Teaching is hard. Some days I leave feeling like I completely failed my students. Sometimes I leave school exhausted and defeated. Some days I leave with a broken heart thinking about my students’ home lives. Sometimes I shed some tears because this job is challenging.
But it’s challenging in all of the greatest ways possible. Regardless of the obstacles, teaching brings endless smiles and laughter to my days. And even on the hardest most imperfect days, there’s always bright lights and perfect moments.
This morning, one of my students who has such a difficult home life came running into the classroom almost late. I greeted him and he looks at me and says, “Miss Mitchell I brought you my signature snack- toast with peanut butter and cinnamon.” He wasn’t kidding. It was WARM- like fresh out of the toaster type of warm. I thanked him and told him how excited I was to try his signature snack that he always talks about and how honored I was! He replies “That’s why I was almost late. I had to make you toast.”
So even on a day that I leave feeling like I failed, this kid genuinely cares about me too. He went out of his way this morning to add some brightness to my day too. If this isn’t proof that kids can learn kindness and love from ONE adult in their life, then I’m not sure what does. On the most challenging days, this job is beyond rewarding.
This morning I did a quick little check with my students to get a better look into their home lives and how their day might have already started. I had all of my students put their heads down and raise their hands if my statement applied to them.
1. Raise your hand if someone at your house told you they loved you this morning or told you something positive about yourself.
Two students raised their hands to this question. TWO. STUDENTS.
2. Raise your hand if you got in an argument with someone this morning.
About five students raised their hands.
3. Raise your hand if you got yelled at this morning.
About eleven students raised their hand to this question, which is over half of the students in my classroom this year.
Talk about a reality check. You're telling me only two of my students heard that they were loved, special, important, and amazing at something. Yet over half of my students had already been yelled at before even coming to school. Over half of my students are starting their day off negatively. No child deserves this at all. No matter the circumstances.
I had the students put their hands down and put their heads up. I proceeded to tell students that I love them and think every single one of them is special and unique in their own way. I told them that they have the power to do anything they want to do in life, and I am so happy that they are here at this school, in my classroom. Nothing they do could ever make me change my mind about that.
Some students didn't even know how to respond to hearing these things said about them. I had some students say "ew" when I told them I loved them, and some students laughed. My kids don't even know how to respond to someone who truly shows and expresses love for them. It honestly broke my heart. How can we expect these students to learn to love and care for others (and themselves) if they don't have adults who show them what it looks like? Students need to feel that they are loved, and they also need to hear that they are loved and so important.
This quote really stuck out to me while doing this quick check with my students. Maybe some students are unresponsive because they haven't been loved yet and therefore aren't ready to learn. My job is to love them and continue to love them because eventually they will be ready to learn. If all a student learns is that they are loved and so very important, I've done my job. That is the greatest victory of all.
One of the best things about being an educator is connecting with other educators who share the same passions as you. Those are the type of teachers who push you to try new things and teach outside the box. The teachers who make learning and teaching fun for both students and teachers. The ones that are always looking to try new things.
I've recently had the opportunity to connect and collaborate with a good friend of mine who also teaches second grade now. It's been so fun watching her be such a positive light in all of her students' lives, and it's been even more fun getting to collaborate ideas with her. From collaborating about social studies projects to fun Valentine's Day activities for our kids.
She had told me about her fun and engaging rotations that she was doing for Valentine's Day, and was willing to share all the activities with me and my students! We were discussing the activities and she mentioned that she needed one more idea for a rotation. I thought it would be fun to have kids do a STEM challenge. We decided on using candy hearts and toothpicks and having students see who could make the tallest tower. The only rules were that students could only use the resources their group was given and the tower had to stand on its own.
The students' first step was to plan with their team. They had to sketch out their idea about how they would design their tower. Once all students were done with their planning, the next step was to build. The students built their towers, and some groups even had to change their idea from their original plan. Once the time was up, students got to measure their tower and had to reflect about and answer two questions: What things do your group do well? How would you improve your structure for next time?
While both classes did the activities and rotations differently, we all used the same resources and better yet, we all had SO MUCH FUN! That is one of my favorite things about teaching. You don't have to be exactly like another teacher. Your students aren't exactly like their students. They have different needs, interests, skills, etc. You as a teacher also have your own personality and styles to teaching. But you find people who share the same passions. You hold on to those people because they make you a better teacher, which ultimately makes your students better. You push each other, help each other, and support each other on the highs and lows.
