Monday, August 2, 2010

Long overdue . . . final thoughts.

Well, as the title says, I am long overdue in writing this final post.

The day after school got out, I flew to Boston to watch my fiance (now husband) graduate from MIT. After we got back, we went into wedding prep mode. After the wedding and honeymoon, we headed back to OK to finish packing our things and then made our way to MD, where we will now reside. Our apartment is still in shambles, with much to be unpacked, but the need to wrap up my thoughts on this blog has been nagging at me.

I have interviewed for a position here in our new town, and it got me thinking about everything I wanted to remember from last year. I know I won't remember everything, but I'm going to do my best. It is also giving me a chance to step away from the emotional challenges I felt while I was in the job, giving me a more objective view of the year. I feel like the following items would also be very helpful to someone getting ready to start their first year of teaching.

1. I never felt (or probably ever will feel) completely ready and prepared for a school day. It's just not possible. Do the best you can, and be ready flexible for where your students go with it.

2. OVERPLAN. There were so many times when lessons ran shorter than planned. Be ready. That's when the discipline problems really kick in.

3. Most of my challenges this year were not academic. Strictly disciplinary. Unfortunately, college classes don't cover how to handle discipline problems very well. They do, however, spend lots of time talking academics. But without the classroom management down, little academic progress is made. That being said, there will always be some problem--find a way to solve it or work around it and keep teaching. I think I was guilty of letting some of those problems outweigh my teaching time, which is not fair to the students.

4. Stay as organized as possible. There needs to be a place to put every type of paper in the room (completed student work to be graded, completed student work that just needs a check mark, student work that doesn't need to be graded, graded student work to go home, parents' notes to you, notes to your parents, copies of things you used and liked, resources that other teachers give you, scrap paper for kids to draw on, etc, etc). I also have a habit of putting things off. In relation to paperwork... not a good idea! Don't put things off and reorganize if needed so that you can stay on top of things!

5. Arrange a schedule that works for you, and don't be afraid to rearrange it if needed (just be sure to give the kids time to adjust before you decided it doesn't work). I made a major change in how our day was arranged right after Christmas break and it seemed to lessen some of the behavior problems because our time was managed more efficiently.

6. ASK QUESTIONS! The best teaching resources I had this year were the teachers around me! I am fully aware that I don't know how to handle all of these problems and teach every new topic where the kids will understand it perfectly. It only makes sense to ask people with experience. They will be glad to help! My best friends this year were the special ed teacher, the other 4th grade teacher, the reading specialist, and the librarian. They have so many ideas and they WANT to share. Don't be afraid to ask!

7. You are not in this alone. This piggybacks from #6. There were many times when I felt like I was in this crazy struggle alone, and that's when it is most important to go talk to someone. They will give you the encouraging hug, the laugh, the lesson idea, or whatever you need to get you back on your feet!

8. I love my kids, but they will drive you crazy. It's amazing how, now that school has been out for 2 months, I wonder how they are doing and what drama is going on in their lives today. It's weird to spend 10 months out of the year, hearing every detail of their lives. They really tell you EVERYTHING! You hear things about their home life that you don't want to know, drama with their friends that changes by the minute, and their hopes and dreams for the future . . . every day. And then suddenly, they're gone, and the stories end. It's just a weird feeling, especially since I moved and won't be returning to that school.

9. Try not to get involved in faculty drama. We try to teach our kids to get along with each other even when it's difficult, and we should do the same. Set the example.

10. Save things that your kids write to you. I have already dug through a few this summer and they really do brighten your day. "Miss Davis, to me, you are the teacher of the year, and the greatest teacher in the world."

Love it.

And my final piece of advice to every first year teacher out there . . . (as a wise teacher once told me) . . . there will only be one first year of teaching. Only one. It will be tough, but make it through, and you will never have another first year.

Thanks for following along, caring, and encouraging me along this rollercoaster of a year. I wish you all the best and hope that God blesses your day!

From the desk of,
(now) Mrs. McLaughlin!

And so, I suppose that wraps up most of my main lessons from this first year of teaching.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Field Day!

I am sitting on my couch, relishing the air conditioning right now.

Today was Field Day... so I just got done spending my whole day, including my lunch and plan, with my 4th graders. It was a very smooth day, no big problems, but I sure am tired.

School is really wrapping up! I turned in final grades this week, which was such a huge weight off! Grading was one of the surprise stresses that I was not ready for this year. The amount of papers is astounding, even though I don't feel like I give all that much "paper" work. I gradually got more organized as the year went on. The first semester, I feel like my grades were just all over the place. These last 2 quarters, though, were a little easier. I had a better idea about what I wanted to grade and how I wanted to grade it. It was still a struggle though. Just glad to have the papers gone, in the computer, and checked off the list.

