Monday, June 27, 2016

My 2015-16 School Year

Things have been lean for me and this blog this school year.  Tom calls it my "lost year". . .I wouldn't go THAT far since I really was thankful for the opportunity to work in my new town and the job was something that I had always dreamed of doing.  In the end, though, there were so many things that it took away from us, our family, that when my contract wasn't renewed in April I wasn't as sad/upset as I think I should have been.  Again, it was a DREAM job.  I worked with GREAT people. . .I know the Lord had me in that place for that time for a reason and then He took me out.

So. . .to re-cap. . .we moved in March to an apartment because house-hunting (and house-selling) had not been as easy as we had hoped.



And, since I was a teacher and left my job in our old town at Spring Break, I had all the time in the world to unpack in a timely manner :)









I spent that last 9 weeks of school in our new town being a "mom", house-hunting practically full-time, volunteering at the kids schools (!!!), and looking for a job a little more than part-time.  I wasn't sure I wanted to go back into the classroom but I also didn't know what else I would do -- teaching had always been my "life" -- sometimes too much of it, according to Tom..
Some days I just took the show on the road. . .nice to get out and work!
 Because of a grant I had gotten from the state in 2014-15, I had made some connections in our new (much larger) town.  I spent a lot of time applying for jobs in the local public school system as well as some of the private schools in town.  I had been on one private school interview and one public interview -- the former I was very interested in, the latter I hoped wouldn't call back.  Over the summer I was invited to a "administration training" or something like that, meaning that I qualified to take the next step in that arena. . .although I really don't think that's the direction I want to go anymore, it was worth a day out of my summer.  While there I got a random phone call from a principal across town for a technology job.  My dream!!!!  I was so excited -- she called Friday and asked me to come in Monday!  I had always, ALWAYS wanted to run a tech lab -- the drawbacks were:  it was going to be a 35 minute drive and it was an elementary school -- and I am a middle school teacher through-and-through.  Still. . .Monday came and I went :)
I had an "interview outfit" and took my first selfies ever to send to Tom, asking for prayers and God's guidance.

The interview went well -- there were lots of people there. . .the principal, librarian, music teacher/encore team lead. . .maybe the VP. . .and it lasted quite awhile.  Mainly, they had decided to drop a 4th/5th grade teacher and instead hire a certified technology teacher because our state was going to online state testing this (last) year and they didn't feel their students had enough exposure to technology.  This was a rural, Title I school and I was PUMPED to be asked to lead this endeavor.  Technology is not something that our schools *have* to have in their curriculum but this principal felt that it was important for HER students in the 2015-16 school year.  After the interview she asked me to apply for the job (ha!) so everything was in order. . .she had gotten my name and resume from a connection I had made on the previous year's grant.  I love how all things seem to connect together. . .

She had said that a decision would be made, sent to the central office and it would be a few days whether I got a phone call from them offering me the job or an e-mail saying that the position had been filled.  Obviously the former happened within a day or two, I quickly accepted, and I was excited to get involved in our county school system.
Besides the usual teacher days before the first day of school, I also had an additional "New Teacher Training" three days before that!
 The thing is, we had also found a house a week or so prior and were waiting to see if our loan would be approved. . .a closing date days before I was to start my new job!!
(OK, I've spent 1/2 hour trying to get one of these pictures to turn the "right" way. . .I give up.  This was a picture I took at the corner from my car when I wanted to show someone 'this is the house we are looking at'.  I didn't end up being around for moving day so this is all I have -- the other Bells in my house don't take pictures -- ha!)

So. . .I went back to school on Monday and my wonderful, terrific, awesome in-laws went back to our old town on Wednesday and Thursday (they were down visiting for the week) to supervise the movers/packers there.  We had moved into this house with our apartment stuff a week or so prior, but the other 2/3 of "stuff" needed to be hauled here.  Tom's company paid for that part of it, which was nice.



 












More stuff???
Leaving for school in the early morning, looking in at all the boxes!!!







As the rest of my family was moving into our new home, I was setting up my new technology lab!!

