Archive for the 'First Year in the Classroom' Category

Year One: Complete


By Danny Smith


So I feel as if I start all of these saying how much better I’ll be about posting … blah blah blah…well, I don’t have to do that because it is summer and I am back to living the same boring life you all lead! I have been done for about a month now though, and have been back in the lower 48 for a few weeks. I have been sitting here wondering what I would write about and how I should write for the last few weeks. I think that this post will again be reflective, but before I do that, I want to list all of the new things I have tried or done in the past year:

New Foods Tried:
1. Akutaq
2. moose (dried, sticks, stew)
3. muskox (stew, chunks)
4. fish, dried (halibut, smelt, pike, whitefish,salmon, probably a ton more)
5. fresh and wild berries (cranberry, blueberry, salmonberry, blackberry)
6. seal oil
7. seal
8. shelf-stored milk
9. bird (duck, crane, goose, ptarmigan)
10. and the most important from an Alaskan’s P.O.V.: Tillamook Cheddar Cheese


New Things Attempted:
1. halibut fishing (proceeded to give to an elder at fish camp)
2. camping
3. salmon drifting (then used that salmon as bait for halibut)
4. wearing waders
5. holding a rifle
6. maqii (steam bath)
7. teaching by myself
8. running a student government
9. fundraising for a senior trip (despite it not working out)
10. trick-or-treating as an adult and walking into homes instead of knocking
11. speak a new language (Yugtun)
12. waking up at 6AM to fish alone before school
13. living without wifi at home
14. water conservation
15. -60 temperatures
16. seal skin/fur hat (never knew that fur was more than just for style)
17. SIOP lesson plans
18. Word Wall
19. casual conversations with students about firearms…
20. hauling water
21. riding in a sled of mail being pulled by a snowmachine over a melting river
22. riding on the back of a snowmachine
23. calling snowmobiles snowmachines
24. raising my eyebrows instead of saying ‘yes’
25. Iqmiik (aka black bull, or the native chewing tobacco)
26. flying to district trainings
27. not going through TSA to fly
28. Amazon Prime taking 2 weeks to deliver
29. paying $100 for a couple things at the store
30. boardwalks instead of roads

There are a ton more things I could add, but cannot think of at the moment, but there they are: 40 new experiences in the course of a year. As far as reflecting back goes, I’ve realized while writing this post that those lists kind of summarize my experience. I’d love to sit here and reflect on teaching practices and such, but that would get quite boring for the majority of you. As far as teaching goes, though, I will be spending the month of July working on lessons and such — many of which I have to just completely abandon and re-make due to how poorly designed they were. I think knowing our curriculum now and knowing my students and how they learn as individuals will benefit me tremendously going into next year.

As for my plans on staying or leaving is concerned, I have not made a decision on that. This upcoming year will definitely be the determining factor. My plan at the moment though is to be present (elders will tell the younger community members this often: to just be present in the moment and in my words, observe and absorb) and take things as they come, and then evaluate at winter break.

As far as this blog goes, I will probably keep it going throughout next year as well based on how popular it was among you all this past year. However, I am going to be realistic and not claim to have a post every week or every other week. I WILL try to keep it up once a month, or at the bare minimum bi-monthly.

I hope you have all enjoyed this year with me and have a great summer!


Six Tips for Classroom Management

classroom managementBy Nick Rocha – One of the most important aspects of the teaching profession involves effective classroom management skills.  After teachers plan out their lessons and curriculum, being able to properly implement the lesson within a classroom is crucial for engaged learning and to minimize disruptions.  Dave Foley, a retired teacher and counselor from Michigan, suggests six tips for classroom management.

  1. Take charge of your class: Before you start the lesson, make sure that you have everyone’s full attention and everyone is in their seats.
  2. Focus on disruptive students: Make sure to address instances of disruption through either non-verbal communication, pausing while giving a lecture, or specifically calling out the student’s name in class to answer questions or to give their opinion.
  3. Let students choose their seats: Dave argues that allowing students to decide on their own seating arrangement gives them “ownership” of their spot and often encourages students to behave well so that they do not get moved.
  4. Give incentives to do their best on assignments: Sometimes assignments are either not graded or collected from the students. One strategy is to tell the class that all of the activities will be collected and one response will be randomly selected to be evaluated on the board.  If the response is well done, the teacher can give incentives such as smaller warm-up assignments.
  5. Keep an eye on your students: When you are teaching, make sure that you are in visible site with all of your students within the classroom. This allows you to make eye contact with all of your students and address concerns before they become disruptions.  Another recommendation is to vary your position in the room when you teach.
  6. Establish consequences for misbehaving: It is important to explain expectations and consequences of actions in the early days of class. One tactic is to write a student’s name down on the board if they are misbehaving and mention that if they do well for the rest of the class, they name will be erased from the board.  A consequence of having the name on the board could be staying after class.  Dave recommends that teachers should follow up with their consequences of misbehavior to show students that you are serious and as a result they will be serious with you.

New Year, New Role

13965306323_217afc85c3_oBy Shannon Bentley –  Happy belated holidays, readers, and Happy New Years!

