Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Big 2-9 and reflections on my first year teaching

I'm getting old... tomorrow is my 29th birthday.

No, not really. I am a very young 29 in many regards, in fact, I've been finding it difficult to figure out how my life now is different than it was ten years ago. Let me count the ways my life today is similar to my life in June of 2001.

1) I'm not working.

Now: first summer break as a teacher!
Then: first summer break from college!

2) I'm single.

Now: just cut off a relationship that was going well, but something didn't seem right.
Then: still hadn't had my first girlfriend!

3) Majority of free time is spent playing video games or sports.

Now: World of Warcraft sucking up my time, I don't really want to be playing it, but I can't find anything more fun and relaxing to do. Playing in an ultimate frisbee league, going to a few tournaments this summer, and regularly biking and going to the gym when I'm bored of WoW.

Then: Played lots of Everquest in 2001, also played a lot of pickup ultimate frisbee.


I'm unbelievably happy with my decision to spend half of my summer taking a class at UW for new teachers, which starts Tuesday. I'm not sure what I would do with myself for two months if I had no structure. It seems silly--I'm bitching about having too much free time. Having free time is one of the reasons I broke things off with my girlfriend, and now I've got more free time than I can shake a stick at.

Seriously though, too much free time can be a curse. When you wake up day after day and lie in bed with absolutely no reason to get out of bed--it can be very depressing. I can only fool myself for so long with going to the gym or making fake money in WoW. Again--very glad to be occupied with a class for the next month.


My first year teaching was an overwhelming success. What is "success" in this case? Simply put, success to me as a first year teacher is surviving and wanting to continue teaching in the future. My overwhelming success is being offered a teaching contract for next year at the same school and also improving my students' math test scores better than the national average (some 4x the national average!) as a first year teacher.

I started the year as a substitute for three days, and then I was offered a long-term sub position in the same role, and later I applied for the full time position and landed it. I taught just under 180 days this year (I had three sick days and a few professional development days). I began with no lesson plans and very little idea of what to teach. After the first three days of meet and greet, the principal pointed me towards the stacks of math books from the old math teacher who left three days before the school year started. I picked the books from the beginning of the cabinet for each class and got started at the beginning of each book. Two weeks later I found out about the district-wide curriculum and was introduced to the website showing which books to use, so I had to swap out books and start over.

This year was tough because I worked so hard all year long and much of that stress was due to such a rocky beginning. Those first few weeks I need to be setting the tone for the year in terms of organization and behavior--and I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off. The first semester passed by in the blink of an eye, and I used winter break to center myself and come up with a much better way to facilitate learning in my classroom. During the second semester, kids in my class had a much more enjoyable time (more hands on activities, a better climate in the classroom for learning).

I learned zillions of things this year in relation to teaching, and the two I would like to share are very positive.

1) Kids want to learn.

I really did not think about this much. I guess I thought middle school kids just want to have fun and only learn because they have to. The first semester I had more students complain about being bored and not having work to do than I had students complaining about too much work. I took this to heart and eventually instituted a challenge question in addition to the homework assignment which earned a few of my classes ice cream parties at the end of the year. I was skeptical that students would even try a challenge problem (additional work) if they wouldn't get any individual credit for it, but around half of my students did.

2) I love teaching.

I was pretty sure about this going into the beginning of the year as a substitute, but getting a classroom of my own and really experiencing a full year as a teacher (even without the beginning of the year organization in place!) makes me appreciate teachers so much more, and be just as proud to be a teacher. I literally felt excited every day to wake up in the morning and go teach. I told numerous people that out of the entire school year, maybe just one or two days felt like work.

Teaching is always unfinished, which can be depressing and soul-crushing, but I think poker has given me a good understanding that all I can do is make good decisions and the results will follow. I felt like I could have worked 24/7 this year teaching with all the work to be done, but most days I arrived 30 minutes before school and left 2-3 hours after school. Most days I left school not because my work was finished for the next day, but because I was completely drained and my mind was mush and I wasn't getting anything positive done at school. The next morning I would race to make sure everything was in place for the school day (thank god for a first period prep), and then I would catch up on grading homework and quizzes on the weekends.

This last semester I had homework club on Mondays after school, I coached ultimate frisbee practice after school Tuesdays and Thursdays, and I had staff meeting on Wednesdays. I honestly can't see myself getting away from those after-school obligations anytime in the near future, so the best way to survive next year is to cut down on the planning and in-class work by using what I learned from this year. The more time I spend this summer organizing and even just thinking about organizing my classroom for next year, the more time and energy I will save during the year. It is near impossible for a procrastinator like me to get started thinking about classroom management for next year, but I realize early September is going to get here a lot sooner than I might think.

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Blogger HighOnPoker said...

About being bored and the hazards of too much free time:

When I was in law school, some days I would be done by 1pm. I'd then go home and have nothing to do, since most of my contemporaries were already in the work force. I killed a lot of time with videogames and whatnot, but after a while, I found that I was getting depressed. That's when I realized that boredom feels a lot like depression. The idea of having tons of free time sounds good on paper, but the reality is that it can be a real bummer.

1:10 PM  

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