In an effort to help remind myself how far I've come, and to make room set-up and those first few weeks SO. MUCH. EASIER. next year, I'm compiling a list of things I've already learned this year. Things I know I want to do differently next year, things I'm proud I did this year, all of it.
KEEP THE TURN-IN TRAYS AT THE BACK OF THE ROOM.
I started the year with one turn-in bin for all my classes (I teach 5) at the front of the room. Since all 5 of my classes are doing the same things every day, I thought this would be an easy way to streamline the turn-in process. HAH!! Instead, I had a jumble of papers from all 5 of my classes to sort through, and it made grading those first articles so stinkin' time consuming.
So then I changed it to a stack of turn-in trays, one for each class. But they were still in the front of the room right by the door. This created a huge cluster of 12 year old bodies by the door all the time, which drove me absolutely crazy.
Now I've got the turn-in bins on the back counter, with each bin next to the crate the students keep their notebooks in. It works perfectly, it's out of the way, no papers are jumbled up, and everyone knows where there things go.
I hate that I changed this one around so much, though. Next year, this is how I will start the year.
I don't even care if it makes me a jerk. I want my students using laptops as often as possible. Turning their articles in online. Doing their writing online. All of it. We use Google Classroom, and if I could have them on it every day I would.
The entire district is going one-to-one with laptops for all high school and middle school students in the next year. They are starting with the high schools this coming January, and then eighth graders next fall, with the 6th and 7th graders after that. This means my 7th graders will all have their own school-issued laptop beginning next fall, and I want them to be ready for it. I want them to know how to use GAFE (Google Apps For Education) as fluently as possible now, so there's not as steep a learning curve when it becomes their main way of turning in work and operating in class.
Let's be clear - I am over the moon excited for this. I think giving each student a device levels the playing field in some pretty awesome ways. I know there's lots of reasons for people to be worried about it, but my students are already on devices (phones, computers, gaming systems) all the time in their personal time, so this is just a good way for them to learn to use these things in more effective and responsible ways.
DITCH THE JOURNALS AND INTERACTIVE NOTEBOOKS.
We are using both writing journals and interactive notebooks this year. I t was my idea, and I thought they would be a great way to keep the students organized without having to worry about folders and loose papers and such.
Man, it feels like a disaster. They struggled to set the interactive notebooks up correctly - about half of the kids in every class have their notebooks set up wrong. They struggle to bring their journals with them to class, and I have a bunch of random journal pages turned in each time I collect their journals for checks. It's just all super frustrating.
I think I needed to be more realistic about what I should be expecting from 12 year olds. The truth of their lives is that many of them don't have to worry about organization or responsibility outside of the classroom, and so they haven't learned those skills.
Our school provides each student with a homework folder and an agenda, and about 1/3 of my students already can't remember to bring those to class, or have lost them. I should have started out smaller. Make them be responsible for keeping track of their paper in class, turning it in at the end of class. Making them responsible for bringing their agendas and homework folders, helping them learn to be responsible and organized in that way.
I'm nervous to make a switch in how I do these things now, though. I can definitely start checking as they come in the door, and if they don't have their homework folder and agenda I can block them from entering until they get it. If they are tardy, that's a lesson they learn. I can work more with the idea that "this is something you're turning in, it's not for your notebook" and see where that goes. I need to talk with my fellow 7th English teachers, see what they think. Maybe I just need to keep powering through, and they will start to get it. Mostly it's frustrating for me, lots of late or missing assignments.
SPEND THE FIRST TWO WEEKS TEACHING PROCEDURES AND TEAM BUILDING. SERIOUSLY.
I thought I was doing this. I thought I was owning this like a BOSS. I was a fool.
I probably spent 1/4 to 1/3 of each class period the first two weeks worrying about procedures, and the rest of the time worrying about getting some type of content into their days. I should have spent THE ENTIRE TIME working on procedures. Not just standing at the front of the room talking at them, but having them act things out, make lists with me, etc.
I'm also figuring out I did literally no team building, which sucks. I'm still struggling to know their names, where other teachers have all their 130 students down. It's a lot of kids. It's my first year. I will do this better next year. I know because I didn't do this, my classroom feels less fun, and more of a me vs. them type of place, and that bums me out. I want my room to be a haven, a place of refuge. Instead I think many of the kids just think "man, it's English class. Yuck."
REMEMBER, YOU ARE DOING THE BEST YOU CAN
I have to constantly remind myself it is my first year. I am doing the best I can. My students are amazing and resilient, and they are still learning. They will come out of this year knowing more than they started the year knowing, and I will grow so much as a teacher that by the end of the year even these things will feel like a distant memory.
Right now I feel like I'm swimming upstream in a serious current. I will get there. It will get easier. I love this job, this passionate life calling I've found myself in. I wouldn't change jobs for all the money in the world. It's where I'm meant to be. It's such an amazing gift, to be able to help middle schoolers grow into themselves, begin to love themselves more wholely and completely. To show them they have worth, their words and ideas have power. I want to do the absolute best I can for them, every single day. That's how I know I'm good at this.