Day 12: Moveable Walls

Day 12: How do you envision your teaching changing over the next five years?

In five years, my first class of 4th graders that I taught will be starting their junior years of college and my current 8th graders will have just finished high school and possibly just beginning their university experiences.

When that day rolls around, I would like myself to still be making an impact in student's lives. That may or may not be in the classroom setting, but I can't really imagine it otherwise.

Our classroom would be awesome, and our students would love going there, especially outside of class time. It will be designed that way, with students in mind, and I will have incorporated the physical space of the room into our learning. There will be flat screens displaying photo & video streams of student creations as well as information on our class' progress towards mastery of standards. There will be multiple study areas and locations in the room to support individual and collaborative learning, along with the fancy moveable wall from my friend's dream classroom.

Everything in our class would assessed through standards and rubrics and students will know exactly where they stand. I will no longer be giving out A's, B's or C's. We would tackle big problems and projects that incorporate a variety of content skills and knowledge so students have real-life applications of maths, reading and writing, instead of applying these things in isolation.

I know I want to improve all aspects of my teaching: connecting with students, planning great lessons, facilitating effective instruction for all, providing a place for students to grow. But above all else, I want to love my job even more than I did when I first taught those 4th graders back in 2008.

Day 11: Hall Pass

Day 11: What is your favorite part of the school day and why?

It doesn't always happen, but I try really hard to meet my students in the hallway outside of my door & not in my classroom. I love the energy and madness that is a middle school locker hall.

Passing period. It's one of my favorite parts of the day. I get to see the students that are in my next class, but I also get to see all the other students who I don't have the privilege to teach.  It's an unstructured time for the kids and it's pretty apparent from all the laughing, pushing, talking and playing.

Connecting with students outside of the classroom is pretty high up on my list and being available in the hallway gives me lots of opportunities for that. If I'm holed up in my room while everyone else is in the hall, how could I possibly begin to build relationships that are not math-centric?

This is why I love passing time. Students who have already had you that morning, sharing a quick moment from their day. Students who have you later that day who say hi or share how their day is going. And then the best part: students who I've taught before, but don't have in any classes this year, that stop by just to talk stories.

Other great parts of the day. When the choir sings an entire song filled with passion and emotion. And an honorable mention: when other teachers come to share with me exciting things they found and are planning to incorporate into their classes.

Day 10: Pick up a Hitchhiker

Day 10: Share five random facts about yourself. Share four things from your bucket list. Share three things that you hope for this year, as a “person” or an educator. Share two things that have made you laugh or cry as an educator. Share one thing you wish more people knew about you.

Day 10 in the Reflective Teacher Blog Challenge is an easy one!

Share five random facts about yourself.

  1. I love string cheese.
  2. I hate chocolate.
  3. Reading books are difficult for me.
  4. Driving in the sun makes me fall asleep.
  5. My phone is yellow.

Share four things from your bucket list.

  1. Ride a train.
  2. Pet a lion.
  3. Write a book.
  4. Write a song that thousands of people will sing.
  5. Pick up a hitch hiker.

Share three things that you hope for this year, as a “person” or an educator.

  1. Get violin lessons.
  2. Pass my music test.
  3. Save money.

Share two things that have made you laugh or cry as an educator.

  1. Students who can't pronounce my name.
  2. On our first test of the year, one of the funniest students I have answered with this for one of the questions. 

Share one thing you wish more people knew about you.

  1. I like quiet.

Day 9: Change

Day 9: Write about one of your biggest accomplishments in your teaching that no one knows about (or may not care).

Initially I set out to dig deep through my teaching past and uncover a special gem of a triumph, hopefully one that was not publicly known, and retell the story of my greatest achievement.

I looked back on my years as an elementary school teacher and thought about all the kids I had, sorting through the memories, searching for a long lost success. My brain wandered over to data gains that I made with those students in 4th & 5th grade. There was a time when I was very proud of that feat, but already three years later, it doesn't bring me as much accomplishment than it did back then.

Yesterday I reminded a student that I had back in elementary school, who I have again this year as an 8th grader, of the time he accidentally laid down on a cactus plant during an outdoor exploration field trip experiential activity. His shorts were covered with the thorns and we got left behind as we I carefully plucked each individual prickly spine out from his clothes.