This was the first day I saw it:

 Not much there!!!  Not even a desk. . .

Margaret came back a few days later to help me set up, and I was confused because it seemed there weren't enough tables -- but once someone showed me how it had been set up in the past it made sense.














We worked hard and put together what we could before Open House. . .which is the night or so before school starts. . .


Probably one of my *favorite* things to do for school is plan and organize.  I had decided that all the stations should be labeled and spent a couple of nights at home putting together these monitor covers.  This system ended up working really well.








I would lay their folders out on their floor spaces when they came in so we were ready to hit the ground running!

These were my "classroom colors". . .with all grades color-coded also :)
Finally. . .the first day of school!!!  As a teacher, it ranks up there with Christmas Morning.

Students being picked up by teachers from the gym in the morning.

Morning duty - my view from the outside gym door



 I had morning gym duty all year.  It was an interesting set-up. . .all grades came in and sat in their grade-assigned rows.  They immediately got out a book to read or we (the three teachers in there or some of the safety patrol) gave them a book to read.  It was completely silent and well-managed.  Students knew the expectations and it was consistent. . .even on the first and last days of school.  Luckily EKCE had an extremely supportive administration who would follow-up with us if we had a student not abide by the standards.  I would do the job again in a heartbeat -- it was great to see all of the students every single morning.

 Lesson plans are a part of every teacher's life. . .whether you are encore (or specials or whatever) or not.
A common site in our home during the school year - especially on Sunday nights!

My mother's "I love you gift" - an Erin Condren lesson plan book!!


The downfall of my job -- the part I hated (and the reason I was hired) -- was the testing aspect.  Our state decided that it would test all students, grades 3-12, on the computer this year.  We already do too much testing. . .data is important, but so is authentic learning that cannot always be measured.  Anyway, because it was the main reason I was hired, I was required to do keyboarding work and test prep every single day and I just didn't like it.  The kids were rockstars and did their best, despite the fact that the company the state hired to do this was unable to follow through and make everything work.





The tide turned in February, when our Director of Schools, and then the state, suspended ALL online testing for the year.  The kids were still going to test, just not online.  That gave me the FREEDOM to do what I love -- teach!!!

I immediately ordered some things (my husband asked about one of my Amazon orders, "is this so you can teach?" -- and my enthusiastic response was "YES!!! - Finally!!!")




 I worked with some of the classroom teachers to complete reports for their classrooms (teaching students formatting and such in Word, and then later when we received our Google Accounts, in Google):


Finishing up rough drafts before heading to their workstations
 I got to do a neat project with the kiddos where I would read a chapter or two from a Black Lagoon book and then they would speculate what comes next. . .incorporating writing, keyboarding, formatting, and the school mission of "read about it, think about it, talk about it, write about it" in my encore classroom.

Kahoot! is always a favorite. . .in my classroom or my kids' middle school classrooms!!  (BTW, this is something that we have also played at home together -- it really is fun.)



















Getting iPads out for the little guys and enjoying watching them learn and explore (of course PK-2 only did STAR testing -- universal screeners -- so we hit the ground running with instruction for them!)

I love, love, love watching students collaborate and work together:


We were fortunate -- not only did I have a lab with 32 computers, but we also had an iPad cart that anyone could check out and use (24 of those) and eventually, toward the end of the year, classroom teachers had access to 90 Chromebooks!








And keyboarding, too, was a huge part of my curriculum.  My little PKer's knew their home keys (one of their teachers was asking them to identify the letter F one day and the student said, "that's a home key" -- yea!)  This picture made it into the yearbook:
The project I was most proud of was doing a "what we love about" for each teacher (except K. . .they had a difficult time typing their names!).  Unfortunately, this is when we were still in "testing mode" and it was a rush-rush thing at the beginning of class and I ended up putting the final posters together.  I was evaluated one of these days (it took 4 days - 5 classes/day) to complete this and my evaluating teacher asked why I didn't just use it as the entire lesson that day.  ARGH!!!!  NO ONE (outside of this profession) understands how much testing takes away from our kids. . .or in my case, preparing them for testing (that we didn't even do). . .


