Thursday, July 31, 2008

Grabbing Kids by their Brains

I just finished reading LouAnne Johnson's Teaching Outside the Box: How to Grab Your Students by Their Brains, and I was very impressed. The teaching books that I've read so far -- Harry Wong's The First Days of School, which I received from BCPSS along when he spoke to new teachers last year at the New Teacher Institute, and Rafe Esquith's Teach Like Your Hair's On Fire, have struck me as largely self-promoting and belittling of other teaching methods.

Teaching Outside the Box includes very realistic, simple, and relevant ideas for classroom management, organization, and even dress. The movie Dangerous Minds is based on one of Johnson's previous books, so she has taught in urban high schools, and she discusses what to do when students say the things that they really say in classrooms. Her chapter on discipline was especially important to me because I really want to do a better job this year than last year in that regard. By the end of the year I had pretty good control of my classroom, but I think that was mostly due to the kids just plain liking me (not that that's a bad thing!) I still didn't really have a plan for what to do when serious things happened -- like when a student called me a bitch toward the end of the year -- which in my mind was a big deal, although some of my colleagues (not necessarily at my school) seem to be cursed at every day. Also, did you know that I never used the word "cursing" until I came to Baltimore? I always said "swearing" or "swear words" but my kids told me that that's when you use the lord name's in vain or some such -- like, swear to god. But I'm from good old, liberal, lapsed Catholic, Massachusetts, so what do I know?

Reading Johnson's book, I felt that I could really identify with her. She writes that in her first year of teaching " I joked around a lot because I wanted the kids to like me, to think of me as an older friend." I knew going in to teaching that that attitude was not a good one to have, but it's hard to change your attitude, even when you know it stinks. Luckily, a year of teaching and getting to know these kids has taught me that I'm not doing any one favors when I try to be a friend. I can help students when I'm the teacher, a mentor, a person who cares about them. After a year of teaching, I've matured a lot and realize that it's not really about me and if the students like me and think I'm cool (because let's face it, I'm not -- although I do have a song about myself to the tune of Fergilicious). Instead, it's about caring about the kids, showing them that I care, and teaching them a whole lot of math and problem solving skills.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Planner Day -- The most wonderful time of the year

Today I bought my new monthly/weekly planner for the 2008-2009 academic school year. If you know me, then you know that this is my favorite day of the year. (Followed closely by Thanksgiving, which may seem strange for a pseudo-vegetarian, but I love love love mashed potatoes and stuffing and sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce. LOVE.) I got to color-code entries (maroon for school stuff, blue for Kaplan stuff, pink for Hopkins stuff, and purple for "fun" stuff). See! It's exciting!

The new planner reminded me that teachers report back to work on August 19, which is in only 20 days, which is less than 3 weeks, which is also known as way too soon. I don't feel that I've had a true break this summer, what with two weeks of graduate classes, a week at an AP Institute, teaching SAT and GRE classes for Kaplan, and prepping like mad for the upcoming school year. Yeah, you could say that I'm pretty busy.

I've also had two separate nightmares about the first day of school. In both, I can't get the students to pay attention to anything. In the first one, I would finally get the class under control and then a random student would walk in the room to purposely disrupt everything and I would have to start all over getting everyone settled... repeat... repeat...repeat...wake up in a cold sweat.

But I'm excited about the first day of school -- really excited -- so I'm not sure why I'm apparently really freaked out about it as well. I've been excited about the first day of school since August 27th of last year -- the first day of my first year of teaching (and incidentally and perhaps ironically, my birthday). I ended that day thinking, "well, I sure did mess that up -- can't wait to try that again next year!" Actually, that's pretty representative of my feelings toward my entire first year of teaching.