So this past year was my fifth year of teaching and was rough, both personally and professionally. I finally hit my breaking point in December with my anxiety and depression and went to the doctor. I was an emotional wreck first semester and trying to adjust to a new normal second semester. On top of all that, various conflicts with adults at work were draining the little emotional energy I had. My kids were very patient with me and I love them for that, but I definitely wasn’t the best teacher I could be this year. I decided after school was out that I should have asked for some feedback, so I sent out Mr. Vaudrey’s Teacher Report Card Survey through email and social media. Not as effective as doing the survey before school ended, but some feedback is better than none! I’m mostly posting this to reflect through writing and keep myself accountable for adjusting things for next year, so this is your fair warning that this post is long and rambling and mostly for me.
Report Card Results
|respects each student||4.833|
|makes me feel important||4.667|
|tries to see the student’s point of view||4.583|
|encourages me to be responsible||5.000|
|has a great sense of humor||4.667|
|treats me as an individual||4.833|
|does a good job of treating all students the same||4.333|
|answers questions completely||3.917|
|says her words clearly||4.364|
|uses language that we can understand||4.333|
|explains topics clearly||4.583|
|tells us our learning goals||4.833|
|keeps the class under control without being too tough||4.167|
|seems to enjoy teaching||5.000|
|provides time for review of material||4.000|
|listens to our ideas||4.250|
|leads good class discussions||4.417|
|tries new teaching methods||4.250|
|gives good, fair assignments||4.250|
|has a good pace (not too fast or too slow)||3.667|
|gives fair punishments||4.417|
|encourages different opinions||4.500|
|gives enough time for assignments||3.667|
|has interesting lessons||3.917|
|gives tests that reflect the material in the unit||4.333|
|praises good work||4.750|
After my emotional breakdown in December, I had to step back and rethink my priorities. I was not taking care of myself and I knew something had to change, so I started thinking about what aspects of my job were most important to me. I quickly realized that, for me at least, the job is the connections and relationships and encouraging and listening that comes with deeply caring about my students. I want them to feel seen and heard and know they matter and that I believe in them both inside and outside of class. So that is where I invested my energy second semester.
Now, don’t get me wrong, it is also super important to me that they learn the math. And I desperately want them to have a positive experience and realize that they are capable of being successful in math. But I realized that having the most engaging and awesome lessons wouldn’t matter if I was worn out and cranky. Being able to execute an “ok” lesson well and be all there emotionally and mentally is way better for both me and my kids than having an awesome lesson that I’m too exhausted to do well. Plus, I am a chronic over-achiever and will never feel like everything is good enough. I feel like this is a lesson that I keep learning and forgetting. Apparently I haven’t internalized this one yet.
Because of these decisions, I’m not really surprised that my highest categories had to do with the relationship side of teaching (seems to enjoy teaching, encourages me to be responsible, respects each student, treats me as an individual, makes me feel important). I’m also not shocked that my lowest categories had to do with curriculum decisions (has a good pace, gives enough time for assignments, answers questions completely, has interesting lessons, provides time for review of material).
Based on these responses I obviously wasn’t hiding how much of a mess I was, haha. But clearly explaining things is something I need to work on. Sometimes I’m intentionally vague so that they are forced to draw conclusions on their own, but there were many times this year that I struggled to coherently explain things because I hadn’t prepared as much as I should have and had way too much going on in my head. Many of those comments came from my Algebra 2 Honors class, which is also not surprising. It was the first time our school had offered that class and I was winging it way more than I should have been. I also let more slide than I probably should during work time. I’m still struggling to find a balance between giving them some freedom but not too much. And the balance between my conflict-avoidance-enneagram9 self and keeping them accountable. And the balance between being able to get stuff done while they work so I can maintain a reasonable work-life balance, but not being so engrossed in whatever I’m working on that I ignore too much.
