The 12 Days ‘Til Christmas

That’s one thing I do miss about teaching at the religious school- I got to do a lot of fun Christmas-related activities which made everyone happy (and make time go more quickly, as, let’s face it, everyone wants Christmas vacation), and, it got me in the Christmas spirit. Right now, my state of mind is pretty wretched. I’ve been wanting to quit, which is ludicrous, but it is also ludicrous how stressed I’ve felt at times as well.

I can teach about Christmas-related stuff, as Noel is a French term, and there’s culture involved in it because ~97% of French people are Catholic. So, I’ll keep it PC and focus on the French, and add in a little something for everyone. And we can always get secular, n’est-ce pas?!

So I’m going to try and blog for the next 12 days, with a goal of getting somewhat closer to a state of a festive spirit. And, I’m hoping to inspire the children as well, whether they celebrate Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, or Festivus or something else!

Today I didn’t do anything at school geared toward the holidays. It was a difficult day. Wait, scratch that, I started to put up a long-delayed bulletin board with various posters of things talking about Christmas in France.

So that was a start, and this blogging kicks off (and up) some good cheer for me. Tomorrow, I’ll go over the “Holiday Wish” vocabulary sheet I handed out to one class on Friday. And I’ll finish that bulletin board!

A Turn for the Better

Sometimes life really is about how you approach it. I also believe in the philosophy of The Secret– the more energy you put into thinking about something (negatively or positively), the more will come out of it (negatively or positively, depending on what your stance is). The old “what you resist, persists”. I was starting to get in a bad mood about this year, before it began, based on some of the troubles of last year. And part of it has to do with personal matters which have caused me to lack enthusiasm for the upcoming year.

However, I know that, once it starts, I will remember the charm of those wacky high school students and their voyage into learning a wonderful foreign language. (I will also be reminded of why I hated them at times too).

Anyway, because of my lack of interest in thinking about school this Summer (natural for most teachers, isn’t it?!), I wasn’t on top of my setting-things-up game. I was preparing, but not attentively. Planning, but not adequately. I was scared because there weren’t even chairs in my classroom and it was mid-August!!!

And then I got chairs. And though I didn’t have bookshelves (moved into a new classroom), I’m going to get them tomorrow. And because I got up the guts to ask around, I will get a Smartboard for the beginning of school while I wait for one to be mounted and installed in my room.

Some teachers who stumble across this blog might be flabbergasted that I was upset about not having a Smartboard for a few weeks when they don’t even have enough chairs or books for their students. And I do sympathize with the upset feelings that can come with education, schools, funding and all of that unfairness. I am teaching in a private school (same school as last year), and every school has its ups and downs.

So I’m happy. I kicked this good thinking, good feeling stint off by marching over to the office where you get your keys (the guy was on vacation), and I got keys. I thought since he was out of the office I wouldn’t get any, but I wanted to see if his assistant knew if or when I could get them. And lo and behold, he was actually there! And I got keys that day!

I wonder how many teachers out there feel like nothing ever goes right for them, and how much that expectation sets them up for the same scenario to be recreated? Just like having low expectations (or even worse, biased expectations) can predict learning outcomes?

I know I may be getting a little too far into the mind-body-spirit side of things, but I’m just trying to remind other fellow teachers that you never know what might happen this year!

Today was a huge shift of attitude about this year, and it all started with moving a filing cabinet, sending an email or two, and a spark of belief somewhere in me that knows that it will most likely be an easier year than last year in many ways.

(Yes, I do still need to do some last minute cramming planning and classroom prep, but I know it’ll all pull itself together enough at least to get through the first few days until I can get a small break around Labor Day!)

Once You Hit Spring Break, the Year’s Nearly Over!

This is what a cousin of mine in his second year of teaching told me. At first I didn’t believe him, especially since my school has a really early Spring Break (beginning of March), but now that my long Easter weekend is here, I see what he was saying.

As the year turns into countable days left (the kids have a very accurate count of exactly how many days, and how many more school days there are remaining in this first year of my teaching), I realize that I am now looking at working backwards from the end of the year, to try and figure out what’s most important and what overall goals I’d like to see achieved by the end of the year.

And it’s crazy to think how few weeks are really left, and how I have an upcoming project, some important concepts for all levels, a few neglected activities, and then BOOM- it’ll be exams before I know it. I guess my pacing this year is really a practice test for next year, when I hope to have a much more solid hold on my plans. I anticipate some good outlining of possible time lines for each level, both because we’re getting a new book, and because I know a lot more about what to expect.

