A Future First Year of Teaching English
Fictional Journal Entries about the stages of an academic year of teaching as told by Teresa Mullin
Anticipation: August 24, 2018
I am excited to meet my students on the first day of class. I am teaching three periods of regular freshmen English and two periods of junior honors English. The mix of students is exciting and the different levels will be fun to explore and work with as well. I have all these great project ideas to get students engaged as well as a number of activities and graphic organizers in my arsenal to ensure that all students learn and succeed in my classes. I have taken a day to clean my classroom, have the desks organized in pods of four, and have posters of writers from various cultural backgrounds as well as a multitude of Star Wars and Shakespeare décor in my classroom. From day one, I plan on being assertive and making my expectations clear through behavior contracts and a constructed, developed syllabus. Students will do a “Getting to Know You Bingo” game to build classroom community, as well as a syllabus and class procedure scavenger hunt with partners. Students will also be making “Getting to Know You” index cards that they will be handing in to me so that I can learn a bit about my students as well as use the cards as random name generators for calling on students. They will also be doing a “20 Minute Autobiography” where they respond to a number of questions written on the board. I will use this as a diagnostic way of seeing how they write and organize their thoughts as well as another method to get to know a bit more about my students. I cannot wait for the school year to start next week. It will be perfect, the classroom community will be great, and students will find my English class to be engaging and fun.
“I want 80% of my students to get a B or better,” -Ms. Groves
Survival: October 22, 2018
After a long weekend of grading the first string of long essays, I am beat, and it is only Monday. Today gets even better! My class of freshmen read an article independently today and I gave them graphic organizers with sentence starters to help them summarize the main points and determine the author’s perspective. When I observed Anthony’s response, I was baffled. I laughed along with him and said, “I do not think the author’s main point was the invention of Spongebob Squarepants.” He does this all the time; he does not try, and it is absolutely frustrating. While he is being funny about it, I do not know what to do to get him engaged or to get him to try. I have tried talking to him about trying before, but he just shrugs and tells me English is not important to him. He has a failing grade at present, and if I do not do something to make this content important to him, he will not learn and he will continue to not care. To top things off for the day, students in my period 5 English 11 class were not having the much-needed grammar lesson for today. Based on the writing I had previously received and handed back, it appeared that my juniors needed a review on subordinating and coordinating conjunctions, as well as when and how to use them. Ronny, one of my more troublesome students who likes to make snide remarks, said, “Why are we doing this? Do you think we are stupid?” Of course I did not think they were stupid, but finding the words to explain this review was a challenge, especially after being called out in this way in front of the whole class. Other students began to join him and the class period turned into an uncontrollable riot. It reminded me of Entertaining an Elephant by William McBride, and I figure tomorrow I will write an amazing quote on the board and have students discuss and reflect on the quote in their journals to give them a class day to focus on their own writing and ideas, rather than the grammar we were going to do…
“You attack the day or it attacks you,” -Ms. Groves
Survival: December 1, 2018
I need to make the final exams and books reports are going to be due on student Goodreads accounts next week. It is going to be a lot of grading before the winter break, but I am very anxious to see what some of my students will produce. There are some I know will not turn in a book review report on Goodreads, and that is a major assessment for the semester (students do a total of 4, 1 each month). Grading, grading, grading…
“Grade big things, not small things,” -Kayla Marley
Disillusionment (Winter Break): December 26-30, 2018
The results of the final exam for the semester were a bit disconcerting. I need to rethink my methods to get students engaged with the reading and show them why reading should matter to them personally…
I had great Christmas with my husband and his family yesterday and I am taking a well-needed break. I get to read my own books, play some video games, and enjoy nice mid-day naps to avoid thinking about my classes for just a few days.
Over the break, I am wondering if I taught well enough, or if I am the one who set them up to fail. What can I do at the beginning of the second semester to get my students motivated?
“Did I set them up to fail?” -Ms. Groves
Rejuvenation: February 10, 2019
Over the break and as the second semester began, I reevaluated how I do things. I have students doing more work with graphic organizers in hand-on activities and more jigsaw groups. I also had students write in their journals the percentage grade they want to leave the semester with. Having students set goals had really gotten them determined about succeeding and achieving their own goals. I am also doing a lot more art activities with the students and having them build a poetic journey portfolio project involving poems that students research, write themselves, songs of their interest, and illustrations by the students. This is going to be a semester-long thing with an abundant amount of class time spent on it. So far, the kids love it! Valentine’s Day is coming up and students will be writing “kindness notes” to each other as assigned by numbers (kind of like a white elephant gift exchange, but instead of gifts it is positive, empowered comments to classmates). We have also started doing “celebrations,” where 3-5 students share something positive that happened the day before. We have begun to do this everyday. Unlike last semester, this semester we have really built up the classroom community from the get-go, and students are more open and willing to share than they were the previous semester.
“Build the family atmosphere in the classroom,” -Kayla Marley
Reflection: June 20, 2019
Looking back on the whole school year, I have taken away what activities work and do not work with the students. When technology is involved, students seem more interested in the content, such as doing their book reviews on Goodreads or posting their poems on a portfolio-style blog using WordPress. I have tested out Google forms with the students to get their own feedback and input on what they remember the most, what they enjoyed,. and what they did not enjoy as much. I found that a few students would rather have worked independently more often than in groups, so perhaps next school year I will give those students an option. I have also found that giving students multiple options for projects or essay prompts allows student to write about what they want to write about while still demonstrating the main learning goals being assessed. I will be sure to add at least 2-3 more options for all the projects and prompts I will be repeating next year.
“Make use of technology,” -Kayla Marley
Anticipation: August 20, 2019
I have already set up my classroom in a similar way, but this year I have all five teaching periods of English 9 CP! It is a good thing I found out what worked and what did not work with the students last school year, but this is a whole new batch of kids. While I may have finally found some decent engagement strategies for my students last year, the same strategies might not appeal to my group of students this year. We will for sure be doing the Goodreads book reviews and the poetry portfolios, since those are major assessments that the students tend to have fun with while demonstrating their knowledge and understanding toward the learning goals. I will ensure students in the classroom have a “family” atmosphere right from the star, as well as having them set their own academic goals so that they have something to look back on when they feel discouraged. Let the academic year for 2019-2020 begin!
“It starts all over again,” -Phases of First Year Teachers’ Attitudes Towards Teaching