, and I don’t have any specific beef with the standards for ELA. Nonfiction texts (emphasized greatly in the Common Core) are important to analyze, parse, and critique. I will, however, say one thing: literature (novels, short stories, poetry) is valuable in and of itself! There’s been some RESEARCH on this. Reading fiction can help people analyze others’ behavior and give them a more empathic perspective. Teenagers aren’t doing it on their own these days (see HERE), so reading literature must be a central component of an English curriculum. It’s also simply a beautiful, wonderful way to spend one’s time thinking deeply about the world. And if that doesn’t belong in schools, then what does?
Effective teachers are also “share-y”–though not, I hope, in that Facebook-y, vapid sort of way. In that spirit, here are some tools I found particular useful my first year teaching:
I used a self-hosted WordPress site to create a teaching website for my class. You can find it HERE. It was useful for . . .
- Sharing weekly lesson plans
- Sharing class materials
- Providing an online discussion platform for students
- Serving as a hub for links to student blogs
- Being a place where I could share cool/novel things with my students
I also had my students keep personal blogs on which they would respond to writing prompts that I gave them. They seemed to like this less formal, digital form of writing quite a lot. I still had them write traditional essays, but blogs are great for having students respond to creative writing prompts. Blogging allows every student to see and enjoy what their classmates write. Instant writers’ workshop. Huzzah!
You can find my Twitter account HERE. Yes, it’s social media, and yes, students often use Twitter to passively aggressively vent about personal struggles, but I found having a teacher Twitter account to be a good thing for a few reasons:
- When students follow you on Twitter (you probably shouldn’t follow them back), whatever you post shows up in their Twitter feed. If you need a way to get an update out to your students quickly, tweet it. They’ll know about 3 minutes after its posted.
- I had my students tweet poems at me for National Poetry Month. It was a fun way to have them share their brief, often silly, poems in a public space.
- I almost exclusively tweet poems. Students need to see teachers stretching their creative writing muscles too.
Google Drive allows you to seamlessly sync all your documents and store them in the cloud. This is a godsend. You don’t have to email Word documents to yourself anymore. I also found it really easy to post links to my Google Drive documents on my teaching website and immediately share materials with my students.
I’ll admit that I’ve become a bit of an evangelist for vocabulary.com. It’s probably because it’s really cool. Students create accounts and can earn points–for themselves and their schools–by correctly answering vocabulary questions.
If you’re looking for a replacement to the dearly departed xtranormal.com, look no further. Plotagon allows educators and students to created scripted videos with computer animated actors and publish them online. Think of the applications!
THIS website allows for online annotation of texts. You can also ask to be upgraded to an educator account, create classes, and have your students “compete” against each other to earn the distinction of top annotator. Excellent idea all around.
This is something I’m hoping to delve into further during the summer months. Project Spark is a Microsoft based game creation platform. I am planning on designing levels (some merely for fun, others with academic applications) using their platform. Project Spark is still in Beta, but if you want to test it out and have a Windows 8 computer, you can simply request an invitation and you’ll be ready to start fooling around with world creation. The learning curve is a bit steep for this one, but the possibilities are REALLY vast!
So, yeah. That’s a bit of what I’ve learned/stumbled across during my first year teaching. If you are teaching and have some advice or cool tools you’ve been using in the classroom, PLEASE comment below and let me know. Now, back to my SUMMER READING LIST. Happy June, July, and August!