Task Focused Students

It was pointed out after an observation that the majority of my students seem to be task-focused rather than learning-focused. This means that most of them just want to get the task at hand completed so they can move on. I don’t know if this is because completing tasks makes them feel more productive and gives them a sense of accomplishment, or if they just want to finish so they can watch videos and/or check notifications on their phones. I should not have let students have phones in class. Regardless, I have to figure out a way to get them learning-focused. Which means I have to find a way to make their grade based on their learning, and not their task-completion. Several of the teachers at my school have been moving towards this, so I have a network I can talk to, but I also need to figure out what will work for me and my classes.

The main thing these teachers seem to do is grade students based on whether they can verbally answer questions based on things they have been working on in class. If a student completes a worksheet correctly, but can’t answer any direct questions about the material that was on that worksheet, then we can know that the student wasn’t focused on the learning aspect, but on the task at hand. And possibly that student copied off someone else or looked it up online as students do.

But how to incorporate this into my class where task-oriented has already been heavily established. That, I’m not 100% sure. I can’t even get students to raise their hands when I ask a question like how many think it’s this answer vs that answer. I suppose the best time to start implementing something like this would be after the Thanksgiving break since that’s just a few days away. Which means I have 1 week to figure out at least one thing I’m going to implement in order to begin transitioning my class from task-oriented to learning-focused.

One way could be to make daily or weekly grades a thing. I could have a list of names and a check-mark system. Anytime they answer one of my verbal questions correctly, they get a check. And anytime they volunteer to try and answer something, as long as it’s somewhat on the right track, they get a check. And they need a certain number of checks a week for a passing grade, more for a B, and more for an A. That might be too big a thing to start with, though. That might be something good to implement after Christmas break, but maybe I could do a smaller-scale version after the Thanksgiving break, like require them to only answer one question correctly a week for an A. Or maybe one for a C, two for a B, and three for an A. That would certainly make them have to pay attention enough to parrot back answers to me. Which is a start.

I watched a biology teacher give a verbal quiz where she showed a student a state of cell division through a microscope and they had to tell her what state it was in. If they couldn’t, they got a 50, and if they could, they got a 100.

Whatever I do, I have to do something. My test scores are getting worse and worse and it’s because the students aren’t learning, no matter how much practice I give them.

Do you recall taking a class where the set up made you be more focused on learning than on just completing the assignments? What made it that way? If you’re a teacher, have you ever implemented something to try and make the class more learning-focused? Did it work? Why or why not? If you’re not a teacher, but have a suggestion, I would love to read it. Perspectives from teachers, students (past or present), parents, and concerned community members are always useful and appreciated!

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Setting Expectations

As a new teacher, setting expectations is the thing I find most difficult, and the thing in which I’m most lacking. It’s hard to set expectations from day one when you have no idea what to expect. I had been told several times that I needed to set expectations and the students would live up to them, whether they were high or low, and to be careful to not set low expectations. So part of it is you’re not supposed to “know what to expect” because you’re supposed to set the expectations for the students to live up to. But that’s difficult to do when you don’t know what expectations are needed. I didn’t know what kind of cell phone expectations I should have and enforce or that I needed to expect students to write in full sentences. I did expect students to write in full sentences, since I teach high school, but it never crossed my mind as an expectation that needed to be expressed or modeled in any way. Knowing expectations and setting expectations are two different things as well. I expected after the first month of enforcing the dress code I wouldn’t need to enforce it anymore. Students automatically took of their hats upon walking into the building and everyone had the holes on their pants patched. However, as time went on, I started noticing students wearing hats in class and me not catching them because I wasn’t expecting to have to enforce the expectation to not wear hats indoors. Kids are tricky like that, following rules so well at first that you stop looking to reinforce them because it had become unnecessary. It’s like they know when you stop looking for a policy to be followed and that’s the instant they stop following it. I guess it’s important to come to school every day with the same expectations and expecting to have to reinforce those expectations.

Setting and enforcing these have been extremely difficult and certainly my weakest area. Part of it is me not knowing what my expectations are, or at least not having a clear, specific idea or list of them. Part of it is not being 100% sure myself what a final product should look like because I’m not the one who came up with the assignment and haven’t done it myself. I’m working on that. I’m trying to take time to either do the assignment myself or look at good examples from the other chem teacher so I know what good work should look like.

