First Year Teacher? I’m talking to you.

Before starting year one, I see-sawed back and forth on the idea of becoming an educator. On the one hand, I loved the idea of having a job where I could make a true difference. Where I could change someone’s life through education. I know this sounds idealistic, but I relished the opportunity to have a space to affect change, no matter how small, rather than working in a mindless 9-5.

On the other hand, I spent a semester of grad school teaching developmental English to college freshmen and I hated it. Of course, I spent half the semester displaced with no classroom, working another part time job and writing my thesis. I had a 30 minute commute to the university, one way. I was stressed to the max and had no time to prepare my lessons. All of this could have contributed to my distaste for the profession, but just in case I loathed it for another reason, I teetered on the brink of decision. For a long time, when people asked me if I was getting a degree in English so that I could teach, I rebelled against the idea.

There are several events that finally led to my stepping into the classroom. I won’t bore you with them, but they spurred me into a desperate action that resulted in obtaining my teaching certification.

I walked in on my first day as an idealistic dreamer . I thought I had a relatively accurate view of young adults and what we could accomplish in class, but after that first week…nay, that first day…I knew I had been viewing everything through rose colored glasses.

I came home after my first day knowing that I had made a mistake. I knew it to my core. I counted the days left in my head, and the distance between that first day and the end of the year seemed insurmountable.

Then I got to know my kids. I realized teaching was something I was a natural at. I readjusted my expectations and had small successes. I grew comfortable in my role as educator.

That’s not to say that this year has been perfect. My first novel unit was a disaster. The end of my first semester left me seething as students railed against the grades I was giving them, even though those grades were justified. I had a come-to-Jesus meeting with my seventh period that left me shaking. I can count on one hand the number of times I have stood in front of the classroom for the last eight weeks. I have graded with more grace than I probably should have, trying to compensate for my own lack of knowledge, despite knowing that this is crippling my students.

I say all of this because there is one thing I’ve noticed about life. People tend to sugarcoat their experiences, highlighting only the good and leaving out the bad. Or they sit in their misery and refuse to acknowledge all of the positive things that have come out of their situation.

I experienced this after having my first baby, blood boiling because no one told me all of the hardships that come along with adding a new member to your family (outside of the obvious demands of a newborn). I experienced it when I began taking care of my body, with friends who tried to guilt me because they couldn’t (wouldn’t) carve out time in their own lives to do the same. And I experienced it when I went through my teacher training program, trained to deal with a perfect world scenario rather than reality.

People rarely give you the whole picture, and it’s frustrating.

Year one has been a mix of good and bad. I have had moments of euphoria and I have had days that have left me in tears. I have reached some students while some will always have that brick wall I can’t break through. I have sparked creativity in some, while others could not think out of the box. I have been thanked for being considerate, while others critique me no matter how far I bend.

Teaching is not perfect. Teaching is hard, because we deal with hormonal human beings on a daily basis and that creates an environment of unpredictability. Teaching means choosing between family time and grading, taking a lunch or planning a lesson. Teaching means getting thrown into subsequent roles you aren’t qualified/prepared for, and having to figure it out. Teaching is having to cover for a coworker, when you really need that conference period to work.

Teaching also means inspiring students. Teaching means saying the right thing to the right person and watching their eyes light up. Teaching means showing your passion for your subject so that your students can see something they hadn’t realized was there. Teaching means preparing students for the next phase in their lives. Teaching means making a difference in a system that seems to suffocate your efforts.

To any first year teacher who may be reading this, I want you to know that I see your struggle. And I have some advice for you.

Know your kids

Know that your kids are human. They have problems at home, they’re over-committed to extra-curricular activities, they work at least one job, they haven’t always had consistency in their education. They are just as tired and stressed out as we are.

Does this mean we should allow excuses? No. But I do think that students appreciate it when we recognize that our class isn’t their only commitment. Respect their schedules. Respect them as people. Bend when necessary and remain firm when they need it.

Don’t over-commit

You are going to feel like you’re drowning this year. Between navigating a new profession, planning lessons, grading assignments, and just trying to maintain a hold on your sanity, you are going to have a lot to juggle. Respect your limitations.

If you let people abuse your willingness to please, you are going to end up overworked and burning out by year three. So say yes to the things you feel you can’t live without, and politely decline the rest.

