Wednesday, January 22, 2014

How Time Gets Away From Us...

I apologize, it's been a whole semester since I posted. Getting back in the swing of things after being on mat-leave last year has proven to be difficult in terms of time management. Learning to find some sort of balance between work and life at home has been key. As the first semester winds down and a new one approaches, it'll be nice to meet a new batch of kids who are (hopefully!) wide-eyed, bushy-tailed and rearing to go!

One of the highlights of the term has been a lot of positive feedback from students and their parents. Our new department head has given us a lot more liberty to teach in ways that emphasize really enjoying a few texts, as opposed to cramming in a larger, unnecessary, quantity of manditory material. I had time to get my grade nines up and acting out many scenes from Romeo and Juliet, they became emotionally invested in the play and were left aghast at the brief rollercoaster relationship between the young lovers, and yes, there were tears when we compared both death-scenes from the 1968 and 1995 films. To Kill a Mockingbird was then introduced with gusto: I created a lesson that had students creating quick-fire presentations on topics that ranged from public lynchings to a young boy facing racism in a nearby community today. The extra pressure of my Teacher Performance Appraisal, with the principal sitting in for the entire lesson, actually made the students' presentations much more dynamic and engaging -- they made me proud.

With exams starting tomorrow, I've begun planning ahead. I've tweaked my autobiography cover assignment (see two posts below) into another version that is a visual-verbal collage and one that is a series of blog posts so that I don't have to read/mark 75+ of the same assignments next semester. I am fortunate enough to teach ENG1D again as well as 2D and 3U. The students will hopefully be keen, but the marking will be insane if I don't plan what I evaluate carefully. Part of my resolution for next term will be to post more on this blog as a way of self-reflection on my teaching strategies... Wish me luck!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Two Weeks In... Now the Fun Begins!

In some ways, I'm finding this statement to be true, in others... well, let's just say my more distracted students are getting a little too comfortable! For example, I spent a good chunk of my weekend planning an introduction activity to A Long Way Gone, the book I will be starting with my grade eleven College Prep. students soon. I printed off copies of a basic history of the conflict in Sierra Leone. I made blank date cards that corresponded with each of the events and cut them out by hand. I went to school early to set up the classroom and put a red timeline across the wall at the back of the classroom. I even found enough highlighters, markers, pencil crayons for students to use. All this effort and BAM! Nothing goes as planned. My five "star" students whined and complained every step of the way. "Why do we have to have a history lesson in English?" "What information do I need to highlight again?" "Do I have to use colour?" "Do I have to do anything?" GRRRR! So after 72 minutes of step-by-step instruction, answering redundant questions, and putting up with behaviour that I would have expected on a Friday afternoon before the start of summer vacation, I have an incomplete timeline falling halfway off the wall and a migraine that just doesn't want to go away! Sometimes the best laid plans... well, you know how it goes.

On the up side, my two grade nine classes are diligent, enthusiastic and are fairly eager to learn. I also received a compliment about something that I've been trying to work on with all my classes: positive support and encouragement for eachother. The teacher next door to me said that her students could hear my students cheering all day and wanted to come join our classes, in whatever we were doing! I turns out, my students were presenting their autobiography covers, nothing especially elaborate or involved, but what I had done differently was to encourage students to not only ask eachother questions but to emotionally lift each person up, before and after the presentations, to make the whole experience a happier and more relaxed one.

So two weeks in, here I am: I have one crazy class, two sweet ones, and a smile on my face that at times, masks pure exhaustion. Sigh.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

And so it begins...

A new school year is upon us (as soon as this last, blessed long weekend comes to a reluctant and too quick end!) and most teachers can anticipate having that fitful, restless night before Tuesday morning's sunlight beckons us to face our fears. Apparently most teachers' biggest fear is not the students, the demands of administrators or parents, but teaching something new. And for me, this year is going to be all about what's new: a new school (that as of today still doesn't have working wifi, photocopiers, a chair for my desk or workroom), a new department head, and as a result, new expectations and new novels, plays and stories to teach. I've been spending my summer reading and preparing new lessons, while anticipating a first week full of interruptions, unpredictable schedules, students coming and going, and missing resources.

One of the first things I created was a "get to know you" type of assignment because I was tired of having students write me letters, even though what I learned about them and their abilities in the letters was very valuable. So I came up with this assignment, where students create the cover of their own autobiographies and then present them to the class:

Now I feel like I'm as ready as I can be, considering the circumstances. So as parents breath sighs of relief as their children go off to school, teachers brace themselves for the chaos that the beginning of the year inevitably brings. Now if only I could find a working photocopier!