Posted by: rdkpickle | 08.30.2012

moments from first days

Yesterday, I got to spend the day doing high and low ropes course activities with my brand new batch of (sophomore) advisees. At my school, the year begins with “field studies” – outdoor trips that vary by grade level: freshmen and seniors have an overnight trip, sophomores and juniors have a day trip. This was my first chance to spend time around my new advisory, 12 students who I am excited to get to know and support as they navigate high school over the next three years. Spending a day on a farm is an interesting way to interact with a group of students for the first time – I got to observe as they worked together (or not) to overcome obstacles in the low ropes challenges (X games! the duck!), saw leaders emerge as they climbed “the wall,” and had a blast riding a zip line (100% advisory participation! FEARLESS.) Despite the fact that the day wore me out, I appreciated the chance to get to know my advisees and their personalities – as individuals and as a collective – in a more informal environment. They’ve already decided that we’re the “noodle advisory,” and I’m now brainstorming ways to make boxes of spaghetti into gifts/symbols of advisory pride.

spoons not forks

In a post-field studies daze, I stayed at work to finish up the odds and ends that needed to be done before the first real day of classes – today. It turns out that even in year four at this school, when I should probably be getting the hang of things, there are still millions of tiny details I’ve forgotten that all need to be set in place before the year can actually begin. Welcome back to the crazy and that all-or-nothing feeling that is my life during the school year.

On the way out the door yesterday, needing a bit of inspiration to convince me I was going to make it through the week upright (with appropriate levels of energy and enthusiasm for the students who would soon be walking through my door expecting me to be a competent teacher), Molly and I stopped to look for a four-leaf clover. What she found was the tiniest, most pathetic-looking ragged little four-leaf clover – which somehow seemed appropriate for our tired, nervous/excited, slap-happy emotional state.

completely appropriate

As I attempted to procure PHOTO PROOF of this wonderfully tiny clover, I deleted a couple of out-of-focus pictures: “eh, could be better.” Molly called me out immediately. This, apparently, is my entire problem with planning right now – I’m endlessly iterating activities, lesson plans, handouts, homework assignments… never content because “it could be better.” We had a nice laugh about it, but I’m going to try harder this year to embrace the fact that teaching is often unpredictable and requires me to balance priorities, adjust to new realities, and be accepting of what I am realistically able to accomplish all at once. I am “in a period of rapid growth” (not my words) in my career, and I should be able to be proud of what I’m doing without the amount of criticism and negative self-talk that I normally engage in. In fact, I printed this poster out (3 copies) and hung it in my classroom, my cube, and on my planning binder for one of my classes. Maybe it will start to sink in.

two nice things!

Today, the first day of classes, I was a bundle of nerves and energy. How can I communicate to my students what I value, what my class will be like, what they can expect to learn, and get to know a little bit about them all in one go? (Answer: I can’t. That kind of classroom culture-building happens over weeks and months, not in one hour long teacher-focused blast.) It was a successful day, though, and my “first day” routine is starting to feel a little more routine, and a lot more ME. Some highlights include 1) shuffling seats as students walk in the door, 2) throwing them right into partner work to generate as many questions as possible to 3 different “answers” (a la @mythagon’s “What’s the Question?”), 3) snapping photos of each student holding an index card with their name on it (so I can learn their names as homework tonight) while having each student introduce themselves with an interesting fact, 4) going over syllabus and expectations, and 5) actually doing some math. The math portion of the show seemed especially short this year, probably because I’ve got pretty full classes and it takes longer for everyone to introduce themselves. Maybe next year I can figure out a more effective way to use that last 15 or so minutes. All told, though, it was a pretty smooth first day in class. Now to do it 170-or so more times.

A few miscellaneous highlights from the first days:

  • Having a former advisee stop by to visit me and Molly on his last day before leaving the country for college. He sat and talked with us for more than half an hour while we ate lunch, and it buoyed me up for all of the student interactions I would be having with new students that I haven’t established relationships with – yet.
  • During field studies, as my advisory waited in the treehouse-ish structure to take turns on the zip line, everyone was joking to one particularly tall student: “don’t forget to pick your legs up when it’s your turn.” It took me a few minutes to get the joke, and when I did, my delayed reaction left the students in giggles.
  • Finding a beautiful orchid on my desk when I got to work this morning, a gift from my colleague and good friend Lindsay. While I usually can’t be trusted to take care of living things, I will try my hardest not to kill it.
  • During the “take a picture, introduce yourself” part of class, I made sure to introduce Gary – the bright green stuffed animal snake hanging from the ceiling that was my Blue period’s class pet last year.
  • One of my advisees who I also have as a student in class gave as his interesting fact: “I have the best sophomore advisor in the school.” It was genuine, and it made my day.

Hope all of your school years are starting well, as well. Remember to take care of yourselves and blog about all of the things you’re doing!

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