Yep, you read that title right and I will get to in a second. I recently came across a letter I wrote to myself. I am a sentimental person that way. I wrote this letter after my first month of teacher training. Now, over a year and a half later, I am finally reading it. The letter is a bit sappy I will admit even to myself, but I got something out of it after all this time. A few weeks ago we wrote a list of tips for the new teachers, but veterans sometimes need some encouragement as well. It’s easy to go to happy hour and stew in the negativity or problems we see, but we all picked this job for a reason. So before you head out for your Friday happy hour, glass of wine at home, or whatever it is you do to recover from the week, think about what is going well, what you are doing.
The DISD core beliefs got something right, effective instruction does make the most difference in student academic performance. We teachers lead that instruction daily and make the difference. A good teacher, and a positive classroom can make a change. The system is not perfect, as we highlight often, but we teachers need to keep working at it. So about the title, my challenge to you is think of a positive story to tell today and ask others what is going well for them. The snow might continue to come down, but we can make it a bright weekend. To start of the trend, read below for the letter to myself.
Today was your last day of summer school and I want you to think back to this day if you are tired, feeling down, stressed out, or overwhelmed. Remember how you were nervous to teach this final day. You were honestly, a little annoyed that only you had an extra day of teaching. You did not know what else to do with your students or what to teach them. So what you did was write everyone a letter. A letter that every student read and all but two took with them. When you handed the letters to everyone, they were excited and actually read. You made ice cream and every single student in the class participated and no one complained. Then you played hot seat, where students in the class actually asked each other questions. Some were just about their favorite things, but others were questions they were actually interested in. (Also remember this was a chaotic but students paid attention and had a lot of fun). Also remember when student K asked student J what was his favorite thing about you was, and he said that you were caring. After all that time, you thought they really didn't think you cared. You started the day thinking your effort would be unappreciated. You didn’t even think they would care about the day. They did.
Today was a great end. A day that you were anxious and frustrated about, but turned out to be amazing. A student that on the first day refused to look at you or speak because you took his phone, smiled and blushed when you told him he improved over the summer. Structure, enforcing rules and holding students to strong expectations does not make you mean. Write letters, show the students that you care, call home, highlight their activities, connect to their interests, and make them the center of the classroom. There were times when you got really down on yourself. Times you felt like you were not accomplishing anything in class. Times you really believed your presence in the class was hurting them. Today, as the training is over though, it is clear you did something. You were not perfect. You will never be perfect. But you did not give up. When things are hard, the grades are bad, and students are not where you want them to be, figure out how to change it!
You did a good job experimenting and trying new lessons. Trying to find ways to make it engaging but also effective. Your planning and over-planning made a difference. Some of the best days were when you brought the content to life and had a really clear vision for what the class was going to do that day. I hope things are going well. Use your network for support. Build relationships with the students. Become a part of that community and get to know them. Build that investment and relationship with your students, and continue to find ways to make math an organized process but fun. Sometimes organized chaos is fun!
Your former self