Maybe my biggest accomplishment is something I did for a student or a connection I made with a family? What is my biggest accomplishment?

I think my biggest accomplishment is making the jump from elementary to middle school.

As excited as I was for the older students and focused content area that I would be teaching, I was nervous. I had found great success teaching elementary students and I was in a great place in my building. I was on track to be a math intervention specialist for primary students. My team was awesome (I miss them). My grade-level teammate was an amazing guy who lived his life with such great integrity. And I was taller than all most of my students. I was comfortable.

Was I going to find anything close to that in middle school?

I'm glad that I made the switch. It put me in a new environment that tested my skills, perspective and passion for teaching. In elementary school, I was teaching math, reading, writing, handwriting, science, spelling and social studies. I thought that I would end up teaching one subject in middle school. I middle school, I've taught sixth grade math, sixth grade science, sixth grade social studies, sixth, seventh and eighth grade choir and now eighth grade math.

I am definitely not comfortable yet, but that's a good thing. I remember my first year teaching, never wanting to be complacent. Never wanting to be teaching the same thing every year for the rest of my life. I did not want to be the teacher who taught second grade for fifteen years, as amazing and fantastic as they would be. I just wanted to be a good teacher.

Day 8: Empty

Day 8: What's in your desk drawer and what can you infer from those contents?

I'm really proud to say that I no longer have a teacher desk! I have a small table up front for the doc camera and my laptop, but other than that, I don't have my own desk in the room.

I have cabinets, closets and some shelves which I'm slowly figuring out how to organize so that I have easy access to the stuff that I need, but I've gained a significant amount of space in my room.

When I taught elementary school, I got rid of my desk and it was the best thing. It forced me to spend more time with my students, sitting with them at their tables since I didn't have my own desk. It got me into the habit of constantly roaming the room and engaging with my class.

Granted, sometimes I misplace things or don't know where I've put them, but I lost stuff all the time even when I had a desk.

But when I did have a desk, I always had gum.

#ReflectiveTeacher Link Party

I've been enjoying te@ch thought's 30-Day Blog challenge. I've been encouraged to reflect and look back on my practice and it's only been two weeks of school.

But what's been even more amazing has been seeing others' reflections on the same prompts that I've been assessing. I've even been able to get a bunch of others in my building/district to play along. They've got some incredible insight and perspective, so I hope you check them out.

Mrs. Perricone
Ms. Morrison
Mrs. Robinson
Ms. Urfer


Day 7: Influencers

Day 7: Who was or is your most inspirational colleague, and why?

At this point in my teaching journey, I am lucky to have worked with many influential teachers. They are next door. They are down the hall. They are outside in the air conditioned cottages. They are here and they are on my team.

I am constantly learning from them and benefitting from their expertise and experience. We all make each other better.

But for my most influential colleague, I have been blessed to have worked alongside someone who has pushed me so much. Leading me to reflect and re-evaluate on my own practice. She is a master teacher, inspiring leader and passionate about everything.

I no longer work in the same building as her, but I still am inspired to be better and not settle for anything less. For myself or for my students.

We are all influencers, though. We all have the opportunity to lead change, introduce better ideas and make things happen. It's cyclical. We influence each other and I need to be surrounded by those that push me in different ways than I push myself.

Day 6: Mentor

Day 6: Explain: What does a good mentor “do”?


noun: mentor; plural noun: mentors

1. an experienced and trusted adviser.

The mentor prepares the student for the unpredictability of the future with an attitude of excitement and an array of tools to overcome the obstacles and challenges that they may face. It's a quest with twists and turns that no one could possibly anticipate, so the mentor equips the student with grounded confidence, strategic encouragement and purposeful knowledge.

The mentor will also provide support when it is vital to the party's survival. It may not come immediately or in the form that is expected, but aid will arrive just in time. And it will be just enough. The student may not completely understand the reasoning behind this, but the experience collected will be put to good use in the future.

Sometimes the mentor does not reveal his entire plans for the student. While this may cause frustration and confusion, pieces of the larger puzzle are uncovered as they are needed, allowing the student to focus on the task at hand.

Mentors look forward to the day when their protégé stands alone, decorated in all of their achievements and begins training up their own.

