When I think about how much I have changed since my first day in my own classroom, it is more surprising than I realize. I am someone who is very critical of herself, so it’s hard for me to sit back and recognize or celebrate that growth. But over the past few years, I have grown rapidly in my ideas about what good teaching looks like, tapped into a growing pool of resources to help plan my classes, developed a toolbelt of strategies for classroom management, and overall worked to establish myself as the kind of math teacher I want to be.
Experience is hard-earned – it is the sum of tiny moments day-in, day-out that – at the time – can range anywhere from completely insignificant to completely overwhelming. And the pace we keep as teachers means that often we don’t have the time to see the ways each day changes us. But this has been a good year for me – the first year I’ve had a chance to teach any class for a second time – and this has meant that I can more easily see the ways in which experience is allowing me to fine-tune my interactions with students, my crafting of a good lesson, my leading a classroom discussion.
The other thing that a few years of experience has afforded me – something significant but not at all “glamorous” – are the routines and organizational systems I have established that make the million tiny things we have to do each day as teachers a little more manageable. I was reflecting on this the other day, and thought it might be worthwhile to write about some of these. It’s silly, but these are patterns in my working day that have helped feel saner, stay organized, and allow me to spend more time doing the stuff that actually matters – working with my students to explore mathematics and help them become curious, compassionate young adults.
(p.s. I started this post before break and now it’s break and I am finishing it and realize it’s pretty freaking boring so maybe if you read the whole thing you win a prize? I hope you find at least one useful idea or organizational strategy in here…)
I keep 2 different running to-do lists on the “stickies” program on my macbook. One is a longer list with any item I need to take care of, organized into different categories (advisory, alg 2 trig honors, precalculus, math dept, softball, rec letters, general.) This list is usually pretty overwhelming, so I keep a second list of “action items” that help me focus on the immediate tasks that need to be handled each day. I typically update this list either at the end of the work day (to help me focus when I get to work the next morning) or at the beginning of any chunk of planning time – so I don’t get distracted by emails or interruptions by students or colleagues. Deleting each item is far less satisfying than crossing it off a list, but the digital system works much better for me than a paper one.
I do my planning for my classes well before the beginning of each unit, but as I move through the day-to-day I need one place where the day’s plans for each period are collected. We have a weird rotating schedule at my school (7 periods, 5 of which meet each day, for a 6 day rotation – each day is lettered “A” through “F.” yeah. I know.) so there are some days where it gets pretty confusing keeping track of where in the “cycle” I am with each class. My solution has been to keep a running sticky note with the date, day, letter day, and periods that meet with the agenda for each. Each morning, I copy the agenda to the whiteboard at the front of the room and my classes are used to checking the agenda to see what we’re going to be doing each day. Honestly, though, it helps me more than it helps them – I usually have a few different things planned for each period, and it cuts down the transition time between each activity and helps me stay on track.
(Our crazy schedule)
I do keep a paper copy of my gradebook – it’s far easier for me to quickly record grades as well as checks for homework completion given the frustrating program we are required to use to input grades digitally. This year I made a customized grade sheet template for each class and printed it on cardstock with a different color for each class. Free and easy.
I always make exactly the number of copies I need for each handout, worksheet, quiz, or test. It makes it easier for me to remember to touch base with the absent students. For class handouts, I immediately write the name of the missing student on the top of the papers after passing things out, and put the work in the student mailboxes downstairs in the commons. If the student missed a quiz or test, I write their name on it and put it in a pink folder that I carry with me in my blue work bag.
So I am lucky to have a beautiful, awesome classroom mostly to myself this year, but it does get used during 2 periods of the day when I am not teaching – for a study hall and for the yearbook class. Most teachers at my school who get booted from a classroom for any portion of the day have a cubicle space where they can go to work during that time. So, my second home is in the “math cubes” downstairs (next to Molly, Julie, and @tieandjeans when he decides he has time to hang out on West Campus.) The change of scenery can be good for collaboration and puts me nearer to a copier, but it means I have to be able to pack up everything I might need for my planning periods and be fully mobile between the 2 locations. So, in my blue work bag I have: a pencil bag, a calculator, any papers that need grading (binder clipped together of course), my pink folder, my laptop, and a binder with all of my teacher notes. In the binder, I have different tabs for planning, notes, and assessments for both of my preps, and a pocket in front for the colored grade sheets. When I finish each unit, I transfer all of the plans, notes, and assessments to 4 bigger binders that I keep in the cubes. This means I can travel with pretty much everything I need to plan and prep my classes for the day-to-day.
(Old cube spot – before I moved and added a few more cartoon drawings of eggs with legs.)
For the first few years, I made and printed assignment calendars for each unit in each of my classes. This was helpful for me especially when I was prepping a new course (which was like, every year except for this year.) It gave me a sense of how things for each unit would space out across weekdays and “letter days,” and helped me communicate to students what the next few weeks in math class would look like. The frustrating thing about printed calendars was that they were fixed – and since it was always my first time teaching a unit, I got a lot of things wrong. Some lessons just needed more time so we could stew in really good conversations about difficult topics, and other lessons were flops and I needed to recalibrate my plans for homework and the next few days. This year, my school mandated that we post assignments through the same centralized system we use to keep students schedules, post grades, take attendance, etc. At first it was incredibly frustrating because you have to click like a million different buttons to make things show up the way you want them to, but I have found I like the freedom of posting assignments online. Students have a one-stop-shop to check assignments for all classes, and I can make a quick change without having to re-type and print calendars. I also like that through this system I can upload handouts for any assignment so that absent/unorganized students can print themselves a copy of anything they are missing by just clicking on the assignment details.
(one of my course pages – no assignments because we’re on spring break.)
For each of my classes, I have a wiki where I post the filled in “teacher notes” and homework solutions for each topic, as well as review guides and solutions. This has been a HUGE help to me for the past few years in so many different ways. Absent students have used it to get notes they missed from class, students who would rather engage verbally in class and limit their writing (when it makes sense for their learning) have easy access to reliable notes from class that they can make use of later. Any time we are reviewing I post the solutions on the wiki so that students can check their work as they go, and often include answers to any extra practice sheets I can find. In my Precalculus class, I “pre-post” all homework solutions and students are expected to check their work before coming to class and be prepared to ask questions. There are plenty of things we do in class that I don’t post to the wiki – warmups, more discovery-based activities, partner practice, etc. (mostly so that it doesn’t get too cluttered) but it has been SO great for students to have access to anything they might need from class. It means they are less reliant on me for answer keys, etc. and they can take more ownership over any of the studying/corrections/extra practice they need to do to master a topic.
Feel free to take a look, but don’t judge me too harshly. Very little of the spirit of my classroom is captured in these static documents: Ms. Kernodle’s Website
There are plenty of other “routines” to my day – the silent pre-dawn carpool with Molly, the morning cup of faculty room coffee, coming up with adjectives for the letter day in advisory, stealing any carby foods up for the taking in the faculty lounge, debriefing the morning with my cubemates at break, singing and humming while making copies, sitting by the “fire” (aka the space heater in my freezing classroom) with Molly while we eat lunch, walking up and down and up and down the stairs 100 times as I travel from cubes to classroom and back, and so many more. They stabilize me, orient me, and help me tackle the day.
Because in reality, with teaching… there’s rarely routine. I am (usually) thankful for a job where every new day brings some fresh, exciting (or exhausting) challenge waiting to be tackled.