“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge” -Albert Einstein

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Today was a better day by about one million and one times. I have so amazing people in my life that care about me so much. Thank you to those of you who sent encouraging texts and words my way, you’ll never know how much I appreciate it.

Today, I realized how defensive my students are of me. There are still students that are hesitant to open up to me and skeptical of me, (mostly the girls) but those who have let me into their lives have really let me into their lives. One student in particular stands up for me when the room gets out of control and tells the other students, “HEY! Be quiet! Miss Gray is talking!” and the room goes silent. He comes up to me after class and says “I’m sorry we were being bad, Miss Gray. I tried.” BAAAAAAH I love them. I love their eagerness to help me. If I ever drop my pen or papers, there are a dozen students on the ground within seconds trying to pick it up. It’s moments like those and the simple “Good morning,” “Thank you” and “Have a good day Miss Gray!” moments that let me know I’m doing okay.

In our book, there is a scene where the main character gets whipped because he was caught spying on a guard and a Polish girl having sex when he wasn’t supposed to be there. I asked the class, “Why does Elie get whipped?” and a student raises his had and answers, “Because…Elie saw the guard and some Polish chick… shackin’ up.” …I lost it. And so did the rest of the class. My abs hurt after that one. I got the quizzes back that asked that same question and 90% of them said “Because he caught the guard and the Polish chick shacking up” …sigh. The student who initially said that wrote, “Because he got caught seeing the guard and the Polish girl knocking boots!” I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone under the age of 80 use that phrase. I love their personalities and their sense of humor. I know it’s a bad day when my classroom isn’t filled with laughter at least every ten minutes.

After the high school today, I decided, for the first time in grad school, that I’m not going to class. I skipped both of my classes and caught up on grading and my lesson for tomorrow (and ok, maybe I watched a couple of episodes on Freaks and Geeks)  WOO! It feels so good to take time for myself. I needed it. Tomorrow, my kids take their very last quiz on the book! I can’t believe it’s already over. They have worked so hard and have gained so much from this book. Way more than I ever expected them to. Monday and Tuesday, they take their final exam! WE GOT THIS! …but thank goodness tomorrow is Friday. Fingers crossed for another good day!

“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” -Ernest Hemingway

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The little text at the top of this page reads: Teaching, Graduate School, Life. I guess this one is a combination of the first and last rather than just teaching, which has been most of my focus lately. First, I have to say that I am so appreciative of the love and support I have received over the past couple of weeks, especially, let alone through everything else. This process has been one huge test. I came into a classroom of students whom I’d never met, students that have already developed relationships amongst themselves and with the teacher, and then here I come…some random little student teacher who looks like she’s a student in high school herself. My unit got changed from To Kill a Mockingbird to Night with a one week notice when I had TKAM completely planned out. So to say the least, I went into this term with a blindfold on. So thank you to those who have had to hear about the schizophrenic, bipolar-like ups and downs that these past few weeks have brought. If one thing has remained the same, it’s my love and dedication for my students. They are the light in my life and the ones who get me through this term. Even when everything is changed around me (tests, schedules, PowerPoints, requirements, EVERYTHING POSSIBLE), they keep me going. When I am constantly being tested by those in authority (being purposefully locked out of places I need to go, teacher being a no-show, no information being left for me, no support, ya know, yadda, yadda) my students are the ones who are there with open arms. I have never been pushed this hard and no one has ever intentionally tested me, trying to make my life more difficult than it needs to be until now. I can handle just about anything as long as it’s in my control, but when I am being intentionally tested and it’s out of my control, that’s when I’ve reached my breaking point. I’m over being tested by a grown, experienced teacher. I get this little game, and I’m done playing it. Maybe this is just how life works and people do this all the time, but it’s just not fair that it’s gotten to the point where my students are confused, frustrated, and stressed, and it’s all out of my control and there is nothing I can do to help them or make it better.