Another problem is that I feel like this unit is lost already because I failed so miserably with teaching it that I just want to get it over with already and move on to hopefully do better on the next unit. The test is two days away and the students are less than prepared. Some of them will be fine despite my “help.” but I expect a high fail rate on this test. Which is part of the problem since students meet your expectations whether high or low. I can’t help being a realist on this, though. I just need a break. Good thing we get three days off for Thanksgiving! Wish it was a week, but I’ll take my three days plus the weekend and be grateful.

Okay, so to fix this.

First, I need to define specific expectations I have of my students, whether or not I think they’re realistic. I have to treat them as if they are. I need these expectaions to be as detailed as possible for myself so I am able to correct student behavior accordingly. Once I have my list, I can think of ways to express my expectations and the consequences of not meeting said expectations. I need to this for day-by-day expectations and for assignment-specific expectations. Good thing I’m organized and like making lists! Hopefully, this will help me get better and laying out specific expectations for my students, and once they experience or witness the consequences a few times, they will start working to meet these expectations. It will certainly be an uphill battle since I have been letting some things go for some time now, but if I jump in after this break, maybe they won’t notice as much. They’ll eventually get used to it and forget that it was ever any different. Afterall, they can’t even remember what we took notes on yesterday 😛

I would love some feedback on setting expectations in the classroom. What expectations do you have for your students and how do you express those expectations? How do you express expectations of an assignment in order to get something that actually looks nice as well as being accurate in the end? What advice would you give a first year teacher on setting expectations?

Silly Ambitions to be a “Perfect” Teacher My First Year

(This is being posted about 5 days after written because internet was out at the time and I was too overwhelmed to remember to post this later.)

I think I’m taking on too much. Actually, I know I’ve taken on too much. I just wanted so badly to be…perfect. I’ve been told, in one form or another, what makes a great teacher, and I just expected to be able to do it all my first year, armed with all this knowledge and training. That was my mistake. Everyone else made a collaborative mistake of giving me tons of training, resources, information, and advice with no time to actually process it all and come up with a plan. Small bits of time were given in between barrages of information, yes, but that’s not enough for me. I like to take it all in at once, let it soak and simmer, and then sit down and make a plan. But I didn’t have that opportunity, so I dove in expecting to be able to do it all. And I can’t. I have to admit that to myself (but not my students, of course).

What I need to do is pick out limited bits that I know I can do while also creating my own lesson plans, (although thanks to an awesome teacher who has given me hers from the past ten years, modified over time, I don’t have to start from scratch – just tweak it to make it my own) learning all the administrative stuff, getting training on the evaluation system, and also working with someone in the alternative certification department to do everything I need to for my internship year.

First, I need to let go of the idea of homework. I didn’t want to do it in the very beginning anyway. It wasn’t until I read up a little bit on the matter that I decided it would be a good idea to use it as part of my differentiated instruction. But I need to throw that out the window. It’s just too much for me in my first year. The problem is, I already told the student that homework was part of their grade. I’ll just tell them that after a department meeting, we came to the consensus to throw out homework this year, and anything they don’t finish in class can be homework. I doubt they’ll mind, although I did assure that I would use homework to help fill in any information gaps. I can tell them I’ll find a way to incorporate that into class time.

Next, I need to find a way to do simplified differentiated instruction in the classroom. Since all classes elected to have phones in class, I could use that to have the visual learners watch a video, the auditory learners listen to a lecture, and the kinesthetic learners to make something related to the lesson. Maybe my goal for that should be a once or twice per unit, kind of thing.

Finally, I need to let go of the idea that I am going to uniquely engage every single student, and just do what I can when the opportunity presents itself. Handle attitude issues with positivity and attempt to engage, but not be too pushy for those that just refuse to do anything.

I also need to stop caring about push back. It has stopped me from dealing with the back pack issues that I am having. They need to be fully out of the way, and the students just aren’t quite doing that. Maybe that’s something to fix in a class discussion and see how they would prefer to handle it. I’ll start by asking why it’s such a big deal to have their back packs away from them. I suppose, logically, if they can find a way to make it so we don’t trip all over them as we are walking around the room, and keep it with them, then that would be acceptable. I think I just need to have a conversation with them like adults.

Speaking of talking to them like they’re adults, I need to tone that down some too. Great teachers are caring and make connections with their students, which is what I attempted to do, but I opened up too much in the wrong way and have already caused some issues. I can own up to that and correct it though. I am very fortunate to have a principal that has my back and that is super understanding. She explained things in a way that I hadn’t realized and informed me that I have opened some doors for some students, making it a possibility that one or more may come to me with their own issues that are similar to the one I shared and she taught me a beautiful way to handle that. I’m really hoping to avoid talking to the parent, but if I need to, I know I can handle it.

