Saturday, August 16, 2014

Fresh Start

Another school year is underway at PCHS. This is my seventh year of teaching, and I am always excited for the first days of school, and I think you should all be excited too. For me, the beginning of the school year is more significant the start of a new calendar year. On January 1st, many people wake up looking at the new year as an opportunity to make changes, better themselves. We make resolutions for the changes we want to make in our lives. As a teacher, my life revolves around the school calendar more than it does the standard calendar; for me, New Year's Day is halfway through the year, not the beginning of it! By New Year's Day, we've already put in a full semester of work, so each August, I begin thinking about myself as a teacher. What I have I done in the past that I am happy about? What I have done in the past that I'm not so happy about? What worked in my classroom? What did not? I start every year by making resolutions about the kind of teacher I want to be this year. I set goals for my own improvement. Here are the goals I have for myself this year:

-I want to blog more often. As a teacher and father of three young children, I don't have much time for traditional hobbies like golfing or going fishing. Truth is, I haven't done those things enough to even know if I would enjoy doing them more often. I'm not very good at either one, and I don't really have the time or resources necessary to get better at this point in time. By most accounts, though, I am a pretty good writer, and I enjoy doing it. It doesn't require an incredible amount of time, and I have all that I need to accomplish it sitting right here at my fingertips, so I resolve to blog much more often than I have the last few years. I think that putting my thoughts out for students and parents to read gives them more insight into who I am as a person and what I am trying to accomplish in my classroom.

-I want to continue to get better at communicating with parents. As soon as I finish this blog, I am going to start the tedious task of creating email lists of students and parents for each of my classes (no small task with 7 classes and about 150 students). After that, I will be sending out mass emails to both students and parents with information about how to stay in contact with me and access course information. I know that not every parent uses email on a regular basis, but I have found that enough of them do to make the effort worthwhile. This is something that I have done will during some semesters but not so well in others. I resolve to do a good job of it both semesters this year.

-I want to do a better job of creating a culture in my classroom for students to not only feel comfortable getting extra help from me, but also to make sure that process is easier for kids. I think that I am going to try to create extra help sessions each week focusing on specific topics so that students can show up for help in those areas at those times. For example, I may have a time set up every Monday after school to focus on grammar for 30 minutes. There may be a 30 minute session on Thursday for organization and study skills. I plan to include students in coming up with times and topics, so feel free to leave me a comment with your suggestions.

-I want to continue to get better at getting feedback to students in a timely manner. Last year was probably the best I've ever done at getting assignments graded, posted on MMS, and back to students quickly, but I want to continue to get better at that. For some assignments, this is very easy. For others, I'm going to have to really buckle down to make it happen. With 100 students enrolled in English II, grading 100 essays is going to take some time, but my goal is to get those essays graded within 10 days, which means grading an average of 10 essays each day. It will be hard, but resolutions are not meant to be easy. If it were easy, we wouldn't have to resolve to do it, right?

-I want to continue to be the change. With Challenge Day coming back this year, I'm excited to continue to see our school culture improve, and I know that I have a great responsibility as a teacher to be a big part of that change. I see you, I've got you, and I love you.

There you have it: my five resolutions for this school year. I know I will not accomplish all of these things all of the time. There will be weeks when I am worn out from the daily grind of school and raising a family. There will be weeks when I have meetings after school that get in the way of accomplishing some of these tasks. A little over a year ago, I began trying to live a healthier lifestyle. I started paying more attention to what I was putting in my body and resolved to exercise more. A year later, I can see the difference in my weight, body composition, and overall health. This process has taught me a lot. Have I met my goals every day for the last year? No. There are still days when I eat too much junk food or skip the trip to the gym, but if I continue to work on those goals and have more good days than bad, I will move forward. The resolutions I have for this school year are the same. There will be days or weeks when I don't accomplish some of these goals, but if I have more good weeks than bad, I will be a better teacher at the end of the year than I am right now.

For my students reading this, what are your resolutions for this school year? What kind of student do you want to be when we arrive at the end of the year? What will it take to accomplish that goal? I want you to try to come up with five goals for yourself. Instead of focusing on a grade you want to get, focus on the behavior it would take to earn that grade. For instance, instead of saying "I want to get all A's", resolve to turn every assignment in on-time to the best of your ability, to ask for help when you don't understand an assignment or concept, to participate fully in every class, etc.. Understand that there will be days that you don't feel like participating, and that is fine, but if you try to meet your goals every day, you will be far better off than if you aren't trying at all, even if you sometimes fall short. I look forward to accomplishing our goals together.