Reflections on the School Year

My first year as a full-year, classroom teacher is coming to a close. It’s been a good year.

While I loved my last job as a science and math tutor, managing a classroom is completely different. In the last job, I got to work with a choice pick of kids – the ones that wanted to attend, wanted to work and had a strong drive. In the classroom, you’re managing everyone. You have to try to motivate even those hanging at the lowest rung and are doing everything in their power to make you miserable.

While it’s hard to summarize the entire year, I thought I’d throw down a few thoughts about each grade I’ve worked with:

  • Secondary 1 Science: This was my Achille’s Heel. It took the whole year to get a handle on this class of 18. I was constantly researching different class management strategies. I eventually settled on ClassDojo, which they enjoyed. ClassDojo worked moderately well, but the effect wore off towards the end of the year. Unfortunately, there are still a few kids who constantly derail anything and everything. The class stressed me out that I ended up deprioritizing follow-up after class (i.e. detention, punishment, etc.); this hurt me in the long run and only encouraged misbehaviour. Another factor that makes this class difficult is that there are several students with extremely low literacy skills; they struggle to follow along, read or write. I had to cut out the units on astronomy and structures, due to the interruptions and the slow pace of this class. The last day of class was actually a complete disaster, but the way I handled difficult situations made me realize I had come a long way and that it had been a few months since I had such a stressful afternoon. Next year however, I will not be teaching this course (phew) but will have to approach the students in secondary two with a better plan.
  • Secondary 2 Science: Term 1 was the hardest, but by second term, it started to smooth out. There were lots of bullying issues amongst the boys, who couldn’t seem to get their hands off each other. I still remember the day the principal had to walk and warn the students that even playfighting was going to result in an automatic suspension. I was lucky that the homeroom teacher, I., communicated with me regularly, as she was right across the hallway from me. I. also guided me a lot and made me realize how important it is to give parents a call right away; the impact of two teachers contacting a parent meant that we saw changes a lot more quickly in a student’s (mis)behaviour. Also, having the cellphone ban start in February actually helped give me some power and control. All I had to do was give the stinkeye, then press the intercom button, so that an administrative staff would come upstairs to take away a cellphone or an electronic device. The class responded well with rules, as long as I stayed consistent. This was actually one of my favourite classes, because the students were academically one of the strongest, hardest-working groups; they also had strong literacy skills and language acquisition skills that put them ahead. As well, they were verbal and often let me know when they needed help (a trait lacking in a lot of students here). I look forward to teaching them in secondary 3.
  • Secondary 3 Science: There were two separate groups of secondary 3 and they were practically night and day. One class was large, boisterous and full of energy; the second could have been in a contest to see who spoke the least. In terms of the course, I had 6 classes per cycle, giving me lots of time to get the class moving together despite the inconsistent attendance. I liked this course, but had to cut out some major components, such as meiosis, sound waves and ray diagrams on concave/convex mirrors (didn’t have the equipment, but ordered it for next year). I hope to get more in depth with the curriculum next year.
  • Secondary 4 Science: I was very serious when I ran this course and very firm with my class management. Since I had specialized in the curriculum for the previous 2 years prior to joining the school board, this was my baby. I made it very clear from the beginning of the year that students needed to work hard to pass the course (many kids across the board drop out of high school altogether because of this course). I worked them hard and got a lot of work done; they knew that the expectations in the class ran very high. Generally, I felt this course went very well, but made the mistake of not having incorporated enough hands-on labwork. It could have been more fun and I would have loved to do more chemistry, explore climate change in more exciting ways and build neat circuit projects with the students. I also wish I had more time to incorporate study strategies. Four periods a week with the students did not seem like it was enough.
  • Secondary 4 Science with Secondary 5 Students: I didn’t have a strong relationship with the seven students that started. And since these were students that had failed the course before, I should have put more time to set up a very warm, inclusive environment right off the bat. The attendance, however, was amongst the worst. There were days where no one showed up, even if I knew they were somewhere in the building. We had some good, productive days together, but how do you not feel disappointed when a student disappears for weeks or months at a time? I’m hoping that there will not be a separate class next year; it would be beneficial for all the students to be together.

Here are also a few things that stood out in my mind:

  • After-School Detention: This was a new set-up in our school. In previous years, there was no such system in place. Teachers write names down for those who showed up late or were skipping more than 2 times. I wasn’t quite as consistent towards the end of the year, but it would get the attention of a few kids and cause them to turn around. When I had detention duty, it also gave me the opportunity to bond with the students and give them one-on-one time. It was beneficial as it allowed me to develop trust in a more intimate setting, away from the distraction of the student’s peers. It gave me an opportune chance to discuss why they were in the room in the first place.
  • Taking initiative: I feel that I made a good impression with the administration. I have shown initiative here and there (i.e. setting up the Smartboard sales meeting). I’m a nerd; I’m far more interested in curriculum and professional development, than I am in community projects or field trips. I would also love to do training for other teachers.

Areas of improvement that I should work on:

  • Long-range Planning: I didn’t have a strong long-range plan, which caused me to fall behind on different courses. Big project for August. Perhaps I’ll reach out to other teachers to see what works well for them.
  • Lab Safety: I did not start off with a strong lab safety component at the beginning of the year. I definitely need to do this next school year.
  • Timing: Down south, most teachers would be at school an hour before the bell rang. There were many days where I was running in 10 minutes prior. I need to nip that bad habit in the bud. 8:15 am would be a good time to be in school to make photocopies, prepping and pulling out lab equipment.

 

Net Worth: Summer Spending

No savings this month as I already started spending upon my return in Toronto. The biggest expenses was paying for my flight to Portland ($563), as well as food and equipment ($200) for the turtle that I’d recently inherited.

Although I have most of the basics to go with this 20-galloon tank, I’ll likely have to replace the underwater filter. Turtles are pretty dirty animals and the current filter is just not cutting it. Even after 24 hours, there’s a lot of food scraps and debris floating around. Lastly, the most important equipment that I’m holding off on right now is a water heater ($30-40); I’m hoping that the high school will let me expense one. It’s warm enough right now that she’s doing okay with the heat lamp, but come the fall, I’ll definitely need to make sure the water temperature is well-maintained in the classroom.

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Personal purchases: I threw out my 6-year-old Adidas runners and replaced them with a pair of Salomon trail runners ($136). Also, bought a work blouse and a pair of khakis from American Eagle ($90), as well as a fleece hoodie from Aritzia ($78). They’re justifiable purchases, but definitely paying for higher-quality brands means that you’re paying more than usual.

Investments: Dropped by $400 over the last month, so that also makes it appear as if I’m not saving.

Pay: My contract is officially over and yes, that means I am unemployed! However, I am still waiting for one more week of pay. There was one vacation day I did not take, as well as four lieu days. My supervisor has given me the thumbs up and I should see this in the next pay cycle in two weeks’ time.

Tutoring: This week, I contacted my old manager about teaching his two daughters math. He might have been turned off by the rate I gave ($35/hour or $30/hour at +1 hour). I’ve decided that I’m not willing to settle for a lower rate. My summer isn’t very long and if I am going to work, it should be worth my time (and also cover the commute).

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