I’m hoping the overwhelmingness of taking on too much is what has been keeping me up at night and keeping my heart racing and stomach turning all day long. The only time I fell relaxed and happy lately is during class when I’m teaching. I guess that’s a good sign that I’m in the right field. I just need to find more ways to lower the amount that I’m trying to take on in my first year without lowering the quality of my students’ education. And I really think I can.

If you’ve gotten through all of this, I would like to thank you for letting me vent all this out. It has been really helpful for me, and I would love any feedback, advice, or just words of encouragement you have to offer. Affirmations that I can do this and words of encouragement are probably the thing I need most in life right now.

I am About To Be a Teacher

I am about to be a high school chemistry teacher.

This is what I keep saying to myself over and over until I believe it. I’ve done the training and have all the advice and resource to have a theoretically great start. It’s quite a leap for someone who gets social anxiety and recharges her energy at home alone to go from an office job with social interactions being limited to a few friendly coworkers, to a classroom where she’ll have to guide and interact with over a hundred students on a daily basis.

I am about to be a high school chemistry teacher.

So far, it’s been a lot of fun, actually. I’m a very analytical person and I LOVE organizing. This means that I am really enjoying all the planning and learning that goes into my first year. It’s fun to me to put together my classroom management plan, my lesson plans, and organizing all the resources that I think I will find helpful as I continue to create said management plan and lesson plans. I even got a tablet for my birthday so I can organize all my school stuff on it and play around with apps that I could have my students use in the classroom as part of their learning activities. I’m even enjoying researching more resources and reading them. I still haven’t a clue how I want to set up my classroom, but there are lots of articles with information and advice on it that I am more than happy to read.

I am about to be a high school chemistry teacher.

Occasionally I’ll think about the fact that one day soon I will be presenting my management plan and my lesson plans to actual students, and that is terrifying. Kids are intimidating, no matter what age. At least to me. Adults are intimidating too. Big dogs running towards me with a big grin? The only reason I flinch is because I hate the slobber. But I’ll take that over talking in front of 30 teenagers. I suppose, if I really think about it, teenagers are a lot less intimidating than adults. Yes, some of them act like tough bullies, but as adults we all know there’s most likely a scared kitten just beneath the surface, and kittens are not intimidating. Part of my training was how to handle major behavior problems and students with any kind of mental disorder like ADHD or anxiety. I know many accommodations that I can put into place for all kinds of different students. It’s just a matter of figuring out what student needs what and putting it into place. And I’m good at puzzles. Being good at organization will also help with this area. And it’s not like I’ve never taught a class before. At least high schoolers are easier to deal with than middle schoolers, which is what I want to eventually teach because they need the most help, but that’s way too much intimidation too early.

I am about to be a high school chemistry teacher.

The more I say it, the more real it becomes. It brings down my excitement level so I can get back into reality, but it also brings down my anxiety level so I can realize I actually do have the tools and the ability to succeed at this. Yes, teenagers still seem intimidating, but if I can keep in mind that they are still kids who just need help and guidance in life, then I think I can handle it. After all, helping others to help themselves is the reason I wanted to switch from engineer to teacher. My job is to give them the tools, resources, and guidance they need to learn to succeed. And that is something in which I feel confident I can do.

I am a high school chemistry teacher.

Our Need for a Purpose

A friend of mine recently made the comment that she was wanting to “find a purpose”. I think that’s something we all share. We all want to find our purpose in life. We all want to find a way to make a difference, to better ourselves, and to better the world. Sometimes we feel this desire so strongly that it feels like a need, like we might die without it. But where did this need come from? I guarantee you that my cat has no such need or desire. He could care less about finding his purpose or bettering himself in some way. He just wants food, water, belly rubs, head scratches, and to finally catch that elusive red dot. He is purrfectly content playing, napping, eating, and grooming all day long. So why aren’t we?

While it certainly seems like we are content working just enough to pay the bills and watching Netflix all day, deep down inside most of us aren’t. We may enjoy it at the time, but there’s that nagging voice deep within us telling us we should be doing more. We should be reading, writing, creating, exercising, and planning in order to improve ourselves. We look for our purpose in the things we make, the ways we improve, the volunteer work we do, and the career path we choose. We want to find a way in which we can contribute that will give us that sense of fulfillment and accomplishment.

Where does this come from? What part of our brain developed this inner voice pushing us to do better instead of being satisfied with just enough? Where along the evolutionary trail did we develop this need? And why do we have it? What purpose does this almost primal feeling serve that drives us to work harder and nags us when we relax?

