This is the first part of my Reflection Series for 2017 – a self-reflection of my teaching this year.
What Are Some Things You Accomplished This Year That You Are Proud Of?
Wow what a year it has been! I tried out the private system, returned to my old school, fell pregnant, started a few new projects, took on three pre-service teachers. It’s been very busy indeed.
At our last staff meeting, we went around and mentioned some of the things we were proud of. I noticed that the majority of them related to student results. I think we put so much of our ourselves into getting our students to achieve the best they can, we forget that we achieve things too that are completely separate to student outcomes. So rather than reflect on my student outcomes, I chose to reflect on personal achievements.
Knowing What Works for You
At the end of last year I applied for a position at a fantastic private school. It is one I had heard many good things about, and had wanted to try for myself. When I saw the job ad come up, it seemed to fit my skill set perfectly.
I attended the interview, nervous as all hell, and smashed it. I got along really well with the principal and other two senior leadership ladies who formed the interview panel. We joked, I self-promoted, they self-promoted, and everything went swimmingly. Needless to say, I was offered the position, and I was so happy!
I worked there for the better part of a term before realising that I just wasn’t enjoying it as much as I thought I would. The longer work hours were part of it, as were the higher expectations that come with being part of a private school. This was my first ever experience of one, having gone through the public system myself, and for some reason I just couldn’t enjoy it. The students and staff were absolutely lovely, and the support from senior leadership was the best I’d ever experienced (or even heard of – one of the school mantras is that senior leadership will back teachers 110%, in all situations, and I found that to be completely true).
Eventually I went to the principal to tell her my decision to leave. She tried to get me to stay, offering me a number of things to help lighten my load etc, but in the end I knew I had made my decision and I would be unhappy to go back on it. I cried a lot, telling her how I was feeling and that I knew it wasn’t for me. I still feel extremely silly turning away from such a great place to work, but I know I did the right thing for me. We parted on good terms, with the door open if I might want to return in the future.
Even though it was so difficult, it was an accomplishment for me to realise that I was truly not happy working in that school (for no real fault of anyone involved!). It was also another accomplishment to act upon that knowledge and leave the school, even though I was turning away from such a great opportunity.
Through this experience I have learned to better recognise what works well for me, and to recognise true feelings of being unhappy with my workplace.
I think it is so very important to learn what works best for you (without going overboard and quitting as soon as one little obstacle comes up). Being able to recognise your own happiness, and what you are able to cope with and enjoy in your workplace, makes life much more enjoyable.
While I loved my old school, the one that I keep returning to over and over again, I wonder if there is a different school out there that would be an even better fit when I return from maternity leave.
On a completely different note, this year I feel like I finally got really good at writing curriculum documents.
At the end of my time in London, I worked with another Aussie to write their curriculum documents for the following year. I found that I really enjoyed the process and felt like I was good at it, even though I did resent putting in so much effort for a school that I wasn’t returning to.
This year I built on that experience and knowledge. I attended a few PD sessions (whole-school ones, my principal seemed to not want to let normal teachers go on PD) where we unpicked aspects of the Australian Curriculum and the ACARA Standard Elaborations (if you’re not from Aus, basically these are our country-wide curriculum expectations). With that expanded knowledge base and greater understanding, I took my power as year 8 science coordinator and went to work on our unit plans and assessment items.
I know our unit plans were lacking – there were parts of the curriculum we weren’t covering, and other parts we had expanded on significantly for no apparent reason. We had been teaching to pretty much the same unit plans since I started at the school 4 years ago. We were desperately overdue for a complete overhaul of the program.
I started out by doing an audit of our current unit plans and assessment items, seeing which part of the Aus documents we were aligned with, what we were missing, and what was being added in necessarily.
From there I did a basic year outline, putting units into terms that had a suitable length of time. I started sequencing the units, working out what individual topics needed to be taught and what order would be most logical for them to be taught in.
About half way through that process I realised I needed to sort out the assessment items first. I needed to know exactly what was being assessed before I could plan the topics to be taught. So my next task was to carefully assess the assessments (ha ha) – I ended up scrapping all but two of them. This then meant writing whole new ones to go in their places, which was more difficult than I anticipated. Luckily we had some staff meeting time where I could run a draft by some other year 8 science teachers for their input, but there was only enough time to do this for one exam. I took the feedback and applied it to all of the assessments though, and eventually had a while new suite ready to print and go.
Once that process was complete, I got stuck into the unit plans. We work on term-long units, with the last term split into two smaller units. I reordered them throughout the year to better suit the term lengths, and wrote simple lesson plans with associated resources for every single lesson. It was more challenging than I thought to come up with lessons for every topic. I know we do it without second thought throughout the year, but I was doing the entire year in one go (well, one go spread out over a number of weeks).
Eventually, after working through the process during my down time in the last term, I had a brand new year 8 science work plan!
I am so proud of the work I did. I know it will be far from perfect, but that is what the review process is for. I also know that some teachers won’t like it, either in parts or in whole, because that’s what some teachers just do. Funny thing is I won’t even be there next year to use it!
But the entire year is planned, from whole-term work plans to each assessment item to individual lesson plans with associated resources. The teachers of year 8 science next year should be able to run with it as is, without worrying about what the assessment item is going to look like, or what they’re meant to be teaching next lesson/week/term.
If that isn’t an accomplishment to be proud of, I don’t know what is!
What did you achieve this year? What are you proud of?
Was it as ‘simple’ as getting that one student to finally pass? Did an entire class out-perform your expectations? Did a student learn how to say please and thank you? Did you learn how to say please and thank you?
Let us know in the comments below!
About the Author:
Emily is a secondary science and math teacher in Australia. She enjoys blogging about her experiences, facilitating the ‘light bulb’ moment in her students, and drinking tea and wine. Emily is currently on maternity leave with her first child. You can read more teaching articles from Emily here, or about her life as a new mum over at Actual Mums.