This was my 20th year of teaching. It was the most challenging year of teaching. I was not my best! I tried to be my best but I wasn’t. I ended the year with all my students by giving them a positive message, telling them how much they had grown, because they had, and how much they had overcome, because they had, and how I hoped they were able to have me as a teacher again so they could truly see how I am. I hate that I wasn’t my best, but there are no do-overs! There is only reflection and growth. I want my students to see that, I want all of you to see that, and I want to remember that myself.
We can’t go back and erase past mistakes. Sometimes we want to and we try to, but even if you try to erase the mistake (apology, restoration,…), the indention of the pencil is still left after you wipe away the eraser bits. Is the paper still usable? Yes! Can we begin again and do better? Yes!
To model this process for students, I give them a reflection at the end of the year. Part of it is for them to reflect over their own learning and part of it is for me to reflect over my teaching. This requires you to be vulnerable. It requires you to put aside your pride. It requires you to be willing to grow. IT’S NOT EASY! Not every student likes you and not every student will say nice things about you.
Learn from them.
Page one is the student reflection and page two is their opportunity to give me feedback. Why do I ask kids about learning vs. grades? This is a huge focus of mine throughout the year. I want students to learn how to learn and focus less on what grade they have. This is hard for students, especially the top students who are grade driven! I had a Freshman this year that FREAKED OUT because a teacher entered an assignment as missing and it dropped her from a 96% to a 95% (Ok, this was not her only freak-out about grades, SHE HAD MANY!!!). Now, she was going to be in this teacher’s class later in the day and could address the missing assignment but she was having trouble concentrating on my class because her grade dropped a percent. It was still an A, and it would be remedied in an hours time! UGH! Needless to say her reflection this year said she focused on grades and she said there was nothing I could do to make her focus on learning because she wanted to be Valedictorian and her grades were more important. Our system has failed her and so many others with the same focus. I will keep doing what I do, and try to make students see the value in knowledge. It’s an uphill battle!
Now to my reflection.
Students liked: how quickly I entered grades, that I gave chances to improve, that they could choose during the unit when to complete tasks because it allowed them to work around their schedule, class time to work on skills so they could get help, whiteboard reviews, exit tickets, and a few students LOVED the Choose Your Own Adventure (maybe because it was fresh in their mind.) Some told me I was funny and some told me they knew I cared. Some liked that I would dance or sing with them and told them about my life and asked about theirs.
Areas to improve: I was grouchy sometimes and could have angry eyes, it wasn’t fair that students could retake tests because “I worked hard and got it the first time” (Umm… focus on grade student perhaps?). One student told me I played favorites but gave no examples of me doing this so I will need to reflect over that one to see I was unaware of an action. One student was angry that they didn’t pass and blamed me and another was upset with me because I told them to get off their phone every day and they didn’t want to get off their phone. A few students asked that I stop emailing their parents about missing work and redo opportunities.
Things I know I want to do better next year is parent contact, positive and negative. I’m thinking of some kind of newsletter and more positive calls home. We started in remote, then 2 weeks in person, then hybrid, and my usual positive calls home didn’t happen because my calls were more about getting technology situated and seeing why students weren’t joining Zoom.
There are many things I want to continue: flexibility with completion dates, ability to correct or retake, and focus on learning not grades.
I wish I could undo some of the grouchy days (students weren’t wrong about that) but those pencil marks are forever on the paper. I will try to do better next year, which is all I ever ask of my students. Learn from the mistake and do better!
Here is the reflection sheet that I created. Feel free to use (change to your name on the second page) or modify as needed.
No matter what, I loved my students and tried my best to be what they needed. This year was hard and I’m hoping next year will be better!