I've begun to take things home. It feels like so long ago that I put all these things up, but at the same time, I feel like I just did it. Needless to say, it's just weird to be packing up. I feel like I have awaited this time for so long (I don't know if that's bad to say or not), and it's sort of surreal for it to finally be here. Next Tuesday and Wednesday, I'll have my kids help me clean and pack. Since I'm moving to Maryland in July, I have to seriously pack things well. It is definitely going to be a project, but this time in one week, I'll be finished.


FINISHED with my first year of teaching.

I keep thinking about how it will feel to say go0d-bye to my kids. My kids, the ones who have made my life so difficult and stressful and crazy this year. Will I miss them? Yeah, I will. But I am ready. Is that bad? I just hope that I've made at least a small impact on them. Not in the cheesy "A teacher touches lives forever" bookmark... but a real impact. How will they recall their 4th grade year? Will any of the manners, life lessons, etc, that we have talked about daily be present at all the day after school gets out?

I'm curious.

And again, just so so ready to say that I've completed this first year.

From the almost-finished,
Miss Davis

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

It's official!

This is my first blog post as a fully certified teacher of the state of Oklahoma!!!

I had my final residency meeting today... and everyone agreed that I have completed (almost) a successful year of teaching and should be certified. The papers are signed and in the mail! WOOHOO!

I totally feel like I just graduated again. Except... I think I worked a lot harder for it this time.

So happy!

On another note, it is the big week. The ominous state tests are currently taking place in my classroom. We started Monday morning and have one day left. I am proud of my kids because it seems that most of them have been taking their time, attempting to check over their answers, etc. They are atleast giving the appearance of these things, which is a bit better than I expected, actually. I can't say I mind the extra time I have to get grades entered in the computer! It also made lesson planning easy for this week. It's weird to be almost done with these tests that seem to have consumed our school lives for the last semester. It will be a nice change to have the pressure off, that's for sure.

I'm now trying to figure out what I'm going to do for the next 5 weeks. I think I'm going to try to do a group literature discussion of City of Ember if I can get ahold of a class set from the other TPS libraries. I'm also going to talk to the 5th grade teachers about what they would really like my kids to have some prior knowledge of for next year. Lastly, I am going to spend some time on writing, because in 5th grade there is a big state writing test. I am actually pretty excited to spend some quality time on writing, though we've done bits and pieces throughout the year (not as much as I would like, but such is life). Anyways, at least the next 5 weeks will be full of new activities and definitely less pressure! I'm looking forward to it.

I can't believe I'm almost done with this first school year. It seems like it was just dragging and dragging... and then all of the sudden it is almost the end of the year. I can't believe how ready I am for it to be over, but I am also completely amazed at the amount of learning that has taken place for me this year. There is no way anyone could prepare me for this.

Almost there!

From the computer of a fully-certified teacher of the state of Oklahoma (yay!),
Miss Davis

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Small, proud moments

So, I should really be in bed because the day will start early as usual again tomorrow, but I had something to share and I didn't want to forget.

I had 2 moments today where I stopped and realized that things were "working" as planned in my classroom.

The first occured during our short social studies time today. The students were paired off to read the rest of their social studies assignment before we discussed. I had a small group of struggling readers at my kidney table while the others read. As my group began to read, I looked across my room. You will never guess what I saw. Every pair of students was sitting with their partner, reading what they were supposed to. I even heard some students helping each other with words that they didn't know. And I didn't have to get on to a group once about staying on task.

Small victory? Indeed. But a victory nonetheless. This time last year, I would have never imagined that I would be rejoicing at such a small feat as this, but I am. With the struggles I've had with these students working together in groups, partners, and individually (most lack much motivation), it was a beautiful sight to see.

Second wonderful event of the day (again, remember I am rejoicing at the small victories) was after my kids had left for the day. I came back into my room and was doing the usual clean up. Because of budget cuts, we have been strictly audited on our energy use, so it's a big deal to make sure EVERYTHING is turned off at the end of the day. Since we have 3 classroom computers, plus my computer and the Promethean board, there is quite a bit to double check. I have been asking some of my students each day to take care of turning off the classroom computers.

I forgot to ask them to turn them off today.

When I returned to my room, I realized that they were already off. My students had paid attention, taken initiative, and done the responsible thing to be helpful.

I was so proud.

Are there academics exactly where they should be? No. But it seems a few have learned some lifeskills along the way. That's got to count for something.

From the swelling heart of,
Miss Davis

Friday, April 2, 2010

Drama, drama, drama!

Once again, I have neglected my personal goal to post more than once in a month (shouldn't be that hard, I don't think!) But life is so busy.

Spring Break was wonderful! And very short.