When preparing to be a teacher, you never really think about all of the roles you will play once you become an educator. However, once you have your own classroom with your own students you realize how many new roles you take on each day. You're a teacher. But you're also a mediator, counselor, assessor, developer, event planner, bookkeeper, first aid giver. And in the most rewarding cases, you get to play the role of mom for your kids.
I have experienced this many times in my classroom and with my students. I provide food for students who are hungry. I make sure students have school supplies from a simple pencil box, to notebooks, coloring utensils, headphones, backpacks, and anything in between. I help students get their homework done if they don't have an adult at home to help them. I give students materials and resources to use at home. I make sure they have appropriate clothing like a winter coat for when the weather gets cold. I help them get their clothes washed when they don't have the access to it at home and are forced to wear dirty clothes to school. And most recently, I help a child learn how to fill out valentines to give to his classmates because he has never been given the opportunity to participate in something like this.
It is heartbreaking hearing the struggles our kids go through at such a young age. No kid should have to face challenges and obstacles that they deal with daily. However, as a teacher you have the opportunity to change their perspective on things. You have the power to be that one positive adult in their lives that just might get them through the most difficult challenges they have faced yet. Teaching is so much more than just teaching content or standards. It is helping students become who they are supposed to be in life so that they can overcome the situations that they might not have control over.
We are currently working on a social studies project for our unit Then and Now. Students have been so mind blown with how different the world was back then compared to what it is like now. They have been really engaged with this unit, and I wanted to support their interests and desire to explore and learn more. I decided we would turn this unit into a research project, and we would present our new knowledge and ideas with others in a few different ways.
To begin this project, I came up with five different categories for Then and Now: Transportation, Home Life, Communication, Technology, and School Life. We talked about what each of these categories include and what it might look like, and I also showed them examples of the project from previous groups. Then I gave each student a notecard and told them it was their turn to tell me what category they would like to work with. I really emphasized that it is not about what your friends want to learn about, it is only important what you are most interested in because that will help you be more motivated. Each student wrote down their first three options in order.
I then split up the groups depending on their choices. Not all students got their first choice, but all students either got their first or second choice. All groups had four students besides one group, which only had three students. The first thing I wanted the groups to do was to just build a sense of teamwork and trust amongst their group. For the first day working on the project, we just played different games in our group, and I had them come up with a long-term goal as a group for what they would like to accomplish by the end of the project. I loved seeing so many groups develop teamwork, and I feel like this has definitely helped groups work together better and depend on each other for support when needed.
The next step was to have students research. I always emphasize that research should begin with BOOKS. Technology is a huge part of our world now, but I don't want students to forget the importance of using books to find information. I had checked out a bunch of books from our school library, and I did allow them to use Epic to read books. We discussed smart choices for picking books. Would it make sense for a group to read a book about computers if their category is Transportation? Not really. Why not? The students actually had so many ideas as to why this would not make sense. I loved hearing all of their answers. My favorite; "Of course that would not make sense, Miss Mitchell. Transportation is how you get from one place to another place. You can't use a computer to move." Duly noted. We talked a lot about how we could decide if a book was a good choice or not, and I am so glad we spent time doing this. I saw every single group using the strategies and ideas we had discussed, and it definitely cut down the amount of time that would have been wasted otherwise.
Each day, I have the students set a goal for what they would like to have accomplished by the end of the day. This helps all students stay on task, and they are all on the same page as to what they should be working on. Their first task was to research and come up with a group definition. I didn't want to give too much away before the students started researching. I wanted to see if they could work together and figure out what I meant by a definition. After listening to groups, watching what they were doing, and seeing what they were writing down I felt it was necessary to discuss how to define something in your own words. Many students/groups were writing examples of their category, which was great. Examples help others understand a definition, but they still needed a real definition. I pulled everyone together and we discussed how we could define something in our own words and gave examples of different definitions/ideas. Then students went back to their groups and write a definition. I reminded the students that they might change or add things to their definition as time goes on too.
The next day, their task was to find three items from the past and the corresponding item that is used now. They did not need to write any details or information about these items, they just needed to fill them out on their outline. After they did this, they needed to find an influential person for their specific category. Once again, they were not supposed to write down any details or information, just the person's name. At this point in the project, we have not used anything but books to find our information, and that makes my heart SO happy.
