Posted in General Inspiration, Hope for Teachers, Pep Talk, Perseverance

The Pantry List

DearTeacherLT2015 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)
DearTeacherLT2015 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)

Dear Teacher,

So, you had a rough year last year?  I hear you.  I was there, too.  The word “challenge” barely covers it.  It was quite a mix of difficulties all wrapped up into one not-so-glorious year.

But I survived.

And you survived.

And now that we have settled into summer a bit, it is time to do one last difficult thing related to last year…reflect.

Reflection is the key to growth and change as a teacher…especially after a tough class period, day, quarter, or year.  When we reflect, we take stock of what went right and wrong, what we need to change for the better, and what we can let go of.  The process can be painstaking, but it is therapeutic…and more than that, it is vital to making next year better.

As I was working through my own mental system of reflection today, I thought of a new approach to reflecting, but before I tell you about it, I need to tell you a story from this morning.  I need to tell you about breakfast.

It all starts with muffins…

I do my wife a favor in the mornings when I can and get our boys going.  This includes breakfast.

This morning, I decided to do a secondary favor.  We had some overripe bananas and she talked about making banana bread yesterday.  I had an epiphany…I can make banana muffins for breakfast!  So, I looked up some recipes.

There was a problem, however.

As it seems, you need certain ingredients to make said banana muffins…not all of which were present in our cupboards.  We had most of the staple products, but since today was shopping day some were missing.

You don’t know me that well, but if you did you would know that once I get an idea in my head to do something I do not give up easily.  So, I pushed on.  I know some recipe replacements, and I thought I knew enough to guess some others.

It was rough, but I was able to get something together that resembled batter…and I poured into the muffin tins and baked.

I had to keep adding a few minutes of time in the oven, but eventually they looked a lot like muffins.

I took them out.  I tried one…

Honestly, they were not the worse muffins I have ever had, and if you added butter they were not too bad.  They weren’t the best, but they were my muffins…and they would pass as breakfast.

DearTeacherLT2015 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)
DearTeacherLT2015 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)

So…what the heck does this have to do with teaching and reflecting?

Every year, we start of with some pretty high goals for our students and ourselves.  We know that we have the basics that we come in with as teachers, but sometimes the ingredients in our classroom are not what we expected.  We do our best with what we have and we strive towards those goals.

We have to alternate plans.

We have to do things a little different than “the norm.”

We have to compromise.

We have to make do.

But in the end, though our results may not be exactly what we hoped for, we still have results.  Sometimes “kind of” results are okay.  We did what we could with the resources at hand, our skills, and some ingenuity.

They may not be the best results, but they are our results.

As we reflect, we need to look at how everything went and see the positive in what we had at the end.  Sometimes that can be more difficult than others that like to judge education will ever know, but they were not in our classroom and do not know our students.

Sometimes edible muffins are the best you can do with baking…and sometimes students getting through the year know more than when they started and able to learn more on their own than before are giant strides for the situation you are giving.

DearTeacherLT2015 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)
DearTeacherLT2015 (You may use the image if you link back to the blog and/or give credit to Dear Teacher/Love Teacher)

And that brings us to the looking forward side of reflection…this is where my new approach to reflection comes in…

You have got to take a good, long look at your “teaching pantry.”  Ask yourself these hard questions and make a PANTRY LIST:

  • What really went well last year that you can go into the new year armed with?
  • What are your strengths as a teacher?
  • What strategies vibe up well with your teaching personality?
  • What is the upside to that teaching personality?
  • How do you connect with students best (both inside and outside of the content)?
  • What are your best improvs as a teacher?

These are the things currently in your pantry.  This is what you bring to the table.  These are what you can bank on being a part of you.

On the other side, you need to ask some harder questions and add these to your PANTRY SHOPPING LIST:

  • What did not go well last year that shows a skill that you may be lacking?
  • What is an aspect of teaching that is a weakness that is vital that you work on?
  • What is something that you would like to learn from a teacher you think is a great teacher?
  • What are ways that you know your classroom atmosphere needs to change?
  • What are some ways that you do not connect well with students?
  • What are your worst improvs as a teacher?