Secondly, for the third time in my life, well for the third time in two months rather, I have heard the words “I don’t want to hold you back from your dreams” in a way that I am being pushed away from them or they are pushing themselves from me. This is something I will never understand. NOTHING will ever stand in the way of school or teaching and when someone takes it upon themselves and blames themselves for “holding me back,” it breaks me, and again is something that is out of my control. I’m seeing a pattern here. I need to tell every single person that I meet from now on that no matter what they do or say, they aren’t holding me back or taking me away from my dreams unless I tell them they are. If someone was holding me back from  my dreams in one way or another, they would know about it and they would no longer be in my life. When others assume my feelings or my priorities, it angers me. I try so hard to be honest in life and to be transparent with those around me, but when others put feelings that they “think I should have,” on me, my head feels like it is placed in a blender. Trust me, nothing and nobody will ever take me away from teaching and school and if they were, they wouldn’t be in my life. If anything, anyone who is in my life is helping to get me to where I want to go. Pushing me away because they “don’t want to hold me back” is actually holding me back and taking up space in my head that could be devoted to my dreams. So that’s that. Normally, I wouldn’t rant about something so small, but this small phrase has been said to me for the third time recently, that I don’t know what else to do but tell it like it is. So please, no more pushing yourself out of my life because you “don’t want to hold me back.” It’s frankly a cop-out. I can handle myself and my own dreams and goals, others don’t need to worry about that.

Have you ever heard of “the compliment sandwich?” Well, it’s where someone says something nice about you, then gives you criticism, then ends it with another compliment. Probably so you don’t feel so bad. It kind of cushions the blow. Well, I don’t want to end today’s thoughts on a negative note, and I hope I don’t come off as a Negative Nancy, but I had to express my frustrations through words. Better than with my fists, right? Just kidding…kinda. So there is so much I am thankful for and so much I am lucky to have. I have a roof over my head, food in my stomach, clean water to drink, and even electricity. As an added bonus, I have the most amazing family, the most supportive and understanding friends, and quirky, full-of-life students. What more could I ask for? Even with having a part time job, going to school full time, student teaching, commuting, attempting to get sleep, and piles of homework and grading, I am still so happy. I determine my own happiness. I always have, and I always will. Everyone has their frustrations and I guess writing is my way of expressing them (obvi, this is a blog). Thank you everyone, again, for all of your constant love and support during this learning-filled, crazy, trying time in my life. Without you, I couldn’t do it.

ERMAHGERD, BLERRGING.

Is it really Monday already? I feel like that was the shortest weekend in history. I definitely wasn’t ready to go back this morning, but that’s life I suppose. I had a pretty average day, the kids were extra zombie-like this morning though. This week shouldn’t be nearly as crazy as last week; the kids are finishing up Night and working on their memoirs. Because of proficiency grading, ( http://gettingsmart.com/cms/blog/2012/11/what-proficiency-based-grading-means-for-your-student/ ) students are not able to work on things at home, so I had to schedule three days of lab time in order for them to type up and work on their memoirs. This alongside the quizzes, time to read and discuss the text in class, and studying for the comprehensive final leaves little time for extra activities, which means less planning for me! I am in the midst of writing my work sample which by the end, it will be about 80-90 pages. WOOO! This work sample includes lesson plans, lesson reflections, student work, and an assortment of other large amounts of paperwork. I’m thankful that I am doing my unit early in the term so that I have until mid-March to complete my work sample. And then I’m back to my sixth graders! I miss them already. It’s a whole different planet. I miss their high energy and excitement for learning. I love my tenth graders because I can joke around with them and have more intellectual conversations with them, but I do miss my sixth graders. So yeah, pretty uneventful Monday. Maybe it’s just the calm before the storm…

night

And the Craziest Week of my Life is Complete!

