A Day in the Life of a First-Year Teacher

Thursday, September 27, 2012

We're On a Roll: The September Update

We are officially three weeks into the school year, and it is at this time that my education professors at NYU would tell me that the "honeymoon period" is over. The students have gotten to know you as a teacher, their classmates, the classroom environment, the workload, the style of the class, style of teaching, etc. and now are ready to "unleash" their true personas.

At this time last year, before I set up my blog, my students already showed me some signs of weaning away from the honeymoon period. Two of my 7th period students were caught cheating on a quiz (OBVIOUS hints were seen, as in one of the girls directly STARING at her friend's answer sheet). In 2nd period, James and the Four Gangstas started climbing their way onto my radar for me to look out for.

Yet, last year could overall be considered a great success. The students performed extremely well on the NYS exam, my class averages were about 8% higher than the class average for the entire school and behavioral disruptions were controllable. Of course, in middle school, where hormones run wild, students quite possibly have attention spans shorter than that of a four year old and education isn't necesarily the top priority, there are bound to be some... entertaining... moments.

However, things are going surprisingly well so far this year! My students are great people (Have I mentioned how HILARIOUS they are? Future teachers, middle school really is a great decision to make!) and are making great strides academically. And while class averages are lower for my regular 8th grade math students, these students are putting in a considerably greater amount of effort and dedication to my class. While only some students last year came to my before/after school tutoring sessions, I can expect anywhere from 25 to 30+ students in any given after school session from Monday to Thursday. Meanwhile, my Integrated Algebra students are true gems :) - very self-motivated, organized, respectful and quick learners! Perfect for being my guinea pigs with Integrated Algebra!

I'm really liking the diversity this year - both with my student population and with the classes that I teach. Even though I'm still fresh and energetic, it feels AMAZING to be exposed to new subjects and new students to teach. It's what keeps us teachers going, right? I really like how I am kind of the "curriculum boss" with Integrated Algebra, since I am the first teacher teaching it in my school and there are no other teachers teaching it! Not having Mr. Buchell as a colleague for pre-algebra/Math 8 is a plus as well.

My principal, Ms. Lopez, continues to be amazing and extra supportive. Mr. Buchell, the discipline AP has been gone for the past two weeks due to an injury, and the school/district has NOT found a replacement yet for him. (Talk about disorganization of the DOE...) Therefore, we have been instructed to try and keep referrals to a minimum and try our very best to handle situations within our own powers/classroom borders.

All in all, a great first three weeks so far! Let's keep it this way for the rest of the year! ;)

P.S. I am so sorry for not writing as much as last year. I will do my very best to get better at updating! A new school year is always a busy time, especially with a whole entire new curriculum, but it will get better as the year goes on, I promise. Stay tuned!!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

More than just a "student"

I often refer to my students as just "students". See, I just did it twice!

However, as the school year is getting deeper and deeper, I'm finally at the point where I can stop asserting myself as "their teacher" and actually develop myself as a human being, someone who the kids can relate to.

As I get to know my students better, seeing them everyday, watching them, teaching them and getting to know their unique qualities, I have developed connections with the students. Each of my students are unique in their own special ways. I have 150 new students this year - and while some of them have the same name as others in the same class period or in my other periods or even as students from last year, no two students are completely alike. They have their own likes, dislikes, wants, desires, goals, personality, drives, motives and features.

As a teacher, it is my job to make sure I connect with each of my students, making sure that all of them have the chance to reach their potential in my class and get the individual attention from me that they need to succeed. While it's impossible to have every single student like me, and it's impossible for me to like every single student, I cannot forget about my responsibilities as a teacher.

I've spent a lot of time in the beginning of the year developing a "TEAM" attitude in my classroom, and telling my students about how much I believe in them. We watched motivational clips from movies like Walkout and Freedom Writers and discussed them. I want to be a teacher like Sal or Miss Gruwell. But, we are entering the "academic" world now in both 8th grade math and Integrated Algebra. These messages have now taken the backseat to the curriculum.

So far, I'm really enjoying my group of students. But, my students are more than just what I (and every other teacher) call them - they are human beings and deserve individualized attention.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

iPads in the Classroom?

A high school friend of mine who's teaching 6th grade in an suburban Ohio town recently told me that her class uses iPads for Reading and Math as a method to informally check student understanding. (Ohio towns appearently put 6th grade as still part of the elementary school sequence, not the  beginning of middle school like here in NYC.) Her students, already about half way into their first quarter, seem to really enjoy using their iPads for classroom activities, and she has reported that her students' grades and assessment scores are up from last year.

In my professional development course at Columbia, we talked about how we as teachers can employ advanced technology like iPads in our teaching. Of course, most NYC schools aren't able to afford iPads for classrooms.

I'm curious to see what effects the use of technology like iPads would have in my Bronx classroom. Most of my students are not used to ANY Apple product, but many suburban teens have iPhones, iPods, etc., so would they be more receptive to using iPad learning apps? How would my inexperienced students respond?

Friday, September 14, 2012

Los Primeros Días de la Escuela - The First Days of School


At 6:20 Thursday morning, I got up, took a shower and got ready for the first "teaching" day of school.
6:45. Boarded the subway towards Lexington Avenue - 59th Street. 7:00. Transferred trains and arrived in the Bronx.
7:25. Entered the school building, headed up to my classroom to set my things down and get the final touches ready before students entered.
7:45. Head downstairs, socialized with colleagues and school aides and sat down for a brief meeting with Ms. Lopez, our principal, and Mr. O'Klay, the AP.
8:00. The staff meeting ended. We all head back to our classrooms, finish preparing if needed, breathe and do our beginning of the year rituals.
We began the day with homeroom, and then shifted to our classes for the day.