The week before Spring Break was... full of drama. Complaining parents make for quite a week. One of the results of that: a child was moved out of my classroom... one of my "problem kids" to be exact. My feelings were definitely mixed about the change. On one hand, I have invested so much time, energy, thought, and effort into that child-trying as many ideas as I could think of to motivate him, encourage him, find a discipline that works for him, connect with him, and the list just continues. We had made some progress, but a parental complaint from another student's parent led to his move to the other 4th grade class. It sort of felt like all the work I did was for nothing. I still see him and talk to him in the halls, but I feel like that investment is just sort of, lost.

On the other hand, I can't tell you how much more peaceful my classroom has been. Is that bad to say?

Now, I am dealing with a group of girls who just refuse to get along. I'm getting really tired of just hearing about it all the time. Can't they just get along? I've tried some different approaches to resolve the conflicts, but currently, none are working. I'm hoping after the parent conferences I had with each of their parents this week, I will see some change. I hope. I really, really hope.

And that brings me to parent conferences. I was nervous as I prepared for them, but as soon as they got started, it felt fairly natural and easy. It's amazing how much differently I feel about this time around than I did the first time. The major difference I felt and saw in these conferences (versus the first time, in October) is that I was more prepared to talk about the difficult issues. Last time, I didn't want to make any waves, didn't want to upset anyone... I was just kind of scared. So I glossed over things (didn't lie, just didn't approach things as directly as I should have) instead of getting to the heart of the problems with the parents. This time around, however, I discussed the poor choices these girls are making as they are fighting and arguing, I discussed the offensive sexual language with a girl whose mother is of a different orientation (I just wasn't sure how to approach it, but it went really well!), I talked about a boy's complete lack of effort and not turning any work in, and I discussed the need to retain one of my students in the 4th grade. Wow, not easy stuff! But I laid it out there and received very supportive and understanding comments from all of my parents. I know it won't always be that way, but it was a nice boost of confidence for me to lay out the tough issues and really discuss them. Small victory, but it really felt good.

And now I'm on a 3 day weekend! This is the last break we will have before Memorial Day on May 31st (2 days before school gets out. Really? Just let us out that Friday!). I am very ready for the year to be over! I am ready to have "successfully completed a full year of teaching" and be fully certified by the state. I am ready to revamp lots of things and get more organized for the next time around. I am ready to start over with another group of kids and approach things differently, and handle behavior and discipline better. And... I'm ready to get married. :) But, we've got 8 1/2 more weeks of school, so I'm just going to take it day by day! Test prep is rolling along, and I am getting more nervous about their performance! They are not scoring like I would like to see on their practice tests. There are so many things I wish I had time to go back and re-teach! But I will just do my best and that's all I can do!

Now, I'm going to go enjoy my 3-day weekend! Happy Easter!

From the practice test-covered desk of,
Miss Davis

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Week One

Well, we just concluded our first week of test review, and I must say that it was reeeally boring. The other 4th grade teacher and I are using an OCCT prep book and it is set up well for review... short enough but includes good details. It also includes some good practice as well as an OCCT practice test for each unit.


But, it's just so BORING. I don't know how to cover what I need to without boring the snot out of my kids.

Any suggestions would be so welcome! :)

Other updates, hmmm.

My difficult friend with the crazy mom and many other issues moved last week. He came in Friday announcing he was moving and his mom came and picked him up early, unenrolled him, and he left in tears. For all the trouble I've had with him, I was sad to see him go. He just needs so much help. He didn't wait long to reveal problems with his new teacher, though. I got a call from her on Thursday (after he had been there only 3 days) and he was showing the same problems, but worse: banging his head on his desk, yelling, refusing to do work, having to be physically removed from the room, etc. We had a long conversation and I'm hoping she can pick up where we left off, and get him the extra support and help that he desperately, desperately needs. While classroom life has been easier this week, I hate knowing that he is so miserable. I hope he is able to get what he needs. It sounds like he has a caring, experienced teacher there so I am glad of that.

This week included 2 practices of the Tulsa Public Schools "Gymnaestrada." With my gymnastics experience, I was recruited and gladly willing to help out with the practices. A few of my especially difficult kids are in this program, so I think it was really great to interact with them in a very different setting than the classroom. I'm hoping this builds on my relationships with them and that I will see improvement in classroom behavior because of it.

On a side note, I am an animal-killer. It's true.

I can't remember if I wrote about this or not, but we just concluded a science unit that involved our class studying and caring for African dwarf frogs, fiddler crabs, and millipedes. We learned about habitats, things all animals need, realizing that all have specific needs, etc. The kids loved having the animals in our room, and it was neat to feel like I was giving them the opportunity to see their science hands-on, living in front of them, instead of out of a textbook. I took pictures of them holding the millipedes, but I'm pretty sure it's illegal to post them on the internet. They sure looked like they were having fun though! It made me feel good inside. The down side? The awful smell my room has emitted for the last 7 weeks, and the fact that these particular species cannot simply be released into the wild. So, what does that mean? The freezer. (I promise, it's humane! That's what the teacher guide said to do. Don't think I'm a terrible person.) You should have heard the squealing and laughing going on as me and my mentor teacher were loading them into their bags... quite hysterical, and gross.

