End of Year Dance

Man, I’m ready for this end-of-year dance to be over. The last couple of weeks of school are so hard. That sounded like stating the obvious. I’m under some pressure; partly, I can’t tell if it’s all in my head and of my own making, or something I should be really freaking out about.

I just spent most of the day writing final exams. That was frustrating, because I can already tell that even though the exams were fair and comprehensive — they covered nothing I hadn’t covered — I had little stabs of remorse. Oh, I know they’re going to have trouble with that one. Oh, that one might throw a few of them off. It isn’t my goal to trip kids up on the exam, but I also have to hold them responsible for their learning. The sad fact is, some of them didn’t meet me halfway and learn some of this stuff.

This time of year is inevitably frustrating, too, as I reflect on all the things I did wrong and the ways I failed instead of succeeded. There is a black pall that settles over the end of the school year. I just finished a re-read of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and I feel for all the world like there’s a dementor sitting right next to me.

I wonder sometimes how many years I will need to teach before I feel completely satisfied with the job I’ve done. Does that ever come? And does completely satisfied mean “competent” or “accomplished”? I can’t even decide.

Some things I want to do better/differently next year:

  • Stay on top of portfolios and really use them effectively. The sporadic use they got this year was probably only minimally helpful to students.
  • Really work on lesson plans. I think a weakness I have is figuring out how to integrate all different areas of language arts together. For instance, how can I link teaching pronoun/antecedent agreement to a writing assignment that addresses and assesses their understanding of it?
  • The test experiment didn’t work. I decided to assess students’ understanding of literature through writing assignments (although there were reading quizzes). I did still test my 9th graders over grammar. But the fact that there were no “tests” with that big, scary label (despite the fact that I saw myself as assessing in alternative ways) led some students to take my class less seriously, I think. I don’t know. Maybe they didn’t. But I think they did.
  • I didn’t grade essays quickly enough this year and got bogged down by my workload as a result. It wasn’t until Jay McTighe’s March visit to our school that I discovered the marvelous, comprehensive rubrics used by Greece, NY Public Schools. They made me a much more efficient grader, but by the time March rolled around, I had already developed the reputation for being a snail. Slow assessment doesn’t really help kids improve much.

I’m sure I’ll think of other things to kick myself about. People I work with call that self-reflection, but at some point I have to figure out where the line between reflection and flagellation is.

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6 thoughts on “End of Year Dance

  1. There is nothing wrong with teaching grammar in isolation. It happened alla time in the old school ( schools of my generation) and it's soming back, as educators re-invent the wheel. Again, education has come full circle.

    There is another way to combine writing and grammar, one that I found worked well. Take a writing assigment. Base it on 3 or 4 criteria. ONLY grade the writing for those.

    Grade the pieces and file them in the portfolios. (This task also addresses the task of making grading easier because you have only asked, and are grading for, three things.) And, the kids have CIRCLED/UNDERLINED/HIGHLIGHTED those three areas. So, as an evaluator, you are able to eyeball, and correctly, and fairly) score those essays.

    Now, months pass, and you have been teaching pronoun antecedent (or like) and you pull the SAME essays from the portfolios. Have the kids REWRITE the same essays (it's always easier grading when they ship lines- or double space the essays- initially….. because then you don't have to hear them moaning about "rewriting the same thing."

    This time…. name 2-4 NEW areas that will comprise their grades, correct pronoun antecedent being one of them. I suggest asking for 10 such uses, some harder than others such as the use of "his" with an unusual singular noun.

    I am not sure this is clear, but can answer further questions if you ask.

    No, I don't think we are ever 100% satisfied with any school year that we have completed. Some are more magical than others. Some are pure hell- to be honest.

    But regardless, we always reach some hard kids, and that's where the satisfaction (for me) lies anyhoo.

