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  • Writer's pictureFrancis Pina

one month in & out

It's been a little over a month since I began to earnestly plan for this school year and started teaching, and I am already mentally exhausted! I've been flirting with the idea of taking a "mental health day" next week, but I've been thinking: is this a need or a want?

I entered my 6th year of teaching feeling confident, well-rested, and eager to see my students. I also entered this year with a few goals: beginning the process for National Board Certification in Early Adolescence Mathematics, co-planning and co-teaching the CME Integrated Math 1 class (for repeaters) with my friend next door, continuing my research on how the principles of video games can increase meaningful engagement in my classroom, and submit an application to present at a conference. While I have submitted an application to run a workshop (at the Blended and Personalized Learning Conference hosted by the Highlander Institute and The Learning Accelerator) and put this website together to hold myself accountable to my goals, I have been having a hard time adjusting to the changes in my teaching context.

While I have always experienced having another adult in the classroom with me (an Inclusion Associate (IA) in one of my classes while at Codman and a City Year Core Member last school year), I now have an IA and City Year Core Member with me for all my classes the entire year, except on Fridays. This has been a challenge for me because I do not want their individual talents and goals to be underserved, I do not want either of them to spend their time just watching me instruct, and I want our students to see us equally as teachers and accountability partners (aka disciplinarians). I also want us to be on the same page for classroom procedures and expectations, but that is hard to do when we are all different people, with different experiences, and with no direct support of best practices for having three adults in a classroom. I also have another class/module I co-teach with a colleague who is at a different point in his teaching career and we struggle to remain on the same page. Now, this is not a shot at them. These challenges have been weighing on my mind, effecting my planning, my mood, my confidence, and my goal of co-planning and co-teaching with my friend next door.

One of the most striking experiences I had (influenced by the context and challenges above) so far this school year was today in my third period (C-Block) class. After having a rough class with them yesterday (disengagement, disruptions, swearing, and frequent cell phone use), which resulted in a 'come-to-Jesus' moment from myself and the IA with the class, I wanted to begin today with something inspiration, something that would build community, something that would turn-the-page from the previous day. I planned a Do Now that displayed image results (from Google and Youtube) for the term 'my brother's keeper', since this class is 13 boys of color and 1 girl of color (who upon checking-in wants to stay in the class), cued-up a short promo video of Obama's "My Brother's Keeper (MBK)" initiative, dropped a quote from Tupac, shared a personal anecdote, pictures and my connection to (MBK), and present an opportunity for students to write down any words or comments they have on a poster board for three minutes. IT WAS A COMPLETE FLOP! I was so disheartened and defeated that I kinda checked-out for a while and moved right into some notes and group work. Best part: I recorded the whole thing.

I had a meeting with my Inclusion Associated (IA) at the end of the day following an overly-packed yet brief PD on Language Objectives (a broader issue I want to comment on in another post and to provide potential solutions to). We talked about what we could have done differently and I felt the hard truth was that today was not their fault, it was mine. I made the activity about me, I did not let them get involved or just share their thoughts on yesterday. I made it a lecture and no high schooler wants to begin class like that. While it was a tough conversation with my IA, it was one I valued and appreciated her for pushing me to face my inconsistency. I have been so off my game mentally that some components of my classroom expectations and procedures have been inconsistently reinforced and that has an affect on my teaching. The greatest morsel rather reminder that came from that conversation was reflecting about what does my classroom look, sound and feel like when I am at my best? When have those moment happened this year?

When I am at my best:

-Students are working collaboratively

-Students are not using their cellphones for social media or photo math

-Students understand that redirections are not personal but rather business

-Students are being challenged

and possibly most importantly

-Students are growing academically and personally

I believe I have not done the work necessary to be at my best consistently for this school year. It is that fact that has me more convinced that I must and need to take the time to get that work done. If it takes an entire weekend or a "mental health day" request next week to do so, then I need to do so without feeling guilty and with a clear work plan in mind.

I am one month into this school year. I want to be one month out of my inconsistency.

PS: My advisory has voted our name to be "We Have Chips". I was pulling for Imagineers. Next step, establishing norms and introducing myself to parents/guardians over the phone.

Granted, I think I set-up the "We Have Chips" victory by providing pretzels and popcorn in advisory as a way to show care and build community.

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