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Reflections of My Third First Week of School

It’s Sunday night, and it will only be a few short hours before I begin Week 2 of my third year of teaching.

Before I embark on the new week’s adventures, I figured I’d better reflect on the first week before new experiences and emotions push the previous ones aside.

After spending a summer resting up from a hectic second year of teaching, I was very nervous to begin the third.

I don’t know why, exactly.

It’s not as if I didn’t know what I was doing…at least not mostly.

Being at the same school, one I love tremendously, and working with fabulous teachers, should have alleviated my nerves.

I didn’t sleep much in the nights leading up to the 20th…the first day of school.

Though I’d prepared, nothing truly prepares a teacher for the uncertain blend of teenage personalities.

Well, let me tell you that my worries were for naught.

I felt such joy as I entered the school on that rainy morning and was greeted by the faces of students I’d taught the previous year.

Man, do I love the kids I teach!

School began with homeroom, and I am fortunate to have the same group, now tenth graders, that I had last year.

I had no idea that we’d bonded during the ten or so times we’d met…for purposes such as handing out schedules, progress reports, report cards, and bullying lessons.  Most of these students were not in my classroom for curriculum instruction time, yet we breathed sighs of relief as we greeted one another.

From what I’ve heard, counselors keep homeroom teachers with the same students all the way through, so in two years, I can look forward to escorting my group onto the football field for graduation.

I cannot wait.  🙂

The day got even better as I greeted each of my three classes.

Our schedule is new this year.  We’ve moved from four blocks of ninety minutes each to seven forty-five minute classes.

Drastic, eh?

I still teach ninety-minute classes, though, because I have intensive reading.  The State of Florida mandates that students who do not pass FCAT receive intense reading instruction.

I am glad, let me tell you.

The reading department decided to allow its students a five minute stretch break between forty-five minute sessions.

Although the schedule was a bit difficult to adjust to the first couple of days, by the end of the week, we were pros…both the students and teachers.

Students are spending much less time loitering in the hallways…given that in-between class time has been cut from ten to five minutes.

Students’ don’t have to attend as long to classroom lectures because they are in class for a shorter amount of time.

The days fly by.

I attended quite a few days of training this summer…training that I sometimes grumbled about because of having to get out of bed at an early hour on my “time off.”

I am so glad I went, though, because I began utilizing the information I gleaned in my classroom from the first day of school.

The thing I decided to work on the hardest at the beginning of the year was class building.  I believe that to ensure success in my classroom, my students must learn how to support one another.

I attended several days of Kagan training.  Essentially, I learned how to plan instructional activities that engage the largest number of students at one time, factoring in such things as collaborative learning and brain breaks.

I never realized how important brain breaks were to learning.  The brain needs oxygen to work at it’s optimum level, and getting up and moving around provides that oxygen.

Last year, I had classes that grumbled when I tried these types of activities; however, last week, I would not take no for an answer.

Every ten minutes, I had students up, walking around, using the Smart Board, high fiving one another, and doing silly gambits to praise one another.

Although they, at times, proclaimed loudly that these things were cheesy, they laughed while they grumbled.

Another thing I’m working diligently on is keeping my students’ focus on the future…the long-term goals…pass FCAT…graduation…succeed in life after high school.

To do this, I took each student’s picture wearing a cap and gown I’d secured from Guidance.

They did not like this at all, but all but one student cooperated.

I just developed these pictures, and I was floored at how amazing my students looked.

I asked my students to write two goals…one short-term and one long-term…on 3×5 index cards.  I’m going to affix these to the backs of their photos and create a bulletin board in my room with the title “Keeping Our Eyes on the Prize.”  My hope is that they will see these visual reminders every day and not lose sight of what’s down the road.

On Friday, I used an activity that another teacher had shared with us.

I provided instructions on the Smart Board and told my students that I would not assist them with the activity but expected them to follow directions.

Students had to line themselves up in alphabetical order by first name.

During first period, I had to send an email really quickly, so I looked down, composed the message, and in less than a minute looked back up to find the biggest surprise ever.

My students were lined up around my room, standing quietly, smiles on their faces, waiting for me.

Their faces said it all:  “Look Mrs. AuburnChick, at what we did.”

Wow.

Then I had students place me in the line and, beginning with the first student, asked them to say their names as well as the names of those standing in line in front of them.

Naturally, everyone looked at the last person with sympathy.

Not surprisingly, students had a little trouble remembering some of their classmates’ names, but other students helped them out, whispering the forgotten names.

When we reached the end of the line, I turned things around and told the first person that he/she had to name everyone since he/she had gotten off easy the first go-round.

There was a lot of laughter at that announcement!

I enjoyed watching each class perform this exercise, but I especially enjoyed watching my last class do so.

I have a cute, but loud, female student who loves to talk.

She, however, took charge of the activity and made sure everyone was lined up properly.

I took pictures of her pointing where everyone was supposed to go.

It was quite revealing to see what a leader she was!!

As I locked up my door and drove home Friday afternoon, I called Super Sis to find out how her first week had gone.  She teaches pre-school, so you can imagine what first days are like in her school…tears, I’m sure, by sweet little ones leaving home for the first time.

We shared similar stories, though, of how fantastic our first week had gone.

As I thought and talked about it, I decided that I couldn’t put my finger on just one thing that had made the week proceed so well.

Part of it was being in comfortable surroundings.

I just love the school I work at.  The administrators are incredibly supportive and have their priorities in the right order…kids first.

Part of being in a comfortable surrounding is the fact that I have a few students that I had last year.  They are sprinkled in all of my classes, and seeing their familiar faces was like having members of the family in the same room with me.

My experience working with these students, as well as others, had taught me the importance of being a firm yet loving force in their lives.  These kids come from difficult home lives, so seeing people at school who care about them has the potential to turn these students’ lives around.

I’d read material that stressed the importance of greeting students at the door every single day of the school year.  Though I’d done this on the first day, I’d skipped Tuesday and Wednesday, finishing up prep work at my desk.  By Thursday, I was back at my door, giving high fives to the students walking in.

I was amazed at the way their faces lit up when greeted by my energy and smile.

Another factor that contributed to my good week was the use of the information I’d learned during the summer.  This gave me so much confidence…especially as I saw it work!!

I began working hard on procedures…not introducing too many at once…and watched as students relaxed and adjusted to the consistency that exists in my room.

Having other teachers to bounce ideas off of also made my week enjoyable.  Some of us met a few afternoons after classes ended and planned our next days.  We have several new reading teachers…one of whom is fresh out of college.  Having the opportunity to mentor him, even though I’ve only got two years more experience, has done my confidence wonders.  I guess I bring in parenting experience that he doesn’t have, although he is phenomenal with his students after having worked with children for several years.

Quite honestly, last week was the BEST first week of school I’ve had to date.

I can list this or that reason, but ultimately I have to give the glory to God, for He orders my days…plans who will be in my classroom…and provides the patience I need and the quick wit I lack on a daily basis.

Although I continue to spend nearly every free moment lesson planning and building Smart Notebook lesson files, I’m doing so with a grateful heart.

For someone who probably will never win the lottery and, thus, spend lazy days in a hammock, this isn’t a bad way to spend my time.

Nope.

Not.  At.  All.

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