    Best,

    Mex

  2. Don't beat yourself up, to teach is to be teachable. What you learned will help future classes. This profession of ours is always a work in progress and when you think you have it down it is time to leave, or switch grades or something. Every year I learn more and more about what I do. I throw out some stuff and vow to do things better. You've done a good job. So breathe deep and enjoy your summer

  3. You took the words right out of my mouth. And you've inspired me to start doing my own end-of-year reflection. Hopefully, I'll get around to it before the end of next school year. Har har.

  4. Just the fact that you're questioning your practices makes you reflective and thus effective! Finding teaching practices that work definitely takes trial and error.

  5. Join the club in constantly doubting how good you are! I checked out the rubrics. They look great. I think it's also helpful that they said there should be models of papers that the students see ahead of time. I am thinking about having the kids ALSO submit their papers to me via email so I can more quickly check for plagiarism.

    When you grade papers, do you have a short-hand that you scribble with a word or phrase circled? And the students have a sheet with the short-hand interpreted, with references to rules they can look up in a particular manual or handbook? I saw a teacher do that once (when I was in the mere observation process of my degree), and I've always wanted to come up with a system like that, something very easy for me to use that doesn't require a lot of writing on papers, if you know what I mean. I tend to write too much on the papers, rewriting their sentences for them in case they don't understand what I mean. Plus, it's a great re-teaching tool. Hmmm…

    What textbook are you in? I just learned I'll be using Elements of Literature in the fall (10th and 11th grade). Haven't used that book in years. If we're in the same book, maybe we can share lesson plans.

    Oh! And I totally know what you mean by not being sure if the kids are taking the class seriously because there are no big tests. I'll do reading comprehension tests over books we read (they really expect them), but most of my big grades come from essays and projects. I had several kids who just didn't do many papers at all and failed the class because of it. They were really p.o.'d. What I don't get is that these kids sat there (for example) while we did 15 class periods of the research paper, me walking them through it step by step, and they don't turn it in?! And confess at the end that they "didn't understand it"?!?!

    Here's the thing: Maybe it was my fault. While we did the 5 days in class of online research, I saw some of them playing on the internet, or pretending to research. Sometimes I said to myself, "Well, he/she will learn a lesson when it's crunch time and she'll/he'll have to do some library time on his/her own time." And then there were those various days when we were writing in class, and I gobbled up the line, "Oh, I forgot it at home. I was working on it on my computer. I'll bring it tomorrow." I don't know whether I should just let him/her fail or be really militant and call home the second day the kid doesn't have his/her stuff.

  6. http://web.beaufort.k12.sc.us/education/staff/sta

    Jen,

    Thx for the comment.

    Plagiarismchecker.com is a fast and easy site to use. Just type in a phrase and you have the result. I wouldn't suggest clogging up yr e-mails w/ their papers.

    I had THE GRAND (ha-ha) idea this year of having "them" submit their myths for teacher edit on my message board. (see URL at top of this comment) OMG. What a mistake. It was my worst nightmare. I figured I would take their "teacher edits" and paste them in WORD. Run the spell check, (Kids seldom to NEVER run the spell check.. Why IS that? ) and then I would paste in a few color-coded comments from a list I had previously made. And VOILA. A great teacher edit.

    Well, they certainly looked nice in the end/year portfolios (well, those who had bothered to keep them, much less use them)…but that was THE most time consuming edit I have EVER done.

    I will give you an idea of what I was dealing w/ if you scroll down to "Teacher Edits- Myths. It's wayyyyyyyy at the bottom."

    Go to "message board" from the sidebar on the home page.

    The "classroom calendar" (also on side bar) was a LIFE SAVER. You can hardly, in this day and age, have too much documentation. That calendar saved my sagging rear-end in parent conferences more times than I could count.

    If you have other questions, you can’t reach me from that "contact form" You will have to leave a message on my blog again.

    Blog URL:

    http://nmlb.blogspot.com/

    I can’t add to my own blog because the password is "incorrect" (forgotten) so contact me there if you wish. I peek in periodically.

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