This is my first back-to-school season as a high school teacher. I have previously taught seventh grade Math and Algebra I for nine years. I thoroughly enjoyed my job, the students, and the curriculum. I thought teaching middle school was my calling. But, some big changes were happening in our district and in our school and I had the opportunity to try something new. After praying about it and talking with my biggest supporters and encouragers (husband and family), I made the leap. And. It’s. Delightful.
A Few Perks:
· Schedule: I teach 3 Geometry classes and 2 Bridge to Algebra II classes. I have planning 1st period, which is nice because I sometimes feel like a first-year teacher. Then, lunch is ONE HOUR LONG! Coming from a 30 minute scheduled lunch, but which included about 7-10 of duty, it was barely long enough to scarf down a bite and pee. But, one hour has been such a nice break during the day. The reason for the long lunch is that our cafeteria cannot serve the entire student population, so they have two serve schedules, but everyone has the hour off. I like it because I can meet with kids who need help without talking with my mouth full, or use it as an extra prep.
Our district also values collaboration and with a really big high school, it’s necessary. We have small learning communities and to get the opportunity to collaborate and talk about common student concerns and interests, we get a collaborative planning period. They make good use of time and don’t meet just to meet. It’s very effective and another sort of “break” in my day.
· Teacher Aides: I am using Interactive Notebooks for the first time this year and they are going so well! But, I am not sure how I would have the time to pull them off without my precious teacher aides. Either I would have to do all the pre-cutting myself or it would have to be done in class and that would be a waste of my valuable time with the students. The high school offers students the opportunity to be a teacher’s aide if they have enough scheduled credits. It replaces a study hall and is no credit, but it saves them from taking a class they don’t need while helping out a teacher. I have three sweet girls who volunteered to help me and it worked with their schedules, so I am so thankful for them! They are so kind and hard-working and if I don’t have work for them to do, they study or play on their phone.
· Support: The teachers in my department and my collaborative team have been so helpful. The administrators (we have a lot!) are all so helpful and attentive to needs. I haven’t had any big discipline issues yet, but we have a good system in place, so I am sure I will be well-supported when I have that need.
· Teenagers: They are so chill. They are MUCH more emotionally stable than they were as 7th graders (I have several I taught before). Middle Schoolers were awesome in many ways, but I would POUR my everything into them each day and leave each evening drained. It was hard to stay charged all the time, but was necessary. With high schoolers, they have learned to manage their emotions and hormones a little better and can maintain more self-control.
Another thing about teaching teenagers relates to classroom management. I have always followed the “If I give you respect, I expect respect” motto, but didn’t always get it with middle schoolers. Even when they liked me, most were still trying to figure out how to be frustrated without being disrespectful. But, it totally works with sophomores and juniors. It makes for a very pleasant classroom environment.
· Sports and School Spirit: I am a big sports fan! And I love supporting students in the extra-curricular activities. Just going to an athletic event, I get to support the athletes, the spirit squads, the band, sometimes the choir when they sing the national anthem, and I get to hang with the students in the stands. They get to see me with my family. It is so great for the in-class rapport building! I love the ready-made opportunities the high school provides.
A Few Non-Perks:
· My Classroom: So, I really don’t want to complain. It’s not my intent. But, in listing the good and the bad…there aren’t many bad things, so this has to fall here. My classroom is very small with no windows. One of my classroom walls has big sliding glass doors that connects to an AP English/History Block classroom (which means 60-ish kids at a time). It’s not sound-proof. My students and I have adapted very well and try to be positive about it. (I mean, we are in a pretty safe location in case of a tornado.) But, we are bursting at the seams in my 7th period with 30 students. The room’s space only really comfortably accommodates 22-24.
· Parking: ??? Okay…this is a bit of a stretch to find another non-perk. I mean, the parking lot is across the street, so it is a tad-bit of a walk? Really, though, it’s not a burden. I may be singing a different tune when the high temperature for the day is in the teens, but for now, I shouldn’t complain.
· Bridge to Algebra II: When I was hired at the high school (I refer to it as “The” high school because it is the only one in our district one of the top in the state…it kind of is “The” high school) and I was told which classes I would be teaching, I have to admit some reservation about Bridge. It is designed for students who need some more support because they have not demonstrated complete readiness for Algebra II. Most of the students are at or below grade level and the teachers who taught it last year did so for one year and moved on to Algebra II or III. It was hinted to me by some other teachers that the course was kind of the one they made newbies teach and I might not have to teach it again next year. It was made to seem difficult and slightly undesirable. Was I in for a surprise or what?
It is an amazing class, talented group of kids, and a wonderful opportunity! They have so many walls built up about Math and it is joyous tearing those down. They have had so much negative experience with Math, they have already given up. Most of them are in there just because they have to have a math credit and this was their best option. I get so excited about teaching them because they appreciate every ounce of mathematical success they get! Each is at a different level and so we have done a lot of work on mindset and creating a culture of effort. They are learning how to persevere through mistakes and beginning to understand that mistakes are when they have the most synapses firing in their brains. We are only four weeks in, but I am amazed daily by the progress they have made with their attitudes toward math. One shocking revelation I had when pre-testing them to get a gauge for where to begin was their struggle with integer operations. Ironically, this is one of the concepts introduced in 7th grade math, so I have a lot of resources for it. I pulled out my Integer Boot Camp and we did a revised version of it. We played lots of Square Dance Activities because finding things to keep them engaged is a challenge, but these are a hit! I will create more of them for a variety of concepts because they are self-checking, the engagement and collaboration levels are high, and the sense of accomplishment when they complete one is like no other feeling. I am so proud of the effort they have put in so far. They (with the exception of a couple toughies) are excited about Math. I don’t know how long it’s been since they have felt that way, if ever.
I hope you can gather that I feel passionate and content with my new back-to-school experiences. It has rejuvenated my spirit for and rekindled my love of teaching.
I hope all of you reading this have experienced something as special as I have so far! Please feel free to leave a comment sharing a perk, a non-perk, or a surprise below! I would love to read them!
By the way, the Integer Boot Camp and Square Dance Activities can be found in my TpT store, if you are interested in using them in your classrooms!