Writing Teacher Reflections

I started reflecting on my teaching (and school days in general) back in November. Two of my coworkers and I went to a professional development seminar at a Day School in Manhattan to hear Rick Lavoie speak. This guy is awesome. After spending the day listening to his stories (both humorous and heart-breaking), my colleagues and I agreed that we would love to have him speak at our school because it would benefit our K-12 faculty a lot.

Long story short: Rick served as an administrator of residential programs for children with special needs for 30 years. This experience has provided him with a “living laboratory” in which he developed and refined his methods and philosophies related to the education of children and adolescents with special needs. He has now delivered his message to over 500,000 parents and professionals throughout North America, Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong.

Rick’s main focus for this day was Strategies that work (and those that don’t) with struggling kids. I have 4 pages worth of notes from his presentation and still remember how much of a story-teller he was. Anyways, some of his strategies were…

One that I personally liked that would benefit my students and myself was the one where I would write daily reflections. His story for this strategy was that a teacher came to him for help because one student (student A) would come to her English class some days and be completely off the handle. There wasn’t a pattern that the teacher could notice – it wasn’t during certain times of the day (the schedule was the same every day) so it wasn’t that he just had a candy bar for lunch or anything like that.

The teacher started writing daily reflections in hopes that this might show a pattern, but no pattern seemed to come out of it. However, when Rick checked out the reflections and compared the days where the student was especially a handful, he realized that another student was absent on those days. It turns out that the two boys were partners in Science, the class right before English. They were in the dissection unit and student A hated dissecting things, so he always relied on student B to dissect while he took notes. On the days where student B was absent, the teacher forced student A to perform the dissections himself and it caused him to get really anxious and it would throw off his mood into the next class – English.

How cool is that? That you can find a pattern from just a reflection and note of who was absent a certain day!

It’s difficult to remember to do it daily seeing as my free-time and prep periods go to (duh) prepping. Or talking to and/or venting with co-workers. But it’s so helpful and calming, especially when it’s been a particularly difficult or stressful day. I recommend teachers try it out, recording positive and negative interactions between students, their own interactions with students, and how their lessons went.

The reflections don’t have to be essays or epic sagas; it’s actually better to keep them as bullet points: short and sweet. Who was absent? What was the lesson on? How did it go? Is there anything you will change the next time you teach it? What are some positive or negative interactions that occurred during the class?

In my classroom this week: Good news!

This week was a short one, but it felt oh. so.  l   o     n       g. Most schools in New York had this week off for their “February recess” or what-have-you; we had it back when I was in high school. However, my current school only had two days off, and I think this is because we get a full two weeks off for spring break every year, whereas all of those other schools don’t.

We had Monday off for Presidents’ Day and then Tuesday was dedicated to professional development; overall it was a great PD day. We had a child psychologist come in and talk about recognizing the signs of ADHD and how to teach students with ADHD. Then we watched a really great documentary about bullying called Reject which made me kind of emotional; hearing these families and friends of victims of bullying talking about their unfortunate experiences was difficult. I started thinking about the possibilities of any of my students or even my own future kids being bullied to the point of hurting themselves and/or others. Let’s squash bullying!

On Wednesday, I reviewed Circles with my Algebra I class, continued systems of linear inequalities with Algebra II, and continued working with money in Math in Everyday Life (MIEL). That afternoon, my group of advisees and I went to read to a group of elementary school students from our school system. It was cute watching my five junior boys reading to pairs of 4th and 5th graders. It really shows their character when they get to work with younger kids; it takes down their “I want to be treated like an adult while still acting like a kid” and “I’m too cool for everything except basketball” walls and replaces them with enthusiasm and sincerity. They get to be like cool older brothers for 20 minutes, without the real-life responsibilities of older brothers.

After work, I got to hang out with one of my co-workers whilst checking out a venue for our all-faculty end-of-the-year party. It was great getting to talk for a couple hours, chatting about our pasts, presents, and futures. However, by the end of the night, I could tell that my voice was starting to get weak from talking all day at school and then talking over the music at the venue.

When I got home, Tom noticed that my voice was a bit raspy, but I figured it would be fine after a night’s sleep. Thursday, I introduced word problems for systems of inequalities in Algebra II and continued with money in MIEL. My voice started out okay but progressively got worse. By the time I got home, my voice was super raspy and squeaky, cutting out every other word. And trying to speak with inflection? Forget it.

And Friday, I had no voice. I started out the day whispering. It was great because it really made them stop and listen to what I was asking or telling them. It was also funny because I found that students ended up talking very quietly, even to the point of whispering, because I was unable to talk so they followed suit. I told them they could talk normally, but they still were weirdly quiet.

I had the help of Read&Write for Google, an extension that can be used for text-to-speech on Google Docs. It’s also good for speech-to-text, translating to and from different languages, defining and suggesting words while writing, among other things. My  MIEL students got a kick out of it, asking me to change the voice of the computer, to type their names so they could hear them on the speakers, and wanting to hear my message in different languages.

I was supposed to lead the lesson in Chemistry, but I wasn’t able to because I had no voice. After lunch, my advisees along with 2 other advisories got together and made posters for a food drive we are running at school. This coming up week, we will be collecting goods to donate to a local food pantry or soup kitchen to supplement our volunteer work at the FoodBankNYC. My last class of the day, Algebra I, took their Circles test. And then it was Friday afternoon and I was going home to relax the weekend away!

Although out of order chronologically, I had my supervisory meeting Friday morning, and this is where the good news from the title comes in. I know there is a bit of anxiety among teachers at my school because “contract season” is upon us. April is the time when people are either offered a contract to teach next year or are politely (and with difficulty) excused.

Private schools don’t have tenure, so even after three or five or ten years, your job is still not entirely secure. This is actually a great thing because this keeps teachers much more accountable (education buzzword!) than those in public schools who are protected from losing their job that they totally suck at. They might get lazy knowing that they can do [practically] no wrong in terms of their ability to teach their subject.

Good news though: she said there is absolutely no doubt that I will be given a contract to teach again next year! When I acted somewhat surprised and extremely happy, she asked if there was any indication that I wouldn’t be offered the position again for next year.

Well, I mean, I think I’ve done well since starting in September. I think I have good rapport with students and coworkers. I absolutely love my job. However, I’m “only a teacher” and I don’t have the power to make contractual decisions on behalf of myself. In the realm of teaching, you just never know. So as long as I don’t do something royally stupid between now and June, I have a job next year!