Perhaps it’s sociological. Improving oneself and the community is rewarded with praise, admiration, and increased social status. Whether it’s having a fit body, working with a charity, or being knowledgeable in trivia, we are impressed by skills, knowledge, and selfless acts shown by others.

Or perhaps it’s instinctual. When the community is improved, it improves our own lives as well. Being fit or talented can help when threatened. And when people are in awe of someone, it’s easier for that person to manipulate his/her fans for self-gain.

Whatever the reason, we all have this drive to find that sense of purpose. That one thing that will give us a sense of fulfillment and help leave our mark on this world. Have you found yours?

What do you think causes this need for purpose? Why do we need this type of fulfillment? What purpose have you found for yourself? How did you discover it? Or are you still searching?

Me? I want to be a teacher, a writer, a mentor, and a mother.

Learning to Swim by Falling in the Ocean

Woops. I recently left the engineering field to pursue a career in teaching and I had my first substituting job the other day. Wow was it awful. It was for a 6th grade class at a school known for disciplinary issues, but I didn’t know to check for that. I just took an available job. That was a mistake. I could tell I might have made a mistake when the instructions from the teacher included three different things to do in case of a problem student and ended with “good luck :)”. “Good luck” is so not a good sign. I did have problems. I could barely get homeroom under control enough to call role, and I lost my entire class at lunch. Yes, lost them. They all eventually ended up back in the classroom, but still. Luckily, a co-teacher came in and started writing lunch detentions left and right and was able to somewhat control the classroom. I was at a complete loss at how to handle something like that. The students ran around and hollered like 4 year olds and did not listen to me at all. It was….a little shocking. And it certainly made me question going down this route. But at least it can only go uphill from here, I hope.

Simple Green Tip: Reusable Shopping Bags

Many of us have them, but we often forget to take them into the store, making it seem silly that we got any in the first place. Here are a few tips to help you go green and actually use your reusable shopping bags.

  1. Get shopping bags that you like. The more you like the bags, the more you’ll want to show them off. I got my reusable bags from an Etsy shop called TheGeekyHomemaker (although she appears to be taking a break at the moment). If you can find a shop that will make custom ones, I suggest doing that. I simply told the maker a bit about myself, what I liked, my hobbies, my favorite colors, animals, and mythical creatures and told her to have fun with it, and I loved the result. I love taking my bags into any store and showing them off, and I especially love receiving compliments on my bags. You can also ask for specific patterns or colors if you have a more specific idea of what you want.
  2. Keep your bags in your car. Until you get into the habit of taking the bags into the store with you, I recommend keeping them in the front seat so you see them. Additionally, if your phone has the ability to remind you of something when you arrive at a location (like iPhone does), then set a reminder to grab your bags when you arrive at the grocery store.
  3. Put your bags back in the car immediately after use. I suggest making this part of your unpacking habit after getting home with your goods. I personally hang each bag on the doorknob of my front door after unpacking them and take them out to my car the next time I go anywhere. But I also live on the third floor and don’t feel like running them down to my car when I just brought them up.
  4. Take them everywhere you shop. Remember, these aren’t just grocery bags, they are shopping bags. Take them into the drug store, the pet store, clothing stores, the mall, or anywhere else you are likely to make a purchase that will go into a plastic bag. Not only will this help lower the number of plastic bags in the world, but it will help develop a habit of taking your bags with you that will eventually become second nature.

Where did you get your reusable bags? What are some tricks that you use to help you remember to use them? What’s your favorite thing about using your bags?

