Looking Back at the Semester

Looking back at this semester, it has been a crazy whirlwind. I’m glad I have these blog posts to look back on this really important time in my teaching career. I consider the 4th-grade class that I worked with as my first real class and strongly believe that I grew the most through this experience out of all of my past semesters of college combined. Throughout this experience, these blog posts have been helpful for me in many ways. For one, they provided me with an opportunity to sit down and look back on the week that I had. Although I tried to reflect daily and often conferenced with my cooperating teacher informally, this practice created a need for me to formally reflect on what I was experiencing. It enhanced my learning experience by having me actively think about what was going well, what wasn’t, what my cooperating teacher did, what I did, and how the students were responding. Additionally, these journals now serve as a resource for me that I can go back through for ideas on what to do, strategies that seemed to work, and things to avoid. Aside from that, it is just a nice memoir of my time during student teaching.

Through the reflections I completed this semester, I learned a lot about strategies that worked well for me and specific things that I struggled with the most. In this way, I can go into my first year of teaching with a repertoire of practices/strategies that I can utilize, and an understanding of what I might struggle with, so I can troubleshoot to help me face these problems. Speaking specifically about what I learned from my reflections this semester, there are many issues that I explored through them including classroom management, unit planning, juggling multiple responsibilities at once, my interactions and relationships with students and the teachers/staff, and much more. This semester was one that really pushed me to grow, especially when it came to classroom management. Many of my posts from this semester detailed my journey of figuring out my own management style while also playing off of my cooperating teacher’s during my full takeover. It will be helpful for me to have these to reflect on as I continue to explore my personal management style, especially in a classroom this is fully my own. Additionally, many of my posts reflect on my experiences of being in the classroom here in Italy. I can look back on these posts to reflect on the differences between the school system here and in the U.S. and my struggles of working with students who are second language English speakers and incorporate the things that I saw that I liked here while avoiding the things that I felt didn’t work very well.

Being a reflective practitioner is very important because it forces you to be mindful of what you are doing. Over the past year, I’ve been reminded time and time again from my experiences that so much of what you learn about how to be a good educator is through practice/trial and error. You can read all about best practices, but you will never really know how something will play out unless you try it yourself. Additionally, every class is different, and what works for one class may not be the same as what works for another. My cooperating teacher really pushed me to try new things and let me make my own mistakes because she knew that I would learn best that way. With that being said, it’s not enough to try new things. You need to actively reflect on and think about how and why things worked or didn’t work/what you liked or didn’t like. Without reflection, there is no learning and there is no purpose to the experimentation that you are doing. As I continue in my career as an educator, I will constantly be having to build on my knowledge and develop new practices. Being in the habit of reflecting regularly will help me to be mindful of my decisions in my classroom and help me decipher what practices work best for me.

One goal that I have for myself during my first year of teaching is to keep up with this practice of regularly reflecting on my teaching. Keeping a journal has always been hard for me, and since I will no longer be obligated to turn reflections in for a journal, I fear that I could easily fall out of the habit. However, I understand how important this practice will be for me, especially during my first year. I know that my first year of teaching is going to be a rough road, but I also know that it will be one of the most important years of my teaching career. Not only do I want to have a personal record of this, but I think for the sake of growing as much as I can during this year and learning from the many mistakes I am sure to make, I need to do this. I’d like to keep a record of all the things I taught on each day in my datebook and keep a journal that details the events of the day or week more specifically. Before I left for Italy, one of my students gifted me a beautiful journal that I am planning on using for this purpose.

I think another reason it would be beneficial for me to keep a teacher’s journal, is for the purpose of self-care. I need a place where I can express my frustrations and insecurities. This brings me to my second goal, which is to take good care of myself mentally, emotionally, and physically during my first year. Although I strive to do this on a daily basis anyway, I don’t think I’ve done as great of a job at this as I could’ve been throughout my undergraduate career. All too often, I got caught up in the busyness of every day and living day to day just to get through everything that I had to do, that I would often let my issues pile up until they resulted in some kind of melt-down. I’ve also seen this happen to the first year teacher that taught one of the other 4th grade classrooms in the school that I was placed in. My cooperating teacher reminded me and this new teacher time and time again about how important it is to take care of yourself. It was easy for me to notice how my state of mind and body had an impact on my ability to teach my students. I do believe that these two things go hand in hand, and in order to be the best teacher you can be, you need to take care of yourself. This will be an especially important goal for my first year of teaching, so as not to wear myself out and get too caught up in the trials and busyness of being a first-year teacher.

