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Monthly Archives: August 2009

So, the first time I tried to write about this topic, I ended up just scribbling spirals and zigzags in a notebook. A completely failed endeavor.

Before I defaulted to spirals to help myself contemplate my feelings of anticipation and nervousness associated with the start of the school year, I had in mind a witty vignette for this post, in which I would muse on the monstrous back-to-school displays at my local Target. I planned to deftly tie in some commentary on the differences between being a student and being a teacher during the back-to-school madness.

But I think there’s something more honest to take away from my writing-turned-doodles (other than the fact that I draft my blog posts on paper), and that’s this: I really do have a lot on my mind. So I’m going to keep it real. As a first year teacher looking to September 1st, here’s where my thoughts are going…

1. Who’s going to walk through that door? I am so excited and nervous about meeting my students. I was lucky enough to be hired at the school where I did my middle school student teaching, so I already have an idea about the school population–it’s actually really fantastic, because there are students from so many different backgrounds, races, and languages… I love that. I’m teaching 7th grade English, 12th grade English, and Writing Lab, so I’ll get to see a broad range of age levels. Also, I’m really pumped about the fact that I’ll eventually have some of my former eighth graders again, once they become seniors. But I’m also aware of the huge class sizes and wondering if these kids will be as sweet as the students I had there last year. Since I’ll have about 130 students total–that’s a conservative estimate–I’m really worried about logistical things like learning all those names, remembering who’s in which class, and enduring the giant workload when it comes time to grade papers.

2. Can I handle this without going insane? Self-explanatory… I technically have 7 months of true full-time teaching experience already, but I can’t help feeling that this is the “big deal”, since it’s my first permanent postition (and the first to offer a full salary). Teaching takes a spark, and I’m very aware of mine… and afraid of losing it. I’ve done so well so far, but the possibility of self-doubt lurks around a couple corners. Can I really do this?

3. I am SO thankful for the many supports I have in place! One thing that eases my nerves is thinking about the awesome support system that I am fortunate enough to have. MPS has historically given very little support to its new teachers, and as a result has seen a tremendous turnover rate. Lucky for me, they have recognized and remedied this phenomenon by assigning various mentors at the district and school levels. I feel totally upheld by my district level mentor, who I just met this past week. She’s unbelievably bright, experienced, and simply nice. And get this: she will be checking on me and offering support every week. Unbelievable, right?! Not only that, but I have a great mentor at my site, and my “buddy teacher” is my former cooperating teacher, who I trust and respect completely. Add to the mix my super-supportive family and friends, and I have a very fortified network. I am deeply, deeply thankful for all of them.

4. Will I be able to get my classroom and unit plan ready in time? The first day of school is fast approaching and I’m still moving in to my classroom, and I have many things I want to revise for my first-few-weeks game plan. I’m trying not to get overwhelmed, but I certainly don’t want to be underprepared. I’m trying to work as much as I can, yet still find some time to enjoy these last precious days of summer. Deep. Breaths.

5. Why am I doing this? Amidst all the nervousness, it’s good to remember why I’m here. I’m here because teaching is my calling. Because I care about this city’s youth. Because I have passion and creativity that I want to share. Because writing, reading, and critical thinking are some of the highest human callings. Because I love literature. Because I love to question. Because I want to share my knowledge and excitement with others. Because I love to have intelligent discussions about things that matter in this world. Because I am commited. Because I know how to teach well. And because no one can do it like me.

Here’s to a successful fall term. Wish me luck!

I just wanted to write a brief note about an organization that I just registered with: Adopt-A-Classroom. It’s a nonprofit organization that allows both private donors and groups to contribute money to classrooms for needs that take a bit of financing. This is an awesome way for any teacher to raise that funding needed for field trip dues that your students can’t meet, a multicultural classroom library, a Smartboard, or anything else you can dream up. Donations are tax-deductible for the donors, and endlessly appreciated by teachers and students. You can pick a specific teacher to donate to (say, me, for instance… ha ha!), or just make a general, anonymous contribution. It’s a very direct way to see the results of your charity–teachers and students give feedback straight to you on how the funds have been spent!