Impressive Talents

What is it about seeing others’ success that makes us want to be able to do the same thing? I always feel more motivated to work out after watching an action movie with a lot of skilled fighting than I do from reading about how exercise is good for me. I feel an urge to learn how to grind a pipe on my roller blades after watching someone else do it. I even feel more inspired to write after watching a TV show with a successful author than from daydreaming of a new story or poem idea. Nothing makes me want to study more than watching Bones or Big Bang Theory (when they actually talk about their research, anyway) so I can strive to be as smart as those characters. This also applies when I see friends or colleagues show off knowledge or a talent, such as doing a hand stand, describing how different chemicals react together, playing an instrument or singing, or explaining how something works. Often times when I wish I was better at something, it stems from me feeling a sense of  awe as I watch someone else showcase a talent or knowledge. This makes it difficult to determine what hobbies I genially enjoy and what hobbies I just want to get good at in order to show off. Piano, for example, is something I used to care about getting good at to show off to others, but now I only play for myself, because of how much I love it. Jigsaw puzzles are also something I enjoy, although I do love showing off my skill at those. Knitting, while I enjoy making things and I enjoy the Zen in it, I believe is a talent that I enjoy showing off what I make more than actually making things. But that’s still something I am trying to figure out because I also do enjoy making things for other people. I am no good at drawing and gave that up years ago because I never felt like I would be good, even though I used to love to draw. Writing is always something I have loved, and certainly not something that I show off, although I do enjoy sharing my writing. I’ve never found a good enough reason to really get in shape and get strong. Anytime I want to, it’s to be able to show off, and I never stick with the work outs for more than a few months. I’ve just never found a good enough personal reason to stick with it. But I always get motivated after watching Black Widow kick butt in the Avenger movies. Or Bones, for that matter. She’s a much more realistic goal too. But back to the main question: why does feeling awe at someone else’s talent make us what to also possess that talent? (I’m assuming I’m not unique in this, although I recognize that probably not everyone feels this way.) I suppose it would have to do with what we personally hold value. I see the value in being able to fight, in case I was to be assaulted. Therefore, I’m impressed by awesome fighting skills. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Maybe I’m impressed by a skill, so I decide it must have value. One way to get someone to like you more is to ask them to do a small favor for you. Social convention will oblige that person to say yes, and they will subconsciously justify doing you a favor by deciding that they must like you. So perhaps I am putting value into skills I see others do that impress me in order to justify being impressed by them. After all, what practical need would I have for doing a handstand or taking out 10 guys at once who all have on body armor?  What need would I have for being able to pop a wheelie on a motor cycle or be phenomenal at Mario Cart? Both those talents impress me, but that doesn’t mean they are valuable or that I need to accomplish them (as much as I may day dream about accomplishing them). After all, I am impressed by doctors and dentist, but have zero desire to do either of those jobs. I suppose the trick is to consciously separate things that impress me and things in that I am genially interested. That way, I can stop day dreaming about fighting with the Avengers and start actually doing things that bring me joy and satisfaction.

It Takes a Day to Break

I imagine those of you who suffer from chronic, oh so persistent, depression will relate to this the most, but maybe everyone will.

This is going to be a personal post, and possibly a bit depressing, so Mom you might want to skip this one.

It feels like my life is a cycle is pulling myself together, getting my life on track, being on a good streak, and then falling. It’s annoying a best and completely discouraging at worst.

B-Ravin, what are you talking about?

I’m talking about how one day can set you back so, so much. It takes three days to form a habit, and one day to break it. Lets say you feel like you’ve got your life finally on track. Or, on track for your situation. You’re in college, developed a good study regiment, a good workout routine, and you’ve been sticking to your new diet for two weeks now. Great! You’ve probably worked really hard to get to that point. Then you have a day where you get sick. You don’t work out for a few days due to exhaustion and you break your diet because you only feel like eating jello. You study the minimum amount so you can spend the rest of the time sleeping and watching tv and hope that this illness only last a day or two. Your whole routine, the one you’ve worked so hard to establish and perfect, is ruined. Once you feel better, you first have to catch up on all the studying and homework you put off. This leaves little time for cooking and working out, so you get take out and skip the exercise. Slowly, so slowly you may be able to force yourself to get back on track with studying, get off the junk food and back to cooking, and eventually back to the gym. For a few weeks. Maybe even a few months. Then you get sick again.

B-Ravin, I know exactly what you’re talking about.

While most everyone can relate to this if I’m talking about a cold or an ear infection, not everyone realizes that depression is just as bad. You spend one day where you just can’t force yourself to get out of that bed, and everything falls apart. The next day, it’s hard to get up, but you may eventually do it. Then you’ve got to set what’s priority and focus on catching up on those priorities. Then slowly break all the bad habits you formed while playing catch-up, and replace them with new ones.

That’s the cycle of my life. At least, that’s how it feels. I still haven’t managed to get back into a regular workout routine after a few months (I’ve worked out on and off, but haven’t formed a habit). Granted, part of that is because I’m not in a great situation at the moment – many things in my life are very unstable right now – which causes more frequent days of not getting out of bed until noon, if at all, because hey – why bother? But even when things were good – nearly perfect even – I had sick days that would just throw off everything.

I’m not even sure what happened. I had a regular work out habit, diet, chores, and job hunting routine that I followed daily. After a while, they just feel apart, and I have been struggling to get them back together ever since.

What do you do to get back into the swing of things once that swing has been thrown off? Do you struggle going back to set habits & routine after you spend a few days with a cold or depression?