These are the things that you can work on this summer.  DO NOT MAKE THE SHOPPING LIST LONG!  Small steps get you in the right direction.  Do not think of these things as what you are bad at…think of them as things you would like in your teaching pantry.  Spend some time this summer making a “supply run.”  Pick something to read a book about.  Attend a PD session over the summer.  Find a teacher good at one of these things, buy her/him lunch or coffee, and pick their brain.  Make a plan for getting some new ingredients in the cupboard.  And don’t forget to rest!

I hope that this made sense!

What is in your teacher pantry?  What do you need to go shopping for?  Share here and perhaps we can all help you find some resources,

Teacher, you are amazingly awesome!  I bet you already reflect on this level and I am preaching to the choir.  If not, please don’t give up.  Your students and all of the other teachers need you!  You are amazing.  Keep on teaching, Teacher!

Love, Teacher


Posted in Reflection

Reflections and Refractions

You may use this picture if you link back to this blog.
You may use this picture if you link back to this blog.

Dear Teacher,

I know that some of you are done with school for this school year, some are drawing this year to an end, and my Southern Hemisphere friends are just beginning.  I am in that middle group.  Today I start the last week of the school year, so you will have to forgive me if I seem a little nostalgic this morning!

As I was thinking back on the year and the start of this last week of it, I see a lot of growth and change.  Growth and change in my student, which I hope is always a given, but also growth and change in me.  I think this year has marked my greatest leaps as a teacher, and I have been doing this a little while.  I do not know why this year was my “jump forward” year, but I do believe it has been.  I feel like a veteran teacher now, and it is more than the number beside years teaching.  I feel like I understand more about what it takes to connect to and reach students, but also to connect to and reach my fellow teachers.  I realize how important that is now.

While I pondered on all of this, the idea of the behaviors of light came to mind.  The word reflection spurred this jump between trains of thought.  Reflection, as you probably know, is the bouncing of light waves off of the surface of an object.  That is similar to when we reflect on the year as a teacher, we are letting our experiences “bounce” off the surface of the school year and come back to us to think about.  We let the “energy” of the year come back to us, good or bad.

This led me to thinking about looking back in another way, through another behavior of light: refraction.  Refraction is the bending of light as it passes from one medium/material to another.  Refraction is why lenses make things look bigger or smaller.  Refraction is what makes images larger or smaller.  Either way, after refraction, an image is not the same.  Maybe this is a better way to think about end-of-year reflections as a teacher, they are really more of a refraction than a reflection.

When you look back, what you remember is either magnified or diminished.  We see the failures as bigger than they should be, though sometimes they look smaller than they should to us.  We sometimes shrink the successes in light of the “bad stuff,” sometimes they hide the fall-backs from us altogether.  Any way you slice it, or memories are not quite a true reflection.  They are not the original image.

This can be a good or bad thing.  It is bad if we are not honest and letting our experience over the last year be what it really was.  We need an honest look at where we triumphed and where we were defeated.  We need to look closely at what we did well and what we did not do well.  We need to build on the success and find the trail that led to the not-so-successful parts of the year so we can avoid that path from now on.  We need to learn what we can from an honest look at ourselves and move on to bigger and better things!

Refraction of the year CAN be a good thing, though.  We do need to pump up and celebrate what went well.  We need to find achievement somewhere in each student and magnify.  We need to tell them and let them see it, even if it is microscopic.  We need to see it for ourselves, even if it is distant and you need a telescope.  We need to know where we made a difference so that we can gain excitement from that and make bigger strides next year!

Where are you in this?  Are you reflecting or refracting?  Don’t forget to do both!

You are SO awesome, Teacher!  I know that you will look back at this year so that you can make next year even better!  Keeping on teaching, Teacher!

Love, Teacher

For more hope and encouragement: @DearTeacherLT (Twitter) and Dear Teacher/Love Teacher Facebook Page.