“You’re the best teacher!”
“You’re my favorite teacher, Mrs. Hawkins!”
“I missed your class!”
“I wish I could have you for all my classes!”
I know it’s been a bit since my last blog post but if the above actual statements from my students this year is any indication, I have been very hard at work this school year. This school year is definitely different from my previous years as I’m not only teaching all of my classes by myself as opposed to other years where I had a co-teacher in most of my classes but I’m also teaching social studies in addition to ELA. However, despite my initial worries, I have to say that so far this year has been going really well so far. I feel as though I’m really becoming the target I’ve always wanted to be and finding my stride and it is something by hope much my students are enjoying my class this year more so than ever.
Some changes I’ve felt added to this have definitely been that since I’m by myself, my decisions are what is happening. Period. No longer will I have to check in with anyone and without having to do that, I feel as though I am flourishing. For example, my first unit this year was writing realistic fiction which is perhaps one of my more favorite units. In the past I would read and model with the text We Beat the Street by George Jenkins, Rameck Hunt, Sampson Davis and Sharon Draper; an extremely powerful and engaging work that students always enjoy though this year I decided to do something different. This past summer I read the highly acclaimed novel The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, loved it and knew I had to share with my students especially since the movie was coming out in October which would end the unit perfectly. I had initial doubts since I would be teaching 7th grades and the would be some racy scenes but ultimately featured the nerve to ask admin, convinced my literacy coach to join in with her students and my students absolutely loved the novel! One student even remarked that he hated reading before this book but now loves it! I was also able to take my students to see the movie version which was a huge hit and the school librarian even had local police officers deliver copies of the novel to my class and talked with my students about the themes in the novel and their jobs as law enforcers. My first unit was such a powerful and successful one because I was able to take more initiative.
“You’re mad nice and you make class fun!”
More than one student has commented this this year and it’s definitely attributed to the fact that I really do try to make my lessons as engaging as possible. If I’m not having fun teaching it, what could I expect of my students? I try to find engaging texts as I had with The Hate U Give, allow group work often which works well with middle schoolers in terms of holding each other accountable as well as allowing for socializing which is important, incorporating music with my timers and holding relevant class discussions. In the mornings with my homeroom, I even play CNN Student News and talk with my students of what’s going on in the world. Every Friday, I check in with students with a system I created called Hawk Dollars where students redeem prizes for tasks like completing homework, participating, etc. I try to find moments within my lessons and routines where I can insert some fun or a touch of my personality which helps greatly with classroom culture.
“I’d enjoy school a lot more if Mrs. Hawkins taught all my subjects!”
This year, as I said before, I’m teaching social studies in addition to ELA. This is my first year teaching social studies and though I will admit that it’s not particularly my favorite subject (my license is English as it were) I’m finding ways to make it work. For example, I have been using Flocabulary videos which is a wonderful resource for breaking down material for students. The subject matter also lends itself to multiple group projects and middle schoolers love that so it’s definitely a plus. Also, because students don’t have standardized tests for social studies (which I have feelings to be discussed in another blog post) there isn’t huge pressure on the subject which means I have more freedom to select the topics I care about and want students to glean. It’s a freedom in a sense that I can’t always get from teaching ELA since it is high stakes and we have a month dedicated solely to test prep so as I continue to teach social studies and find meaningful activities (and also have more opportunities for trips!), it is something I look forward to.
“I want to have Mrs. Hawkins as my teacher for the rest of the time I’m in school!”
I included these quotes and titled this post as such not boost my ego, though it is heartwarming and makes me feel as though I’m doing something right, but the real reason behind this post is that when you begin to find your niche beautiful moments like this can happen in the classroom. Teachers who are early in their careers like I am (year 4!) can look forward to this if you continue to push through and build those relationships. Of course it takes an incredible amount of hard work and dedication but it pays off. I’m still not where I want to be and I do have those challenging days but it’s becoming less frequent than in prior years. Even this year, one of my classes is a bit more challenging than the other but with multiple recess detentions, phone calls, one-on-one talks, the class is (slowly) but surely coming around. We all have that one class or period that’s tougher but the mindset you put into it determines your success. Perhaps you are a veteran teacher reading this post. Hopefully something I’ve mentioned resonated with you or a technique I’ve tried is something you want to incorporate, whatever the case, teaching is an ongoing learning process that requires to constantly be reflective and continue growing.
I just thought I’d share an update of my year so far and I am loving the changes I’ve seen in myself and in my classroom. Thank you for reading and I look forward to sharing more about this school year!