I am looking forward to a fresher-smelling room again (however fresh a room can smell with a room full of fourth-graders... they're at that age when things are changing, ya know!). I am also looking forward to Spring Break in 1 week! And, I am looking forward to only 11 Mondays after that until summer break and the conclusion of my first year of teaching! And, oh yeah, my wedding! :) It feels like there are so many hard days ahead, though my outlook is a little better this week. Countdown to testing: 5 weeks.

Thanks for following along! The next time I post, I will be on Spring Break! Yahoo!

From the looking-ahead,
Miss Davis

Sunday, February 21, 2010


Another drought between posts, and the best word I can use to describe how I feel in this 3rd quarter is weary.

The last month has included report cards, snow days, meetings, and one very wild Valentine's party. It amazes me how, even with the extra days off we have had due to snow and holidays (Martin Luther King, Jr., Presidents' Day, etc), I never feel quite rested or caught up. I feel that way right now, after I've had a perfectly enjoyable weekend, lesson plans done early, heading to bed a little early... but I'm still not mentally prepared for the week ahead. I really thought that I would have this down a little better by now, but I still feel the same nerves every morning on my long commute, in the dark, to work. I still worry about the prospect of the unknown things that could happen in my classroom everyday. It is quite tiresome, and again, I just feel weary.

My mother and I have had conversations about how sometimes looking forward to things makes one "wish their life away." Well, with working 2 jobs this year, getting married in July, and moving, and finishing up this difficult first year... I will fully admit that I am wishing the time away. I have learned so much this year and I am ready for a break and a fresh start.

There I go again, though, wishing away the time, when I have a large obstacle looming... the test. As of this week, we finish our last official unit of "new material," and will begin test prep. We had a meeting with the principal last week about the importance of our preparation for the test.

Sidenote, for just a moment. For those who don't know, my fiance accepted a job in Maryland this month, that will begin in August. So, after I complete this year of teaching, I will be moving on to another school and starting again. I just began that process again today (didn't I just finish applying and finding out whether I would get to keep my job?). I informed my principal of this about 2 weeks ago.

Okay, back to the story. The other 4th grade teacher and I (it is his 2nd year of teaching) met with our principal a few weeks ago. She reminded us that, though it is my 1st year and I am leaving and that it is his 2nd year, that all it takes is 1 grade level not passing the test to put our school on the list. Added pressure, to say the least! My leaving has nothing to do with my responsibility to teach my kids this year, and I hope that isn't what is coming across this year! It does create so much pressure, though, to think that the results of my teaching are going to affect the funding (that our school desperately, desperately needs) for next year. That responsibility weighs heavily, whether I will be here next year or not (which I'm not).

So, as we wrap up this last unit this week, I am not looking forward to the weeks of "test prep" that I know are expected of me and my students. I understand the importance of the test and the repurcussions of poor performance, but I'm not sure how I'm going to pull off passing all of my students. I am passing along that responsibility to the Lord as I do my absolute best to not only prepare my students for the test, but more importantly, for success in life. How to find that balance is a task of which I am completely unsure. I will just take it one day at a time.

Hmm, what else is there to update on? Management issues vary from one day to the next, as I've learned how to better deal with some things and still struggle with others. I am really ready for a fresh start in that area. Lesson-planning has gotten easier but, like I said earlier, even during those weeks when I feel I have planned really well, things still never go quite as planned. The anticipation of the difficult (and some successful) times in the classroom are what stresses me out on my early morning drives to work. I feel like I'm repeating myself but this has just been a shock to continue to feel so nervous about going to my job everyday.

Which brings me to one last point...

I'm not sure if I have written about this or just talked about it with those close to me, but there is one other reason that I am ready for a fresh start. I am ready to feel like I'm doing a good job again. This is not a pity "feel sorry for me" but a simple statement of truth of which I continue to struggle. Until this point in my life, I was successful at what I did. Not necessarily the best, but always successful, always meeting expectations. This year, I feel like I've done nothing but fall short. Not that there has been anyone extremely critical, just the simple day to day responsibilities of a teacher that I feel like I just don't do well at: procedures, organization, always engaging the students, helping them succeed, good classroom management, fostering a love of learning, seeing good test results, mentoring... and the list really does go on and on. I am ready to feel like I'm not failing at those things (or at least part of those things!). I hope that I can eventually look back and see some success or satisfaction in my work this year, and in the years to come, because I don't often feel it these days.

Again, no pity party, just putting the honest truth out there (And curious if other first-years feel this way, too).

From the desk of the weary,
Miss Davis