We’re in the last weeks of the Fall semester and I couldn’t be more excited.
My second year has gone off to a better start than my first year. I was actually there for the first weeks of school so I was able to set the culture of my classroom. I was able to practice procedures and imbed the culture of constant reading into my students.
My coworker and I started a Student Government at the school and held the first school-wide election for our students. It was exciting. We had many students interested in running for executive board positions. We had our students campaign, make speeches, visit classrooms and share what they want to see out of my school. It was creating a culture of student voice and students seemed excited about electing their Student Body Executive Board.
After a week of campaigning, the results were announced during morning announcements. Students cheered as they heard the names of their candidates being said. It made me extremely proud to know that our younger students feel as though they can confide in someone to make decisions about their academic experience.
Latino Heritage Month started September 15th. Last year, there was no special programming or even a mention of the occasion. This year, I wanted to change that. With the help of the art teacher, students created flags of different Latin American and Caribbean countries. These flags were hung around our main hallway, for students and visitors to see. My Assistant Principal and I worked together and gathered up facts about the history of Latinos and Latino Heritage Month. This information was disseminated to the staff everyday during morning announcements. Teachers and students seemed receptive to the information, thanking me on the daily for providing the information.
I felt happy to be at work. I stayed late hours grading papers and planning my lessons. I ensured to organize my classroom on a daily and find ways to track and incentive student success. I was very adamant about reading. I made my students read at every moment. If there was even a second of free time, students had to take out a book and read it. I didn’t allow students to enter my class unless they had a book. It’s worked because my students now understand how serious I am about reading.
On October 15, 2014 I won Teacher of the Month. I knew I had been nominated about two weeks prior to that when my Assistant Principal sent an email telling us to vote. A colleague nominated me for being one of the founders of our Student Government. The nomination in itself was an honor because it signified my growth. I was at a very different place than I was last year and everyone noticed it. My assistant principal kept saying “what a difference a year makes” and he was right. I had a new found energy that I was happy about spreading to others.
But the honeymoon phase is long gone. The past month and a half have been trying. The first 9 weeks of the semester were difficult, especially for my students. They were transitioning to middle school and getting used to having 6 (some 7) different classes. Our school is very structured and our AP of Discipline is consistent with ensuring that students are following all rules, especially our dress code. This environment was very different for our students. The students were getting used to having more than two teachers and having different demands and expectations from each.
As I moved along in my content, I realized that my students struggled with reading and writing. After taking their STAR testing, I learned that most of them aren’t even on grade level. In fact, they were several grade levels behind. Considering the district I work in, I expected for my students to be a little behind. My students come from circumstances that inhibit them from obtaining top quality education as a student from an affluent neighborhood would receive. However, what I came in touch with was unbelievable.
After assessing their reading, I assessed their writing. I was faced with the daunting truth that my students had trouble with simple grammar rules like capitalization, punctuation and word usage. Some were even forgetting to capitalize their first names. I realized that these errors were nothing but bad habits because students would immediately take note of it when I merely mentioned there was an error. This led me to conclude that students were must have forgotten all their grammar rules during the summer of that they weren’t held accountable for their errors in previous years. I also remembered that we live in the age of social media where there’s no accountability for correct grammar, and as students post on these sites they brings those habits into the classroom. That in itself is a feat I’ve been trying to battle.
I’ve been very frustrated this year teaching the content. Last year, I was in eighth grade so things were different. Many of my students had challenges with reading and writing; however, they were able to comprehend they were able to persevere through the struggle and move forward to learning the content. Sixth graders haven’t learned how to persevere. As you’re teaching the content, you’re also teaching them how to work through the parts they haven’t quite mastered. I’m still in disbelief at the lack of prior knowledge my students came to the sixth grade with. I would expect my students to be aware of parts of a speech, parts of a sentence, paragraphs, indentation, and all the other basic things we learned in elementary school. But when students have to recall that information, a somber silence grows in the classroom. A sense of frustration bears over me and suddenly I feel like my lesson is a failure. Teaching things like sentence variety becomes unbearably difficult especially when students are stating that their fragments are complete sentences.
I’ve tried doing everything I can. I’ve sought the help of veteran teachers, collaborative teachers, administrators, Pinterest, Youtube, and any other resource that will aid me in delivering my content in the clearest way. I see my students growing but I guess I want quicker results. I keep telling myself that my frustration and hard work will pay off in a couple of years, and that my students will have appreciated my nagging for constant reading and writing.
Until then, I will continue to seek opportunities to further my skill set to ensure that I am doing everything to meet the needs of my students.
At least it’s Thanksgiving break.
the angry public school teacher