It has been a long time since I have written a blog and, trust me, I have missed the tiny steps and taps of the black and white keyboard. Since the end of November, I have been diligently working as the new 10th grade English teacher at Washington High School. The transition has been a bumpy road, but I am surviving the teenage battlefields of hormones, cliques, dominance, and identities. I am embarking on an endless journey trying to discover my own teaching techniques and my identity as a teacher. But at the end of the day, it’s all about the students.

Final exams are coming, which means that the first semester is almost over! My workload consists of figuring out how to motivate my students in their learning experiences. They’re currently reading the novel “Night” by Elie Wiesel, and the book caught some of the students’ interests, but left a drag in the rest. The students cannot identify themselves with “Night.” Even though the Holocaust did create cruel outcomes for millions of Jewish people, the students chose to ignore the cruel outcomes. My co-teacher and I tried to give mini explanations on Syria and countries in Africa. Unfortunately, the students have a strong belief that the Holocaust will never affect them.

Therefore, my co-teacher and I began to orchestrate a number of possibilities that we could turn in to empowering unit plans. We took in to account our students identities. The first key to creating unit plans is knowing what your students might be interested in learning. The past three weeks that I have been with my students, I have come to understand that they are from low socioeconomic backgrounds, most of the students know someone who has died through violence and/or went to jail, the students love to create raps, and they also love to talk about sports. We took those interests and created ideas.

We came up with unit plans as monthly themes so that the students are not stuck on one topic for more than 4 weeks. These topics consist of research on their identity as black youth such as the Black Lives Matter movement, black women’s hair, sports, employment, education, etc. We also thought of doing slam poetry, teaching Shakespeare’s Othello, along with a follow-up unit of film adaptations of the classical play. Will these ideas interest all of the students? Probably not. However, as a teacher, you have to start somewhere, especially when you want your students to learn the necessary reading and writing skills.

It is important to always reach the students based on their interests. We have seen classrooms on the news more successful in that aspect. My co-teacher and I will test our ideas and put them to work, along with changing our techniques when teaching the information to the students.  It is a bumpy road, but I am willing to learn and be dedicated. It is like one of my education professors at Marquette said: “If you quit after your first year, how do you know that you learned?”

Rethinking Black History Month

black-history-monthBy Elizabeth Turco — February is one of the most important months.

It signifies love, through Valentine’s Day.  It shows presidential spirit with George Washington and Abraham Lincoln celebrating birthdays and the annual celebration of Presidents Day. The Super Bowl happens in this month. It is the strange month with the extra day every four years. It gives hope as it is the first month where winter starts its end. Of all the things that make February great, however, there is one over which I am torn: Black History Month.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love celebrating African American culture and historical importance, especially in the classroom. I like that the culture gets a chance to celebrate and be emphasized instead of simply being forgotten and passed over.

However, I do not like the hidden message that the notion of Black History Month sends.

The tradition of Black History Month spans almost ninety years. Ninety years ago, America was at its peak of racism. Reconstruction movements were completely ended and all but forgotten about. The Civil Rights Movement had not yet started. What started as Black History Week was an attempt to emphasize and celebrate an oppressed culture. Sixty years later, as a part of the Civil Rights Movement, this celebration was lengthened to the entire month of February. African Americans had their chance to become better recognized and appreciated across the nation.

As a history teacher I was met with a mental conflict about how to approach this month. Should I go out of my way to teach the African American influence in history? Should I just keep going on as scheduled? I was uncertain of where to find the balance.

My semester curriculum includes African American history. To only cover it in depth in February would be impossible. The African American influence in history is just as significant as the white influence. To only tell a one sided story, regardless of the side, would be an incomplete picture. Racial tensions have marked this nation from the very beginning and white and African American relations are a constant.

To have one month set aside for the celebration of one culture, regardless of which one it is, to me, is wrong. While it is good to embrace diversity and learn more about others, it is bad to set them apart so strongly. Continuing Black History Month only continues segregation.

To have one month for African American history would imply that all eleven other months are for white history. African Americans represent more than 1/12 of American history. This also poses the question: African Americans get their own month, should every culture get their own month? While there are months for different heritages, they are not as well-known as Black History month, even though their history is important, too.  While the history of America is full of black and white racial issues, there are a variety of other races involved too. Dividing history by the race of the people participating in it only continues the separation between races, instead of bringing them closer together.

The Curse of the Inspirational Teacher Movie

Inspirational-Teacher-moviesBy Elizabeth Turco — With my student teaching right around the corner, I have been preparing long and hard.

No, I have not been rereading all my education books from the last few years, nor have I been looking back through my old notes. I have been doing what I imagine all prospective teachers are doing to get excited for teaching: watching inspirational teacher movies. 

These movies are great and all follow the same equation: young naïve teacher + urban school + dedication and enthusiasm – life problems = success in the classroom. Everyone wins. Everyone lives happily ever after.

In the midst of friendship and fuzzy feelings, however, is an unsettling plot element. In every inspirational teacher movie, there is always at least one old and jaded teacher, who disagrees with every innovative and engaging activity that the new teacher brings to the classroom. These teachers are shown as the mean and uppity antagonist—and are more preoccupied with making their job easier than benefiting the students. They oppose all the new and innovative teaching techniques that these new teachers bring to the table.  They are exactly how society perceives old teachers.