It has now been a full week and two days since the 2012-2013 school year has started. We are OFFICIALLY in the zone! I know all of my students' names, plus a lot of their personality characteristics as well as their strengths and weaknesses in math.

The first three days, I spent a lot of time building a classroom community with my students. I am a strong believer in the acronym TEAM - Together Everyone Achieves More. Both last year and this year, I communicated with my students the importance of the classroom feeling like a family: a place where everyone gets along, is comfortable with each other, trusts each other and builds strong bonds together. I believe that if each of the students in my class are "cool" with one another (as well as with me), the amount of behavioral disruptions will be diminished dramatically. So, on the first day of school, after taking attendance, the students participated in six teambuilding activities - four of them between each other, and the other two including me. Last year, one of the biggest strengths about the year that my students communicated to me was the teambuilding: it set the culture of the classroom and my expectations right from the beginning. The activities (I posted some last year, for new readers :) ), are fun, engaging and effective.  You can feel the environment in the classroom changing and that's a growth I really hope to see continue to develop during the year.

This eventually culminated in a team-wide 9/11 Rememberance service project the students on my team participated in through each of their classes. The goal was to tie in 9/11 and the idea of rememberance to each teacher's content area. The projects were then put together and sent to first responders and families of the victims.

Starting on Wednesday, both my classes started working on bridging the gaps that they might have from 6th and 7th grades that may inhibit their future performance in the 8th grade or Integrated Algebra curriculum. Some of my students are close to grade level, or even on grade level. Others are about 1 grade level behind; the most severe cases range from 2-3 grade levels behind. These students are disproportionally distributed to my first period class. 1st period already has 10 students with special needs or IEP's - enough that the district requires a push-in teacher at least two days of the week. Looks like I know where my hard class of the year is...

As for my classes, I absolutely LOVE them! The students are very pleasant, diverse, funny, interesting and BEHAVED! I think the difference between last year and this year isn't too great - hinting that I'm still on track to having another great year! (I don't know what their teachers last year were talking about... unless they're still in their honeymoon phase.. haha)

Ya Know Gangnam Style?

My second period class is obsessed with Gangnam Style. Some of the students saw PSY perform on the Today Show this morning and could not stop talking about it the ENTIRE period.

One of my students thinks I look like the "head pimp" of Gangnam Style...

"Mr. Yang, are y'all related or something?"

Today, we voted on classroom rewards that the students can earn for good behavior, completion of homework, excellent performance on a test, etc. collectively as a class. Last year, rewards that students voted for were "normal" middle school student wants - parties, food, no homework, homework passes, movie day, etc.

This year, my second period class voted to have me dance to Gangnam Style -- if they earn 100 "points".

What they don't teach you at "X" University School of Education: Teaching is a high risk (in this case a high embarassment...) and a high reward.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

It's tomorrow!

Today's the last official day of summer.

New York City public schools are beginning the 2012-2013 school year TOMORROW! Teachers are to report at my school bright and early at 7:30 am. Students are to report at 8:30 am for homeroom. Yikes!!

Goodnight and here's to a wonderful school year! :)

P.S. Let's hope I actually get some sleep tonight.

Monday, September 3, 2012

All dressed up with somewhere to go

Between yesterday and today (yes, some stores in NYC are actually open on labor day!!), I racked up almost $400 in supplies for my classroom.

What can I say? It's the beginning of the year! I remember last year at around this time, I went shopping for my first-ever classroom (back when Teachers' Choice wasn't an option) - but only spent about $250. How in the world did I manage to spend MORE money for my room my second year of teaching?

Well, it's true what they tell you about teaching. It's expensive. Especially when you're teaching in The Bronx, where many students can't even afford to buy school supplies. I learned a lesson from last year - my students need MY supplies to keep them going! So, I worked out some deals with local stores and big stores, and got all the following for my students:
  • 1.5" binders
  • Highlighters
  • Graph paper
  • Notebook paper
  • Mechanical pencils
  • .7 lead
  • Wooden pencils
  • Erasers
  • Highlighters
  • Notecards
  • Divider tabs for their binders
  • Tissues (a BIG must for all teachers!)
On top of that, I had a laundry list of materials to buy for my use during teaching and for the classroom:
  • Folders for each of my five classes for when I have to take home work to grade
  • Post-it notes
  • Two calendars -- one for the room and one for my desk
  • Personal time planner to keep track of everything in my busy life
  • Some new classroom posters
  • Dry erase markers, overhead markers, erasers, etc.
  • Batteries for my timer (another must for teachers!)
  • A kit of back-up lesson plans
  • Tape
  • Grading pens
  • Air freshner (some middle school students do not smell too good...)
  • File folders for each of my students
  • Bulletin board designs - I created a new bulletin board called "While You Were Out...", where I plan on putting missed work and class notes for absent students so that they can easily pick up their materials without all of them lining up to ask me at the beginning of class :)
And of course, some gifts for myself to get me ready for the new year!

While looking over my stats today, I noticed that one of my search links that lead to my blog was "mini fridge for my classroom nyc". Actually, I didn't buy a mini fridge this year, though I do know some teachers who stay "late nights" here and do... maybe next year? hmmm...

4 days!