Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jun 12 2013

#68: End-of-year reflections

Summer is officially here as evidenced by an adorable sleeping baby strapped to my chest and the Spurs rolling in the NBA Finals(1).

My first year as a general ed teacher is done. My first year of teaching with the STAAR Geometry test is done. My third year is in the books with the fourth feeling like it starts tomorrow.

Now, a time for reflection.

Things I did terribly this year

  • Time management. I used to be a 7 to 5:30 kinda guy, and that extra time before and after school would give me opportunities to fine-tune lessons or complete paperwork in a timely manner or take care of myself in the most base ways possible(2). But babies change things in an unequivocally great way.  I had less time to do all of those things, so they either got delayed, ignored, or done in a haphazard way. I had to prioritize things in two mental categories: (a) If I don’t do this, the world will end, and (b) If I don’t do this, someone might possibly be upset with me but I will just mutter something about their mother under my breath and move on with my life. If it was 5:00 in the afternoon and something wasn’t done, oh well(3). Tomorrow is another day, and there’s no way I’m going to get there at 7 in the morning, either.
  • Contacted parents! I’ve talked about that already this year, but I was pretty lousy at this and it’s related to my time management issues.
  • My last class of the day. This class was non-existent until the second semester and was cobbled together from students who were behavior issues in other Geometry classes. Creating classroom culture midway through the year was a total trainwreck! This class reminded me that I am not a teaching wiz and I still have a lot of growing to do.
  • Debate team. I just wasn’t as available as I used to be for very legit reasons, but we got trounced as a result of that. Starting fresh next year.
Things I did a’ight this year
  • Made my 6th period class a joy. Part of this was just accepting the fact that they were a chatty bunch and just vibing off of that. It never got pin-drop quiet, but we learned a lot and I made a lot of strong connections in that group. I think in previous years, I would have been so preoccupied with control. I would have made that class a disciplinary sinkhole which would have soured a lot of relationships, put a lot of kids in In-School Suspension, and lost a lot of learning opportunities. Instead, one of those students told me that I inspired her to become a teacher which made my Grinch heart grow three times bigger. But, they were still really chatty! We could have done better, but it was, as I said, a’ight.
  • Saying no to things. For instance, I’m not going to be UIL coordinator next year, not going to teach Sunday school at church, not going to volunteer for jack. You got an event coming up? I’m busy. I used to feel guilty about turning down those things but that guilt is being outweighed by my 20-pound-plus(4) son who needs his Papa.
Things I did well this year
  • Built relationships with my students. For the most part, my kids liked being in my class, liked me, attempted every assignment even if they were lost. They came to me for help. Kids who I never had before were asking if I could be their teacher next year. Kids in my classes were asking if I could teach them Algebra II next year. They actually clapped and cheered when I rapped songs about triangle congruence postulates and polyhedrons to the tunes of “Bands a Maker Her Dance” and “Bugatti”, respectively. I loved my classes! I can’t wait to see these kids in August. I want to teach them again! Maybe I can teach Government and Economics when they are seniors. I hope this is not coming off as me being a braggart, because I’m still pretty mediocre at this teaching thing. But I fought hard to be mediocre and to realize that mediocrity is a tough bar to clear in this business. You don’t realize how bad you are your first year until you’ve done it a little while longer and you can say, oh, that thing I did my first year was really dumb and harmful and I have learned and grown from that experience. I’m sure I will have the same feeling in year 5 or 8 or whatever about my year this year.

Things to work on for next year

  • I’ll be teaching Geometry again and I really want to have a better grounding in Euclid’s Elements (as in the actual text, not merely its contents filtered through prescribed curriculum). I also want to go deeper into non-Euclidean systems, particularly hyperbolic geometry. Something beyond “the sum of the angles of a triangle are less than 180°.”
  • I really stressed two-column proofs hard in the first semester and kind of abandoned them by second semester when the focus shifted from triangle congruence to right triangle properties and area/volume of two and three dimensional objects. I want to do proofs all the time next year.
  • Ditto the above for constructions, too. Our school lacked class sets of compasses until November, and by then, I and the other Geometry teachers basically conceded that it was too late to get them going and it wasn’t going to be on the test(5) anyway so let’s just carry on without them.
  • Since the state no longer requires this test for graduation, I want to go rogue with this curriculum. I want to assign Euclid as a text. I want to do a bunch of constructions with just a straight edge and a compass. I want to throw all my graphing calculators in a river.
  • More creative projects. I assigned one at the end of the year and a lot of them were really well-made! Maybe each unit can allow for a showcase of students creative interpretations of those objectives.
  • Use my conference time for student conferences. I missed a lot of opportunities to get to better know some of my students who are quiet and unassuming by nature. Maybe 5-10 minute chats every so often when there are not so many darn people around.
I’m officially a TFA “alum.” Now I’m a regular teacher again. I love what I do, and I hope that you incoming TFA teachers come to love it as I do, too, and stick with it(6) because these kids are worth your time.


(1) I resist the urge to post nothing but Spurs recaps because this is an education blog. But, Danny Green and Gary Neal were unconscious yesterday from three. Drive for five, my dudes.

(2) Do you remember going to the bathroom? Gosh, that must be swell.

(3) My wife will no doubt read this and say, “Pfft. More like 5:15, hotshot.”

(4) Our little guy is five months old as of yesterday! “He is getting so big,” says the author as he winces and rubs his aching back.

(5) This was the first year I was personally under a lot of pressure to get my students to pass the state exam. It’s a terrible feeling! It doesn’t make you a better teach.

(6) For, like, a lot of years. Let’s say 10, give or take.

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