Classroom Observations – Gasp!

Wednesday was the day of Freshman Induction.  As the freshman class moderator, I’m one of the leads in charge of organizing the students for the ceremony.  So my day on Wednesday was filled with assigning my assisting coworkers responsibilities for the practice and the ceremony, organizing last-minute details and assisting with the preparations in the gym.  The free block period on Wednesday was reserved for our rehearsal.  The freshman class was so great during the rehearsal and my coworkers were willing to pitch in so all went smoothly, which of course scared me for what was to come that night.  Turned out there was nothing to fear, and although it was a long day for me, everything went off without a hitch.  Including the induction ceremony and dinner that followed, I’m logging 11 hours for the day.

Thursday was my chance to breathe again now that Induction was behind me.  So of course my assistant principal showed up to observe one of my classes.  

It was my first observation of the year and my first one ever with the assistant principal.  She asked if she could observe (and can you really say no?) and I explained that she was welcome to do so, but that we were having a “bit of everything class” that day.  

And when I say “bit of everything,” that’s exactly what I mean.  It was one of my sophomore scriptures classes and not my most objective-driven lesson.  You know this classes when there’s just a lot of loose ends to tie up? I knew that the tasks we had scheduled were important and needed to get done, but I was definitely nervous about being observed on this particular day.  Still…we pushed forward.

The girls had designed prayer cards for their bibles earlier in the week.  I returned the graded cards and passed out clear contact paper so we could laminate the cards.  The girls and I spent about 10 minutes helping each other to cover the cards.  After the cards were preserved, I passed out a new assignment that the girls will be working on throughout the school year.  I explained the assignment and took questions.  Once we had the assignment marked in our planners, the girls played an online review game of books in the Old Testament.  We’ve been playing the game periodically for the past month and the girls try to improve their scores from week to week.  By the time we finished the game, there was about 5 minutes left in class.  It had absolutely nothing to do with Scriptures, but I had planned on showing this video to the girls if there was time.  I figured “why not?” and went ahead and showed it even though I was being observed.  I like the message (especially at an all girls’ school) and we spent the last few minutes of class laughing and conversing.  It felt like a risk to show something unrelated to the subject material, but it was true to me as a teacher so I was prepared to defend it if necessary.

My observation evaluation was waiting in my inbox immediately following class.  It was a glowing eval.  The assistant principal recognized the organization of the class that we were able to move seamlessly from one task to another.  She remarked that the atmosphere was relaxed yet productive and that, although the class was a “hodge-podge of activity,” there was clear indication of a cohesive and controlled learning environment.  She even liked the video.  

Whew! I was thoroughly worried about how this particular class would be received by and outside observer, but it was such a validation in the end.  It’s nice to hear feedback that you’re on the right track…even when you feel like you’re completely off the map!

I spent about an hour and half making hotel reservations and ordering decoder glasses for yearbook (yep, you read that correctly).  A total of 9.5 hours on Thursday.

Friday we had the day off school and, though I had big plans for the day, I didn’t do a darn thing for school! It was great!  I had a 9 hour shift with the other job today, so I guess the schoolwork will just have to wait until tomorrow!


The Sum of Three Days

Sorry for the long delay between posts.  Here’s a summary:

Friday was mid-quarter.  Yikes!  Where did the time go?  Usually mid-quarter finds me frantically updating grades online and feeling guilty when I receive the friendly reminder from my principal that this task is an expectation for the job.  This year I felt (surprisingly) guilt-free.  I’m going to credit all the hours I spent organizing the room back in August for this one.  My new grading system is efficient.  Students turn work in to their class tray.  I clear the tray at the end of the day. and move it to the grading file on my desk.  Once it’s graded it is stored in the “to be returned” hanging file holder.  I’ve also been using the participation logs to indicate when a student turns in a digital assignment (dropbox, email, shared folder, etc).  These practices have made me much more aware of students with missing grades which is a huge relief at mid-quarter.

I had a closing shift at my other job on Friday, so my total hours for the log were just the regular school day, 8.5.

Sunday I spent 1.5 hours prepping lessons for the upcoming week.