So I guess there is some logic to that reasoning after all. It’s going to fly, and then I’ll be writing backdated posts all Summer to make it feel like a worthwhile site to have 😉

Organization- a crucial skill for an educator

I’m exhausted from coming back after Spring Break (went to California so there’s a 3-hour-jet-lag and then the time changed!!!), but I wanted to write something. I could complain about being tired and always feeling too busy to post anything, but instead I’ll share a few thoughts about planning and organizination and organizing planning!

Planning for me takes way too much time. I guess first-year you’re coming up with a lot of lesson plans, activities, and ideas, and I could use them next year. I also have a textbook from 1998 that I really don’t like, and we did order a new one so even though it’ll be different I know that will cut down on planning demands. (They have much more comprehensive supplementary materials and it’s not old and confusing).

If I really focus and do my planning in large chunks, I can get it done earlier in the afternoon/early evening and not feel like that’s all I do. Grading is still a changing variable. So the first step is trying to organize planning into 2 or 3 small segments (maybe one right after teaching, one 1 1/2 hour chunk in the early evening, and one during a prep or free period?). This is something I aim to do (when I focus solely on planning and don’t get distracted it does go quickly and is somewhat enjoyable).

Organization is also very important in readiness and preparedness. I find that I can end up with tons and tons of papers and handouts. I need to do a better job of recycling and organizing. If you start of by making an extra copy and a “key” for some sheets and promptly file it away into a binder, you’re already ahead of me! I suggest to anyone who is not that organized to try this, or to pencil in 30 minutes in your schedule to organize notebooks, your office, etc…very important. And you must have a system for keeping handouts/graded papers/papers to grade in order. I’ll admit I’m still working on this (unfortunately I’m not terribly organized in my outside-of-school life). But I’m getting there.

It’s not just materials that need organizing- it’s also the little side things like make-up work, rewards, and that other administration stuff (emails, blablabla). And of course lesson-organizing is a whole other subject.

Organization is something teachers preach to students, and it goes both ways!

Advice from a new procrastinator-pro teacher about planning over the weekends

I haven’t yet taken this advice, and I plan to not just “try”, but I plan to SUCCEED this weekend in doing work early. I am still getting over the nasty habit of procrastinating. And when the weekend comes, most new teachers are all “I needed this 3 days ago…bad”. This week I was really tired, and almost got sick. I’ll have to update about how my meeting went too (good overall, but interestingly interesting too).

My, oh my, for a “teacher of a language” I like to blog with such improper and informal language 🙂 . We had a nice talk about slang and old and new French in class which I liked (even though I was planning on drilling them the whole class because they had done so poorly on the review test!!!)

So my advice to teachers as far as weekends go are this- plan your time well. Put in a few hours at the end of the day Friday before you leave the office (ideal!), have some rest, maybe a walk, bath, or dinner, and do a few hours of light work Friday evening. This could be grading, organizing, reflection, upcoming plan ideas, what-have-you.

Doing a few hours on Friday is ideal, especially if you have an event on Saturday. You can do something Friday evening, maybe around 9pm after you’ve worked from 7:30-9 (and you worked from 2:30-4pm). That’s 3 solid hours. Saturday you could do an hour or two depending on how much you did Friday. You can fit it in somewhere!

(I know I will be sleeping in a bit on weekends until I get my schedule somewhere near acceptable (right now I sleep wayyyy too little)) But don’t sleep in too late. Get some exercise. Do something relaxing and non-school related. Have a glass of wine? (Getting drunk on the weekends is obviously not ideal for educators because a- it’s not good role-modeling and b- it takes up way too much time, and you don’t feel good after getting drunk!

Do have fun, see your friends, re-meet your boyfriend/girlfriend or spouse! Have a date, play with your kids (oh my! I can’t imagine having kids and teaching, but that’s probably because I’m a first-year teacher!!)

Whatever you do- do not save all your work for Sunday. If you’re a true procrastinator like me, you’ll probably get a little panicky and do even more effective procrastination, but still procrastinate (I will do my laundry, go shopping, blog (ha), call family- whatever it takes to make myself think I’m taking care of business- without grading and lesson-planning)

To recap:

1) Space out your work over the weekend

2) Prioritize and do work that seems appropriate for the given time of day/day of weekend

3) Take into account how busy your weekend is otherwise (hopefully not too much else going on) and do more work on the other days

4) Don’t stay up too late, don’t sleep in too late (I am a sinner in this category!), but, DO REST UP (mind and body)!

4) GET SOME DONE BEFORE SUNDAY- otherwise you will not just dread Sunday, but also Monday (2 days out of 7 is too many!)