As a new teacher it makes me worry. Having the old teachers as a road block for success is troublesome. Weren’t those teachers once young and eager for success? What has happened to them to make them so negative and jaded? The more I watch these movies, the more I fear for myself, turning into this creature, one who hates students and longs for the beloved school vacations.

Especially as a new teacher, I worry of encountering the many problems in education, but having no positive role models to turn to, thus making myself an army of one. Can I handle these teachers like in those movies? In addition to showing the greatness that teaching can have, these movies also show teaching at its worst. These movies tell me that my effective teaching time is on a countdown. Eventually, I will become just like the crabby old teachers, ineffective and uncaring. The pressure of student difficulties will overwhelm my high hopes, enthusiasm, and pizazz, therefore destroying me.

This simple stereotype of old teachers cannot be true. Do years of experience count for nothing? In my own experiences, I have encountered my fair share of wonderful older teachers and incapable new teachers. These movies show youth as the key to educational success, but is that really true? To become an expert in something, you have to do it over and over again, for years. One does not simply walk into a classroom and make an infinite amount of impact with no prior knowledge of how to do it. While these inspirational teacher movies are heartwarming and give hope to all new teachers, they do not give justice to experience.

Juggling Your Responsibilities

images (4)By Matthew Olinski — I wanted to let everyone know of my talent: I’m a juggler.

No, not that kind of juggler. I don’t have 3 chainsaws whirling past me or even 3 brightly colored balls, apples, etc, although I have tried in the past.  What I am referring to is a very practical skill that all educators, and quite honestly, most people have to do in their careers.  I will admit in some ways, I have it a little easier than others.  I have to juggle my career, my family, and my hobbies.  Luckily, I have recently taken graduate classes out of the juggling act.  In that sub category of career, there are also several other items to juggle at the same time.

There are quite a few demands placed on people who wish to be successful in their careers.  There is the time demanded to make quality lessons. I am always revamping my lessons.  I have tried to use more technology, different technology, more focus on students presenting.  There are committees to serve on, activities to supervise, and meetings to attend.  This is a well balanced act.

New teachers have a lot of energy, a lot of ambition, and sometimes — often being single –they have more time to divide up these activities with.  This is great.  But, be careful.  There is a steep learning curve in the education field.  One of the reasons why I wanted to go into education was to share my knowledge, not just in the classroom, but in extracurricular activities I was experienced in as well.

I remember my first year of teaching, when I would get done with cross country practice after 5:30 or so, and then have to make sure my plans were set for the next day, and then try to eat something healthy.  That routine continued throughout the year as I volunteered to be in charge of another club and then a track coach in the spring.  It was a whirlwind of a school year. I enjoyed the connections I made that year. I was even taught how to ride a BMX bike by another teacher friend of mine, Jamie Licht, and several students. Graduate school was the last thing on my mind at the time.

Life has changed quite a bit since that first year.  I am active as a WIAA football official, I’m married now, and I’ve got a young daughter.  I have seen my role change in the school as well.  It is a matter of balancing out what activities are absolutely necessary and which another teacher can share their time and energy level in.  I feel that if I am not able to give my maximum effort, the students are getting cheated.  So, I had to adjust the parts of my life that I was juggling as I went.

As we approach a new school year, there will be many new teachers entering into a classroom.  There are going to be a lot of people asking you to volunteer for or coach an activity.  That is a reason why many people get into this field in the first place.

I say: good luck and congratulations.  Just be careful in how much you commit yourself to.  It can be overwhelming to some people.  Remember that your primary role is an educator. If that part of your career begins to suffer, the extracurricular activities might be available either.

Mid-Year Challenges: Introducing New Students Into the Classroom

BePreparedBy Dana Berens — After having a three-week (spring) break, getting back into the swing of the classroom was tough!

While it made me appreciate the calendar set up of a year round school, it also surprised me how long three weeks was. While it was fantastic prep time, the one thing I could not prep for was the new students waiting for me.

I know, and have heard constantly in my four years at Marquette, that as educators we need to constantly expect the unexpected. Always be on our toes. Stay spontaneous.

I had considered the possibility of one new student joining the classroom after break…but when I found out that there would be three, it blew my mind.

Three more copies of the already planned week needed to be run off. Three more folders needed to be prepped for homework. Three more students need to be tested and assessed to decide which differentiated group they should be in. three new personalities and behaviors to blend into an environment. It is a lot, and one more reality check of being in the classroom.

What seemed to be a stressful situation, at first, shortly became a great experience. Not only was I tested in my preparation and organization, but I was also given the experience to introduce and integrate new students into the classroom. In addition, I was able to observe my students as they took on peer leadership roles. They offered to show students which stations to work at, where to get materials, where to sit at lunch, and played with them at recess.

It was a breath of fresh air to see my students, who can be quick to be feisty, remain calm and take on mentoring roles for the newcomers. Seeing my student’s kindness and maturity is another silver lining to hold on to for those days where 4:00 cannot come soon enough.

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