I posted these all around the school -- these were the outside bookcases that made the "walls" of our library!!  All three wings of the school came off of these walls so teachers and students could see them each time they left their wing. . .

I eventually got to redesign the technology lab so we had pods instead of those long tables and all (teachers and students) seemed to like it more.

 (the orange station was the last to be re-configured. . .couldn't find pics once that was done)

The cubbies in the back kept the folders for students in each class -- these folders contained all of their usernames and passwords as well as any continuous work/research we were doing in the lab.  The floor space in the middle was so great -- I couldn't see all students over the monitors so they would come in and sit on the floor to do opening instructions and such, then head to their stations to work. 

The second graders worked week-by-week learning their QWERTY keyboard keys and coloring them in little-by-little.  I was able to laminate and give them all back so they could take them home with them at the end of the year:

I can't find pictures (right now) of the solar system projects the third graders did, but all I can say is "wow!".  They worked in Google groups, a student from each of the 4 3rd grade classrooms in each group.  Every day, the class that was in there would do another slide as part of the whole Google Slide presentation.  They learned to research and put together slides, work together to make suggestions, and be creative also.  Since these are county Google accounts they should have their presentations for as long as they are a student in this county -- they should be proud of their hard work!!

There are so many more things that I was a part of in this school and projects that were fun to do and engaging (I hope!) for the kids.  The end of the year was weird in the sense that I never really wrapped things up with the kids and told them that I would not see them again.  I finished up projects and such that they were working on, but because of field days, assemblies, etc., my last day with some of the classes was two weeks before the end of school --  much too early to be saying good-bye!  Plus, I was "just" an encore teacher -- someone they saw every 4 days (if they weren't absent that day) and most saw me in the gym in the mornings.  It would probably have been different if I had been there for several years (I wish!!!) and could have seen them grow over time.  I loved the year I had and got to know almost all of the 450 students and most especially had begun relationships with most of the teachers.
This was most of EKCE's teaching and support staff at a staff meeting -- this one in January 2016.  You can see how the libary "walls" are just bookcases!
This was my encore team (at a PTO lunch after the kids left on their last 1/2-day of school):
Joanna, Steve, Jack, Jenni, Kim, Aubrey
 I was BLOWN AWAY when one of my team members, Kim, gave me this beautiful framed cross stitch.  I could tell that they were a tight little group before I arrived on the scene and they were so welcome and warm and allowed me to "join" them on more than just a professional level.  As most people who work in these kind of team settings, this isn't always the case!
Kim, Jenni, Joanna
And then it was time to turn in my keys and pull out of the parking lot for the last time.  It was bitter-sweet -- I would have gone back to that school in a heartbeat, but only if I could be the teacher I was the last 1/3 of the year, when I was really TEACHING and connecting and feeling like I was helping students become life-long learners, not just test-takers.

And that is it, folks.  It was my Picture of the Day on May 20, 2016.
Yes, we get out early.
But we also start early.
This year teachers go back August 1st.
I still don't know if I'll be one of them or not.
#allowingthelordtolead
I headed straight to a job interview at a private school right after this.  Unfortunately, I was not the person they were looking for.  It would have been a neat opportunity :)
I'm still looking. . .
Had a technology interview at an elementary school reallyclose to our house (before the school year was even over!), but they gave it to their gifted teacher.  That makes sense.
I interviewed at another private school that I interviewed at last year too. . .they never called last year and it's been over two weeks now and they haven't called this time either.
#allowingthelordtolead
I have an interview tomorrow for another technology position but it's part-time which would be awesome.  Elementary. 
But maybe I'll go work someplace completely different.
I *love* being home with the kiddies in our still-new-to-us (haven't even been here a year!) home.
The one thing I've told the kids:  I'm not going back to school for any sort of degree -- ha!
#allowingthelordtolead

I have been working on this blog post since the beginning of June.  Time to publish!

~Jenni