I hope that helps, and I am off to do some of my Friday work 🙂

First Year Teachers Can Really Benefit From Wise, Experienced Teachers

Thus far I’ve gotten a lot of good wisdom and insight into how to handle kids, classes, planning, and grading. Unfortunately the situation with the variance in French levels was caused by the former French teacher with whom I am in a sticky situation (more on that later). So I am still planning a ton- I decided I am going to use more of the book and series’ material, even though I don’t like it. I can supplement it some days more than others, and cut out parts that are irrelevant. That would help make a little bit less work for me.

I was searching on the internet and stumbled across some specific advice a seasoned French teacher was giving a new one. It’s on teachers.net, a great site I’ve come across before while searching for education questions. The question is here First-Year Teacher- Help! and a teacher gives some really good tips in her response. Here are some I particularly liked:

Trying TPR which is new to this 1st year teacher– She said don’t trouble yourself with new methodologies you are not familiar with. Bookmark areas where you could use it and look it over to use next year.

What to focus on planning before school starts- Really, I did not plan well enough before school started, but I have my excuses (accepting the job offer kind of late, thinking I would be able to get better materials, and more) but I could have planned more units to use. The veteran teacher suggests doing the work to plan out preliminary units so you know where you’re heading. It would help me personally to have better resources (ie from after the year 1998)

What kind of homework for French 1– I like what she says about trying to not give busywork, instead to help reinforce what was gone over in class. I also think it’s good to have exercises that check student’s ability to understand and use the material- not just to repeat and repeat and memorize. My supervisor during student teaching reminded me to keep the purpose in mind with homework “Why? What will the gain out of it? Is it collected and how is it graded? How can they learn from it?”

She also talks about using effective bell ringers and calling out a “pack leader” who might be spurring misbehavior. I have heard a million times to start out harsh and “don’t crack a smile until January” so I’ve done my best to be both firm and fair. Overall the thread was a nice read.

I definitely think more appropriate mentoring would be nice in my situation, and for many new teachers. There is a lot of little side work that I didn’t know I’d have to do, and that’s fine, but some of it isn’t explained to me and I have to go about finding who to ask in the first place.

I’m pretty sure I’m not getting paid enough 🙂  But I guess if I stick with it it’ll get easier, and then if I stick with it for a few years it will really pay off. I can always hope!

Creating a French Course Syllabus

It has not been easy for me to decide what to put on my syllabus and what to leave out. Of course I want to include as much as possible, but right now I’m looking at 2 pages full of information and I will not let it run onto 3. Figuring out my focus and goals for the course has been a good process, and a fun challenge. I want to express that I care about the students learning not just the language, but the culture and other parts of it- and I hope that we will learn in ways that everyone can enjoy.

Multiple intelligences are big for me, and I want to teach and have activities in all areas so that students who learn better this way or that way will have instruction and experiences in their preferred learning style, and they will get a chance to strengthen their areas of learning difficulty.

It’s also hard to know what to do with the upper levels, as I’ve talked to last years’ French teachers, and they say the students might not be where I’d expect them to be (French 2’s didn’t get to past tense, etc.)

I want to go over coursework and grading, but not too much. And I have a whole paragraph on cheating. I suppose there are some things I could go over and reword or group better to make it shorter. In the end I think it is better to lay more of it out there to begin, because students will say “That wasn’t in the syllabus!

Hopefully I will get that Smartboard in my classroom before school starts so I can complement going over the syllabus with a nice Powerpoint presentation. But who knows- I still don’t even have akey to my own office!

Wish me luck (now I’m going to search on the internet for other teachers’ syllabi and input)!

Prepping, Planning, Procrastinating

I’m getting excited about teaching, but also nervous about feeling unprepared. The best way to help this would be doing more “prep”. But it’s tough to do without a computer of any sort in my office, and without keys! The behind-the-scenes getting myself moved into the school involves a lot more emails and requests and details than I would have thought. I guess it’s a good lesson in taking charge and NOT PROCRASTINATING.

Procrastinating is a lot of what I’ve been doing. I told myself I would prepare and plan all of August, but I moved into a new apartment, and I have been working on getting this and that (I have keys to my classroom, but not my office yet), and I end up making a lot of excuses.

A teacher today did tell me that the students will probably be far behind what I think (as far as level of language mastery thus far goes) so that gives me more of an excuse to put off planning.

I guess the best idea would be to continue to acquaint myself with the material, and to finalize my syllabus. I do not think I’m going to include specific dates on the syllabus- just overall general coursework. I don’t want to do all that guess work and then have the kids get upset when the dates don’t match up.

I have a teacher planner that I bought at Office Depot (I believe it was there) and I think it will help with planning.

The next step to conquer is propelling my brain and motivation into gear, because time is flying by and September will come knocking soon enough.