Step 1: Understanding My Strengths

This is step one in my summer goal to conquer classroom management.

When I was first hired, my principal had me take the strengths finders test and gave me a book, “Strengths Finder 2.0” by Tom Rath. It’s based on the idea that you can only build up something you’re not naturally good at so much but if you work on something you have a natural talent for, you can build it up to the max. It also takes less effort (or at least feels like less effort) and is more encouraging to build up a strength rather than a weakness. They use the formula “Talent X Investment = Strength” to show that if you have a low talent, even if you invest a lot in building up that talent, it can still only get so strong. But imagine the strength if you put a high investment in something that is already a high talent! That’s what I will be focusing on in this post series: my top five strengths and how I can best utilize them in the classroom. The idea is that this will help me figure out how I want/need my classroom to work which will help me build up my classroom management plan. I may also spend some time figuring out what my lesser talents are so I can be aware of things that probably won’t work for me. I can also see if any of my teacher partners have strengths that I am weak in and learn to rely more on them in those areas (23 Rath).

In addition to the strengths finder website and the book, I will be using “Teach With Your Strengths” by Rosanne Liesveld and Jo Ann Miller as a resource for studying my strengths. There is also a Gallup Strengths Center YouTube Channel that I will be checking out since they have informational videos on all the strengths. Some of what I record here will be specific ideas from one of those resources and some will be my own reflections and epiphanies on what I read and watch.

I have realized that this post should probably be broken down into several or it will be too long to read all at once. Plus this will make it easier (I think) to look at each sthrength seperately and then maybe write one final post on how they can be put together.

My top five strengths in order are: Relator, Analytical, Individualization, Responsibility, and Intellection.

Please let me know if you have any other resources for me to check out while I’m on this journey of self-discovery.

 

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My Summer Goal: To Conquer Classroom Managment

I just finished up with my first year of teaching, and even though my administrators, co-teacher, and colleagues said my classroom management was good, I felt it could be a lot better. I often felt overwhelmed at how “out of control” my class was. Students NEVER worked until the bell, several of them were cheating, many spent more time on phones than on work, and my test grades were so bad (in my opinion) that I didn’t feel like they were really learning anything. I know that getting students to learn starts with classroom management. Even though I have dreams of making all my own unique lessons, doing more hands on learning and move labs, switching to standards based grading, and differentiating instruction; my goal for this summer is to focus on conquering classroom management. That’s not to say I won’t spend any time on unique lesson plans, implementing standards based grading, or trying to differentiate some of my lessons. I will. Buy my main focus and my primary focus will be on classroom management. Besides, I can’t fully hone classroom management if I don’t know what my lessons will at least somewhat look like so I know what I want my students to be doing.

That being said, there will be several steps to this and since I also miss writing, and for me writing helps me better reflect and think things out, I will be blogging my progress as I go in order to help me along. The least this will do is help me out. The best this will do is help others out. And if you are reading along as I go, please comment any reflections that you have. Anything that stood out to you. Anything that you have tried and loved or have tried and didn’t work. Anything you think you want to try. Or any questions on details I leave out or why I thought to do a thing in the first place. I would love to hear from you. And now, onto the steps I am planning out (which will likely change as I go on).

I’m thinking step one will start with myself. When she first hired me, my principal had me take the Strength Finders test and gave me a book so I could read about my results. The idea is to figure out your top 5 strengths and learn to utilize them in your job (in this case, teaching). That way, you’re building up what you’re naturally good at, leading you to be more successful than if you tried to build up things you are not naturally good at which can make you feel more like a failure because that’s a lot more difficult. In order to understand how I want my class to look, I need to reflect on what my strengths are and how those could be utilized for my own unique teaching and classroom management style. I also want to reflect on my ideals. What positive traits do I like to see in others that I would want to encourage in my students? Those will help me set my rules and regulations and let me know what’s important to me. Knowing what’s important to me will help me distinguish what is worth consequence and reward in my classroom.

Step two will be figuring out basic rules for my classroom. These will need to communicate my expectations to my students. It will probably start out with guidelines to be successful in my class and then specific ways to follow those guidelines. I also need a good attention signal.

