Friday, October 30, 2015

My First Parent/Teacher Conference Night

Yesterday at 4PM, conferences began. I was fairly petrified. As someone who has never been a participant in a parent/teacher conference, I had no idea how they would go.

My only experience with parent/teacher conferences is when my parents would go talk to my teachers in middle school and high school.

Oftentimes, I would spend the hour or two that they were gone cleaning various rooms in the house because I was so nervous about what would be said, even though I usually had no reason to be nervous.

I think it was those same fears coming back, despite the fact that this time, I’m the teacher, and not the student.

And by the time I got through the first three conferences, they were a walk in the park.

Okay, fine. They weren’t that easy.
"Education is not the filling of a pail,
but the lighting of a fire."
-William Butler Yeats

Some were definitely more challenging than others, but in all, they went well. The parents that I had the pleasure of meeting were so kind, and a few of them complimented me on my presentation, which made me feel good about how the whole night went.

While I’m certainly glad that parent/teacher conference night isn’t every night, I don’t think I’ll have the same fears when I have to do conferences again.

From the experience, I learned that the parents often drive the conversation, because they already come in with ideas and points that they want to talk about. And before I jumped in, I asked the parents if they had any points of concern that they wanted to address. I found this to be a good starting point since we had such a limited amount of time.

As the teacher, it was my job to answer their questions about what goes on in the classroom and how their child is progressing in my class. And since I conference with my students on a daily basis, I know exactly what they are all working on during any given class period, so I found this part to be exceptionally easy.

I think the best part about conferences, however, was having the opportunity to meet more of my student’s parents in person. I found that doing this gave me a better perspective on each of my students, which is invaluable.

Friday, October 23, 2015

The edTPA is Finished

Last weekend, I put the finishing touches on my edTPA.

Once I finally hit the last task, it seemed to fly by, rather than crawl as it had been for approximately two months.

Upon finally submitting my edTPA to all the proper sources, I celebrated by buying myself dinner. After having this project weigh on my shoulders for a few months, I noticed that it started to take its toll, so I gave myself a break from, well, everything.

Photo I took on a flight home last October.
I spent the rest of the weekend relaxing and grading the few papers I needed to grade. Needless to say, it was nice. I haven’t had a calm and relaxing weekend since I began the edTPA process. It was much needed.

But now that it’s over, I can really focus on my students and I’ve already noticed a difference this week. I no longer feel like I have to rush through making my lesson plans, grading papers, or giving feedback. I feel like I can focus on what it is that my students need, and I don’t feel like my attention has to be in five places at once.

While multitasking may be my forte, I was struggling to find a solid balance between the edTPA and the reading and writing workshop style in which I am teaching. My cooperating teacher and I are using standards based grading in the workshop, and the documentation for standards based grading is demanding. Now, I feel like I have a hold on what it is I need to be doing.

That said, I now intend to enjoy my weekend with a trip home. After all, the final submission deadline for the edTPA was today. So why not celebrate?

Friday, October 16, 2015

Famous Last Words: No Plot Summary!

This week, while grading student papers for the edTPA and for other assignments in class, I could not help but notice a pattern in my comments. It seemed as though every other paper earned the comment of “No plot summary.”

Naturally, after writing these 13 letters multiple times, I began to wonder if I could write a Six-Word Memoir about them. Then, it hit me:

Famous last words: no plot summary!

A few weeks ago, I introduced Six-Word Memoirs to my Creative Writing class. I gave them Ernest Hemmingway’s famous example of “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Ever since this class, I have been continuously thinking of Six-Word Memoir’s – most of the time, without even meaning too. Oops?

For those who have never heard of a Six-Word Memoir, it is essentially a short story comprised of six words. Over the years, I have compiled several of my own six word memoirs, and much like the one I came up with about plot summary, they tend to just hit me. After my students wrote a few themselves, I shared a few of my examples with them. My examples are below:

1.      I laugh when nothing is funny.
2.      Small fire. Baking soda. We’re okay.
3.      Big dreams in a small world.
4.      Destination: sandy beach in Southern Florida.
5.      Pen to paper; hands to keyboard.
6.      Six words with nothing to say.
7.      Meaningless or meaningful? You pick.
8.      Wanted: the wardrobe of my dreams.

With my examples, I was trying to show students that Six-Word Memoirs can range from the serious to the not-so serious. My students shared what they came up with, and it was clear to me that they really understood the point.

As a writer, and now, as a teacher, Six-Word Memoirs are definitely a personal favorite. 

Friday, October 9, 2015

Wait, That Wasn't on My Lesson Plan

The bell rings. It’s 5th bell, English 9. My students are sitting there, staring at me -- waiting for me to do something. I begin teaching. It’s going well. My students are really getting the lesson.

I’m happy

…until I look at the clock. Then, my happiness becomes shadowed by the realization that there are still 20 minutes left in class, and my lesson, which was supposed to last all 48 minutes, is doomed.

I begin scrambling.

In my head, of course. I can’t let me students realize I have nothing planned.

My thoughts are racing.

Okay, Miss Valco. Think. We’re looking at this piece as readers today. What else can we do?

Then it clicked.

Now, normally, I would have given my students workshop time in a case like this. But I hadn’t yet introduced the first writing assignment. This experience happened in the first few weeks of school, when I was still getting the hang of things.

If this were to happen now, I would be able to shrug it off like it’s no big deal. I’m just here to let everyone who has had a moment like this know that it’s okay. It’s horrifying when it first happens, but it’s okay.

But when you’re in that moment? Well, there’s a good chance you’re full of panic.

I managed to maneuver around the issue by asking my students to write their own short little narrative in the style of the author, despite reading the piece like readers that day. It worked. 

Friday, October 2, 2015

I Could Not Be a Teacher Without Sticky Notes

Sticky notes are my lifeline.

A lot of my cohort was at the edTPA
Boot Camp that we had this week, so
before we started working, we had
to document our mini-reunion.
My cooperating teacher has started to notice that as the stack of student papers grows on my desk, so does my stacks upon stacks of sticky notes reminding me that so-and-so needs to take Vocab Test 1 & 2, and that so-and-so has not yet turned in their concept map, and that we need to work on such-and-such skills before this-or-that paper is due.

And then there’s my stack of edTPA centered sticky notes. These ones are reminding me that I need to go back and proof-read Task 1, that I need to grade my students assessments so I can complete that portion of the edTPA, and that I need to finish deciding which video clips I want to use.

I have sticky notes everywhere. On my binders, on my notebooks, on my students notebooks, on my students work, on my students notebooks, on my gradebook, on my lesson plans, on my desk, and even on the edge of my keyboard. The desktop on my laptop screen is even covered with virtual sticky notes. And don’t even get me started on the sticky notes hanging in my room.

Sticky notes are keeping my student teaching world stitched together -- somehow. What may seem like a chaotic system of disorganization becomes an ordered system that is quite effective for me.

Without my mountains of sticky notes, I don’t know where I’d be. I’ve already gone through three packs of sticky notes since school started.

I even give my students sticky notes to practice their vocab words.

This week, I had a day off to work on my edTPA, and I attended an event on campus called edTPA Boot Camp. On my walk there in the morning, I realized that I forgot two essentials: my nice headphones (unfortunately I had my old and broken ones) and sticky notes.

Despite already being on campus, I considered walking the mile back to my apartment just to get sticky notes.

I didn’t make the trek, but I definitely would have appreciated having my sticky notes during the edTPA Boot Camp, as they would have been nice to make small notes on about what I had done, what I hadn’t done, and what I still needed to do.

Needless to say, I don’t know how I would be a teacher without sticky notes.