The Year in Review

Now that the diplomas have been handed out and Room H-9 is packed for the summer, I took some time to sit awhile and think. What went well this year? What was a flop? If I could do it over again, what would I change?

My school year reflections, in no particular order:

• My move to bring more lively fun to class with Quarter Trios was a total success. I sometimes felt like a game show host, but I really enjoyed the trio competitions which strengthened our classroom community right from the start. The idea is definitely a keeper, though I need to make more Brain Teaser slides this summer because I ran out in mid-May.
(UPDATE: Brain Teasers Vol. 4 is now available here – click here!)

20Time was a win again this year for me (10 videos in 12 weeks – heck yeah!), but it wasn’t successful for all of my students. Some projects were amazing, while others were not. I’d hoped that adding accountability teams in this second year would help get all students on board, but I’m starting to think that some kids just aren’t interested in being innovators. Maybe some of them really do want to grow up and work in a cubicle farm, checking boxes and being told what to do by a mid-level manager with a clip-on tie. And is that even such a bad thing? I mean, we need that layer of labor to keep the world running, right? So I continue to fail in my attempts to turn every consumer in my classroom into some kind of a creator, but now I’m also wondering if this should even be my goal.

• Allowing two students to share a single 20Time project was a mistake. I’ve always envisioned 20Time to be a solo endeavor, believing that two students couldn’t really share the same level of passion for the exact same project. Two of my freshmen, though, earnestly convinced me otherwise and I reluctantly agreed to allow them to work together on a Lord of the Rings spoof video. Things were looking good…for the first two weeks. Then, one kid went on a field trip during a work session. The other kid got sick and missed two entire weeks of school. They were too busy to get together on weekends and they disagreed on their focus; one spent weeks building props while the other composed background music. Neither ever produced a script and the project sputtered. If I had it to do over again, I’d suggest that they both script and film competing spoofs and we’d have a mini-viewing party at the conclusion of the 20Time speeches. Lesson learned – future 20Time projects will remain a solo experience.

• I maybe/sort of/kinda like learning stations. In December, I broke some of my poetry lessons into a two-day station creation rotation and the kids loved it. I want (need?) to fold more station opportunities into my classroom, but they take so much time to build. Guess that’s what summer vacation is for, eh?

• Due to scheduling needs, I taught only freshmen this year and ended up really, really missing my juniors. Yes, my freshmen are sweet and funny and always eager to play my games. My juniors, though, are wise and edgy and able to think much more deeply. I’m (mostly) a sweetheart with my freshmen, but I can get away with being pretty salty with my juniors. I missed that side of my teaching personality.

• I blogged a lot this year and it took over my life there for a bit in the middle of the spring semester when I was posting three times a week, feeding Instagram, and building the YouTube channel. My family has gently suggested it’s time to set the laptop aside and I have to agree. I’m not unplugging completely, but it’s definitely time to scale back a bit and allow my battery to recharge.

In all, Year 18 was a good one – a lot of laughter, some tears, a couple paper cuts, and (best of all!) no vomit.

How about your year? In the comments below, I’d love if you shared something that worked great and/or something you’d do differently. No judgment – I promise.

Vacation on, everyone!

9 thoughts on “The Year in Review

  1. Awesome! I love your review. It has inspired me to think about 20Time next year. I’m moving up with my Sophomores as we change our curriculum from 1 yr of American Lit (Soph yr) to 2 (Soph and Jr). I’ve got the benefit of having already done a pretty good coverage of the whole of American Lit this year, so next year I get to experiment. 😊

    Lit Circles were awesome this year. Doing that again, for sure. I’m also keeping up with the heavy writing load, but I’m going to try to do more of a writing workshop with them so that they get more practice with the revision process.

    I also read Penny Kittle’s Book Love (which was amazing!) and I’m going to really push choice independent reading this year, though I’m going to try to give them some time in class each day to read, too. I think it’ll be an exciting year, and I’m happy to have my goofballs again for another year. 😊 Enjoy your summer!