Monday evening marked the first meeting with my retreat team for the senior class retreat in January.  Several teachers meet with the two student teams for four months leading up to the actual retreats.  In total we will meet for Formation Meetings six times, have one workday and one run-through of the retreat.  It is a huge commitment from the students and for me as one of the adult leaders.  I love these meetings, but they are exhausting.  School day, an extra hour prepping and grading, and the meeting meant an 11 hour day for me on Monday.

Tuesday was my crazy block day.  Crazy. I teach all four block periods with only an hour free for lunch and “activity”.  Yesterday, the yearbook staff had their virtual artist session during this period.  The girls brought their lunches to my room and we had a conference call with a designer who showed us some ideas for our cover.  Pretty cool technology and the girls loved every minute of it, but it meant I was racing yesterday from one class to another from 7-3 without any real break.  Which left me totally burnt out and unwilling to bring any additional work home with me that night.  8 hours for that day, but it felt like 80.

So from Friday through Tuesday I’m logging 29 hours.

It’s going to be a long day today because I’m the freshman class moderator and we have their induction ceremony tonight.  More on that in another post!

When Inspiration Strikes

I’ve been struggling with selecting the next topic of study in my senior theology course.  The course is Faith and Media and the primary objective is to consume secular media through the lens of faith.  I switch up the various topics we study from quarter to quarter because I teach the course so often throughout the year and I like to try to keep things fresh.

The last unit we studied was Religious Hypocrisy and it was very successful.  The students were engaged and the subject matter was relevant.  We watched a movie which lead to lively discussions and thoughtful reflections.  We then examined the hypocrisy prevalent in the music industry and the students further explored the subject through a creative project.

Of course, I wanted to keep the momentum going with the next topic.  Unfortunately I was short on ideas.

This past weekend, I picked up a new book at the local bookstore.  It’s part of the new trend of dystopian stories flooding pop culture today.  Books, movies, tv shows…it’s everywhere.

And that was the inspiration I needed.  These stories carry powerful messages about doubt and faith.  It’s relevant and fun.  And just what I was looking for.

Friday was just an eight hour day.  I spent about 2.5 hours this weekend working on lessons and ideas for yearbook.  Nine hours today.  Midquarter is Friday – where is the time going?

Review Games Bring Fun and Relevance

I’ve mentioned before that we are on a modified block schedule. Today was our four period block day – my busiest schedule all week.

My sophomore classes were on Day 2 of a two period lecture.  Finishing up the topic today only took about 30 minutes.  And I had expected it to take 50.  Le sigh.

So I got them started on the second activity of the day – they are creating brochures that address the main objectives of the unit.  I allowed them the option of working with a partner for this assignment and many of them chose to do so. I knew that allowing too much time for partner work could have disastrous results, so while they worked I turned to my trust lesson plan book for something I could shift around to fill the last 20 minutes of class.

The problem was that we are getting to the end of the unit and none of the few remaining activities would be a smooth transition for today.  

So I jumped on the internet and did a quick search on one of my favorite sites, Sporcle.  If you are unfamiliar with the site, don’t check it out until you have some time to get distracted.  This website is filled with trivia games galore.  Two small disclaimers:

1. Some of the games may contain material that is not 100% “classroom friendly” – especially if you have elementary or middle school students.

2. You should play the game first before sharing it with the class to make sure that the information is accurate.  Some of the games have been denoted “Sporcle verified,” but many are not.

My sophomores take Scriptures.  Currently we are studying the Old Testament, so I found a game that asked the students to name (and correctly spell!) as many of the Old Testament books as possible in a specific timeframe.  I posted a link to the game on my website and each student played on her own laptop.  As they finished, I recorded each girl’s score on my weekly participation log.  We will play again over the course of our study and see if each student can improve their own personal best.

After each student was warmed up and had played once individually, we played once more as a class.  I called this Sporcle Sparkle.  You know the Sparkle game – the teacher gives a word and the students have to spell out the word one letter at a time. If a student misses their letter, they sit down and the play proceeds to the next player.  So for today’s version, we went around the class and each student had to name a book in the Old Testament.  If they could name one, they remained standing.  If not, they were out.  

This activity was easy and quick.  It took about 20 minutes to complete, which made it the perfect time-filler.  The girls really had fun quizzing themselves and comparing their scores with their friends.  And best of all, it was relevant to the lesson.

