Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Very Touching Essay About Mr. Bradley

I've been telling myself all week that I needed to do a reflection post on my blog detailing my experiences of my first semester of teaching junior high. Today we had the writing section of our midterm exam and a student from my 4th period turned in the most touching essay....it was very timely. :)

The essay prompt was "Write an essay explaining why hard work is important to be successful." Sure, he's lacking a clearly defined thesis statement and developed introduction/conclusion, but this was the most touching essays I've ever graded.

"Mr. Bradley is young and he is a teacher. Those two things usually don't mix together, but he made it work by being fun, funny, and cool. He is also pretty nice when he is not mad, but he doesn't want to get mad at us but we push him to. Given all of his qualities and skills I would say that Mr. Bradley is a successful human being. He always tells us that we have to try harder on focusing and doing our work and I agree. I am going to try to work harder so that my grades will improve, but also because more than 50% of our class failed the test we were given a couple of days ago. So that's another reason I have to work harder, so that I can improve that percentage to a better one, then Mr. Bradley can be proud of us. I am incredibly impressed by Mr. Bradley. Our class and some of his other classes are super misbehaving and not doing their work, but he keeps trying because I guess he has faith in us - that we can work harder and do better and then get better grades. He is the youngest teacher that I have had but possibly the strongest mentally. He never gives up and is somehow still not insane. I bet it's because he worked hard and in the end he was successful."

This is just what I needed to hear at the end of my semester when you're wanting to pull your hair out and feel that no one knows how much work you're putting in. Apparently, kids notice things that you think go unnoticed. Every little thing you do is some how transcribed into their head for later use. I absolutely love teaching junior high school, especially English. It's always great to read a positive essay that's about you. I'll still be doing a reflection post later. :)

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Classroom Management and Student Motivation in Junior High

I've been getting many emails and Instagram comments inquiring about the classroom management techniques I use in my junior high classroom.  To be honest, many of the strategies I use this year I also used when I taught Kindergarten and 3rd grade. I am going to summarize it into a top 8 list.

Most importantly {top 8}...

1. Choose your battles wisely. We all have bad days. My students (as well as every other ELA class at my school) are required to read their library book quietly for the first 15 minutes of class. Every day they come in and put their homework at the corner of their desk and then get their book out to read. If I see a student who's just sitting there with a book on his/her desk and not reading but they're being quiet...I don't say anything. As long as they're not distracting other, it's fine. If it continues the next day then I'll address the issue.

Supply battles - I gave up battles over supplies along time ago when I taught 3rd grade. Yes, they should be responsible. Yes, they should be prepared and have a pencil. BUT....your going to spend way more time talking about how they should be responsible and lecturing them. That takes time..the precious time that you should be using to teach and build relationships with your students. Just be happy they made it to school that day and give them a pencil. If my kids need a pencil they know the drill. Phone goes on my desk and they get a pencil...put the pencil back and get your phone back. It's simple and they all have a phone.

2. Reprimand students privately. Junior high kids hate for teachers to correct them in front of their peers. Everything's about your appearance and reputation in junior high. If I see someone doing something wrong I'll give a generic reminder to the entire class - "Please make sure your homework is a the corner of your desk and your reading your book quietly." If they still don't get it after the generic reminder I make it more specific - "Most of you are doing a fantastic job of reading quietly! There are just maybe 1 or 2 people who are off task. If you're one of those people please make sure you're on task very soon." If I still don't have the desired behavior I do one of two things: write them a note and give it to them or quietly ask them to speak to me at my desk or outside. The notes work for some kids, but not others. After you've done it for awhile you should know who the notes work for. Finally, do not punish the entire class for the actions of a few students. Once that happens you end up losing the respect from your compliant students.

3. Remind, remind, remind....then remind again. Everyday when my students enter the classroom I say the exact same thing - "Please put your homework to the corner of your desk then get your book out and read silently." The day I don't say it is the day the bell rings and I step inside and find kids standing by each others desk having conversations or boys running around. Also, remind them to put their names on their paper. I say it when I hand the paper out and again when I'm about to pick them up. When I say it at the end I usually see over half the class writing their name on the paper, which means they didn't do it the first time.

4. Praise and reward often. Let them know you notice what they're doing and you appreciate it. Below is a picture I posted on Instagram the other day. 

Here was my post:

"This kid has improved so much. The first two months of school he spent his days in class sleeping and complaining about anything that required effort. He has changed his attitude so much. He is getting all of his work turned in, staying for tutorials, and in class I hear him encouraging other kids to do the right thing. Today he stayed after school for over an hour so he could finish typing his essay and get all of his English homework done for the rest of the week. I wrote him a note and game him a Scentos highlighter and pencil. He was so excited after he read the note he came to me and gave me a hug and said "thank you for noticing my hard work. School is a lot better now! You're the only one that noticed....and can I show this note to my mom?!" This doesn't happen everyday with a 13 year old boy people. I consider this a successful week!"

I always write their praise notes on Gator paper since that's our school mascot.  Some of the students love the notes so much that they glue them in the back of their interactive notebooks! I frequently catch many of them re-reading the notes sometimes. On the notes I'm always sure to mention that I appreciate what they're doing and I am proud of them!
I have a treasure box with many different things in it - pens, mechanical pencils, bubble gum, stickers, markers, highlighters, bouncy balls, etc. You'd be surprised at what a 7th grader gets excited about! Sometimes I let them pick and other I pick things I know their going to like.

5. Be open to student suggestions! They know what they need in order to be successful! I had a student request that I put a student desk behind my teacher desk so he could sit closer to me and won't be distracted by other. I did it...and he's been having great days ever since. Here's a post I made on Instagram that can better explain:

"I have a kid who I've been struggling with since day one. Disrupting the class, walking out without permission, using profane language...you name it. He loves sitting behind my desk on the floor, so on Monday he asked if he could have a desk behind mine. I honored his request and even gave him a job - checking homework. The kids have to put their homework on the corner of their desk when they enter and then read silently. He walks around with his clipboard and checks off the names of students who completed their work then reports back to me. He has been amazing this week and caused me zero problems! If he's good for 14 days with no more than one infraction he gets a Sonic popcorn chicken meal (his favorite) on Dec. 19. Whatever it takes to change his behavior!"

6. Build relationships with your students. Know who they live with, what they're interested in, what sports they play, etc. It's not exactly effective if you you keep telling little Johnny that your going to call his parents when he actually lives with his aunt or grandmother because his parents are incarcerated/deceased/etc.

Be involved. Go to their events. The look on their face when they see you sitting in the bleachers at their event is priceless! I will never forget they day I went to some of my students football game. Eight of them were in my class and that's all they talked about for the next week is how I came to their game.

7. Let students make decisions in the classroom. Take votes sometimes. It gives them ownership. We use Poll Everywhere often where the kids can text in and see their response update on the projector immediately. They love it and it's non-threatening and anonymous. 

8. Last one....take a joke and make a joke! Don't be a stick in the mud....laugh with your kids! I joke and use sarcasm with my students all the time. They get it...it's me.

Of course there are many other things that can be done to effectively manage your classroom, but these are the top 8 that I find most successful. :) 

Thanks for reading!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Christmas Decorations

I can't believe it's already December! I love Christmas time! I was sure to decorate my classroom the first day back from Thanksgiving break! Take a look!

If you live in Texas, don't be afraid to decorate! Read the short article below.