  2. Julie Keith says:

    Our school year ended June 4, so I’ve had a little time to reflect.

    My greatest failure was not doing what my gut told me kids really needed in favor of being “innovative and multicultural.” The first semester wasn’t rigorous enough to prepare students for the research task coming at them 2nd semester.

    We also have to operate on full year block scheduling. I have 90 minute classes and see students every other day.

    I hate it.

    Our student population is primarily low SES and there are abundant attendance issues. Block scheduling just makes teaching grind to a glacial pace and trying to catch up a kid in 2 min. before class just doesn’t work.

    On the upside, the other English 9 teacher and I have learned a lot and we’ve got the collaboration thing down!

    I found some activities that build basic skills that worked wonderfully with my lower level 9th grade, so we’re all incorporating those things into our course.

    We’re finally getting the hang of SRG (Standards Referenced Grading) which can either be freeing or steel manacles depending on how a district implements it.

    So…in all I feel like I learned a lot – but the past one wasn’t my best year.

  3. Thanks for commenting and being so reflective!

    MrsTurner, I love the idea of moving up a level with the same kids. Just think of the time you’ll save – it’s almost like having an extra full month of productivity since a lot of the community-building will already be set. Heavenly! Also, did you have set tasks during your lit. circles? I’ve tried them in the past, but the results were just meh. Wondering if I didn’t have the right mix of tasks/assignments for each group’s meeting session. Definitely something I need to add to my “continue to refine” list.

    And, Julie, I’m there with you. My worst year teaching (Community Day School – a long story for another time) was my best year of personal growth. Funny how it always seems to work like that. You already know to follow your gut, which will guarantee a better experience next year. And that’s a great reminder for us all.

    Okay, you guys, who’s next?

  4. This has been one heck of a year for me. Looking back it was a struggle, but still one of growth. I became the Head of School this year and continued to teach 2 classes. I thought at the start of the year that I would be handle both, but looking back I sadly short-changed the students. I was pulled into constant meetings or late to class because of some situation that would inevitably come up 2 minutes before lessons were to start. They did not get my best this year.

    However, for me, I see now how important it is to me to remain in the classroom. I think it has made me a better administrator- keeping that connection. Also, I know without a doubt, i LOVE LOVE teaching. The students may not have had the best of me, but I got the best of them. Often my 45 minutes with my students were the absolute highlight of my day.

    A lot to work on for next year, a lot to improve.

    I have to be even more organized and on top of my game next year!

  5. Wow, Jennifer, I don’t envy your attempt to straddle those two worlds. I had a hard enough time when I was teaching split sections of health and English. My brains would scramble as I jumped between the two. Can’t even imagine trying to throw an administrator role into all of that. Good for you for standing strong – and agreeing to take it on for another year. Props!

  6. * I directed a full-scale musical this year, complete with 16 student musicians, 24 cast members, and 10 tech crew. It was a huge hit, extraordinarily fun, and really powerful. The downside was that I totally didn’t balance my life and my classes got a little left behind (sorry we didn’t do as much writing as I wanted to, English 9!) but, I am only human.

    * I really revised my curriculum this year, and having an excess of materials (thanks a lot for you and your TpT shop!) allowed me to stop worrying about having SOMETHING to do and let me worry about WHAT we were doing and how to build a throughline during the year.

    * I pushed to include independent reading this year and it was GREAT. I really tried to protect that independent reading time, and I want to continue doing that. Kids were FLYING through books and BEGGING me to do Free Reading Fridays. I even got a hot water heater and kids brought in their own mugs and hot chocolate. It was pretty awesome.

    * I want to be more rigorous. I struggle with how to support their diverse needs while still holding them to a high standard. Like, I know that so-and-so is homeless – do I still be a hard-ass about making sure it is perfectly typed? Am I doing her a disservice by cutting her some slack? Where do I draw the line? I feel like last year I was too strict and this year I was too loose. Maybe next year I’ll find a better middle. I connected with a lot of kids (and I really appreciated your 20Time videos!) but I wonder if I was as hard on them as I could’ve been!

