Before I became a teacher I thought that Christmas break was all about the students getting a break. Now I know that teachers need the time as much if not more than students do.
Friday the 19th was my last day in the classroom until January 6th. We have professional development off site January 5th. I will use this break to recharge, I am honestly bone tired, and I have not felt this way in the first semester before. Recharging is great but I will also use the time for serious reflection as I plan for the rest of the school year. My students and I have a lot of ground to cover before they take the AP World History exam in May.
Reflecting is so important to being a good teacher and I think most of us do not spend enough time reflecting in a deeper way. We reflect on how did a specific lesson go or how could I re-teach a given lesson that the students did not understand. That is all good and I know that is what most of my reflection looks like so starting with this vacation I am setting a new goal for myself as a teacher. Not only will I reflect on the actual lesson and how my students responded but I will also reflect on how my actions impacted not only my students but the school climate as a whole. Is what I am doing a positive influence not only for my classroom but for other classrooms as well?
The high school I am employed at is an inner-city, low-income school. Most of my students are on free and reduced lunch. Many of them only have consistency when they are at school. We are also considered low performing. Those are the labels we have been given. But those labels do not have to define us: they only define us if we allow them to define us. Our staff and students have been given the challenge to change our low performing status and I believe this is where the deeper reflection comes in.
One of the complaints I have is that our students come to us without critical thinking skills and their writing is formulated so that they will pass the writing portion of the required standardized test. I work with my students as I question them so that they learn to analyze and not just summarize. This takes me most of the year but as LCT I have been working with my ninth grade teachers encouraging them to challenge their students in this area. I believe once our students are successful with analysis they will become more comfortable with deeper thinking. This will translate into improved scores not only on the state standardized test but also higher AP scores. If our students can earn college credit in high school they might see college success as something that is in their future.
When we return in January my goal is to work cooperatively with the English teachers so that our students understand that there are multiple ways to write effectively. They have been programmed to ask “how long does it need to be?” I tell them there is no set length; you have to answer the question completely.
Something small that everyone can do to make the school climate better is to say “good morning” with a smile to co-workers; yes even to the co-worker that makes you crazy. I also try really hard to leave my problems in my car but when I cannot I am honest with my students. A good example of this is when I was driving to school and I received a call that a dear friend had passed away that morning. She lost her battle to breast cancer. I knew my students would see that I had been crying so it was easier to tell them the truth. If I had told them nothing they would have known I was lying.
I also think it is important to reflect on past successes; therefore I will share a story about one of my former students. I had this student in my AP World History class last year. She came to me having always received high 90s in both her history and English classes. My class of course would be different she made a 70 the first six weeks of the year. She wanted out of my class desperately because she wanted those high 90s again. I refused to let her out of the class and I pushed her and worked with her when something was not working I changed how I explained it until we found a way that worked for her. I encouraged her to work with a classmate that was making 90s. She continued to struggle through the first semester but she stuck with it and by the end of the year she was making 80s in my class. What was more important than that was I watched her self-confidence increase and when the time came to sign up for her junior year classes she stayed in the AP program.
So in the end what does reflection do for a teacher? For this teacher it shows me what I have done right, what I need to continue to do and what I need to work on.