180 days of learning

180 days of learning

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First Year Language Arts Teacher Reflects

March 1, 2013

I think I’m supposed to write about what I’m teaching in my class right now or have one of my students write abou what he or she is learning in class right now.  The most exciting thing were doing right now is the blogging that my teaching partner, Ms. Kappler, wrote about so compellingly just a few days ago.

I find myself at somewhat of a loss for words.

Today was our practice test for the Online ELA ISTEP+.  The testing next week seems a good opportunity to reflect on my year so far.  Though it didn’t feel it then, right now it seems like the whole year has been leading up to the test next week.  I don’t particularly like that feeling; I feel that my time with my students means more than just one test.  But there it is.

This is my first year teaching 8th graders, first year teaching in any K12 school.  To say that this has been different from my experiences as a TA in college is an extreme understatement.

8th graders are strange animals, aren’t they?  They alternate between lazy and passionate (why won’t you put as much effort into arguing your essay’s claim as you do arguing with me about how unfair latework penalties are?), cruel and compassionate (some of my students circulated a petition to convince a friend’s parent not to move them out of town), shallow and deep (one day every word is about how cute the boys of One direction are, the next I get a personal essay in which a student reflects on the damage of his former drug use).

The kids almost constantly frustrate me in one way or another, but just when I feel like I’m totally fed up with them, they give me a solid day of 100% effort, all of them.  Yesterday, they had a quarterly writing prompt in class, and though I haven’t yet graded them, looking over their shoulders as they wrote, I saw committed, thoughtful writers.  This rare phenomenon was made all the more impressive by the fact that most of them were also writing an essay in Social Studies and taking a test in Geometry.

What have I learned, then?  All sorts of things here and there about classroom management, instructional process, assessment, etc.  The most important things so far, though, are that I made the right decision to go back to school to become a teacher and that no matter how frustrating teenagers can be, they have the potential to do better, to think deeper, and to solve real problems.  I just have to find those topics and mold the classroom environment to really help the kids take the lead and show me what they can do.

Now where did Gabe hide my flip flops…

TJ McNally is an 8th Grade Language Arts teacher at Lincoln Junior High.

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