WAAAAAAAAAH, I don’t even know where to begin. This week has been so crazy, and so busy, and filled with so many ups and downs. As always, the ups outweigh the downs. Monday and Tuesday were both rough, but the past three days have been pretty darn great. I am getting to know my students more and more each and every day and they are respecting me, opening up to me, and asking me to open up to them. I have been staying up until 1am every night in preparation for the next day. It’s so crazy to think hours and hours of preparation results in a 67 minute class period. I have come to realize that teaching is one of the most time-consuming and difficult professions in the world. It takes someone who is willing to put in countless amounts of extra hours in order to be completely prepared and give students what they deserve. Also, “co-teaching” is one of the most difficult things I have ever done. Having to run everything by someone else and having them critique and change each and every assignment, PowerPoint, and quiz is definitely a frustrating reality of this profession.

I have also learned (well it was solidified, at least) that when you walk into that classroom, you need to be 110% THERE. Not just present with your actual body, but 110% of your mind as well. This leads me back to my favorite quote from Jim Elliot, and the background on my phone to serve as my daily reminder, “Where ever you are, be all there.” I’ve never heard truer words. On Tuesday, I went to class with my head elsewhere. I don’t know where it was, but it wasn’t fully with my students, and it showed. I was disengaged and my students weren’t grasping the material because of it. My mentor teacher could tell I was having an off day, but still gave me a lot of negative feedback. I didn’t dare say this aloud, but I left school that day asking myself “Am I really supposed to be a teacher?” I felt like I had failed them and I failed myself. On Wednesday, I made it my number one priority to focus myself and give my students 110%. That simple thought did it. Telling myself I needed to focus and be present, both with my mind and body, was what it took. I was on top of everything, I had the classroom under control, and my students were engaged and grasping it, acing their quiz. I realized it’s 75% me, 25% my students. If I’m not “there” with them, they’re not “there” with me. From this point forward, I’m focusing on being 110% present for my students. I need to leave anything that’s on my mind in the morning at the front office when I sign in for the day. And so far, that mantra has been golden for the past three days.

Yesterday, Thursday, I was observed by my supervisor through the grad program. My supervisor is the first person I met when I came to Southern Oregon University 3 years ago and someone who means a lot to me. She was my professor for many English classes in undergrad and I look up to her so much as a teacher. Thankfully, everything went really well while I was being observed. The kids were angels (!!!) and everything went smoothly and was rather uneventful. Afterwards she said everything went great and it is so cool to see how I’ve grown into a teacher after all these years. I was so nervous about it, but it turned out I had nothing to worry about at all. PHEW. Also on Thursday, I did what I call an “exit ticket” which is a little slip of paper that will get them out of class at the end of the day if they answer a prompt question on it. The prompt was, “I am thankful for…” and they were asked to write 3 things they are thankful for. OH. MY. GOD. This was probably my most brilliant idea thus far. It was so amazing and inspiring to see what they wrote. Their answers ranged from access to food and water, family and friends, the right to an education, the gift of having inspiring teachers, to the foster care system that gave this student a second chance. When I went home that night, I read each one and teared up. The things my students have to deal with are beyond me. I loved that they recognized the things they are thankful for and are lucky to have. Some students even tied their answers back to our book on concentration camps by writing things like “I am thankful for my freedom and a roof over my head.” (THIS IS A TEACHER’S DREAM COME TRUE!)

Today, my mentor teacher was out at a meeting all day so it was THE MISS GRAY SHOW all day. Sometimes, it’s a lot of pressure to have my teacher there with me all the time so it was nice to run the class alone today. I felt like I was better able to be myself. The kids like to laugh at my mistakes and that’s what today was about. I gave out the assignment on memoirs and told them if they were all caught up on everything, they could start drafting their memoirs. The book we are reading right now is a memoir and they know what consists of a memoir (a story of a particular significant time in one’s life) so they were surprisingly eager to get started. I am having them get their topic approved by me first and from what I’ve seen, these are going to be so great and eye-opening. I cannot wait to read the final products! I surprised my students with canceling their daily quiz and you would have though I was the dang Queen of England for doing so. My eardrums almost burst form the amount of excitement that filled the room. I instead gave them the period to breathe, catch up on work they missed and catch up on the reading. They have worked so hard all week and done so well that I felt like they deserved a break and they were so appreciative of that. Gosh, do I love them.

