When I went through the teacher education program, I was sure that curriculum differentiation in all its many forms would be the most difficult thing about teaching. Now that I am 10 years in, I’m still inundated with differentiation challenges every single day, but when I reflect on those fledgling days of my career, I see that some of my biggest struggles were not even on my radar. Below are my 10 most surprising difficulties in teaching. Leave a comment with your most surprising challenge or your solution to any of my issues! I plan to tackle my solutions for each of the following challenges in upcoming blog posts, so I’d love to try out some ideas that you may have and write about how they worked for me!
- Absent work: I feel like I’ve tried every system out there to organize absent work. I’ve made folders and calendars and online resources and office hours to name a few. No matter what, it is difficult to deal with the multitude of absences that my high school students rack up with illness, sporting events, school activities, college visits, and everything else! Even with flipping the classroom (occasionally), the bottom line is that every absence makes more work for me.
- Meetings: I knew I’d have to go to meetings, but I was not prepared for how said meetings would make me feel. A well-run meeting leaves me empowered and energized while a meeting that wastes any of my precious teacher minutes leaves me enraged. When did I give meetings that much control?
- Essay Grading: Of course I expected to grade essays, but the sheer number of papers flying at me from 5 full classes is always overwhelming. I’ve developed some systems of feedback and due date staggering that save me time, but I’d like to think that writing effectively is the single most important thing that students take from my class, so I trudge on with paper after paper.
- Getting Students to Read: With all of the shortcuts, summaries, movies, and twitter mentality out there, I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to get a majority of any given class to actually read a book.
- Parent phone calls: I can email and face-to-face conference all day, but I am the most awkward phone caller of all time. I didn’t know this about myself until I had to start making the dreaded progress report phone calls.
- Multiple Preps: I’ve taught 3 or 4 different classes every year of my career. Part of the challenge is time to prep, but another part of the challenge is switching gears during any given day. Much to my chagrin, I often find myself saying things like, “Let’s continue our discussion of The Scarlet Letter, I mean The Odyssey, I mean Frankenstein!”
- Weekend/Night Hours: Every year I think, “Once I get this prepped, next year will get easier and I’ll have less night/weekend hours.” I’m sorry to say, but even in year 10, that day has not dawned. Thank God for Secondary Solutions handling a chunk of my prep, now if I could find someone to grade, answer emails, organize projects, and the like…
- Catching cheaters: I absolutely hate that I devote any part of my brain to catching cheaters. Sadly, I have to do it, especially with technology changes, which give students unprecedented opportunities to game my class. Ugh.
- The Lunch Table: I have the best co-workers. For the most part they inspire me and challenge me to do better. However, we all have our bad days and when we do, the teacher lunch table can get down right ugly. Hell hath no fury like a high school teacher scorned.
- The Quick Breaks: There is something very disheartening about eating my cold, leftover meatloaf while I stand up at lunch supervision or running full speed across campus to make it to the adult restroom in the 5 minute passing period.
What are the surprising challenges in your teaching career? Have any advice for me? Leave it below and be sure to check back for posts on how I handle (or try to handle) these obstacles!
We all hit that wall eventually. We look around at the stacks of essays waiting to be graded, tests to be written, parent emails to be answered, books to prep and we wonder if we picked the right profession. We realize that something has to give. We may have to give up some of our responsibilities at school like moderating a favorite club or that extra essay assignment that would be an amazing learning experience, but also the proverbial straw that will break our back. Sometimes we have to make sacrifices in our personal lives also like that extra hour of sleep we would love or that Sunday afternoon hike we were invited to take. The struggle to find balance between school and personal life has been a huge part of my career for the last 10 years. We all know how important it is to take care of ourselves so we can be better teachers to our students, so today I want to offer you the following lessons I’ve learned in this area:
1. You are not alone. When it feels like everyone else in your department or on your pinterest feed has it all together, I promise there is more to that story. We have our moments of glory, but we also have those seasons of burnout. I highly recommend finding someone with whom you can commiserate and celebrate. There is strength in numbers. In addition to your colleagues at home, I’m here to listen and sympathize. I blog mostly about my successes in the classroom, but I promise I have those days too! Sometimes knowing we are not alone can make all the difference.
2. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Take advantage of the amazing resources offered by Secondary Solutions! Long before I started writing for this blog I was a loyal customer of the reading guides and writing instruction tools. Although I love a nice paper resource to flip through, I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve opted for an immediate download of a reading guide or quiz that I needed to check off my to do list in order to save my last bastion of sanity.
3. Design lessons that will rejuvenate you. It seems like every year my burnout comes around the end of the second quarter and beginning of the third quarter. With the inspiration of one of my colleagues, this year, I planned a project that has helped me stave off those blues by keeping my curriculum rigorous but taking the planning off my shoulders. Click here to download the handout I gave students, which you can edit to suit your needs. Here is the gist:
- First, I took the novel (Huckleberry Finn for juniors and Wuthering Heights for seniors) and I divided them into 10-12 even sections and created a reading schedule/group sign up for each section. Students formed groups of 2 or 3 and signed up for a given day and set of chapters.
- At the beginning of each class, I gave a short reading quiz for the whole class, just to keep everyone accountable.
- On the first day of the project, I gave a sample lecture and activity with explanation of what grade I would have gotten and why. I also gave a lot of ideas for variation.
- For the next few weeks, the group of the day gave a 20 minute lecture on the chapters. I encouraged students to use powerpoint, prezi, or google presentation. They summarized their chapters and related to the major themes I assigned. I loved this because it taught presentation skills and I believe we always find that students know the novel so much better when they are asked to teach it (plus they get a healthy dose of appreciation for what we do everyday!).
- After the 20 minute lecture, they did a 20 minute activity around the chapters. I asked students to bring in their ideas of best practices and things they enjoy from across the curriculum. I loved this because it gave me insight into their metacognition and also allowed me to see the great ideas of my colleagues in action. Student activities came from a wide range, including small group discussion, socratic seminar, jeopardy, theater activities, media clips, and even a student created video game!
- For a few weeks, I gave students control of my class and it was amazing to see the work they came up with, but it was even more amazing to take a breather from the constant preparation grind without sacrificing content or academic rigor.
Are you feeling the English teacher burnout? What are your strategies for stemming that tide?
If you follow this blog regularly, you’ll know that I write a lot about how to incorporate technology into the high school classroom. This week, I am excited to be sharing 2 school apps that my students found themselves and use regularly. I love both of these apps because they solve real problems that students face, they work simply, and most importantly students see their value! I teach primarily 11th and 12th grade English this year, but I can see how these apps work for most secondary grades.
Librivox.org is a website that catalogues free public domain audiobooks read by volunteers from around the world. The site does not make an app, but several iPhone and Android developers have created apps that use the catalogue. Students can quickly search, find and play the chapters of their book from the convenience of their phones. For struggling readers, I encourage students to read along with an audio book or listen and then read to increase comprehension. Some of my more advanced students read the book and then listen to the chapters as a review before the test or class discussion. This app also serves as the premise for a teachable moment about public domain, the value of writers, and the problem with internet piracy.
Last year, I told my students about the website version of quizlet, which was originally started by a high school sophomore as an online flashcard study tool and now has almost 9 million cards in multiple subjects. Students quickly found the app and loved it. The site and app is organized by subject, topic, and by publisher, so my students can look up their English vocab book, their spanish grammar topics, or their chemistry chapter and instantly have flashcards ready to go. In addition to flashcards, the app also has games and self-assessments that help students prepare for all of their classes and standardized tests.
What tech tips and apps are teachers and students loving at your school?
Looking for more? Here are some of my favorite teacher tech posts from SecondarySolutionsBlog:
Don’t forget to pin this for future reference! :)