I use a modified version of standards based grading, so retakes are a big part of my class. Although it takes more time for me, it is something I believe in wholeheartedly and will continue doing. Work days for students to work on whichever topics they feel they need extra practice on are also something that has been successful, although I do need to find a way to keep them more accountable during this time. The feeling question was encouraging and reassured me that the work I put into the relationship side of things paid off in the long run. Aggressive encouragement works, y’all.
This year I started doing spiral review assignments every week with my Alg2 Honors and PreCalc classes. They hate them, but many of them have admitted at various times that they are actually helpful so I’m not going to change that. I did get a little crazy with the DeltaMath assignments in Alg2 because I was winging it, so I need to be more intentional about that, especially in regards to balancing with our spiral assignments. I also purposely lag our quizzes so they have to review beforehand, but I waited way too long this year. I’m also historically bad at passing back papers and even worse at going over them. I haven’t found a system for going over work that I like yet. It mostly just feels like I’m talking to myself at the front of the room and I hate that.
The biggest takeaway from this year was how much taking care of myself impacts what happens in my classroom. All of the things are easier to deal with if I’m in a healthy state of mind. Practically, that means regularly taking my medication, eating healthier, and staying active. These things are non-negotiable, but it is easy for me to convince myself they aren’t. As for the classroom stuff, here are my thoughts as I start planning for next year.
THINGS I WILL KEEP DOING:
- Spiral Homework – Even though the kids hate them, those that diligently complete them every week did see benefits. I’m actually planning to add this to my Algebra 1 classes as well. I had avoided it up until now because they struggle with homework completion. However, I realized that it would be worth it for those that do complete their work. I will just have to adjust my other assignments to make room for this.
- Retakes – This is something I’m willing to put extra work in for. It forces the students to remain responsible for the content, even if they don’t learn it the first time. And it helps all of my students with testing anxiety and the insane amounts of pressure they put on themselves.
- Focusing on Relationships – I love my students and will continue to put my relationships with them first. On top of genuinely caring about them, I am not even remotely intimidating and I’m terrible at yelling, so relationships are necessary for my classroom to run smoothly.
THINGS I’M CHANGING:
- Homework/Assignments/Practice – I need to be way more intentional about what I assign to my students. I would just get on DeltaMath or Khan Academy and pull whatever assignments looked like they matched what I had just taught, which did not set my kids up for success. I plan to spend some time this summer planning the first unit (at least) for each of my classes so I can hopefully stay ahead of planning this year.
- Going Over Graded Stuff – I need to find a better system for this. I have zero idea what it is, but I’m going to spend some time figuring it out. If you have any ideas, let me know!
- Timing of Quizzes – This was another planning issue this year. I waited too long between quizzes because I was overwhelmed and didn’t have time to write them. My goal is to write the quizzes and a few retakes when I plan out the unit, that way I can just pull them out and copy.
- Work Time Procedures – Again, this is something I need to find a better system for. In my upper-level math classes I give them a lot of freedom during work time and we have many discussions about making good choices, learning how to learn, taking responsibility for their own learning, and the consequences of their choices. This works for them, but I realized this year that my Algebra 1 students need more structure, which I am terrible at. I need to spend time finding something that will work in my classroom that helps them build the skills to eventually not need the structure. I’ve tried productivity checks through Google Forms, but wasn’t diligent about using them regularly so I have zero idea what this will look like next year either.
- Focus on Algebra 1 Content – Algebra 1 is the class that I have taught the longest. I’ve had at least one section every single year I have been teaching. When I was thrown into teaching AP Calculus and PreCalculus/Trigonometry three years ago, I just went into autopilot mode in Algebra 1. I spent two years focusing on brushing up my Calculus skills enough to effectively teach the class. Then last year I taught Algebra 2 Honors for the first time, which was my focus. This year, I only have classes I have taught before, so it is time to revisit Algebra 1 and be more intentional about my planning instead of just pulling out my notes from a few years ago and going with that.
If I’m being realistic, this is an ambitious list. And I’m a chronic procrastinator who only has a month left of summer that I filled up with various conferences and trainings. So, will all of this get done? Probably not. But putting all of this down in a public space is the first step towards getting there for me.