I can still remember the lesson like it was yesterday. I was excited about it. I had an article, a video, and this group activity that would get my students to learn all about potential bias in media. It seemed so clear. They would be engaged. They would love it. And, most importantly, they would acquire this essential skill. It was the middle of September and I was ready to make a major point that would be the centerpiece of the year.
Except, it didn’t work.
The majority of the class was confused. And, after watching them go through the activity, I could see all of the gaps that I had in that lesson. I assumed way too much, didn’t scaffold enough, and was definitely unprepared for the possibility that the lesson would flop.
Nine months later, that day still bothers me. There were other days like that this year. Of course, there were the good days and then downright magical days, but those epic fails stick with me. This time of year, those fails keep coming back up in my mind.
As a high school teacher, the beginning of June signals the beginning of the end. Unlike our colleagues at the elementary and middle school levels, our days with our kids are fewer due to state exams and final exams. Instead of being with our kids and enjoying them, we are proctoring exams, grading state assessments, or simply planning for next year. And, for some, that time is cut even shorter with in-class final exams and/or project presentations eating up that precious time. Thus, these first 10 days of June begin the reflection process during our final classes with them. What was our best moment? Who were the kids that we will never forget? Did we do everything in our power to make our class meaningful to them?
For me, it always comes down to one question.
Did I do enough?
This time of year, I constantly fight the feeling that the answer is no. And, that is something difficult to wrap my brain around. As someone who always wants to do the best for kids, there were so many days where I didn’t quite hit the mark in class or where I wasn’t all in. Did I unknowingly say something to a kid that made them feel bad about themselves? Did I not make enough time for a kid because I was running to a meeting or something? Everyone has those moments, even those who love their job.
Thoughts like that run through my head because I know the impact we have on kids. Our words, our actions, our attitude can change a kid’s life. Our classroom lessons, the ones that are more than just the content, can set a kid on a course for a happy, fulfilled life.
So, June, for me, is a time for reflecting on my practices. What did I do well? What is in need of change? How can I become better? It’s a time to reflect on the relationships developed. Did I connect with every kid? Are there any kids who need more of me before they leave for two months? Have I overlooked anyone?
As I reflect, I do need answers and I do need to take action with the little time remaining. As always, the answers are with the kids. For instruction feedback, I will simply ask them. Every year, I hand out a course evaluation form. I ask them what they liked, what they didn’t like, what things I did well, things that I didn’t do well. I’ll ask them for their most memorable moment. I’ll ask them for what they thought was a waste of time. Because I am constantly evaluating myself in front of them all year, most students are brutally honest.
And, I am grateful for that. I want to get better. I want to know if I am thorough when doing direct instruction. I want to know if my style of simply guiding each individual works. I want their input. Each summer, I will go through the evaluations and take notes. Those notes lead to goals for the following year. Because of the kids, I will be better for my future students.
With the remaining time, I focus much more on firming up our relationships and keeping kids engaged. I want them to know that I am still “all in”, even if I’ve had some bad days mixed in. My classes become even more free during this time. They are still working, but we have much more discussions about life, about the future, or what’s the latest thing going on in their lives. I want to hear whatever they are thinking. I want to laugh even more with them. I want them to know that I have truly enjoyed this year and that they have made such on impact on me. I hope I’ve made even a fraction of that impact on them.
I want them to know that although they are leaving my room, they will forever be one of my crew and that they come back to me for anything. I want them to know although they are advancing in school, they should always remember our two rules in our class: they are writers and they are infinitely more than just a number. And, of course, there is the third rule: they can change the world. They are that strong.
I also want them to know that I am not simply counting the days until we are done. So, I feel the need to do things a bit differently, keeping them on their toes, keeping them engaged. So, if that means entering class through the window, I’ll do it. If it means, trying out a lesson that I never did before, going outside to read on a nice day, or have a debate about whatever issue they seem to be interested on that given day, I’ll do it. I want them to know that I care enough about them and the class to still do new things, even as we are winding down.
It is easy to get lost in the regrets. I definitely struggle with that, but I try to be proactive. I want to learn from those regrets, those mistakes. That’s exactly what I’ve been telling students all year–they shouldn’t dwell on mistakes or poor performances. They should learn from them and continue to get better. So, I try to put that into my own practice. I’ll ask them for feedback. I’ll take what they say and get better.
And, most importantly, I will show them just how much they mean to me. They are amazing people who have given me yet another magical year. I will miss our time together; I will miss our laughs. I will miss their greetings as I walked into the room each day. I will miss the side jokes, the Empanada runs, The Office jokes, their sighs when I would say that we have real work to do, and each individual person who made up such a great group to hang out with each day.
My biggest June reflection?
I have the best job in the world and work with the best kids in the world. It doesn’t get any better than that.
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