If you’re a teacher, sign up now. If you’re a kind soul who wants to help schools, teachers, and kids, please consider donating either online or by mail. You can do this and learn much more at their website. Click the link below to get started:

Adopt-A-Classroom’s Homepage

We live in a world where design matters. Whether it’s the latest hip renovation at a local restaurant, the subtle texture combinations in a bride’s bouquet, or the painstakingly selected shade of perfection in a newly-painted kitchen, we’re all seeking aesthetics that capture a the right vibe. By “vibe,” I mean mood, idea, feel, environment, inspiration.

As I’m looking forward to preparing my new classroom, I’m thinking a lot about what vibe I want to send to my students and how I can use my love of design to help accomplish this. Come with me as I mentally meander through some of my thoughts on Class Aesthetics. (Or, if you will go so far as to humor me, “Classthetics”.)

A very dear friend of mine, who also happens to be a first-year teacher–let’s call her Ms. Matthews–made a brilliant switch in her class vibe during her student teaching placement last semester. Being at a school where extreme behavior issues and safety could be a concern, she had to implement a policy of checking each student’s ID at the door before allowing them into the classroom. Definitely a pretty strict practice for most high schoolers, this ID check could make the school seem like a prison. However, Ms. Matthews gave the situation a genius twist. She began to refer to her classroom as “Club Matthews.” With a simple name change, a prominently placed sign, and a dash of humor, she turned the line of students at the door from a group of inmates to a line of hipsters proving that they were worthy to enter this exclusive “club.” She promoted her classroom as a place that was desirable and cool–excellent vibe!

It’s this kind of attitude switch that I want to use the power of aesthetics to create. We have all been in classrooms plastered from floor to ceiling with informative posters about “How to Use Adjectives” (which nobody ever reads), those inspirational “You Can’t Have Success Without Effort!” pictures (usually featuring some white ten-year-old from the 90’s painting a picture of a dove), and some stereotypical cardboard apples with glasses-wearing worms popping out of them (by the end of the semester, everyone wants to take the smirk off of that worm’s face). What am I saying here? Am I decrying the long-held tradition of happy, squeaky-clean, educational posters in classrooms? Am I really going that far? Maybe I am.

Here’s my issue with the cute posters in high school classrooms–their vibe is false. Generic posters with syrupy messages do not reflect the dramatic inner lives of teenagers, nor do they give students the feeling that they are in a place that is interesting to them or even concerned about them. My point of view is this: give a classroom a personality and an aesthetic that is mature, inspiring, and genuine. Skip the apples. Students already know they’re in school. Often, they’re trying to forget that they are in school. So, I say, stop schooling them to death with school-related learning propaganda. Rather, enrich their visual environment for maximum inspiration and interest. Create a place that is organic, comfortable, fascinating, and true.

Go from this:

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To this:

Now comes the tough part… HOW does one go about creating a unique and appropriate classroom vibe? It’s kind of scary territory to step outside of the educational poster box. So here are some helpful tips that I have for myself and others.

HOW TO CREATE THE IDEAL CLASS AESTHETIC

1. Determine the vibe you’re going for. Just as the teacher’s presence makes a huge first impression, so does the appearance of a classroom. What look are you trying to achieve? Serious and businesslike? Bohemian enclave? Spunky and colorful? Soothing and peaceful? Knowing the  message you’re after will help you select the right images, colors, and overall organization.

2. Ditch the learning posters and replace them with beautiful and interesting fine art, photography, and student-created art/writing. Period. Display at will.

3. Attempt to create a more comfortable space, whether this means utilizing natural light from a big window, installing some colorful curtains, featuring some alternative seating in a specific area (bean bags, carpet, castoff armchairs), or incorporating colors that stimulate the brain and outweigh the otherwise overbearing off-white walls. The actual aesthetics of a classroom should draw students in and invite them to stay, rather than create a desire to get out as soon as possible.

4. Consider seating arrangement. Are traditional rows of desks best for what you are trying to achieve? Consider large tables, or pairs/quads of desks if collaboration is typical. You can also go for the classic discussion circle. I’ve also heard that a large V-shape with just two rows is great for classroom management because each student is fairly near to the teacher at all times.

5. Compartmentalize. If there’s enough room in the classroom, creating separate “stations” for computers, a classroom library, or writing center can add interest and offer a refuge for all types of students during study time.

6. Add new things or change aspects of your design periodically to keep the look fresh. Consult student input on any new additions in order to involve your class community!

7. Currently the most important tip for me… Find a donor who can help you fund your classroom aesthetic aspirations! 🙂

Happy class designing!