Thursday, October 23, 2014

Will I Ever Feel Like I'm a Better Teacher?

(Or more accurately, "Will I ever feel like I have my $*** together?!?!") Do you ask yourself this question as much as I do?

This year is my TENTH year of teaching. I left the school where I started my teaching career 9 years ago and am now at a new school. I am teaching 4th grade, which I have done twice before, but our science and social studies standards are new. It's also the first time I have taught 4th grade Common Core standards, but I don't feel like that is too much of a leap from 5th grade. Still, I regularly feel like teaching kicks my butt.

I follow Gretchen at Always a Lesson. Gretchen writes a lot about improving teachers through coaching and ongoing support. This month, she posted an article entitled "No More 'Tell'; It's time to 'DO'!"  Gretchen wrote about the "Get It/Do It Gap." Basically, teachers get feedback, are told what to change (or often in my case--have ideas for what to change themselves), but rarely put that feedback or those ideas into action. And then, there's little to no follow up or accountability, so the gap gets wider and the practices that might improve our teaching or impact learning in our classroom are a distant memory. Wow, that's amazing. I'm in a gap. I think all teachers are...some of us may stay in that gap longer than others, but I think all of us can fall victim to the "Get It/Didn't Do It" cycle.

When I skimmed through Gretchen's article, I was immediately reminded of my handy-dandy planner I'm using this year. I usually just purchase a month-by-month planner but this year, I got one with monthly and weekly pages. I decided I wanted the weekly pages because I am T-e-R-r-I-b-L-e at "to do" lists. I use tons of sticky notes (guilty) to remind myself of things to get done and then lose them. Find them, realize I didn't do that thing (or I did) and throw the notes away. I wanted to get more efficient at using my planning time at school, with prioritizing my tasks, and have a place to jot down what I wanted to get done at home. The day-by-day pages work great because I can put something on my list, but write it down for a day in the future when it's more critical instead of having everything on my mind in one long list. When I get something done, I can highlight it off of my list.

Now, back to "the gap" and what it has to do with my planner. I have had a number of classroom "to-do's" on my list that just keep moving to the following week. I caught myself in this trap and finally told myself "get these dang things off of your list right now or stop writing them down!" The tasks that I keep pushing aside (or running out of time to complete) very well might be things that would improve my classroom instruction or students' understanding of what we are learning. Do you have this problem of not implementing the ideas you come up with? I started questioning how teachers are supposed to deal with this. I mean, we are WALKING IDEA FACTORIES! We have ideas all day long (and I love being a TPT seller, but this also just keeps the ideas coming--new things to create, new things to blog about, new ideas we see on pinterest, etc). These days, our ideas are ~endless~ as teachers...but how do we decide what should be the focus of our energies? One resounding question came to mind: what can I do right now that will impact student growth the most?

Gretchen also talked about accountability partners. That got me thinking. Who do I really need to be accountable to? I am the one that feels the most guilt when I think I am not doing my best. I am the one I need to be accountable to...and my students and my promise to them to do the best that I can to help them grow.

So, you know how much I <3 my planner this year? I thought, what if that space I keep writing my to-do list in became my reflective space?!?!? And, what if I took ten minutes each afternoon to reflect on the day. I can think about my frustrations, successes, and begin to have a record of what I should keep doing and what I should change. I dare say, after 9 years of teaching experience, I feel pretty comfortable watching someone else's teaching and coming up with ways for them to improve. But how often do I turn that critical eye to myself in the same way? (Don't get me wrong, I'm reflective...the whole car ride to and from school for sure!) But sometimes it's so much easier to help someone else than to help myself! Maybe it's because I don't take the time to sit down and process in a way that moves me forward. I don't take the time to step away from all of the "noise" and follow my gut!

So, I've decided to start a reflection log. What is it that I know how to do that I can implement or change in order to create effective change in my instruction and student learning? My goal is to decrease the space between my "get it" moments and my "DO IT!" actions.

Here are some reflective questions that I may choose to journal about from time to time:
-Right now, what is the most crucial thing I can do to improve my students understanding of ____?
-What changes can I make in ________ to create the most improvement/make the biggest impact?
-When are the times that I really feel I am teaching well/students are really learning? How do I increase those times in that subject and other subject areas?

I also want to choose one main subject to focus my reflections on and move through a process for focused improvement in that area. For example, I'm not really happy with my writer's workshop or my writing instruction right now. It always gets sticky for me once it gets going, but what can I do to fix that?

In the end, I hope this opportunity to reflect makes me feel more empowered to control what happens in my classroom and the progress my students make. Being a happy teacher was a definite struggle last year and moving into a new environment has created amazing improvements in job-satisfaction for me, but teaching is still hard and frustrating a lot from time to time. To put in 9 years and not feel like I am ever going to get a "system" that works and allows me work-life balance definitely adds to my frustrations and disappointments with my chosen career. However, I know that I do a lot of things right. I think a reflection journal is a perfect shift as I move into a decade in this career. I hope I learn without a doubt 1) Keep doing ______ because this works and 2) Stop beating yourself up so much! and 3) Prioritize: What 's the most important task on my list that will benefit students most?

Gretchen also provides a great reflective process and list of questions at the end of her blog post. You should stop by and check it out. And, I'm sure you will get a peak into my reflections from time to time!

1 comment:

  1. I tried to leave a comment but I am unsure if it made it through, but I just wanted to say thanks for the shout out! I am glad that what I am writing on my blog is helping others out. It seems like this post resonated with you and I am certain you will be able to incorporate all of your fabulous ideas. Come back to this post in a few months and update us on your progress!



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