Leave it on your desk

There are going to be times you have to grade at home. That’s inevitable. There are times when you have to plan a last minute lesson. As educators, we can’t always leave work at work. As an English teacher, this seems to be even harder to do. After all, we are told students should be writing every day, right?

But if you’re getting to school at six and working until eight every day? Take a step back. If you are wasting your weekends grading? Stop it. Talk to your team, or send a message/Tweet out to your PLN and get some advice on strategies you can adopt to lessen your workload. Find what works for you.

Leave it on your desk. This is, at the end of the day, just a job.

You don’t have to take all of the advice given to you

Some of the advice I’ve been given this year by veteran teachers has been fantastic. My team has helped me so much, and I know I can always go to them for help when I have a problem.

But.

Some of their advice has just not worked for me. I tried implementing strategies during my first week that felt foreign and counter-intuitive. And you know what? I dropped those strategies early on because they weren’t working. They were tailored for personalities drastically different from my own, and I couldn’t bring myself to consistently implement them. And that’s okay.

You don’t have to follow all of the advice you have received. Find what works for you and stay with it. But if it doesn’t work? Drop it and find something that does.

Show your students how to fail gracefully

Guess what. You’re going to fail at something during your first year. It might be one something. It might be multiple somethings. But you. will. fail.

During that first semester, I had housekeeping meetings fairly regularly. I would tell my students if something wasn’t working and we needed to fix it. I would recognize my own mistakes.

I would admit that I was human.

I created a dialogue about our learning and showed them that education is messy. I showed them I wasn’t afraid to mess up. I showed them I could also succeed. And my biggest hope is that they absorbed some of those lessons, so that they won’t be afraid of failure in their own lives.


Wow, this post is long. I just scrolled back through and realized there are A LOT of words here. But I wanted to speak on this subject because I felt that I couldn’t find anyone being real about teaching as I was coming in to the profession. So I wanted to give you my thoughts, share what I’ve learned, and to tell you this:

This is going to be hard. You’re either going to love it or hate it. You will fail, and you will shine. But at the end of the day, your job is about the kids in your room who need someone to believe in them, someone to push them. And you need to believe in yourself. You can do this. When you feel like you can’t, reevaluate. Be honest with yourself. And if you need a friend to talk you through, send me your thoughts and I’ll be that person. Don’t be afraid to fail, but don’t be afraid to succeed either. You got this.

Student Guest Post: The Hazards of Labeling Children

What exactly is meant by the phrase “labeling children”? To label a child is to say that a child that has a history of behavioral issues is “bad.” You can also label a child as “good”, “athletic”, “shy”, etc. Labeling is such a harmful thing when a child is constantly hearing how bad they are, they begin to feel that everything they do is bad and bad is all that they will ever be. On the flip side, in some situations, labeling a child while speaking to another teacher or adult can be helpful in getting that child the help they need. Children are often labeled to help teachers and parents make sense of the child’s behavior. (thebump.com)  When teachers and parents label children, they make it difficult to show the child empathy. By labeling a strong willed child as “troublemaker” the child is assigned a personality trait instead of the adult trying to relate to the child’s struggle.

I chose this topic because as a student that is also working in the education system, I see both sides of the topic. As a student, I see how labels limit us and what we feel like we are able to accomplish. As an educator, I see how easy it is to write a student off as “bad,” or “a lost cause” because after so long, it becomes extremely difficult to help these kids see the potential they have.

Teachers are not the only ones causing harm by labeling. Many times children are bullied by their peers by being labeled with terms such as “weird”, and “dumb.” As of 2010, there were approximately 160,000 children that miss school everyday in fear of being bullied (psychologytoday.com). Labeling can very well be a form of bullying. Parents are also guilty of labeling their children. Many times, a parent with multiple children will label one as “the athlete”, another as “the musician”, or “the golden child”. Labels like that may be harmful to the children because the child labeled as “the athlete” may want to try playing an instrument, but there is already a “musician” in the family. Labels in the home can cause fighting and chaos.

Children are more than just a statistic. Many children are already looked at as just another number or statistic (empoweringparents.com).  Labeling them makes them think a label or a statistic is all that they will ever become.