They are doing so well. 90% of them are acing every quiz and so engaged in the book. I’m so proud of them and all their hard work.

HAPPINESS

Side note, I walked past a couple of my students’ math class today, who are fellow metalheads and can’t believe I listen to metal, and they both saw me through the window and made a heart symbol with their hands and smiled. MY HEART. It made my day.

Another side note, I am loving my crock pot and I just made vegetarian chili in it. YUMMMMM.

VEGETARIAN CHILI

I am so ready for the weekend and I am thankful for a week filled with so many learning experiences. Next week, we will finish Night and rap up our memoirs, then we move onto poetry! But for now, this weekend I will focus on relaxing, planning, wine, yoga, good friends, and catching up on all the things that slipped through the week’s cracks.

Monday Mayhem!

I spent a majority of yesterday and last night planning the next couple of weeks out for my unit on Night by Elie Wiesel. I created an entire detailed calendar to provide to my students so they know what to expect and what pages they should be reading and what activities they should be completing. I started to get so stressed about planning and fitting everything in and what activities I should do. Towards the end of the evening, I came to the realization that I need to just take this whole unit basically day-by-day rather than week-by-week because chances are, things aren’t going to go as planned so I’ll have to reschedule and rearrange everything anyway. With a general idea of the next two weeks in mind, and a thorough plan of the next two days, I decided to call it a night and go with the flow.

Well that “flow” started off extra hectic this morning. I signed into the front office, said hi to the ladies at the desk, and made my way to my classroom, thinking the day through. As I’m halfway down the hall, I see my mentor teacher frantically speed-walking down the hall, arms filled with papers and a large box. I greeted him with a “Good morning!” only to be bombarded with one million and one statements: “I copied your quiz. It’s on the table behind my desk. The calendars are in the box ready for the kids to pick up. I’m going to grab your colored reading comprehension worksheet right now. ” And blah, blah blah. Jeez, I hadn’t even set my stuff down. But then came the worst part. “And I’m on my way to grab the books. Bad news. We only have a class set. So the kids can’t check out any books to read at home. All of the reading has to be done in class. We don’t have enough books to give to every single student.” …THAT, ladies and gentleman, is why I don’t plan things out way ahead of time anymore. It gets turned around last minute anyway. I could feel my heart drop. How could the kids read this entire book in class AND get the instruction and hands-on work that they need to understand it and engulf themselves in it? I was planning on setting some time aside in class for the students to get reading done, but I was also banking on them having the book at home to finish the reading and to refer back to. *sigh* Okay, well it was time to take a deep breath, go with it, and figure out a new plan. “I’ll be back halfway through first period. You’re on your own,” he said, already starting to walk away. HAPPY MONDAY TO YOU, TOO.

I walked into the classroom, set my stuff down, and put the starter on the board. The starter, at least, could stay the same.

