All posts by kbassett01

Reset, Reteach

I’m not going to lie. I was more thrilled on the last day of school this year than I have been any other year since I began teaching.  I said good-bye to my students with a huge smile on my face, happy to know the year was over and I could begin my 2-week break before summer school begins.

Truth be told, I had a rough year. The dynamic of my eight students was something I had not yet experienced as a teacher.  I struggled the entire year to build a positive classroom community, to build positive relationships with students who didn’t seem interested in having any kind of relationship with me, and finding ways to motivate my students, many of whom were extremely hard to motivate. What worked for one student did not work for the other seven, which is often the case with the population of students I teach.  But at times, it would create a more unmanageable environment for both teachers and students than if we just left things status quo.  A behavior plan that worked almost perfectly for a student one week would fail miserably the next.  I found myself absolutely exhausted – mentally, physically and emotionally – at the end of each day.  On the last day of school, after dismissing these children for the last time to their bus matrons, babysitters and parents, I let out a huge sigh of relief and high-fived my assistant teacher because we had in fact survived!

Over the past 2 weeks I’ve had the chance to reflect a bit on the past school year. I’ve been thinking about and writing down what worked, what didn’t work, and started to think about the ways I can improve both the content of what I teach and my teaching of the content when I get to do it all over again in September.  And what I’ve discovered about this amazing profession of teaching that I’m in is that at the end of each year, I get to hit the “reset” button. I can use my knowledge and experience of the prior year in terms of shaping the next, but I can leave all the negative stuff behind.  And for that, I am truly grateful!  Happy Summer, everyone!

Finding My Mojo

I start every year with a clean, fresh slate. My students are new, my attitude is renewed, and I have this overwhelming feeling of excitement about what the year will bring. The ideas on what and how I will teach bubble over and I keep a list of teaching ideas as a Google Document, ready to begin implementing them as soon as possible.  I understand that I will not get to every single idea and will not get to do every single project or activity that I set out to do at the beginning of the year. But I’m content with the possibilities that September brings each year.

There comes a point in my year, usually around January/February, where I find myself losing the excitement, the motivation that energized me at the beginning of the year. I make a conscious effort to find my motivation again. I reevaluate my own professional goals. I try out a new lesson, activity or game with my reading or math group.  I try and spend extra time with my more challenging students so that I can feel inspired again by their individual accomplishments in the face of such challenge and adversity.  After a few weeks, I find myself feeling inspired again — the mojo is back.

This year, instead of focusing solely on my own motivations, I am starting to think about what motivates my students. Is it enough for them to earn stickers towards a prize in the prize box? Are they really following directions because they want to earn marbles so that they can earn another state on our US state puzzle?  For some of my students, the answer might be yes. But for many of them, I know the answer is no.  My thought is that if I can more specifically address what motivates my students, I can create a more positive classroom with more engaged and invested students. And perhaps if my students are more invested in their learning, I can become reinvested in my teaching.

What motivates you as a teacher? What motivates your students? How have you found your teaching mojo again?

Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

I had several gut reactions when Jess asked me to contribute to her teacher blog.  Immediately, I was flattered she would want my input and ideas on her blog.  But that positive feeling quickly vanished and anxiety started to creep in.  I’ve never considered myself a writer, and trying to eloquently reflect on my teaching is a real challenge for me.  Add to this my inability to make a decision and I’m faced with what I could only describe as writer’s block right out of the gate!  Jess, being the great friend and supportive colleague she is, gave me an idea for my first blog post, so I must thank her not only for asking me to contribute, but for giving me that little bit of extra support I needed to get started.

When I first started teaching, one of the most overwhelming aspects of my new career was having to create: a classroom community, lesson plans for reading, math, writing, science and social studies, rules with expectations and consequences, schedules and transition times, behavior charts, worksheets, homework.  Although I had almost 3 years of graduate school and a year of student teaching under my belt, I still felt grossly unprepared. Where do I start? What if what I create doesn’t resonate with my students? How do I know that what I’m creating is going to work?   I would spend hours drafting and editing, copying, pasting and then cutting, just to start all over again.  As I talked to other teachers and visited other classrooms, I would marvel at what was being created throughout my school. But I also felt a bit envious that I hadn’t thought of some of it on my own.

“Don’t reinvent the wheel!” I remember hearing this from more than one professor in graduate school. The idea that you don’t always have to create something from scratch was new to me. My life before teaching was in an advertising agency, where reinventing the wheel was what made you successful. In advertising, if you go into a meeting with a client and simply reused an old pitch idea, you would no doubt lose the pitch.  I must admit it took some time to get used to the idea that borrowing another teacher’s idea, or using another teacher’s lessons and activities was OK.

But I’ve learned two important reasons why sharing and imitating ideas can be a good thing in the classroom. The first is that it allows for more collaboration among teachers. There are many days I don’t see any other teachers except the ones that work in my classroom. We are so busy and very rarely get a chance to visit each other throughout the day. When we are borrowing ideas and materials, it provides a reason for communication and collaboration. The second is that borrowed ideas can lead to more consistently throughout the school. The students I teach thrive on structure, routine, and the expected. The more consistent we can be not only in our own classrooms but throughout the classrooms of the school, the more my students are able to process classroom expectations and consequences, content skills and concepts, and specific behavior management techniques.

So, my advice to teachers old and new is to be comfortable borrowing from your colleagues and allow your own ideas to be borrowed by other teachers.  You’ll be surprised at how much more well rounded and more collaborative your teaching practice becomes.

Meet Katie

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After spending 2 years in the advertising world, I was unhappy, uninspired and unwilling to give my job 100%. I had always thought about becoming a teacher, but was swept up in this fantasy idea of being an “international business woman” who traveled the world, briefcase in my hand and high heels on my feet. Once I realized this was not the reality I was living, I decided to listen to the voice in the back of my mind telling me to give teaching a try.

Two and a half years later, I graduated from Bank Street College of Education with a Master’s degree in General and Special Education. For the past 6 years, I have been teaching at The Parkside School in NYC, a self-contained school for children with a variety of speech, language and communication difficulties.  Every year I’ve had the chance to teach such a unique group of students, each with their own strengths and challenges. At times this can feel as though I’m a first year teacher at the beginning of every year, as my students challenge me in so many different ways. But most of the time, I’m inspired and in awe of the way my students overcome their challenges, learning strategies and using tools to be successful in the classroom.

I’m excited and truthfully a bit nervous to be a part of Jess’s blog. Over the years I have often wished I had written stories and learning experiences down, and I hope I am able to conjure up some of these memories through writing on this blog. I’m also looking forward to growing my personal learning network through this and other teaching blogs, so that I can continue to grow in my role as teacher, mentor and friend to the many students who touch my lives each and every day.