"The beginning is the most important part of the work." - Plato
This past week marked my 6th year of teaching and 9th year in public education.
I was particularly ecstatic going into this year, because it is the first year that my family is not juggling one of us going to school, and it is my first year not being Department Coordinator. I can actually commit fully to teaching, which feels like a huge breath of fresh air.
This year, I am teaching Special Day Classes. I have 2 sections of English freshmen/sophomore combo, a Life Skills class and 2 sections of Study Skills.
These are my goals going into this school year:
1. Celebrate student birthdays in the summer and throughout the year. I don't know why this is such a big deal to me, but it is. One student one year told me that he went through a whole day of school and only one person told him "Happy Birthday." Now, I have a huge calendar on my wall and reminders for when it is someone's birthday. I queried students as to what their favorite candy was on the first day of school, and on their birthday, we sing and I give them their candy at the end of the song. It takes a little prep on my end, but it always results in a huge, irreplaceable grin from the student.
2. Align 2 novels with the mainstream. Teaching special day class, I work with many at-risk youth, and it's been a major challenge trying to teach The Great Gatsby or Into the Wild -- topics and characters that are far stretches for them. Most of my students are Hispanic youth and their interests and their backgrounds are much different. I am going to try to do 2 novels from the mainstream, this year, though: Macbeth and The Kite Runner. I feel like we we can find compelling interests in these two works -- wish us luck.
3. Field trips. If you work alongside me, you know that I am really, REALLY into field trips. I've received a lot of scrutiny about it in the past (surprisingly), but I'll never give up on field trips. Because we live so close to the coast, I try to do as many things as possible by the ocean, or to San Francisco. Some of our students never leave Mountain View. I cringe asking about their summer, at times, because many of them say they stay at home playing video games. It's disappointing to me, because we have an incredible natural world just an hour away. Last year we did whale watching off of Monterey Bay and kayaking the Elkhorn slough. This year, I hope to do Ano Nuevo, a drive down highway 1, and a trip to San Francisco. Places like these open my heart, and I hope they do the same -- to some degree, for our students.
4. Quick and timely assessment. Oldie but goodie.
5. Address "techuity" in the classroom. I learned about the term "tequity" during an Edtech conference this summer. This year, I'd like to familiarize students with the basic computing skills to get them up to speed with Google interfaces (on the first day of school a student asked me how to change the color of text).
6. Create "skills checklists" for each of my courses. I teach English and Life Skills. My daughter's kindergarten teachers uses skills checklists for each quarter, and that is the data that she presents to parents during parent conferences. I thought it was brilliant, and something we could adapt to the high school setting.
The first week went pretty well. I tried to heed many teachers' advice and avoid teaching intense content in the first week. Instead, we did many community building activities, reinforcement of norms, and assignments to explore the tools on Google docs and Google slides.
My favorite standard Community Builder is "I'd Like to Meet the Person Who." Students do not put their name on slips of paper with the following prompts:
"I'd Like To Meet the Person Who"
Then we shuffle 'em up, and redistribute them making sure everyone receives another person's slip of paper. I solicit a volunteer who feels like they "know" who they have. That person starts us off, saying, "I'd Like To Meet the Person Who..." and then they read off a few that they found interesting. They guess, and when they guess right, I ask the person to tell us a little more about what they wrote. It takes about 15 minutes with 8-12 students, and it's a guaranteed, un-boring, non-mushy icebreaker. With my class of 11 boys and 0 girls, it worked out well.
The first content-ish assignment we did was "Use the Keyboard like a NINJA!" and students had to fill out the keyboard shortcuts to popular commands such as "Copy" (Ctrl+C), Paste (Ctrl+V), Undo (Ctrl+Z), Zoom in (Ctrl +), etc.! It worked out well, and by the next day I saw students practicing with these keyboard commands right away.
We also completed an Intro to Google Docs assignment where students had commands like "Make this text bold, make this text 50, Make a 4X4 table, and so on.
Lastly, we did an Intro to Google Slides assignment where students had to do certain tasks like create a shape, create an animation, change the background color, change the image ordering, insert a GIF, and others.
At the end of the week, we did a Make a Meme! assignment, which is something I learned how to do at an EdTech conference. Here is our "MEME WORLD" as a student put it!
Here are more noteworthy MEMES that I just had to share:
The students really got into them and some made 4, 5, and up!!! We had so many good laughs at the end of the week and as an added bonus, students practiced using several controls and tools on Google slides...tools we will be using all year!!!
I hope you had a wonderful start to your year, wherever you may be.
"In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer." - Albert Camus
I think on the eve on my first day back, this quote certainly sang to me the most. Although it is not summer, I certainly would like to think that the joy of summer is indeed as impenetrable as Mr. Camus paints it to be.
This is my first entry, and it feels like a long time since I have played with words. Getting my mind to this place triggered a lot of memories: writing articles and 5pm Friday deadlines. It's a story for another time, but writing is definitely one of the things on this Earth that makes me feel alive, and it's nice to have this world at my fingertips again.
Thank you so much for stopping by and checking out my blog. Most of the dialogue here will be about preparing students for secondary transition and life after high school. Many of my students would be considered "at-risk." They look and talk like their peers, but they have significant challenges that they need to overcome and their journey will look different. Most of my students have moved on to junior college or have obtained jobs in fast food, retail, car dealerships, etc. just to name a few. The curriculum featured on this site was created out of a need for practical, relatable lessons for my students.
Tomorrow's professional development will be focused on WASC and our accreditation. Thursday is some dedicated Special Ed time, and Friday I can finally begin the work of setting up my classroom! I have a major room makeover in store and I cannot WAIT to start!
I truly hope that you are going out of summer with a bang and refreshed for a new school year.