Last year, every teacher in 6th grade taught a two-hour block of language arts, a one-hour block of math, and two 45-minute sections of either science or social studies. Because we were a new school, we didn't receive our curriculum until a few days before school started, so we spent the entire year trying to figure out what we were teaching and how we were going to teach it.
It was absolutely overwhelming.
In the first month of school last year, I was at school past 8:00 most days, and I always took work home with me. I did everything I knew how to do so that my students wouldn't suffer because I wasn't given curriculum in time or because I was a first-year teacher who didn't know the science curriculum at all.
On top of that, I felt immense pressure to "teach to the tests." Our state finally gave in and implemented statewide accountability testing. Reading went high-stakes last year, and we piloted math, which will go high-stakes this year. Over the next few years, science and social studies will follow suit. Meanwhile, we still had our district CRTs to give. Unfortunately, some really good lessons were sacrificed for the sake of NeSA review. I couldn't help but think about how much more could have been taught and learned if only we didn't have to schedule in so much time for test reviews and the tests themselves.
All things considered, I think the year went OK.
Was I a perfect teacher?
Did I use multiple learning modalities in every lesson?
Was there more that I could have done to make the learning more fun?
I'm sorry, dear 7th graders, if you feel in any way gyped of a high-quality 6th grade learning experience. I assure you, I taught you everything the district told me I needed to. And I promise you that I gave you my very best effort. And I tried to make sure that we laughed and had some fun each day, as well. I hope you can understand just how much work it takes to get everything done.
My students last year were so kind to me. They were patient, they called me out when I made a mistake, and they were such a great group of students who made me look forward to every single day.
I didn't deserve them.
Fast-forward to this year:
This year, we made some really awesome, really big changes. Among those was the decision to "departmentalize" or "specialize" within our 6th grade team. I am fortunate to be able to two blocks of language arts, which I feel is my strength. Because of the "specialized" schedule, the language arts block gained 14 minutes of precious time.
I had big visions and high hopes for all that the extra 14 minutes would allow me to do. I regret to inform you that my plan book is filled with arrows leading from one day to the next. Apparently, I was a teensy bit ambitious in making my lesson plans.
Although I am stressed about not having enough time to fit everything in, this year is so much less stressful because I am only planning for one subject area. It is such a relief to be able to really think about the best ways to teach and to put my time, energy, and effort into more focused and thoughtful planning and reflection. It feels so great to walk into my classroom every day feeling prepared and confident in the fact that the lessons were well-crafted.
We teachers work in a profession where there is always something more that we could be doing. I still stay at school late and bring work home, but i am so thankful to be working on only one subject area. It is much easier on me, and I believe that our students are benefiting ten-fold by having teachers who are less stressed and more thoughtful in the lesson planning.