The most common phrase heard around schools and at home is “Oh, they are just a bad kid.” It’s not that these kids are “bad”. Not all children have families that can afford to live in a nice house, have new clothes, and all of the latest technology. There are children in local classrooms who do not get to eat three meals a day. Children who have learned not to be afraid of the dark because most of the time, the lights at home will not turn on. There are children in local classrooms who live in homes full of anger, abuse, and chaos. These children do not always have perfect manners. They are not always taught the difference between right and wrong, good and bad. These children come to school and act out seeking the slightest bit of attention, hoping that someone, anyone, will notice them and notice that something is wrong. They act out and are soon wrote off as “bad,” or “a lost cause” and they begin to think that is all they ever will be.

There is a solution to the problem of labeling these children. All they want is to feel the love from a mother or father figure, to feel the slightest bit of peace, but in school and at home, they are told how bad, worthless, and insignificant they are. As they grow older, they believe it, and begin to act out more and more, eventually becoming extremely angry and violent themselves. It is not that the child is bad, they just need someone to be willing to love them and teach them.



Kiersten Edmonds is a senior at Silsbee High School, as well as a high school helper in a local kindergarten class. She is passionate about youth ministry and teaching Sunday School. Kiersten loves to read, write, and travel and hopes to start doing more of it! She will start her first semester at Lamar University to get her bachelors in elementary education this coming fall! 

Activist Projects: The Finale

It finally happened…Our Activist Project unit has come to an end. And it was bittersweet.

Some said the time came too soon. Some said not fast enough (I guess you can’t please everyone). But ultimately, the projects are in, the scores have been entered, and I feel like I have some things to say.

My advice is to focus on what YOU care about. Don’t let anyone pressure you to pick something more/less controversial, artistic, practical, etc. This is one of the only high school projects you will do that is truly creative and personal.

–Ziah

First, I want to level with you. I have felt like I don’t know what I’m doing all year. That’s right. I’m admitting it. I’ve been flying by the seat of my pants, hoping that students at least learn one thing from me this year…though I don’t really know what that one thing would be…trying to keep my head above water and figure out this job, along with how it now fits into my life.

The reason I say this is because, as awesome as this project sounded on paper, and as much as I may have sounded like I knew what I was talking about, I didn’t really know what I wanted these to look like. I didn’t know where to set my expectations. I didn’t provide a rubric because I didn’t know exactly what should be on it. I needed students to take my guidelines and run with them because I wasn’t exactly sure what the outcome should be.

We were assigned this project and I uncovered a fire I didn’t know was there. So, just give the project a chance. Go out on a limb and think about things you never have before.

–Kiersten

Sure, I knew what I wanted them to learn. I wanted them to practice research, to think critically, to be creative, and to become (if they weren’t already) socially conscious. But as far as how the final product should look? Nope. Had no idea.

Which means I got some less than stellar projects. I’m not going to sugar coat that. Some of the things that were turned in were, despite the 6 week timeline, done last minute with little to no effort. I take partial blame. Sure, I would have received these types of projects no matter how boss my rubric was, or how specific my vision. But, I can accept that some of it may have been that I was figuring this process out just as much as my students were.

I think that by giving us students the choice to pick what we want to represent made this project a lot better.

–Darian

I think teaching your first year is a lot like raising your first child. It’s a baptism by fire and you learn A LOT through trial and error.

On the flip side, I also received some truly amazing work. For the same reason that some of my students struggled, some of them soared. The lack of restriction and specificity allowed them to be creative and to really explore their project in ways that wouldn’t have happened if I had restricted them too much.

I had Ziah who, I kid you not, planned an entire curriculum because, through her own experience, she has been let down by the structure of public high school education and she saw a better way to do things.

I had Kiersten, who was so passionate about the hazards of labeling primary students that she wrote a paper which will be featured here on beyond the bell.

I had Krystyn, Zion, Nadia, and Taylor who had the courage to speak against sexual violence and who will be offering their presentation to our principal for approval in an effort to be able to speak to their peers about this important issue.

I had Ashlyn who moved me to tears with a video on the impacts of single mother households on their children. Through an interview, she was able to give her own mother a place to speak her wisdom after raising her daughter on her own.

I genuinely enjoyed the activist project. It’s an opportunity to bring awareness to very serious topics and I believe getting youth involved is a vital key in keeping many of these issues in the spotlight.

