It’s the middle of May, which means the school year is drawing to a close. As always, it has gone by so quickly and I feel like I have so much more to do, but the clock is ticking and there’s not enough time! So, I figured I’d reflect on what I’ve learned, what I am proud of and what I need to work on as a teacher and what I want to do differently next year.
1. I have realized I need to spend much more time on writing next year. My students have just finished their last writing piece of the year and so many said, “Mrs. Polen, I feel like I finally get it!”. My heart rose and sank at the same time. That’s wonderful, but it’s May! Did we not write enough in class? It felt as if we did at the time, but now that I look back, I’m not so sure. Now I want to keep all my kids next year so we can keep building on what they’ve learned. However, I’m satisfied in the fact that we have wonderful English teachers at our school, so I know my kids will be in good hands next year and will continue to develop their skills. And I know to incorporate more writing opportunities for my students next year!
2. I’ve learned so much more about incorporating reading and writing strategies this year through my PLN on Twitter, books (thanks, Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher), colleagues and at professional development workshops. Though I’ve been teaching for 12 years, I am constantly learning from others and still get excited to learn from them. Now I want to sit down and decide on the strategies which will work best next year and get a little more organized with incorporating them into my curriculum. One quick strategy I’ve been using lately which I love and wish I had known about years ago: Have students write a 10 word summary of the reading, using one-syllable words only. It is challenging, forces kids to really think about the reading, is a great summary practice and helps facilitate class discussion. I want to gather more of these quick lessons into my arsenal so I can gauge students’ comprehension of the reading we do in class because I am finding them so effective as well as so easy to implement!
3. Requiring students to use textual evidence to back up their opinion is one of the most important skills we can require of our kids, no matter the content area. Students, especially high school students, are so apt to fall into the trap of simply voicing their opinion, without substantiating it with anything from the text. This year I have constantly asked the students to read to me samples from the text to back up their thoughts, that now it has become routine for them. I think this is one skill which will help them as they become writers in college, since so much of that writing will be research-based and not so much first-person narrative, the writing with which they are most comfortable.
4. The most important lesson I’ve learned this year is that building relationships with students is the best thing a teacher can do, hands-down. Talking to students before class, allowing them to give their perspectives in discussions without judgement, giving them opportunities to challenge themselves with support and guidance, talking with them on Twitter about class topics, have all been so crucial to creating that “safe” classroom environment which makes kids thrive. I don’t care what “new” educational reforms are mandated from the powers-that-be; if a teacher does not have a classroom where kids feel confident to try new things, can give their opinions and can make mistakes without being criticized, kids won’t thrive. But I’ve learned that students also crave a sense of routine and discipline; they expect it and respect it as well. This is the type of classroom I strive to have, however, I know there are times I make mistakes and wish I could take back something that was said which was taken the wrong way or something which was not handled as well as I could have handled it. Working with high school students can be difficult, exhausting, frustrating, but also exciting, rejuvenating and most of the time just downright fun. They make me laugh on a daily basis, then make me want to pull out my hair the next day! But most of all, I feel honored that I get to have a small influence on their lives and I am very conscious to make certain that I make that influence a positive one; that is an awesome responsibility.
Though I can honestly say it has been a great year, I am ready for the rest which comes with summer (although now it’s time to focus on all the chores I need to do on my house which get neglected during the school year). I will work on changing some lessons, adding new strategies, fine-tuning my reading list, etc., etc. and will write a blog post next year at this time lamenting on all the things I want to do differently the following school year. Teaching is an ever-changing and never perfected profession.