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Reflecting on teaching the 23-24 school year

At the end of every school year, I always take time to reflect on what went well and what I need to improve on for next year. With tomorrow being our last day, this is as good of a time as any to do just that.

This is me starting a journalism club meeting last year in our library.

I will head over to see my seniors walk across the stage in about forty-five minutes. Last night, before I went to bed, I thought about how I had to let go of so many students who became part of my extended family over the years. Tonight will most likely be the last time I see this generation of family, and yes, I will probably get goosebumps over this bittersweet moment. 

At a certain point in your teaching career, you must accept that you must let your babies go into the world. I did everything I could to make those students better readers, writers, and communicators, and I can only hope that I equipped them with the tools they need to succeed.

With all of that being said, let's look at what went well this year.

The Good

1. I feel that the more I teach, the better I get at building rapport with students. My students seemed to feel comfortable and, on the whole, enjoyed my classes. This can't be said for everyone, as not everyone will click with every teacher, but I feel that I did a pretty good job making students feel welcome in my room B111. 

2. The discussions students had during Socratic Seminars were nothing shy of amazing. I learned from them, and they overall seemed to learn from each other. I especially liked it when we held a mock trial where students had to defend whether Antigone was guilty or innocent. The winning side got a prize, in which I bought the winning team donuts, specialty pens with quirky lawyer sayings (such as "You Got Served") and Warrior Gold that could be used to buy items from our school store.

3. Feedback from the surveys from my AP Literature students was overwhelmingly positive. They said they felt prepared for the AP test because of all the writing I had them do throughout the year and that they liked all the extensive comments and help I gave them.

4. The journalism website was updated more frequently and with more variety. I switched the curriculum to more project-based instruction, and students worked diligently to produce a story every few weeks.

5. Speaking of journalism, we won the IHSA state journalism competition for the first time ever. That was quite a proud moment!

6. I taught sophomores for the first time, and while I was apprehensive about it, they were such a fantastic class. They never complained, worked hard, and were all-around respectful. We had interesting discussions about our books, and I feel that I really connected with them.

7. I took on the challenge of being the ASL (American Sign Language) Coach. What this means is that I assisted the virtual sign language teacher with inputting grades, classroom management, and tech issues. However, I took it upon myself to teach the class for the first month while the program came to fruition. I knew minimal signs, but I worked hard to research lessons and learn as much as possible to deliver content to the students. They were very grateful and receptive. Additionally, I built a strong bond with them in that month that only continued throughout the year.

8. I gave a lot of assignments, but I always tried to keep the class lighthearted. I never saw the point in giving busy work, but I made sure that what I gave helped students grow in learning. I always allowed students to revise their writing because, as a writer, I believe in the strength of the revision process. Student writing only improved throughout the year through this.

9. I always bumped students' fists at the door and said hi, no matter my mood or how tired I was. Students come in with all kinds of issues, and something as simple as that can go a long way.

10. The bell ringers at class really helped to jumpstart class and get students on task. They incited thought and worked wonders for classroom management. They also led seamlessly into a transitions for discussion or the next assignment.

The Bad (What Needs Improvement)

1. I just talked with a student who will be taking journalism next year, and I told her that we really need to do a better job of taking photos. Our photo organization process is garbage. Photos don't have credits, students aren't taking pictures, and we need a better job of uploading them.

2. I need to do a better job of communicating with parents about all students. My son's preschool teachers were terrific. They would send us updates on their progress through an app, and then, at the end of the year, they would put together a booklet with pictures that showed what they accomplished that year. How wonderful is that? I made one or two positive phone calls home this year, and they did make a huge difference, but I need to find time to fit more of that into my schedule.

3. I have to plan my time more wisely. On average, I spend five to six hours every weekend grading, planning, or doing something related to the job. Sometimes, I would go back to work and feel that I never stopped working, depending on how much I had to do that week. That has to stop.

4. Speaking of time management, I would really love to go paperless. I realize I will still have to print some copies, but I don't want to even think about how much time I spent at those dinosaur copiers that I wanted to beat with a sledgehammer.

5. I have to do a better job tracking data. I'll sort of give myself a pass here since we just started a new data system this year, but I need to do a stronger job of seeing where students are so that I can meet their needs throughout the year.

6. I want to do a better job with my Journalism Club. While we did win State, our enrollment numbers were a little smaller than I would have liked. We did have a steady roster, but not as large as I would have hoped. I need to utilize my veterans to recruit for next year.

7. I'm going to teach more units in journalism. While it was a fun experiment to turn the class into more like a club atmosphere where students mostly focus on the website, stories and photos did not improve as significantly as I would have liked. I need to build in more mini-lessons throughout.

8. I'd like to see what I can do to connect the learning to more real-world applications. Whether this means field trip opportunities, reaching out to local community projects, etc., I think it's important for students to see that what we are doing does mean something in a larger context. 

9. I want to focus more on absences and tardies. While I did call home as much as I could about this, I probably did not do enough to try to intervene and see what I could do here. Granted, I can only do so much on my part, but I have to notice these issues more.

10. I have to reflect more often. While it is all well and good that I reflect at the end of the year, I should do it more throughout. This will help me to adapt and improve continuously when and where needed.

Well, another year has passed. What's that quote from Ferris Bueller's Day Off? Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

Kevin Patrick Kenealy is the author of the recent book Neighborhood Watch. The sequel Neighborhood Watched is coming soon. To check out Neighborhood Watch, visit Amazon here or check it out at Andersons Bookshop in Downers Grove, Barbara's in Orland Square Mall, or The Book Dragon in Stockton-on-Tees, United Kingdom.

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