  7. Oh I wanna take your class, Kay! Free reading AND make-your-own-cocoa? I’m there. 🙂

    You’ve reminded me of my days as a yearbook adviser and my near-total neglect of my regular classes whenever page deadlines were near. Writers’ workshop conference during SSR? Nope. Editing layouts. Grading argument essays over the weekend? Nope. Editing layouts. Lots of “Hey, I need you guys to work quietly on today’s assignment because I’m on a yearbook deadline.” (Grimace) There’s no such thing as balance when you have a musical/yearbook/extracurricular beastie to manage. I think we’re all just doing the best we can.

    That too easy/too rigorous pendulum is also something I still struggle with. This year’s Quarter Trios were a direct result of the previous year’s intensity. During the fall semester of that year, I felt like I was just testing, testing, testing and a lot of the joy had left the room. 20Time was the natural off-shoot (I needed something to bring back relevance and excitement for learning) and I took it the next step this year with Quarter Trios. The fact that we’re even thinking about these things on summer vacation shows that we’ll hit the right zone next time around – or at least come close enough.


  8. Sarah Abent says:

    Hi Laura,

    I’ve never commented before, but I’ve purchased many of your materials on TpT (and have commented on there). I’m a second-year teacher at an alternative education school for what we consider to be majorly at-risk kids. I’m the only English teacher in our school (we only have four teachers to begin with) and there was no curriculum set in place, so I’m basically on my own.

    Your materials have helped me so much over the past year and a half. I tried to start from scratch at the beginning, as I didn’t know about TpT and thought I could do it all as a 21-year-old fresh out of college. It was so freakin’ hard. I cried every day. When the final bell rang, I would lock the door to my classroom, turn off the lights, sit at my desk, and cry. I seriously questioned if I had made the right career choice.

    When I found your blog, I almost cried (happy cry, this time). It was exactly what I needed. I could finally teach instead of worry about whether or not I’m hitting the right standards, if the material is too hard for my students, or if what I’m teaching has any actual value to them. Your lesson and unit plans allowed me to actually like my job again.

    Things were not perfect over the past year, but they improved dramatically compared to Year 1. My favorite thing that I’ve done was begin a “swear jar” of sorts for each of my classroom. I used those pebbles that are often found in the bottom of vases or what you play Mancala with, which turned our competition into “Pebble Royale” (the students came up with it, and it stuck). Every time I heard someone cuss, I would put a pebble into the jar of that particular hour. The class with the least amount of “swear pebbles” at the end of the week got a reward the following Monday. I eventually added that whenever I had to ask a student to put their phone away, a pebble would go into the jar. The kids started holding one another accountable for their actions, which made classroom management a breeze.

    I incorporated interactive notebooks so my students could have a place to keep their daily vocabulary, writing anchor charts, and creative writing – I’m definitely keeping this idea next year.

    I created PSAT Wednesdays, in which I split my students into groups so they could dissect a reading passages with questions to follow – which, once again, I’m definitely keeping, as their reading and language use scores for our NWEA state-mandated tests rose by an average of 9 points.

    I even had enough time to create a full unit for I Am Malala, which helped them critically think about their world in ways I never even imagined. I was even interviewed for a local newspaper about our work, and was able to showcase a piece of student writing – the student went absolutely bonkers when I asked him if his work could be published in the newspaper, as he always considered himself “dumb” and a horrible writer.

    Anyway, I just wanted to thank you for all that you’ve done for me. I know that this is a horribly long-winded comment, but as I plan for next year while I’m monitoring students during summer school, I can’t help but credit you for my confidence in my career choice. This is one newbie who will not burn out!

    – Sarah

  9. Sarah,
    Wow, just wow! What an amazing year you’ve had. Pebble Royale is one of my new favorite things (so creative!), though that 9-point score gain is also hugely impressive. I’m honored that my little blog could play a role in helping you find your way. THAT is what I’m all about. Enjoy (?) your summer school assignment, but be sure to take some time for yourself, too. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing!

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