The Author

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I am a high school English teacher, and mother of two charming little ones of my own. I teach in a high poverty urban charter school, while I live in a typical American suburb that has frequently been rated one of the safest cities in the country. It is a paradox I struggle with constantly, but it is my life.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

I'm different this year...

At the beginning of my last semester of my graduate program, one of the professors kept saying that as soon as we finish this program, we are going to find ourselves with a lot more responsibility on our campuses.  At the time, I thought, "How is that even possible?"  Teachers at charter schools where a lot of hats, so I am used to having a lot of responsibility and didn't really think that I could possibly have more responsibility. Yesterday, I found myself thinking...

"I have a lot of responsibility this year..." 

     By "responsibility," I do not mean work.  I have just as much work this year as I had last year.  I just seem to be finding myself placed in roles where more depends on me, which has been interesting and satisfying.  Not just because I have a big ego and I like to feel important (okay, that too), but mostly, it feels satisfying because I really like how things are going. I am seeing things shape up in positive ways that I feel really good about and that I feel like I have contributed to.  For example, I took some responsibility for training our staff to use our reading program during our summer professional development.  This has enabled advisory teachers (our version of homeroom -- has more of a purpose than attendance and announcements) to track their students progress in reading, which has had some excellent results. More eyes on the data means less students fall through the cracks. We have noticed struggling readers sooner and have helped them find books that are a good fit for them.  A math teacher even checked out 50 books from the public library, just for her struggling readers, and we made the effort to cover them all with paper covers so that other students don't know that they are reading "baby books." In addition, when I checked the data yesterday, the average progress was 24%, which is excellent since we are just slightly over a quarter through the semester. We have always set very high goals for our students, but this year... it looks like most of the students might actually meet them!  Great stuff. 

     I also have a student teacher again this year, and I think I have been doing a good job at guiding her into a smooth transition. Teaching teachers really does make me think more about my teaching and keeps me on my toes. 

      As I have been thinking reflectively about my teaching lately, I've seen some real changes in how I teach and I love it.  One thing I have learned that I think has been the most significant is about responding to student work.  A few years ago I started using edmodo to respond to student work online. This is an excellent tool since I can give students feedback in real time and they do not have to wait for their paper to make it out of my bag and into their hands. What it has made me realize is that getting back FINAL assessments in a super short amount of time is not actually that important.  I used to really try to grade final essays as soon as possible to get students back their grades.  I now realize that is not that important at all. Once it has a grade on it, there is only so much they can learn from it. What really is important is reading as much of their work possible during class to give them immediate (like that same class period) feedback that they can grow from then. Second most important is reading and responding to rough drafts. The quicker the feedback is received on rough drafts, the more likely it is that the student will actually do something with it, and there is real learning as a result of your feedback. Notice I said "feedback" and not grade. I have stopped giving students grades for rough drafts. I read them. I comment. I ask them to grade themselves. I make my expectations clear. But once there is a grade, there is nothing more to push for. Although this has been a gradual shift for me, when I think about how I was as a beginning teacher -- it is a big difference. 

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