17 December 2017

Moving On - Shedding the teacher I was

I'm moving. It's the first time in nine years, but the third time since I started teaching. I used to keep a lot of stuff in file cabinets, first in my classrooms, then in my shed when I started at the early college.

I dug up some of my Raisin in the Sun folders a couple of years ago for Film & Lit, but otherwise, the "just in case" I was saving everything for has not come in five years.

So I thought for this, my 500th post, I'd document some of what I was before I throw it all out.

First of all, I used to be an English teacher. I mean, I still am, but I was only an English teacher when I started. Not only that, but I had long blond hair that I refused to wear down lest I look under 25 (which I was). And my name was Huertero for a while there.

Also, I used South Park avatar generators to make posters before memes were a thing--I got this printed super huge and in color at Office Depot and made copies for kids' notebooks. #SoCool

I was also an early adopter of the class web page, starting with Geocities and Localendar before the rest of the school got on board. I also printed a lot of things, either for posterity or the CYA file or for general hoarding purposes, including some Localendar pages from that first year:

I was much better about birthdays back then. I spent hours making quote bookmarks with contact paper and posterboard and tiny post-its stapled on. And yet somehow I feel like I'm better with relationships now. Maybe because my school culture makes me a big fat cheater, or maybe because I'm better at presence than presents now.

Although I was techy from an early age (well, early 20s), I still tried to do things the traditional way. I had an honest-to-god teacher store teacher gradebook for years, with honest-to-god teacher grades.

PS SSR was not target language FVR. It was school-mandated weekly English reading, in theory to boost literacy and scores. As a nascent Spanglish teacher, I was mostly OK with that.

I named the assignments on the bottom so I could keep every date of the semester at the top (yes, each class took a few pages). And speaking of names, check out the Spanish names students picked in quotation marks.

And while we're on the subject of grades, I still had some progress reports from that first school, from my first Spanish class in ye olde CMS Gradebook.

I'd like to say the blurry photos are to protect the innocent, but honestly it was kinda dark in the shed. And in theory, I was really there to clean up.

Anyway, take a look at some of the things I graded back then:
  • Alfabeto Memorizado
  • "p18 1-15"
  • Cognates: accidente-aparecer, area-blusa, brillante-cerámica (basically vocab list "bellringers")
  • Objetos y Personas Crucigrama
  • Prueba 3: Articles, "De," Object-Numbers

Now, I point these assignments out not to deride myself or anyone who still has similar slots in their gradebooks, though I admit, the temptation is great to bully my past self, to give my current self a sense of superiority and pat myself on the back for "how far I've come." But I gotta tell ya, A) those first, oh, ten years were a STRUGGLE and B) it is important to honor the journey of every educator, including myself, and including those who are kinda where I was in 2006.

The truth is, I still have students who are disappointed we didn't learn the alphabet, and I think a crossword--even a textbook-type activity--here and there might make some students feel more confident. One comment I've gotten on end-of-course surveys this year is that they wished I'd done "the hand thing" sooner because it helped so much. I've also been wondering if some explicit grammar "quizzes" could also build confidence and help target some trouble areas like "de" with possession.

Here's a handful of folders I chucked wholesale:

Yes, I made students make a poster of how to translate a sentence. It was how my mind worked. But if I could go back and talk to 20-something me, it would do me no good to scoff. I would not have listened to someone insulting my cognate searches or Fecha notes--nor should I have. Nor should anyone. 

Insults are not how any of us get better.

How I started getting better was examples, models, and connecting with others in the field. It didn't all happen at my first FLANC (where I had no idea I'd eventually present with the then-president!)

To tell the truth, I was a bit mystified at the suggestion that I would teach in the target language when I presented on Sandra Cisneros stories then. It was honestly a little scary when I got that question, even with one of my favorite professors right beside me.

But see, fear is not what we want, for our students or for our colleagues--or for ourselves.

We want to feel capable, confident. We want to feel like we've finally made it, kind of like I did when I made these folders for every single assessment in my Spanish I and II courses, complete with multiple versions and scantron answer keys:

You know, BEFORE I moved to a school with no scantron machine. And before my first official PBL training.

Now I did throw all of the scantron folders out after documentation, but allow me to illustrate the depths of my packrat problem.

Yes, that is a journal entry about my feelings on math from 1992. Yes, I kept it. It lives in my new attic now. Also, can I tell you how weird it is to realize how much my son--who's now the same age I was then--writes like me? I kind of love it, truth be told.
What I'm trying to get at is my shed is almost empty now, and I have let go of a lot. I have let go of a lot of what I used to do and be, but I have not let go of everything (though I think I did finally accept that Google and YouTube would help more than my old notebooks by the time my kids get to Calculus).

Pretty much all of my plans and documents are online now, and I have no intention of ever returning to scantron or adjective units. Am I above using Google Forms for a quick assessment or having students group infomercial adjectives in their interactive notebooks? Heavens no.

Do I feel like I've come along way? Absolutely.

But are all of these files and folders and ancient artifacts--whether they ended up in garbage bags or attic files--still a part of my journey, a part of me?

They are. And they can remind me of why I really wanted to go into teaching, since the moment Mr. Bancroft, my 11th grade English teacher first said "No really, I don't know. What do you think?"

I realized that teaching means you can keep growing forever.


  1. I love this so much, Laura! As I riffled through my files last week for a brand new AP teacher, I had to edit a great deal out... and was honestly embarrassed to admit that I created most of it. My rote memorization final exam and over-prescriptive writing assignments made me cringe! But it was a part of my journey as a teacher and educator and helped to shape my current practice through reflection and, let's be honest, utter failure through implosion. Thank you for speaking to the nature of growing in this profession and validating the struggle to let go.

  2. I don't think you should belittle yourself or anyone who did "traditional" assignments. When my best friend died (she taught across the hall from me) I came across her checklist where she graded the students on saying the alphabet. This document is now treasured by her daughters and by me. I never let go of a traditional grade book. (the computer system would go down from time to time.) I would use it on a clipboard as I went around the room assessing progress. I also kept classroom management notes in it (great for assessing participation--now, some teachers are not allowed to count participation in the grade). It also contained notes from conversations with parents and anytime I had to send a student out into the hall. My lesson plans were also housed in the front section of the same book. I also graded certain drills and practices, homework. It is wonderful that things are changing with technology, but don't throw out the baby with the bath water--I still remember memorized sayings from seventh grade Spanish and tenth grade French 1.

    1. What special memories and markers of our journey! I hope that the message that we need both baby and bath water comes across. Belittling was not my intent, though on some level I did feel..embarrassed? But I did hold onto things I felt I could adapt and refresh on! How cool that you have your resources to draw from too!