Up until this point in the project, everything has been done as a group. They have developed teamwork, trust, and have begun to get really excited about their findings. Now, each student is going to get their own responsibility and task. There are four students to a group, and each student will now be given an item from the past with the corresponding item, and one group member will get the influential person. Their responsibility is to research and find out details and information about the item/person. What is the item? What was it used for? What do we use now? How has this made things easier? Who is the influential person? How did they influence this category of Then and Now?
Students now feel accountable and want to do well for their group. They also know that their group members are there for help with they need it. Once students have completed their responsibility of the research, they will come together to share what they found and will create a poster to show the information they found.
After each group finishes their poster, they will come up with three future inventions that would help this category of life. This is to help students see the connections to the past, present, and how this will influence the future. The group will then decide on one invention and sketch it out and create it. The team must have reasonings to support why this would help us in the future.
Once all of this is done, we are going to Skype with a classroom in Kansas City who is also working on the same project. We are going to present our posters, and they will do the same. Then we are going to see the similarities and differences that their class and our class found through our research. At the school, we are going to set up our posters and new inventions to represent a museum. We will have students, teachers, and families walk through and see what we found. I will also have students stand by their posters and explain their new learnings and understandings.
So far, this project has been a blast. My students have been so engaged and excited about this project, and they have enjoyed researching and learning about the past. I have seen them develop so many skills besides just learning about life then and now. I can't wait to see how this project wraps up!
This is not a post that I find easy to write. Today was one of those rough days we sometimes have as educators when our students are dealing with emotions and situations we can't fix or have control over. As educators, many of us like to feel like we are in control or are at least able to help our students in as many ways as possible. Unfortunately, that is not always the case when our students face difficult home lives.
You know that student, the one that displays difficult behaviors when home life is far from ideal? The student who spends the week with dad, and then spends the weekends out of town with mom. The student who strongly, and I mean strongly, dislikes going to mom's on the weekend. The student who hears adult comments that are far beyond appropriate for their age. The student who hears yelling between dad and stepmom. The student who lacks structure at home or resources at home that make it a comfortable living environment. The student that does not have a consistent life, and thrives off of routine at school. The student that needs school and a positive teacher the most. The student that keeps you up at night trying to think of ways to help this student more in school and outside of the classroom. The student that may not show you they appreciate you, but probably love you the most out of all of your students. The student that makes teaching so rewarding.
I believe there should be no grudges in school. When students make mistakes, or show troubling behaviors, it should be a learning experience for both the student and teacher. Behaviors are solutions to problems- not the problem. Before you can fix the behavior, you as the teacher have to understand what the student's problem is and find ways to help them. The student needs strategies, coping skills, and self-regulation skills. But how do you teach them this if you don't understand them or their struggles they face daily in their lives? The answer is simple, you can't.
I spend a lot of time creating relationships with my students so that they trust me and feel like they can share personal things with me. I am constantly striving to become better at this, but I put a lot of time and effort into getting to know my students. I believe the teacher has the power to make 8 hours of a child's day positive, encouraging, and impactful. If I know that my students have very difficult and challenging home lives, I find ways to try to make it better for them. And sometimes (although it's hard to admit) I can't fix their home life. I can't do a single thing. But I can make 8 hours of their day that much better. I can make that student feel like they want to come back the next day.
So today I had an option. After a student had a meltdown for two hours, I could make the situation worse by punishing him for his behavior. OR I could teach him coping strategies, help him come up with a plan for next time, or help him find a way to make it better. I picked teaching him a coping strategy. He doesn't want to go to mom's this weekend. Plain and simple. I can't change that for him, and neither can he yet because he is only 8 years old. So he feels powerless and out of control. Guess what behaviors he showed for two hours? Out of control yet powerful because he was controlling the situation.
My job is to help him cope with the things he has to do in life that create uncomfortable feelings for him. He doesn't want to go to mom's, but what does he want to do instead? He wants to play video games, but that isn't available this weekend. What else could we do instead? His suggestion was to draw right now. He couldn't free draw at that moment because he needed to be a part of the class activity, but this was something I could help him with. He wants to draw- how about you draw at mom's this weekend? His response- "I can't." Now this is where some teachers would give up because they feel as though a child is choosing to be negative and turn down every answer. Not always the case. I asked him why he can't. His response... "Because all I have is paper. Nothing else." Problem solved. I told him I'd come up with a plan before school ended so that he could draw this weekend.