monday starterI actually thought my starter was clever. I thought, “This is a good one. It connects the author of our story to a writing piece!” Well, first period didn’t seem to agree. I was instead faced with blank stares and blank papers. I don’t think it was my fault, but they didn’t quite connect to neither the quote nor the questions. Or maybe it was the fact that it was 8:30am on a Monday. Maybe I’ll never know. But no matter how many times I re-read the quote, walked around, trying to redirect attention, it was unsuccessful. I decided to collect the papers and move on. I explained to the students the “little” dilemma we have at-hand: We only have a class set of books so all of the reading would be done in class, at least for now. They responded with silence. There might as well have been tumbleweeds rolling across the floor and crickets chirping in the air. My teacher’s assistant handed out the books (today was her first day and SHE IS WONDERFUL!) and I told the students that they need to read pages 1-19 here in class. They opened their books and began reading. I expected many students to start to look up, look around the room, put their heads down, or work on other work. But instead, every time I looked up, each and every student was reading and turning pages. I couldn’t believe it! I monitored their progress by walking around the room and saw most of the pages turn progressively from one to twelve, to fifteen, and to seventeen. There were a few exceptions, but what the heck? They were actually getting into it? I decided to stop the class from reading for the moment to have a discussion on what was going on so far. Every single question I asked got a unanimous and correct response. I was so pleased and proud. Then, my students filled out a “K-W-L” Chart I created which is a chart that shows what they already know about the subject (The Holocaust, Elie Wiesel, and Night), the “K” column, what they want to know and learn by the end of the unit (W) and what they learned (L, which is to be filled out at the completion of the novel). After getting verbal responses about what they wrote after they were done, I was so happy. They seemed to be really interested in this topic and this book! I gave them 10 more minutes to complete the reading for the day. When I asked for students to pass forward their books, they responded with “NOOOOO!” and “But I wanna keep reading this!” I was smiling and my heart was breaking at the same time. I was so happy that they were enjoying it so much, but so sad that I had to cut them short and take away books from them! I allowed a few (begging) students to “check-out” a copy of the book from me, but I definitely couldn’t do that for many people. I reminded them of tomorrow’s quiz and set them away with mixed emotions.

Because of what the school calls “block scheduling,” it means certain classes are on certain days (divided into “A” “B” and “C” days, today was an “A” day). Third period was the next and last class I saw today. This is the class I am completing my “Work Sample” on: collecting their work and data, writing reflections and progress on each student (which they know and are excited about. It’s so cool that they like to play a role in getting my teaching credentials.) This is also the class I seem to mesh with the best. They are all so bright and vibrant and I look forward to seeing them. In the past week, they have tried to challenge me, and I like that about them. In this class, I got much more of a reaction to the bad news. They were sad they couldn’t take the books home with them but they understood that it was out of my control. This class was more engaged than first period, and grasped the starter much better. We had a better discussion of the novel than first period, too, and I’m not quite sure why. It could be a million different reasons. A few students in this class insisted on checking a copy out from me, and I complied, wishing all of the students could take a book. A few students even asked if they could read ahead, and how am I supposed to say no to that!? After class, a student came up to me and said “Hmm. This is actually a pretty good book!” (Which in 10th grade language means, “THIS IS THE BEST BOOK EVER!” On their K-W-L chart (in both classes, actually) they expressed so much knowledge of what they already know (I front-loaded information on The Holocaust and Elie Wiesel last week, and they remembered all of it!) and I could have cried, I was so happy (And still am). I know it sounds like “Duh, you’re a teacher, that’s how this works,” but it’s so cool to see these kids grasping the material and getting into the text and actually LEARNING something! Despite things that are out of all of our control, we have remained flexible and not let us stop us from learning! I’m so happy! I know I’m going to deal with snafu’s like this for the rest of career, but really, on my first unit?! Come on! But after today, I am confident that my students and I can make this work. Yes, we’ll have to spend extra time in class reading, but we can do it. I will make it fun for them and ensure they get the most out of this situation.

After both classes, at 11:30, my mentor teacher gave me some really great feedback. He said my pacing and timing was great and I did a really good job despite all of the hurdles. I am really lucky to have him as my mentor teacher. Yes, he’s disorganized, but that’s what I’m here for. I’m the organized one! He cares so deeply for his students and education in general and he wants so badly to help me become the best teacher I can be. He has been giving me such great advice and he has let me take full control of his classroom, which isn’t easy for ANYONE to do. I am so grateful for him and I am so grateful for flexible and bright students that make my job so much easier. Day one of Night, CHECK! We can do this! Now, let the grading begin…

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TGIF, for real.