Step three will be figuring out a reward/motivation system. What I want to reward, how frequently, what kind of rewards I don’t want, if I will let students pick or vote on rewards. I need an individual one and a class-wide one. Something that will allow students to feel inclusive and part of the whole as they work together to get a reward.

Step four will be a correction plan for misbehavior. What kind of consequences I will have in place for certain behaviors. And ones for unpredictable behavior (these kids are creative when it comes to pushing the rules haha). What kind of data and documentation I will want to/be willing to do. I know documentation can take up a lot of time, but it can also save your butt. Plus it helps me remember things since there are too many things to remember as a teacher.

In step five I will figure out my beginning and ending routine. I have to keep in mind that these students like to start packing up and lining up at the door 5-10 minutes before the bell – thinking there isn’t enough time to get anything done. Maybe I could start by showing them how much work can be done in 1 minute or even 30 seconds to help them realize how much time is being wasted standing at the door. Plus it’s a huge pet peeve of mine and I don’t want to be fighting the students daily about it like I did last year.

I supposed step six will be routines for everything else. Handling group work, passing out and in papers, missing work, behavior during independent work, and anything else my research leads me to add.

I believe that’s it. If you noticed I missed something, please let me know. Please also feel free to share resources on any of the steps for me to look at while I’m working on the step. I imagine each step will take a few days minimum and possibly multiple blog posts. We shall see. I have books and other resources from my school and from trainings I’ve done. Plus the entire internet. I will post my references best I can. Thanks for reading.

My Ideal Class

I had my ideal class the other day, and it was glorious. Of course I’ve had ideas of an ideal class in my head, but to see and recognize it in person has given me a very specific image of what it is – and I love it. I am writing it here, not to show off, but to remember this. This is what I will  keep in mind as my end goal when I am working on my badass classroom management plan and my kickass lesson plan over the summer so I can have this on a regular basis the follojwing school year. I don’t feel like I had much to do with this one, so I am going to describe the class, and then I’ll describe all the factors I believe were involved.

The lesson was on balancing equations, and it was an independent activity with the option to work together when stuck on a problem. I have not taught this to them yet, so the packet included all the information they needed plus practice problems.

The first 5-10 minutes of class involved me getting the students to get and stay on task – that part was obviously not ideal. However, once everyone got cracking, it was. The first 15-20 minutes of them working, I was going around answering questions and working problems with the students to get them started or unstuck on one of the first few problems; then there were no more questions. Once everyone had gotten going, they kept going. If a student got stuck, they asked someone in their group and the group would start working on it as a team. One group even went to the board to work out problems because they worked better that way. I had no involvement in the last 20-25 minutes of class other than to give permission for students to use the bathroom. Everyone was on task, the talking level remained at a good volume, we had music playing, and students worked with each other when getting stuck instead of calling me over. One group asked me which problem was the hardest, and when I told them which one I was not able to do, they took the challenge. They started working it out on the board. The bell rang and they didn’t slow down. Some students stopped by to lend a quick hand before going on to class. The tardy bell for the next class rang, and they were still engrossed. They finally figured it out and I gave them late passes for their next class. It was beautiful.

This was a pre-ap class, so these are students who ask questions beyond the scope of the lesson and are thirsty for knowledge. This was also something they had done before in 8th grade (they are mostly 10th graders now). Once they had a refresher, many of them remembered how to do it and ran with it. I did have to yell at them about the noise level about 5 minutes into class. Towards the middle of class, when the noise level was a good volume, I pointed out that the current volume level was perfect and exactly what I expected when working together like this. These factors, combined with the independent lesson (that came from the other chemistry teacher) allowed for me to see what an ideal class for me looks like and what I would like to strive for when planning the next year.

I say this is my goal next year and not this year because this is my first year teaching, and I already experienced major burn-out last semester from trying to do too much too soon. I will not be making that mistake again. My goal this semester is to work on my classroom management skills, which are majorly lacking; learn from my mistakes so I don’t repeat them; figure out things I want to do and don’t want to do for next year; and just try to do my best with what I have. As much as I want to plan my own lessons, I don’t have the time to reinvent the wheel. I can find or make things to add in here and there, but I’m not going to try and do my own unique lesson plan right now. Anyway, I diverge.

Tell me what your ideal classroom looks like. Have you ever seen it, or something close to it? What helped you get there?

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!

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.