Day 5: Bare

Day 5: Post a picture of your classroom, and describe what you see–and what you don’t see that you’d like to.

[image coming soon]

I switched classrooms. They were waxing the floors. I had a summer job. The building was too hot. I was out of town for three weeks. The classroom wasn't empty yet. I was on vacation...

I have a lot of excuses as to why I didn't have my room set up before the first day of school. Sure, I started summer with some grand plans to shake things up I knew that learning environments were something I wanted to tackled for this upcoming school year. It was in everything we read for NextGen. And it made sense. I like being at places that are nice. I don't like being at places that are ugly.

In June, I had researched this really cool time consuming project that would cover my floors in fake wood panels and give the ground a nice comfy tone. It was a paper-paint project that would update the standard school-floor tiles to be a little more modern.

Yeah. That did not happen.

And then around July I started looking for colors to paint the walls of my room. I called Sherwin-Williams once a week to see what colors were mis-matched (they give them away for free) and if they'd work for the class. I bought some supplies and even enlisted some friends to help me paint when I had it scheduled.

Nope. No time.

I miss the blue with gray specks carpet of my elementary classroom. I miss the nasty purple rug that always got caught on tables and chairs. The horribly colored mauve cabinets and counters that lined two sides of the room. The awkward corner where the ancient TV from the 90s was mounted and the volume buttons didn't work.

But I'm not there. I'm here. In my new room. I've got a door. And a window. Two things I didn't have for the past two years in middle school.

I still have a Promethean Board and tables for students. I had the option to go for individual student desks, and I was almost persuaded to go that route, but after some affirmation from good friends, I made sure I kept my tables from my previous room.

The walls are pretty bare, but it's slowly filling up with charts that we've made with students. The Math Practice Standards were printed out in full-color and put up the first week of school, but since then, the mounting tape has melted slightly, and yesterday the last standard fell to the floor. I need better tape.

I've always started off with the walls being pretty empty. I like making charts and posters with my classes and having those decorate the room. I like that every year, my walls are different and not cluttered with the same store-bought "Math" posters. Last year, I did have a sweet Batman "WORD!" poster from my friend, Tim, but during the last month of school, an eighth grader who has no respect for retro Bruce Wayne decided to give him a mustache. So I must wait until I can get it reprinted for my word wall.

Also, I need to invest in 3M Sticky Paper. The Office Depot ones don't stick to these walls, so all the posters we've made so far (The One Rule, Living Above the Line, etc.) have fallen off. #sadface

Anyway, over the next two weeks, I'm having my student aides do all the summer classroom projects I never got to:

  • Mount nails to hang clipboards on the inside of my cabinets (done!)
  • Mount sticky hooks to the walls to hang emergency clipboards and backpacks (halfway done!) 
  • Paint cabinets over with chalkboard paint
  • Paint whiteboards over with chalkboard paint

And eventually, before October, I really hope to get some paint on the walls. Fingers crossed.

Day 4: Kids

Day 4: What do you love the most about teaching?

We are finishing up the second full week of school with students. Today we also passed out 100s of iPads to eager 7th & 8th graders who have been missing their tablets since May. As crazy as the start of a new year is, I'm reminded of what I love most about teaching.

I love the drive, passion and energy of my teacher mates. I love when they drop by my classroom to share their latest idea they want to try with their kids. I love that I can drop by their room and do the same, but in a less comprehensible fashion.

I love that we take care of each other, cover classes when it's needed and pick up italian beef sandwiches just because it's Friday. I love that even after teachers aren't in the same building, we still push each other to be better at our jobs and life.

I love the madness of passing period, with students still struggling to open their lockers in the middle of February. The flood of 8th graders who try to squeeze in precious social time with their friends, while grabbing their things and trying to get to their next class in 180 seconds or less.

I love the hard work, the determination and the desire students have to do great things. The creativity, the insight and the curiosity. The puzzled faces when new concepts are tricky. The frustration when things get complicated. The smiles when ideas make sense.

But really, what I truly really love is working with students. Being able to create connections that will outlive middle school. It's the long-graduated student who drops by the school, years after he's left, to tell me about his track PRs. The student who moved three states away five years ago and still comes to visit every summer when he's back. The student who finally has found the courage to join her high school choir after discovering her voice in our class.

Yeah. Teaching is pretty sweet.