I had quite the off day today. Maybe it was because it’s Friday and maybe I’m just worn out. But I had a lot of trouble with first period for a number of different reasons. One of my students simply couldn’t sit still. He got up multiple times in the middle of a lecture for nonsense reasons: to pick up a random pen, to knock another student’s paper off his desk, to sharpen his pencil, and to get hand sanitizer. I told him multiple times that he needs to stay seated while I’m talking but I couldn’t stop it. On top of that, when he was actually seated, he was blurting out, making jokes, and talking to others. After about fifteen minutes of this game, I snapped. Well, “snapping” for me is getting mad in the first place, which is a rare occurrence. I sent him out of the room and had my Cooperating Teacher (CT) take over. I had a conversation with him about building his tolerance to sit still. He seemed to understand and apologized. He even came to me after class to apologize again! Although it seemed to all work out in the end, it threw me off for the rest of the day. The rest of my students didn’t get the best of me because of one little incident. I need to not let little things get to me because it’s not fair to the rest of my students that weren’t involved in any way.

I took work off today to attend a workshop on the Literacy in Elementary Education portion of the ORELA licensure test. I felt like it would be beneficial for me to go over what a child in elementary school needs to learn how to read and write and develop as a speaker, reader, and writer. Some of the information was helpful, but I don’t feel like I got as much out of it as I could. I feel like at this point, I am simply jumping through all the hoops to get what I want. I have always been one to love school, but I am coming to the point of burning out. I am no longer engaged in the classroom with the graduate classes because my mind is in another classroom. I feel like I learn more for my students than I could ever learn sitting at a desk taking notes on “How to Be a Good Teacher.” I spend my time thinking about what lesson I’m going to present tomorrow, what I want my students to learn, and how I can best maximize our time in class. But instead, I spend 20 hours a week sitting in classes and jumping through the hoops. It’s all part of the process I guess. And maybe someday I’ll look back and think “Oh, I learned that in grad school!” But for the first time ever, I don’t want to go to class. I want to be with my students. My time with them gets cut way too short and then I have to go to class. But that’s life and soon enough, I will be engulfed by students.

Everyone has off days, and this is one of mine. Good thing it’s the weekend and I can re-energize and recuperate. I will be ready to go on Monday morning, bright and early!

“I’m exactly where I should be.”

Yesterday, one of my professors told a story about a girl who came into his office. She, too, was student teaching and on her way to getting her teaching license. She talked to my professor about her experience teaching, what her classes were like, and how life in general was treating her. At the end of their conversation, she said to him, “I’m exactly where I should be.” When he told that story to us as we all sat in a circle, listening intently, I thought to myself, “Wow, me too.” I think that was the first time in my life where I truly realized that I’m exactly where I want to be. I realized that it’s not about the materialistic things, how much money you have, how many friends you have, or what kind of car you drive. It’s about how happy you are and how content you are with how things are going. That’s where I’m at. Sheer happiness. I have everything I could ever want and I’m growing and learning more as a person each and every day. Over the past few months, my career choice has been one hundred percent solidified. I don’t think many 22 year old women can say that they know exactly what they want to do for the rest of their life and they are 6 months away from having their dream job. I work hard and have the end in sight and that’s what has gotten me here, along with the support of many important people in my life. I’m not quite sure how I got so lucky, or how I ended up with this life. I’m not sure that I’ll ever fully understand that, and it’s nothing to dwell on, but I think about it each and every day as I stand in front on my 10th graders, explain something to them, and hear 35 “OOOOOOOHHHH!” ‘s. That’s when I think, “I can do this every second of every day for the rest of my life.” If I’m ever having a rough day, if a student is ever not cooperating, I just have to think back to those moments and it suddenly becomes worth it again. So here’s my journey, the ups and downs, of student teaching, graduate school and life as I see it.