In the Classroom Uncategorized
Each School Year Is a Fresh Start
July 14, 2018
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Al Feldblum

Have you seen the commercial with the parents gleefully riding on shopping carts while their two children watch with sad, remorseful faces? The background music lyrics are “it’s the most wonderful time of the year.” The family is back-to-school shopping.

I wonder how this scene plays out in the homes of teachers? I look forward to hearing from my students about what they did all summer. I even enjoy listening to them tell me they did not use any math the entire summer. (I am in it for the long haul, the math will come back and get them when they least expect it.) I look forward to the start of the school year. I cannot wait to see colleagues that I have not kept up with all summer. I like getting back into the regimented routine of Monday through Friday.

I also wonder how this scene plays out in the homes of my students? Are they looking forward to seeing their teachers? Are they looking forward to seeing other students they could not during the summer? Are they looking forward to getting back to the routine of school? I am sure many of them are looking forward to being back in school. I know a few of them, very few, don’t want to be back in school.

I view each school year as a fresh start. All of us spend some time reflecting on the previous school year. Which lessons did I teach that were awesome? Which lessons did I teach that were solid, but needed something extra? Which lessons did I inject some type of pizzazz into that lost the students? Which lessons were terrible? Which of those need to be permanently filed away forever? Which of those could be salvaged and re-worked for next time? All teachers think these thoughts at the end of the school year.

The fresh start I like to see and promote is more than just refining lessons. Rather than ask my students to write about what they did during the summer, I have a prompt that I ask my kids the first day back to school:

            Each new school year is a fresh start. A chance to do something different. A chance to change previous behavior and habits and attitudes.

            What are you going to do with this fresh start?        

            What does success at school look like to you?

            What did you do last year that may have prevented you from maximizing your success?

            What, if anything, are you going to try and change?

I gather a tremendous amount of insight into each of my students as I read their responses. I can identify which students are willing to have grit – to work and persevere during this year. I can identify which students I am going to have to purposefully embed relevance to keep them engaged. I can identify which students I need to cultivate relational capacity to keep them engaged. Unfortunately, I can also identify which students are not going to be interested in learning. To me, this information is so much more important than collecting email addresses and phone numbers.

I do not just ask my students to do this writing prompt. I do it also. I share my response with my students. I want my students to know that learning is important to me. I want them to know that I am I have things I want to work on as well. I want them to know that it is okay to be vulnerable in my class.

How do you view the start of a new school year? Are you as excited to go back to as the parents in the commercial? Or are you as un-excited to go back to school as the students in the commercial?

Each year is a fresh start – “it’s the most wonderful time of the year.

What are you planning on doing with your fresh start this year?

What are you thinking about doing different this year in your classroom?

Al has taught mathematics in Knox County for the past nine years, the last three years at Karns High School. Prior to Knox County, he taught in two school districts in Maryland, spending three years at Howard High School in Howard County and 13 years at Laurel High School in Prince George’s County. Al has taught the gamut of courses from Pre-Algebra through Trig-Analysis/Pre-Calculus. He is also certified to teach Teen Leadership by the Flippen Group. During his teaching career, he was an assistant football coach for 22 years, a head football coach for two years and a head wrestling coach for 12 years. He earned the 1997 Prince George’s County wrestling coach of the year award from the Prince George’s Journal newspaper and the 2007 Howard County football coach of the year from both DigitalSports online newspaper and the Baltimore Touchdown Club. Al graduated cum laude from Bowie State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics. He also holds a Master of Education degree in Secondary Education from Bowie State. He also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging his colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.

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