–Autumn

Guys. This isn’t even all of them.

I think there is a lesson to be learned here. Maybe two.

First, I learned, through what my students turned in, what I was hoping for and what I wasn’t. This is invaluable as I rebuild the project for next year’s students. I know I was not properly prepared for this project, and I learned that sometimes we just suck as educators. And that’s okay. Because through failure (though I hesitate to use that word) we learn. And if I and my students have learned something from the way I approach teaching, it’s that learning is a messy, complicated, process. A process where sometimes I succeed for them and sometimes I fail them.

Since we got to choose our own topics we discovered things we are passionate about.

–Samantha

But I also learned that students will rise to the occasion. When we take a step back and give them the space to “do them” the results can be spectacular. When we relinquish control and allow them to be passionate about something, they will (notice I said will, not may) surprise us. And I think operating within a space of less restriction is so beneficial in preparing them for life.

I hope you find the courage to provide your students this kind of space. Albeit, I hope you come at this more knowledgeable and more prepared than I did, but I truly hope you find the time and the space to let your students take charge of their learning. As you end this school year and prepare for the next, I hope you make this a priority. Because I truly believe you will be pleasantly surprised.

Inspiring Leads to Thriving

Inspiring Learners (Pernille Ripp) is one of those books that just makes you want to be a better educator. As I read it, I was constantly highlighting sections I knew I would want to return to as I begin preparing for next year. But my favorite thing about this resource was not necessarily the inspiring message. Instead, it was the questions it left me asking myself by the end. Important questions. BIG questions. Questions made only more relevant as I prepared to proctor the STAAR test this week.

As I observed students taking this state-mandated test, I was struck with what I noticed. There were students you could just tell would do fantastically well. They knew all of the right things to do, had all of the right strategies in their tool belts. There were the students who didn’t care–the ones who sat there drawing on their tests, then quickly scanned the material and haphazardly bubbled in answers. And then there were those students who, no matter how hard they tried, were just going to be defeated by a score assigned to them that has nothing to do with their actual ability.

And this is what students think is the point of school. This test, in which they have no say, and which seems to determine so much.

In April 2015, The Guardian published an article about Ken Robinson and his ideas about the standardization of public schools:


“As a result, we are at risk of inculcating an industrial education system producing compliant, linear pupils. ‘The emphasis on testing comes at the expense of teaching children how to employ their natural creativity and entrepreneurial talents – the precise talents that might insulate them against the unpredictability of the future in all parts of the world.’ “

Rather than nurturing the diverse talents of our students, we are pushing them through a mill of standardization and sameness. Which just doesn’t make sense. In response to this idea, Pernille Ripp begs us to reflect on our own learning. How many of us did well in the public school system? If that answer is very few, then why do we continue to teach in the tradition of those who came before?

Now I want you to ask how many of us thrived. Because there is a major difference in a student who has figured out the system, and one who truly thrives in the academic environment we have created.

One of our jobs as educators is to prepare students for success in life outside of school. And something we should be aware of is that the job markets of the future are rapidly changing. Advances in technology, an era of start-ups, and the rise of importance in entrepreneurship are creating job markets where certain skill sets are valued above others. According to youthpower.org, the top 10 skills for 2020 are as follows:

  1. Complex problem solving
  2. Critical thinking
  3. Creativity
  4. People management
  5. Coordinating with others
  6. Emotional intelligence
  7. Judgement and decision making
  8. Service orientation
  9. Negotiation
  10. Cognitive Flexibility

Let that list sink in for a moment. These are the skills needed for high school students that will be entering the job market in the next five years. What do you notice?

I notice that students need to be adaptable, creative, team players and problem solvers. Then the big one–cognitive flexibility. I look at these words and I wonder at a system that routinely crushes creativity and curiosity. If we want our students to thrive, we need to reconsider our strategies. We need to create environments that celebrate individuality within the learning process. Environments that challenge, require students to problem solve, include real-life application for the standards being taught. And I, for one, feel like standardized testing weakens this system. We need something in place that helps to foster an infrastructure that empowers students to think on their own, based on their intellectual strengths.

How do we do this? I don’t have the answer. But I do know that it starts in the classroom. It starts with what and how we teach our kids. It starts with us.

