It's crazy to type, but there are only 6 days left in this school year. 6!!
It's hard for me to fathom how this year went by so fast or how we managed to learn so much. Before I started teaching, I worried that I wouldn't be able to grow my kids. I worried that at the end of the year, they would have learned nothing and I would have failed them. All of my education friends (those that had already been doing this for a bit) told me that the kids would grow undoubtedly. I just had to let it happen and try my best.
They were right. 170-ish days ago, I had a group of (basically) 1st graders enter my room. They were dependent and full of energy. Now, they are independent thinkers and doers (and still very much full of energy). I can't believe how much I have seen them grow both in their academics and in their personalities.
Everyday now that I come to school, I make a conscious choice to try and look for the light in every single moment. Even when I'm frustrated (end-of-the-year behaviors are real and hard), I try to remember that I only have so much time left with these kids. And I remember who they were when they first entered my class so I can remember the joy I have in seeing who they have become.
I started really reflecting on my first year this past week. I reflected on the ways I could improve as an educator next year. I thought of the parts of my teaching that I actually found pretty successful and patted myself on the back for those (gotta take small victories when they come!). And I really tried to pinpoint my favorite memories from the year... the moments I know I won't forget.
Just so they're in writing, here are the moments I will hold onto from this year and the wonderful group of kiddos I had the pleasure of teaching:
The first day of school
The anxiety I felt on that first day is something I haven't felt since. I can't begin to explain how much of a fraud I felt like when parents first started dropping their kids off. I really had that moment of "Am I actually prepared and ready for this?" When I realized the kids were just as nervous (and excited) as me, though, we figured it out together and stumbled our way through the first day of 2nd grade.
Words and Your Heart activity
I read a book to my class called "Words and Your Heart." The book focuses on how words can affect you and those around you, both positively and negatively. It encourages kids to watch what they say and to use kind words to build each other up. I stole an idea from a Facebook teaching group I'm in to further the lesson of this book. I cut out enough big hearts for every child and wrote their name in the center of it. I created and passed out a list of adjectives (or "strong 2nd grade describing words"). I gave students time to walk around the classroom and choose a different adjective to write on every students' heart. By the end of the activity, each student had a heart full of positive words that their classmates thought about them. Though the activity was cute by itself, what blew me away was how seriously my students took it! The classroom was SILENT. Students were searching their papers so hard to find the perfect word for their classmate. When we wrapped up, students were so happy to sit and read all the words their classmates used to describe them. It really filled their hearts (and mine!).
This was not an official day but rather what I'm calling it. One day in April, our recess field was BURSTING with dandelions. They had literally appeared overnight and they were everywhere. Because teachers aren't perfect, none of us thought to tell the students to stay out of the field. So, naturally, all of the students ran straight for it and were picking dandelion bouquets for their teachers and guardians. Seasonal allergies are REAL and some students were walking back from the field with a handful of dandelions and a red splotchy face. What really got me was how proud the students were of their huge bouquets and their thought process for picking the "flowers" (for example, "My mom loves flowers!!") At the end of recess, all dandelions were designated to stay on the playground, but I won't get over the sight of so many students running around the blacktop with huge yellow bouquets.
Coding with Kurt
I had Kurt come into my classroom a few times this year, but my favorite memory is the first time he showed up. He got to tell the kids what he does for a living (coding) and what coding can be used for (namely, video games). Nothing lights up a second grader's face more than the realization that it's possible to grow up to be a person that MAKES video games. Kurt showed my kiddos code.org, a website that breaks coding down to it's simplest form so elementary students can start learning it. Everyone was so into this lesson and working so hard to get their code just right. And since I have no idea how to code, I got to sit back and listen to the choruses of "Mr. Lewis, I need help!" that kept ringing out.
Around midyear, I came up with an idea for transition periods and the random times we had a moment to kill in the classroom (think: We cleaned up a little too early and now there are 4 minutes before specials). I started writing "hard" words on the board and having my students guess what the word was and what it meant. Students got to use their phonics knowledge to try and break apart the words. It is immensely entertaining to listen to a 2nd grade student try to break apart words like 'mischievous' and 'academic.' This was such a small part of our year, but little moments of engagement and giggles like this are what really made the year what is was for me.
I'm sure this will be a highlight of my year every year that I teach, but my students really made me laugh this year. I can't pinpoint this to a specific moment, but I have to pause and remember the great one-liners my students produced this year. From "Miss Radich, my cat is having babies... but she isn't even married!!" to "Drinking apple juice really calms me down in the mornings," I spent most of my days (even the frustrating ones) laughing at something a student shared in class.
After a year of working on narrative, opinion, and informational writing over and over and OVER again, I wanted to give my students some choice. I let them write a story about anything they wanted. It could be an About Me book, a fictional story, a memory story, an opinion piece, or a researched book. They got to write it and then got a blank white book to copy their story into. To see the pride that they took in crafting their stories was incredible. We struggled with writing all year. It definitely wasn't a favorite subject in my class, but this project really turned it around. I had students begging me to give them extra writing time, and any day that we didn't get to writing was a huge letdown for my kids. We ended up with stories ranging from our favorite birthday party to a history of the Bermuda Triangle. I hope my students take these books home and share them with their families. I'm hopeful they'll look back at them in a few years and remember just a little bit of the time we shared together in 2nd grade.
Dismissal has been and will continue to be a little chaotic for the duration of the year. By the end of a day full of learning, my consistently energetic class is ready to go. My favorite part of this crazy process is the moment I dismiss the kids by bus riders, car riders, walkers, etc. I stand by my classroom door and offer every student a high five, a "Have a good night," and some encouraging words for the next day. What's special about this time has been getting to know my specific students and what they need at the end of the day. I know which students are going straight in for a hug instead of a high five. I know which students think it's funny to duck my high five but still turn around and smile at me as they walk down the hall. I know which students linger in the classroom and want to stay at school longer. I know which students need some extra encouraging words for the day to come and some support for the potentially rough day they might have had. That moment is a moment we get to share just us, and it's become so special to me. It's a moment I will undoubtedly miss when I say my final goodbye at my spot at the door.
This year has been a learning experience. It's been exhausting, fun, stressful, special, and transformative. I don't know what next year holds, but I'm positive I'll be perusing this blog post from time to time to remember the important moments from my first year of teaching.