My last goal during my first year as a teacher is to build relationships with my colleagues and the school community. If I’ve learned anything about teaching throughout my placements, it’s that teaching is not a one-person job. I can name many teachers and other school professionals that supported me throughout my student teaching experiences, and the guidance and support of my cooperating teacher played a huge role in my success throughout. Although I may be the only person in the room, I understand the amount of collaboration it takes in order to best utilize my resources and do the best teaching that I can next year. Especially as a first-year teacher, I think it will be very important for me to have colleagues that I can lean on for support, advice, and inspiration. I know I have a tendency to be shy, and I can easily see myself being intimidated by my accomplished/veteran colleagues as I attempt to navigate my place within the established community of teachers at whatever school I (hopefully) get a job in. My goal for myself is to take all of the opportunities that I have to integrate myself into this community and build personal relationships with my colleagues.

It’s terrifying to think that in the very near future, I will be leading my own classroom and be completely independent. I can’t say that I feel completely prepared, but I wonder if any new teacher every really feels prepared to have their first real class. I can say that I feel confident in my ability to tackle the challenges that come my way, especially with these three goals in mind.

Math Lesson

Because my cooperating teacher had me working with different math teachers in the building, she did not get to observe this lesson that I taught, but I was still able to talk to her before and after the lesson so she could help me plan what I was going to teach and to reflect on the lesson delivery. She urged me to use manipulatives to help the students make sense of what I was teaching and make the lesson more engaging. The manipulatives helped to provide a visual and physical representation of the concept of the Pythagorean Theorem while also helping the students to make sense of what I was saying since I was teaching in English. The students had already learned the Pythagorean Theorem and had some practice using it beforehand, which also helped them as they were able to bridge their pre-existing knowledge on the topic while connecting it new English terms and definitions.
Overall, I think the lesson went well. I was nervous about teaching a math lesson to middle schoolers because I had never done it before, and because I was teaching them in English. I started the lesson by having them tell me what they knew about the Pythagorean Theorem. I was able to call on students to show me what they know on the board rather than having to communicate it verbally and struggling with the language barrier. I then taught them the English terms and definitions, relating them to what they told me they knew. From there, I moved on to showing the students a proof. I found a great video on YouTube that showed a proof using paper, scissors and a ruler. I knew that all students would have these materials and felt that this would be a demonstration that we could easily do together as a class. The proof involved cutting out a right triangle and three squares to represent the length of each side of the triangle squared. In this way, the two smaller triangles would have to fit inside the big triangle in order to prove that a^2 + b^2 = c^2. I taught the same lesson twice, and the first time I taught it, I messed up the demonstration and it didn’t work. After I stumbled through an apology and attempted to explain my mistake, we moved on to working on word problem. I gave them the word problem: “Claire wants to hang a banner from the sill of a second-story window in her house. She needs to find a ladder that, when rested against the outside wall of her house will be long enough to reach the second-story window. If the window is 16 feet above the ground and Claire places the foot of the ladder 12 feet from the wall, how long will the ladder need to be?” I changed the vocabulary around a little bit to simplify it and went through the vocabulary words in the problem with them. Additionally, I drew a picture on the board to accompany the word problem and the math teacher who understood little English was still able to understand and supplement my English explanations with her Italian explanations. I was impressed by how easily the students seemed to comprehend the word problem and even more impressed by how quickly they were able to arrive at the answer.
Luckily, after my first lesson, I had an hour break and was able to figure out where my mistake was when attempting the demonstration the first time around. The second time I did my demonstration it went a lot more smoothly, and we had time to answer more word problems. I chose to use world problems because it integrated the learning of English vocabulary, and offered real-world applications of the Pythagorean Theorem. My second class went a lot more smoothly on my side, and in turn, the students were very engaged throughout as well.
Overall, teaching these math lessons was a great experience. It was a nice change of pace from teaching English lessons all the time and a good learning experience for me. Additionally, it was really interesting to get to work with other teachers in the building, and an interesting experience navigating the language barrier with them since I am used to working with the English teachers who speak perfect English and who I have no problems communicating with. I was very nervous about this, but I was touched by how kind and accommodating these teachers were, and felt really welcome as a guest teacher in their classrooms. Additionally, the students were very kind, even when my demonstration failed.