After The First Week: Five Things I Know

8 Sep

Week one of the new school year is in the books, so on a rainy Saturday morning the green tea has kicked in enough to allow me to be a little reflective.

Here are Five Things I know after a week back at school:

  1. I Really Like Teaching. It feels strange to say it, but it was comforting to be back in the classroom, doing what I love. It was like slipping on a favourite jacket or a pair of comfortable shoes. I realized how much I missed it over the summer.
  2. Most Students Like School. The first week of school, when everyone is rested and healthy, is great time to remind myself that, at their core, 99% of students want to do well, want to learn and are excited to be at school. There are things they don’t like, and they get anxious sometimes, but they mostly want to be there and to learn. This is sometimes hard to see in the “dog days” of February, when the bumps along the way have soured some students on school. Even then, that “First Day” student is still in there. The student with the shiny new pencils and a smile. I just need to look a little harder to find them.
  3. Good Teaching is Like Jazz. Provide activities that aren’t engaging and students quickly get bored and don’t do their best. Ask students to do something too hard and they get anxious and shut down. These “tipping points” are in different places for each student and change from day-to-day. It’s working with these factors that make good teaching both an art and a science. You need the technical knowledge of what to do, but you have to constantly adjust and modify on the fly to make it work. I like the analogy of “Teaching as Jazz”. Not sure whose that is (not mine) but it feels about right. You need to have a basic structure but also to improvise as you go, to react to a multitude of factors (plus I like the notion of being as cool as Miles Davis. If I sell this can I wear sunglasses in class while I teach? PLEASE???)
  4. Planning is Over Rated. The need to improvise and modify on the fly means that the many hours poured into plans are mostly unnecessary.  I know why it happens. It’s the summer and after a while you start to think about the upcoming school year. You get nervous and you want to control that anxiety so you start making plans. It might make you feel better, but you forgot. Learning never goes as planned. It has its own ideas and will go where it wants to. If you listen, you can guide, channel and support it, but if you try to force it where YOU think it should go the results are less than ideal and sometimes harmful.
  5. Educators Are Cool. Doing something you love, work that is meaningful and makes a difference in the lives of others, is a pretty good way to spend your days. It’s not always easy or smooth, but overcoming the obstacles you face is part of the fun. You can’t experience the joy of victory without the risk of occasional defeat. Working with other, similarly minded professionals is very inspiring. Seeing the commitment, dedication and skills that others bring to the task makes me want to be better. The supportive relationships I have with other professionals, who are willing to share their thoughts and ideas, makes it possible for me to keep growing. I feel very grateful for that.

It’s been a great start to the school year and I’m looking forward to week 2.

14 Responses to “After The First Week: Five Things I Know”

  1. Carolyn Hudson (@cmusician) September 8, 2012 at 1:29 pm #

    Really enjoyed reading this. As a retired teacher, it gave me a pang! I especially agree with Good Teaching is Like Jazz. There’s an extra sense that good teachers have when they get the vibe that they need to change things up to improve whatever activity students are involved in.

    • ballacheybears September 8, 2012 at 1:39 pm #

      Thanks for the comment. I think that skill of listening to your students is one of the hardest things to learn. It takes time and experience. Some teachers set their lesson plans and plough ahead. Good teachers form and shape learning as they go, ending up where they needed to be, but not always where they intended.

  2. Adele September 8, 2012 at 1:55 pm #

    Love this post. #4 resonated with me especially. For too long I’ve been hiding the fact that my planning consists of, at best, skeletal jot notes. I thought that not planning made me a bad teacher, something I should be ashamed of. Thanks for letting me know I’m not alone. Now how do we convince others that it’s the way to go?

    • ballacheybears September 8, 2012 at 2:18 pm #

      I think the more we talk about it the better. Good teaching and learning is interactive and responsive and you can’t really plan for that. This makes lots of non-educators uncomfortable because it makes it hard to assess and evaluate. But never the less, that’s how it is.

  3. Christian Klaue (@Cklaue) September 8, 2012 at 6:01 pm #

    I totally agree with your list as well. I was bouncing around my class the first two days (mostly in my mind) because I get to be in a classroom with students again. I loved this first week. We have already laughed lots and learned lots. (I’m also the principal). I was able to drop in a Biology 11 class and the teacher (a first year teacher) reminded the class that the principal will be given every opportunity to come in and harass the students (I love teasing my students with puns or helping them with questions and they really enjoy it as well). The class grinned and I thanked the teacher. Talk about being able to fit in quickly and adjust to the school culture. As a staff, we love to laugh as we learn and it helps encourage and motivate the students as well. All in all, a great week. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and inspiring my reflection as well.

    • ballacheybears September 8, 2012 at 6:07 pm #

      Thanks for reading and responding. Sounds like you’re building a great school culture there. I think your comment about fun also rings true. When we relax and realize that we aren’t really driving this but more guiding it, we get to have fun and enjoy the ride. Great comment.

  4. Sue Dunlop September 8, 2012 at 11:30 pm #

    So often, school sucks the enthusiasm from kids. So glad to hear how you are aware of student needs. Keep us posted.

  5. Transparent Teaching (@MindyKellerKyri) September 8, 2012 at 10:22 pm #

    Good for you!!! Being positive and happy is a rare gem. No doubt your students excel! Best to you this school year and beyond! : )

  6. Mrs. Scheidt September 9, 2012 at 5:54 am #

    I have the privilege of working with Andrew and I agree with him that the first week went great. I am only half-time at the school, and at the other school, I am responsbile for “technology”. Apparently, I am the most qualified – truth is, what I don’t know, I ask Andrew! I love your list, Andrew… it makes me think that I need to change some of the things I do as I go along and will try to do better this year. As a prep teacher and moving from class to class all the time, I sometimes get frustrated I am not able to do all the things I want to do with a particular class. I must always remember to keep it “fun”! If it’s not fun for me, it’s probably not fun for the class either! Thanks for keeping me thinking – I need to change some things this week! I loved my summer, but like yourself, I am SO GLAD to be back! We have a great staff – the positive vibes are felt everywhere! And those who work with Andrew – he’s wonderful with technology!!! We are so lucky!

    • ballacheybears September 11, 2012 at 7:32 pm #

      Thanks Jan, I appreciate the compliments. I really mean that I’m inspired by the great professionals I get to work with. I like the fact that we support and compliment each other. It’s great to be part of a team where people work together so well. Thanks for your support.

  7. John Lubert September 11, 2012 at 12:28 pm #

    Love your blog, Andrew – keep it up.
    As a teacher and administrator for many years, the one thing that I learned is that if learners are treated with respect and dignity, they will respond.
    This is equally, maybe especially true of “difficult, problem,learners”
    When I found a teacher treating a student in a demeaning fashion, I would ask them if they would speak to a fellow teacher that way….

    • ballacheybears September 11, 2012 at 7:34 pm #

      Thanks John. I also feel uncomfortable when I see students being treated in ways that adults would never be treated. This is true in the daily interactions we have students and also the structures we put in place. If we want students to act like mature responsible people a good way to make that happen is to treat them that way. Thanks for the comment.

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