After school, I spent an hour working with a new web-based program I’m really excited about.  I’ll blog more about it once I’ve tried it out in class.  Then I changed into my SuperSalesGal uniform and headed off to job #2.  So in total, I spent 9 hours on school stuff.

Reinventing a Tired Lesson

Tried and true is good, but we teachers need to watch that our lessons don’t become tired.

I’ve taught a certain course now for 6 years.  Faith and Media is a senior elective and a popular one at that.  It’s a quarter course so I have taught it 4-6 times each year, depending on the number of girls who sign up for it.  Clearly the girls have heard about my exquisitely prepared lessons and supreme teaching abilities.  Either that, or they just want to take a class that includes a lot of movies in the curriculum.

And there in lies the problem.  After teaching the course multiple times over the span of several years, lessons start to feel old.  They’re new to each class of course; but after 30 viewings of Chocolat, I’ve started to lose some of my enthusiasm for teaching it.

I’ve updated some of the movies over the years.  I have a few with similar themes that I alternate using.  But still…the lessons, the projects, the grading…it can start to feel like a bad case of deja vu.

So I spent the majority of the day, working on my website and lessons for Faith and Media.  The plan is to try a new course format.  In the past, we’ve watched a movie, discussed the movie, then written reflections.  The next week, the students would work in groups on a creative project using some other medium – music, tv, literature, etc.  This year, I’ve tried to create more cohesion between the topics. So I identified a central theme we would focus on for the first unit.  Then I selected a movie that would correspond, found an article from a news source and made a list of appropriate songs.  I haven’t worked out all the details, but I’m in the process of developing some new assignments to fill out the unit.  I’ll share more when I’ve got it hashed out better.

In addition to my course revisions, I also rearranged my new (smaller!) desks. Several classroom layouts later, I settled on the original arrangement.  So in total today, I clocked in 5.5 hours.

Classroom Tour

Drumroll, please…

The classroom is finally ready to go!  Well, mostly.  It’s at least to the point where I feel prepared to receive students.  Without further adieu…


Here’s the entrance area. (As a yearbook adviser, I feel compelled to put out the disclaimer that the awkward empty space at the top of the bulletin board is KILLING me, but I know it will be filled with flyers and information once school starts so I’m letting it go.)

I teach theology at a catholic school, so I need to set the tone when you first step in the room.  On the front bulletin board, I hung a cross (a souvenir from Italy) and leaned a framed print of different images of Christ on top of the book shelf.  The poster is old and I hope to replace it with a faith themed poster instead. (Etsy, here I come!)  The border on the whiteboard reads, “…teach me your ways so I may know you…Exodus 33:13”. The plan is to use this section of the board for daily prayer intentions.

In addition to teaching theology, I also advise yearbook.  The  bookcase in the front of the room contains yearbook supplies.  The table holds our yearbook “mail center” which is waiting to be updated and organized by the new staff.  The yearbook supplies continue on the other side of the door as well.

The other items on bulletin board are the “essentials” – schedules, the lunch rotation, class sponsors, emergency procedures, etc.  On top of the table is a Mickey Mouse tray which holds extra pens for student use (no touching my nice pens on my desk!), tissues and the bathroom sign-out.  I have 27 desks in my room and no space for extras, but our school hosts middle school visitors each year.  I got the stack of purple chairs from a retiring teacher and pull them out whenever I need a spare seat.

Yearbook area continued.

Yearbook area continued.

The whiteboard in this area is divided into sections for the yearbook staff to utilize (More on this area in a future post). The computers are for my staff’s use. The bulletin board in the back is their’s as well.

Personal area. (The In Style magazine on the desk is not a product placement.  Don't they feature photos of all the places their magazine is taken?  Maybe I can be their back to school issue!)

Personal area. (The In Style magazine on the desk is not a product placement. Don’t they feature photos of all the places their magazine is taken? Maybe I can be their back to school issue!)

