Friday, October 4, 2013

Happy days

I am now a month into my new job, and the verdict is in: I am happy. Six months ago things were tough, but it was also scary to think about having to make a change. They say, "Better the devil you know than the devil you don't know," right? Plus, I loved so many of my students and it was tough to think of leaving them behind (I miss a number of them terribly). But even though this is just a half-year long-term sub position, I'm so happy to be where I am, and I think that, in the long run, this is going to be a positive transition year for me.

My students rock. I've dealt with a lot of student apathy in the past, and it's been frustrating, but most of these kids show up prepared and get their work done. In addition, discipline issues are almost non-existent. It's nice to feel less like a babysitter and more like a teacher. Thus far I have not had to write anyone up or send anyone out of class, and the students have been quite respectful of me. As a result, I feel that I have a much more positive energy in the classroom this year. Part of that is also a conscious effort on my part--I keep reminding myself to give praise more often and to encourage them to keep up the good work, as well as to tell them how excited I am to do an activity with them or to see the work they've done.

Yesterday, my senior classes did Socratic Circles. For those of you who aren't familiar, a Socratic Circle is, in a nutshell, a student-led discussion that they prep notes for ahead of time. These Socratic Circles came at the end of our unit "Genocide in Literature," which includes the memoir Night. The students discussed ideas about social responsibility and the importance/role of personal narratives, pulling not only from Night but also from the memoir A Long Way Gone (their summer reading book), plus articles and videos on the Rwandan and Bosnian genocides and the bystander effect. I invited the department head to come see what the kids were doing, and he came to my last block. Even though most of these students had never even heard of Socratic Circles before this year, they did a fantastic job. The department head told the students he was so impressed with how they synthesized information from all these different sources and then used it to formulate arguments (gotta love those great higher-order thinking skills!), as well as with how they were talking about issues that are still very relevant in our society today (for example: the students made connections with what's been happening in Syria). I was also quite pleased with them. One group earlier in the day didn't do as well, but I know that the next time they'll understand what to expect and will nail it. I told both classes that even though I'm not a morning person, I had been so excited to come to school that day and see them discuss all of their ideas. They chuckled at me, but I hope that positivity rubs off on them. They seemed to enjoy the experience, and asked me if we could do more of these. Hurray! One kid even wore a suit jacket and tie, because he felt it was a special occasion. I'm curious to see if he gets his buddies to join him next time. :)

There have been a couple of students I've been struggling with. One of them was turning in almost no work and had a bad attitude, and it was really frustrating. But after communicating with home, I got him to stay after school with me last week and we had a really good talk. This week he has been turning in assignments and participating a lot more in class. Today the students were rehearsing some scenes from the stage version of To Kill a Mockingbird, and he was really putting in a great effort. I high fived him at the end of class and told him how great it was that he was buckling down. Hopefully he sees that I believe in him and will stay on this better path.

This weekend I'll be reading a bunch of college essays. I helped them on their drafts and it seems like it should be a decent crop. Wish me luck!