I put together a bag of paper (just in case), pencils (because what if one breaks? I'm guessing there wouldn't be a sharpener available.), erasers, crayons, and colored pencils. He doesn't have to bring this back. He doesn't have to keep track of the supplies. He gets to take them home and use them. He runs out? I'll give him more. He loses them in the transitions? I'll give him more. These should be non-negotiables for working with students. Show them that you care, because sometimes you may be the only adult to tell them you love them. And just sometimes, you might say it at just the right time when that child needs it the most.
If your students don't think math is fun, then you're doing something wrong! Math should be a time that all students are capable of being successful while learning and having fun. There are so many ways to make math interactive, engaging, and hands on! My students' favorite (and my favorite) time of the day is math, and it shows in the levels of engagement.
This week we were wrapping up our measurement chapter, and we were finishing working with centimeters and comparing centimeters. Today was our last day for working with centimeters, and I wanted to think of something new we hadn't done yet. I remembered that I had a ton of bags of legos from the Target Dollar Spot (can I get an AMEN). Target Dollar Spot is so hard to resist, and it always has some of the best things you never knew you even needed for your classroom.
I had students work with a partner to see who could build the tallest tower using their bag of legos. Students were given 6 minutes to work with their partner. The only rule was that they had to use their own legos, and the tower had to be able to stand on its own without falling over. My kids LOVED this. And, they worked so well together and did quite a bit of problem solving. Some students realized their tower was too wide, and it wouldn't be very tall so they started over. Some students realized that if you stacked a lot of the small squares together, it made the tower a lot taller. Some students realized they didn't have a strong based and it kept falling over, so they had to do some revisions so that the tower would stand. Regardless of the challenges they may have faced, every single group was successful. They showed teamwork, critical thinking skills, and every single group had a tower that was standing at the end.
Once the timer was up, we did our measuring. Obviously their towers were taller than the length of a ruler. Therefore, students had to problem solve when they were measuring. Students had to add their measurements together to get their total. After every group had their measurements, we recorded everyone's height of the towers. Then we compared the heights of the towers. Which group had the tallest? The shortest? How much taller was one group's tower from another group's? We also put them in order from tallest to shortest.
One easy, no prep, math lesson that incorporates so many skills other than just math. This lesson integrated STEM, collaboration skills, problem solving, and math skills. My students and I all had a lot of fun with this activity!
This really hit me hard when i read this quote. So often I get caught up in my own frustrations of not feeling like my students are learning or that I'm not doing a good job. This year has challenged me in so many ways, but the most important thing I can do is love my kids.
My kids may have gotten themselves ready for school all on their own.
They may have not eaten dinner the night before.
They may have not gotten to read with a parent or do their homework with an adult at home. They may have not gotten a hug or a smile from someone at home.
Before a kid can learn, they must know they are loved. It's rewarding knowing that I have the opportunity each day to be that one hug, one smile, one positive adult in their life that they look forward to seeing. Sometimes looking at the small moments in life really help us see what's most important, and sometimes the best thing we can do for out students is provide a safe, positive, and inviting environment.
Each school year is so different from the previous one, but one thing stays the same- My students become a part of me. I really love my kiddos, and they become my family. The holidays aren’t always easy for some of my kiddos. While I am fortunate enough to be able to look forward to breaks and extra time back home with family, this is sometimes a very dreaded time for my kiddos. I wanted each kid to be sent with love to make the break a little easier. Each kid was sent home with things they might need. For example, a new book, some snacks and treats, and a pencil and journal. Hopeful that a little bit of cheer will make their break just a little brighter!
Wanna know the cool thing about kids? They don’t expect perfection.
I did a room transformation and planned a grinch comprehension breakout for a little extra motivation and engagement right before break. The room didn’t really look the way I had envisioned it in my mind, but the kids LOVED it. They didn’t care that the decorations weren’t perfect, or the lights weren’t spaced out evenly, or the curtains weren’t hung straight. They seriously lost their minds when they saw what the room looked like. It was pure joy and excitement on their faces. They were also so engaged and worked so hard to complete the challenges.
That’s what teaching and learning is all about. Things won’t ever be perfect, but together things can be pretty dang exciting and joyful. I love my job so much.
Hi! My name is Mikaela, and I am currently in my second year of teaching second grade. I am working at a Title I school with a diverse population of learners.