I write this to raise this issue for you, but I also write it for myself. As a first year teacher, I have let a lot slide. I am not always proud of the decisions I’ve made or the way I’ve handled certain things. As I prepare to start year two, I know I want something better for my students…and for myself. And by going into planning with all of this information in mind, I’m hoping I can create an atmosphere where students not only succeed, they thrive.

Teachers: Authors of Opportunity

I know it has been a very long couple of weeks for me. I’m sure some of you would agree. Many of you are gearing up for or already knee-deep in state testing, some of you are drowning in the daily demands of education, some are dealing with students who may just not want to be there. Sometimes, in these very long, arduous weeks, it’s important to remember how necessary we are to the future of our students.

In my opinion, teaching is the most important calling on the planet; our daily fight ensures that some kid–somewhere–can get a better job, support his/her family, live a happy/healthy life. Patrick Briggs, AVID State Director, said, “We, as teachers, are affecting the trajectory of the lives of children who have not yet been born.” WOW! Just pause and let that sink in for a moment. “We, as teachers, are affecting the trajectory of the lives of children who have not yet been born.” Think about the chains you have the power to break. The cycle of abuse and neglect and poverty that may end because you were someone’s teacher. Because you cared. Because you came to school even when it was hard. We cannot take that responsibility lightly.

This truth is both wonderful and harrowing. As difficult as it may be, we cannot allow ourselves to be discouraged by the daily grind that comes with this profession–something I am sure we are all guilty of at one time or another. No doubt, it is easy to let the hard parts of the job drag us to the depths of frustration and despair–especially in today’s educational world. With so many outside influences seeking to attack our profession, it’s difficult to remember the important things. The feel-good things.

Our students are counting on us. Their children are counting on us.

When I am feeling particularly down and exhausted, I try to remember what George Couros, author of The Innovator’s Mindset, said: “If you gave me the option of seeing the world or changing it, I will take the latter.” Me too, George. Me too. Is it hard? Sure. Is it worth it? You better believe it.

So today, even when it’s tough. Even when you want to throw in the towel…

Be a breaker of chains. Be an agent of change. Be an author of opportunity.

–Bridget

Activist Projects: Weeks 4-6

This will be my last post for Activist Projects until their culmination. Our schedule for the next couple of weeks is basically the same, and I don’t want to bore you all by being repetitive.

Photo by Tirachard Kumtanom on Pexels.com

I think at this point my students have mixed feelings about their projects. Some love it. Some hate it. Most of them are just ready for it to be over. The hard part about long term projects is maintaining momentum. And, with hectic schedules, STAAR tests approaching (which means late arrivals for my seniors), and 7 Mondays until the end of the year (yes, you heard me right!) I count myself lucky if they just show up and pretend to be productive.

I incorporated something new last week, in an effort to boost participation and engagement. It’s actually something I wish I would have incorporated from the beginning. I wanted students to be able to collaborate, even if they had me for different class periods, so I created a class blog with a discussion board. Students will earn extra credit if they check in regularly and work productively with at least one other person. I didn’t want to make it mandatory, because even in a 1:1 school, not all of my students have easy access to technology. I’m really hoping the lure of extra credit will motivate some of them to form collaborative partnerships where truly fantastic learning takes place.

In terms of student successes, I have a second group of kiddos who have really taken to this project. Four of my students, two who are Pro Life and two who are Pro Choice, have agreed to hold a debate for their final product. I’m really excited about this, because they’ve shown me that they are incredibly passionate about this topic, and I think it’s important that I give them a safe space to see both sides of the argument within an academic environment.

As far as losses go, I feel a lot of students simply aren’t utilizing the work days provided. Student-created action plans help, in a sense, because they create a system of accountability. But, what I’m finding is that many (though not all) goof off for four days, then throw something together so they can show me they’ve “made progress” by the end of the week. If any of you have successfully incorporated productive work days in your classroom, I would love to hear what you’re doing!

Below, you will see the schedule I posted on the board for my students this week. It’s short, sweet, and to the point:

  • Monday–Work day
  • Tuesday–Student Conferences
  • Wednesday–Student Conferences
  • Thursday–Work Day
  • Friday–Checkpoint Day

Because of everything that’s going on at this point in the year, this will be our schedule for the next couple of weeks.

