I just finished my 10th year of teaching and to say it wasn't my best is an understatement. I had a rough group of students this year, was feeling teacher burn-out, and was just getting negative. Throw in all the school shootings and changing political climate and it was hard to go to work some days. Now that school has been out for a week, I've had time to sit and reflect on what I can do to make year 11 better and get excited about teaching again.
I reflected on the teacher I was year 1 compared to the teacher I am now. There are a LOT of things that have evolved and improved- my classroom management, inquiry based teaching, getting students to write well... but there are some things that I need to work on. Year one I was SO EXCITED to teach science. (Photo is of my first year teaching in 2008). I cared less about the test scores and more about getting students to enjoy science. I put in a lot of work that year, but it felt really rewarding. Somehow along the way that excitement has waned. Don't get me wrong- I still love science and love seeing students' face light up during experiments... but I feel myself worrying more about test scores, getting bogged down by the work load, and frustrated with education related issues that are out of my control.
So now that it is summer and I have time to decompress, reflect, and set goals, I realized I need to make teaching fun again. I need to focus my efforts on things that I have control over and worry less about things I have no control over (ie: our Secretary of Education or fixing the home lives of my students). Here is the list I came up with to help make year 11 stellar. I plan to post this list at my desk and check in quarterly. If you are reading this... feel free to check in on me and hold me accountable!
Becca's Goal List Of Teaching Goodness:
1. Go outside. Why do I feel the need to be stuck in my classroom all day? There are so many labs that can be done outside where students can enjoy the weather. Isn't exploring the world around us one of the ways to get students excited about science? Let's do it.
2. Be creative with labs. There were times this year that I felt too tired to set up a lab. It is THE WORST when you spend a lot of time and money on a lab and you hear students whining. Next year I want to focus on fun labs and activities that get students up, moving, and engaged.
3. Try a project or two. Managing group projects is a lot of work. But when we allow students to apply what they are learning to a real world context through a project, learning goes so much deeper. My goal is to not assign the type of project students ask their parents to do, but a project that gets them excited to show what they have learned. For example, following my ecology unit I plan to have students design a "zoo of the future." They can not only explain the content stuff (like biomes and symbiotic relationships) but also dive into the ethics of zoos and conservation. Wish me luck!
4. Bring in guest speakers. This is one that I'm already decent at but want to continue doing, so it is on my goal list. Students hear from me every day and the novelty of my voice quickly wears off. Bringing in content experts to the classroom is exciting for the students, brings in a wealth of knowledge you might not have, and also gives you a small break from teaching. There are so many people that are willing to come if you would just reach out and ask. Don't forget to check out sites like skypeascientist.com to have virtual guest speakers! Also- get your students to ask as well! If they have a family member that works in a cool career field, have them come in! Sometimes guest speakers will say no to me, but have a harder time saying no to the student.
5. Give up a class period to let students have a voice. Do we allow time to pause our curriculum and let our student's voices be heard? Or are you too worried about getting through all the standards before the final exam? This is my personal reminder to pause and let my students speak up. There are so many current events that apply to the classroom and affect our students. There is trauma going on in their lives. There are issues they are worried about, but don't have the forum to voice their feelings. As a high school teacher my students will be able to vote soon, and I want them to be able to talk about what is going on, be educated about real world topics, and form educated opinions. This can be much more meaningful and powerful to them than learning about mitosis.
6. Last but certainly not least, FOCUS ON THE GOOD. It can be easy to get bogged down by the work load, the mouthy student in 5th period, and the amount of meetings to sit through. But if you focus on the good things your students are doing and the impact you are making on their lives, it makes it all worthwhile. My goal is to make more parent phone calls for the GOOD things my students are doing instead of the bad. Attend a sporting event for a kid that needs a boost. Send a nice remind message to a class period that had an awesome day. When kids know you care and are noticing their efforts, they will move mountains for you.
If you are still reading this... thanks! This blog post was more for me and a little self-healing, but if it helped you in any way I'm glad. My ultimate goal is to not be that 30 year veteran teacher that is super grouchy and everyone is thinking "why doesn't she just retire already?" If you have any more tips to beat the burnout, please share them in the comments!
We all have those few students who slack during the semester, have a 57%, and come begging for extra credit before grades are due. For many teachers the answer is....
... and I totally get it. Grading late work is no fun and I'm not going to go out of my way to find extra credit assignments. But there have been times where I have a student who is honestly working their butt off and deserve a small boost. Here are a list of extra credit opportunities that are actually worthwhile (opposed to bringing in boxes of tissues or cleaning your lab tables!) Some require more effort than others, so you can decide how much each assignment should be worth.
1. Crash Course Videos:
Have your students watch a crash course video on a topic you have learned about and ask them to write a summary of the video. You can find the crash course videos on youtube here.
2. Have students record themselves doing a home experiment. For example, you can have them test Newton's 1st law of motion by pulling a tablecloth out from under the dishes. Need ideas of what they can try? Check out Steve Spangler's Sick Science videos on youtube, have them watch a video, try it at home, and write a small summary of how/why it works.
3. Have students do service for a scientific cause.
I would love for all students to leave my classroom knowing that it is important to leave the world a better place than we found it. Service could include doing a neighborhood clean-up, starting a garden, or participating in a citizen science project. Have them do a write-up of what they did and get a parent signature.
4. Complete a book report.
Ask students to read a science-related book and write a book report on it. The book should be approved by the teacher prior to beginning. There are a ton of science related books out there that students would enjoy such as "Stiff" or "Packing for Mars" by Mary Roach, "The Martian" by Andy Weir, or "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot. You can read another blog post that includes more book recommendations here. (Want a comprehensive book list your students can choose from? CLICK HERE).
5. Watch a science documentary:
There are a ton of free science documentaries out there that can be found on youtube (or netflix if they have an account). The documentary should be approved by the teacher prior to beginning. Ask students to write a 1-2 page summary of the documentary, what they learned, and how it impacts their life. (This could also work for podcasts!)
Have any other great extra credit ideas? Leave them in the comments!
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Whew! You made it to the end of the year! (insert happy dance here). The last week of school all most teachers have on their mind is posting grades and summer vacation. Buutttttt….. I’m here to give you a few tips on things you can do NOW to make your job easier in August. Those few days you have before school starts are precious, and you know most of it will be taken up by PD and meetings. The line at the copy center is huge. You have to make new seating charts and print new IEP's. The list goes on and on. So here are a few end of the year tips that will hopefully make your life easier when it is time to go back to school.