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Change and the Top 5 Things I Learned This Year

-Thomas Jefferson

.... and there is was. I loved my classroom. I loved my kids. I loved those things and they were great... But I wanted something even more than that. I wanted to be able to focus on reading with small groups of students at a time in order to understand their individual needs; to try to get a glimpse into why they struggled year after year, to be a source of encouragement, and ultimately to help them be a little better at reading and comprehending than before they'd ever met me. So... to do this- to go after what I wanted but had never had, I had to do some things I had never done. I had to leave my intimately cozy school where I truly considered each person there a part of an extended family unit. I had to load up 8 years worth of materials and teacher junk and haul it to a new school; and not just any school... to a MIDDLE school! The horror! I had always sworn I would never... COULD never teach in a junior high/middle school setting, and here I was scrambling over boxes and giving away trash (one teacher's trash is another teacher's trash- just appreciated a lot more!)- to be able to get in and set my room up as soon as possible. Being new meant other changes too. It meant taking on a great deal that I had never done before.
Overall, it has been a great change- one I don't regret nor have had one hesitation about. I ultimately believe my move was for the benefit of not only myself, but my family as well, but that's for another post.  So...Here are my top 5 things I learned in year 1 of a new position/school/grade-level...

# Number 5: Smile and Snap this Insta #trending
Wow. I put a mirror on one wall mainly because it was cute, and I needed something for that space... you would have thought it held magical powers. It attracted them. The mirror seemed to beckon them to come over... Come behold your stylish self in my reflection it seemed to whisper. They checked their hair. They practiced their smiles for selfies & pictures with friends. They checked make-up. I honestly wasn't sure what they were doing at times. I guess they just wanted to stare at themselves because I saw this a lot. They also wanted to try to capture every moment for their Snapchat stories or Instagram feed. So my number 5 is that social media rules the land. Selfies are still taken at record numbers, and any gossip in the school is hashtag, trending.

# Number 4: Hormones
No other explanation needed.

# Number 3: How to better organize my year
Teaching an intervention class to 6th-8th graders means various reading abilities, numerous strengths and weaknesses and a ton of skills that need to be covered in a short amount of time. I followed a basic scope and sequence of skills, took each groups' ability level and needed areas of growth into account when planning, but also made some notes for how this may work easier next year. Throughout the year, I wrote myself little notes about certain lessons, students, things to add or change. I'm hoping they will come in handy this year.

# Number 2: 8th graders can be a little intimidating... at first
They were to me anyway. The crazy thing is that I HAD an 8th grader- my own child- and he didn't scare me. His friends didn't scare me. In fact, I had taught most of them when they were in 5th grade and built great relationships with them, but this was different. I was now on the other side of our district with NEW 8th graders; other than a couple, I had never met these 8th graders before... and they scared me. They scared me because, if I'm honest- they were unpredictable and very UN-like the 5th graders I had grown accustomed to the last 9 years. It forced me to rethink some of my classroom procedures, to realize they relied on each other more than me and that was OK; it forced me well beyond my comfort zone in creating lessons that would stretch them and engage them, but still provide supports for their learning. And the worst, it forced me to be OK with the fact that on Day 1, I was probably their LEAST favorite since my class was a remediation class for reading that took away an elective. Which brings me to Number 1.

# Number 1: Building relationships still trumps anything else
By the end of the school year, my group of 8th graders weren't just any group of 8th graders. They were mine. Building relationships is crucial no matter what change happens. It's consistent and always needs to be a priority. And honestly, with so much change of a new job, this one was harder for me this year. There were many days I struggled with building so many new relationships on top of learning a new job and just the basic differences of elementary mindset vs. secondary. But the more I built relationships with my students, the more insight into their learning I gained, and the easier it became to know what they needed from me.

As I get ready for year 2 in this new position, I'm looking forward to growing more with the students I had last year that are still in middle school. Hands-down it is my favorite perk of my job- being able to see them grow and develop for 3 years. For the ones who have moved on to High School, my intimidating 8th graders, I think about them often. I wish them the best and with my whole heart want to see them succeed in life.

So. Whether seasoned veteran or newbie, what were your top 5 things you learned this past school year?


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