I should add, we are actually in Week 5 at this point, and last week looked slightly different. On Monday and Tuesday, I provided students with time to fill in their action plans and figure out what their next 14-15 class days should look like. Because of the diversity of their final products, I needed some kind of accountability system, and I felt this was the best way to do that.

So far, with student conferences, they are being really vague about where they are in their projects. But, I’m hoping after Friday’s checkpoint, I can start taking those students who have something aside to workshop what they have so they’re ready for the deadline next Friday.

And that’s about it! If you’ve been following along, I really hope these weekly updates are helping. I’m super stoked to see what they turn in next Friday…I’ll be sure to check in once we have crossed the finish line.

Until next time!

Activist Projects: Week 3

So before I outline Week 3 for the activist projects, there are a couple of things I would like to talk about in regards to what’s been going on in my classroom.

First, I would like to take a moment to discuss something I’ve struggled with all year…the dreaded apathetical student. Despite giving abundant opportunities for choice, providing diverse mentor “texts”, and working alongside my students, I continue to struggle with this.

This week, I had a student ask me why we had to work on the projects. Why we couldn’t just have vocabulary tests, worksheets or quizzes. Another refused to do his annotated bibliography and has repeatedly expressed dislike for the project in his journal and in his attitude. These are only two examples, but I take the time to highlight them because, as excited as I am about this project, I don’t want you to think that I have achieved that perfect world scenario in my classroom.

I think so often, people only show the highlight reel on social media, giving us unrealistic expectations for our own lives. Which is why I try to level with you as often as I can…because I can assure you my classroom is FAR from perfect. More often than not, I feel like I am failing my students in multiple ways.

But then something happens, and I think maybe I’m where I’m supposed to be.

This week, I had something pretty incredible happen. A moment where students were doing exactly what I had hoped for when I began planning this project.

On Thursday, I received the following email:

This particular group of students has really impressed me. They have been enthusiastically involved since day 1, and they have shown a passion for the project that makes my heart sing.

A group of three, these students are raising awareness about rape culture. Each is personally invested in this topic, and they have agreed to work collaboratively to make something amazing happen. They are working to create a movement through a Twitter hashtag, and have also met with our principal in an effort to get approval for a school-wide presentation to educate students about rape. Another student has volunteered to work with them, and I have heard talk of their presentation throughout multiple class periods.

I have been so impressed with this group, and I really hope they keep their momentum throughout the six weeks. I’ve noticed that, while their enthusiasm is insane, their actual classwork hasn’t been up to par. I think they are so focused on the end result that they aren’t so invested in the baby steps…So, we will see where it goes. But for now, I am celebrating these students, and I can’t wait to see what they accomplish. They are the victory that makes this project a success, no matter what else may happen.


Now that you’ve had to sit through my rambling, here is the outline for Week 3…I hope you enjoy 🙂

Day 1: Students finished watching “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind”– I highly recommend this movie. Overall, I had very positive responses from students about this film.

Day2: I needed a test grade for progress reports, but I still wanted it to be something that tied back to research and project preparation. So, I decided to have students create an annotated bibliography as a formalized record of the research they had done so far. I uploaded an informational link and a sample from Purdue Owl to Google Classroom to show what, exactly, an annotated bibliography was. I also outlined the following criteria:

  • Bibliography must include five sources
  • these sources must be formatted into MLA citations
  • each citation must be accompanied with a 100 word annotation

Overall, I kept it pretty simple. My students had never done one of these before, and I didn’t want to overwhelm them.

Days 3-5: The rest of the week was spent gathering sources and working on the bibliographies, which were due on Day 5.

To show an example of art as activism, on Day 4 I showed students a clip from one of my favorite movies, Across the Universe. The clip I chose is linked here, and the great thing about this clip was that it allowed me to discuss the power of music and film to raise awareness or advocate for a cause.

This week was pretty simple. I want students to have autonomy and to take responsibility, so I am providing guidance and then stepping back and allowing them to work. This is an insane time of year for my students. It’s also “sick season” at the daycare, which means I’ve been out a lot. I mention this because life happens, for me and for my students, and this project is structured so that they can work with or without me.


Next week, we will be moving past research and into the actual project, so stay tuned.

Until then, have a great week!