Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Comparison of first weeks of school (past and present)

In this blog, you will find a detailed account of some of the changes I've made during the first week of school this year as opposed to what I did last year. Let me start off by saying that this new year has been amazing. I feel like I'm teaching in a different world. It's amazing. Test scores are higher, I haven't written up a single student, and I'm enjoying going to work everyday. So what is the difference? Well, it helps to know my way around the school. Instead of asking other teachers where this is or what I do with that, I know because I've been through it before. It gives me a more general feeling of confidence.

By far, however, this new feeling of actually being a "real teacher" is a direct result of two key changes. First, discipline. Last year I was a push over the first couple of weeks and I paid for it the whole year. Students were rude and obnoxious. They were disrespectful and constanly complained. This year, I hit the ground running. I went in that first week and expected nothing less than complete subordination and respect. It may sound bad to you non-teacher folks, but it is so important to establish yourself as the authority of the classroom during the first week because if you don't, you won't ever establish it. Your students will win the authority. I wasn't going to let that happen this year. I was firm with my rules and followed through with my consequences. Now I have near perfect classes.

I have to admit though, it is easy to get comfortable and to let up a bit. In fact, today, I found myself letting somethings slide. In 4th period I let a student in after the bell without a tardy and in 6th period, I let some members of the class talk without punishment. That is unacceptable. Tomorrow I will be extra strict and won't let anything go. The key is consistency. I'm practicing what I preach this year because last year was miserable.

The second major change that I made has little to do with school but at the same time it has everything to do with school. I am now a coach. I took over the newly formed cross country team this year. I absolutely love coaching. It has always been an aspiration of mine to coach a track or cross country team and now I'm doing it. It's without a doubt the highlight of my day. If I have a bad day for whatever reason, I now have a constructive outlet for my frustration. What's more is that I love to run but last year I always had excuses not to. Most of them consisted of the fact that I had very little time to run because of all the school work I had to do. This year, I am forced to run and I love it. My team is amazing. We have our first meet tomorrow. Most of my runners are dedicated and hard working. I think we'll even have some runners in the top 20! Coaching also has won me more credibility within school as well. Even students who aren't on my team identify me as Coach Lochen and respect me more. In fact, students I've never had know who I am and they've heard how great Cross Country is. It's just great to establish a role in which students look up to you.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Where do we draw our strength?

Having just returned from Sunday morning Mass, I find myself in a reflective state. (Mass seems to have that effect on me...Go figure.) Today's homily was typical in that it presented the dichotomy of earthy possessions versus God's spiritual gifts. (Although the message is one I've heard several times before, the priest used an amazing set to pull us in. He spoke of the meeting of Makeda, better known as the Queen of Sheba, and the wise King Solomon. Sometimes I think priests with their uncanny abilities to focus a large number of people would make amazing classroom teachers.) Anyway, the homily got me thinking about different types of spirtitual gifts. The gift that I find myself reflecting on at present is the gift of strength. I'm not talking about physical strength but I'm talking about the strength to carry on in difficult situations. The strength that I am thinking of is more like determination or will.

Last year was a difficult year. Perhaps the most difficult year of my life. I was cast into an unfamiliar setting, hundreds of miles from home, doing something that didn't really make me happy except for a few fleating moments. (Last year happens to be the complete antithesis of this year, but I'll explain in a future blog.) Last year is over and a new year has begun. The question is, from what did I draw my strength? How did I ever make it through all those days in which I struggled to survive (not literally of course) and end up where I am now?

The simple answer to this question is faith. When I felt down, I could always look to my faith to pull me through. However, I also feel that I am strengthened by the challenges that others face. Case in point; I recently learned that my grandfather is an avid reader of my blogs. (Hi Grandpa!) I find it a bit ironic that he followed along closely with my struggles in the classroom even as he was struggling with his own battle with cancer. The irony lies in the fact that I drew much of my determination from his own struggles. He inspires me in the face of his illness. What's more is that it puts my struggles into perspective. His determination to fight his illness day after day after day ispires me to fight the disadvantages that many of my students have faced throughout their entire childhood.

Another inspiration is my mother, truly the best teacher I have ever known in all aspects of the word. Even though she teachs first grade in a parochial school, she has seen it all and offers comforting "teaching" words when I feel like I won't pull through. If you ever want to be inspired in your teaching, talk to a first grade teacher. Theirs is unarguably the most important job in education. They not only have to teach students how to read and write, and we all know that reading is the single most important key to an educated life, but they also have to shape young children into students. First graders are not used to an academic environment. In many cases, it is the first time these students are going to school for a full school day. Furthermore, first grade teachers have 7 preps! And we high school teachers think we have problems?! Geeze.