This is the back of the classroom and my own little corner. I’m spoiled and get my room all to myself, so this is the are I’ve claimed. The wire shelves contain planning materials and a stack of prayer books. The metal file holder on the top of the desk has six sections – one for each of my classes. My pen holder (Go Cards!) holds my favorite grading pens and behind the desk you can see part of my Keurig (what did teachers do before the Keurig?). The bulletin board next to the wire shelves is my personal board. It changes throughout the year as I find new treasures and receive gifts and cards from students and friends that I want to display. (Featuring my “I’d rather be at Pemberley” sticker!)

In the opposite other desk!

In the opposite corner…my other desk!

The front desk is my “computer desk” – ShinyNewMonitor(!) has arrived. The bulletin board in this area displays all my photos former students have given me along with a poster that reads, “Wherever you go, you leave a footprint.”

The purple shelves on top of the heater/air conditioner were a bargain I found at Good Will. They came in sets of three and were originally varying shades of blue. I painted them all and stacked them up. They’re a perfect spot to feature some of my treasures and trinkets I’ve collected over the years.

The tall bookshelf has a shelf for each of my four preps. Each theology class has an assigned plastic tray where students turn in papers. I’m a total stickler about the turn-in trays. After 8 years, I’ve learned that it’s best to have one designated area to accept all incoming assignments. If it wasn’t placed in the tray, it wasn’t turned in as far as I’m concerned.

Computer desk.  I really just took this picture to document that it is possible for me to have this desk cleared off.  (I'll need this reminder later.)

Computer desk. I really just took this picture to document that it is possible for me to have this desk cleared off. (I’ll need this reminder later.)

Poster on the podium in the front of the room.  Quote by Rosa Parks.

Poster on the podium in the front of the room. Quote by Rosa Parks.

In addition to finishing the classroom preparations (finally!), I also updated my phone extension list, shared my new classroom technology procedure with some colleagues and updated my class participation logs. Oh, and we had our second welcome back meeting in the morning. This means my grand total of work hours today was 9.5.

Building a community (before Day 1)

So at my school we have “advisements”. Advisement is a group of students, freshmen through seniors, who meet for about 15 minutes three times per week.  It operates like a homeroom except that it’s mixed levels and the students stay with the same advisor all four years.  During advisement, we watch broadcast, celebrate holidays, register for classes, track service hours, etc. Mostly they eat…and plan parties…which is an excuse to eat.

In a perfect world, the advisement forms a community that transcends the divisions of class level or social cliques.  In reality, they mainly stick to their classmates and pretend to not know anyone else’s name no matter how many name games I make them play.

Still, I have a dream.  A dream that, one day, I will walk into my classroom at the start of advisement period and find all my advisees hanging out as one, big, happy family.  The seniors will be helping the sophomores with their biology.  The freshmen will approach the juniors confidently and ask about the assembly later that day.  The sun will shine.  The birds will sing. And B102 will be alight with peace and joy.

I just haven’t quite figured out how to make that dream come true yet.  Now don’t get me wrong – I have a GREAT advisement.  They interact a lot more than some.  Our parties are usually successful and, I think, we manage to maintain a relaxed and fun atmosphere…most days.  It’s just a teacher thing, I think.  We always see the potential our students (or in this case, advisees) possess and we just want to ask them for a little bit more.

For my part, I try to build the sense of community in any way I can.  Today I wrote my annual Welcome-back-let’s-have-a-great-year cards to my advisees.  I think letter writing is a lost art and my advisees have mentioned how much they enjoy getting mail, so cards are an easy way to try to build up the advisement community before school even begins.  I have the older students write the cards to the incoming freshmen each year and I write personal notes to the sophomores, juniors and seniors.

Here are some pics of the cards I sent out this year.

photo 3 (2)

Freshmen card. I usually buy blank ones and have the older advisees write personal messages welcoming the frosh to our advisement.

photo 1 (2)

Returning advisee card 1. Sorry for the weird shadows/flash.

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Returning advisee card 2. I should probably mention that I teach at a Catholic school, hence the religious cards. Also, if you’re thinking these cards are kind of girly, you’d be right. It’s an all girls school. 🙂

In addition to writing and addressing the cards, I also dropped by school today. I found a home for some of the classroom supplies and got a tutorial from my friend, the “tech guy,” on how to use my new monitor. So in total I’m clocking 3.5 hours for today.