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Uncategorized   |   Jun 6, 2011

8 lessons I learned this school year

By Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

8 lessons I learned this school year

By Angela Watson

The 2010-2011 school year was pretty unique for me, and full of ‘firsts’. It was my first year as an instructional technology coach, since last year I did math and literacy coaching. I also stepped out of my comfort zone and worked with mostly middle schools instead of elementary or K-8 schools. And finally, it was the first full school year that I coached in New York City. Here are 8 lessons (of varying importance) that I learned between September and now:

1) It’s possible to commute on the subway without noise-cancelling headphones, but certainly not recommended.

Last year, I was not very comfortable navigating the mass transit system and was hyper alert, but now I am comfortable hopping on a train anytime, anywhere. As such, I no longer want to be highly attuned to every sound around me and crave solitude on the long commutes.  I bought a pair of Bose headphones on eBay and it may have been the best investment I made all year. That, and one of those down comforter coats that reaches your ankles and makes you look like a walking sleeping bag. It’s hard to imagine getting that coat out today, but trust me, that thing saved my life on many a cold morning.

2) Walk faster. No, faster than that.

Sidewalks are like highways in the city and you have to learn to navigate them properly. Move with the crowd and don’t stop in the middle. When waiting to cross, stand in the street, not on the sidewalk, so you’re ready to go. Don’t watch the lights–watch the cars, and go as soon as nothing’s coming. Once you understand the rhythm of the city’s traffic, you can zig-zag and cross mid-block. Learning these tricks can cut a 10 minute walk down to a 7 minute walk, which means you have 3 fewer minutes of listening to construction noises and incessant horn honking while being surrounded by a crushing mass of people. Am I making New York sound like a miserable place? It is not. Commuting is just a bit wearying and I’ve focused a lot of energy on learning to make it easier.

3) Middle schoolers will ask you every day if you are on Facebook.

If I was, do you think I’d be dumb enough to friend a twelve-year-old boy? Dude, it’s not gonna happen.

4) There is no such thing as a petty cash fund in NYC public schools.

Could I go on eBay and buy a teacher a replacement laptop charger for $6 and have it the next day, and then get reimbursed by the school? No. A question like that will be met with uproarious laughter. (Learned that the hard way.) The proper protocol is to order through FAMIS, which will cost $109 and probably take at least six months. And since the school doesn’t have $109, it’s never actually going to happen. Try splicing the wires on the cord and holding them together with duct tape. (They sell that at the dollar store, and no, you won’t get reimbursed.)

5) Anytime someone tells you a computer is “not working anymore,” run a  software update.

The longer it’s been since the school had an IT person employed, the more likely this rule will apply. I had teachers give me laptops that hadn’t had updates installed since 2008. Ten minutes later, the computer suddenly runs all sorts of programs again and people say, “Oh my gosh, thank you SO MUCH! What did you DO? You have no idea how much I appreciate that! You are a GENIUS!!” Aw, shucks, it was nothing. I’ve learned that knowing even a little bit about computers can provide a great ego boost. It’s kind of like the first day of school with preschoolers when they give you hugs and say you’re the best teacher in the whole world, when the only thing you’ve done so far is read them a story. Makes you feel all warm inside, and also a bit guilty because you really didn’t do as much as they think you have.

6) Google Apps is pretty much the best thing that ever happened to 21st century education.

Google Docs, Google Forms, Google Sites, and Google Calendar have simplified life in ways I never imagined. They have improved school communication and enhanced teachers’ instruction. Significantly. The fact that it’s all completely free is amazing. I’ll write a post about Google Apps soon for those who aren’t familiar–these tools can revolutionize the way your school runs.

7) The more closely entwined a task is with teachers and instruction, the happier I am when doing it.

I miss math coaching a lot. I found that with instructional technology coaching, the emphasis was much more on technology than instruction. I often found myself doing things like inventorying machines, installing software, and troubleshooting broken computers. It’s not that I mind doing mundane tasks, especially since staff are always immensely grateful for my help–it’s the nature of those tasks that bothers me at times. The mundane stuff I did as a math and literacy coach was cutting out words for word walls, cleaning out old bins of math manipulatives, and stapling together construction paper journals. And I loved every minute of it! That stuff is tied much more closely to instruction; they were jobs I co-planned and co-executed with teachers to help them meet their goals. Technology coaching can be more isolated; it’s sometimes just me and machines, rather than me and teachers. When I don’t see a direct connection between the task and increased instructional effectiveness, I lose my motivation, so I have to constantly strive to re-connect with what’s happening in the classroom. I know this will get easier for me as I gain more experience.

8.) My heart is really with the younger grades.

The few times I was in an elementary school this year, my heart literally ached at the sight of pocket charts and stickers. The bright colors! The little people chairs! The smell of crayons! I miss having a tiny voice interrupt my lesson to share the immensely important breaking news that someone has a cat. And guess what! The cat is brown! And white! A brown and white cat named Buster! Middle schoolers are clever but not nearly as cute. I miss cute. I’m glad I’ve had the chance to work so much with middle school teachers because I’d been wanting to do it, but the outcome was ultimately a confirmation that my greatest love is early childhood.

At this point, it’s impossible to tell what next year will hold. They’re laying off more teachers in New York City, but supposedly increasing the budget for technology consultants.  I could be swamped with opportunities or only have a few. I might get to return to some schools I worked with this year, or the grants might not come through. The work I’m offered could be with any grade level, at any school, working on any goals. It’s kind of unnerving. But I like the sense of possibility. There are no limits on what could happen. Everything is wide open. Every year is different from the year before. And I’m embracing whatever comes next.

What did YOU learn this year?

Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Angela created the first version of this site in 2003, when she was a classroom teacher herself. With 11 years of teaching experience and more than a decade of experience as an instructional coach, Angela oversees and contributes regularly to...
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  1. My degree is in Special education, and I’ve learned that I made the right choice. I have been subbing for two years and have taught in many different classes, and all grades, k-12. I have learned that I like the lower grades, k-3 as well as high school. I also learned that I made the right choice with special education. Yes the paperwork is hard, and all of the meetings with parents, but I wouldn’t change a thing. 🙂 So here I am applying for special ed jobs in Phoenix. I’m very excited about it, and scared to do interviews.

    1. Hi, Michelle! I love hearing from teachers who have found their niche, even when that niche is extremely challenging. We need good special education teachers who love what they do! Best of luck in your interviews–let your passion shine through. It really makes all the difference! 🙂

  2. Angela,
    One thing I have learned this year is that I love teaching 4th grade. The students are at an age where they wonder about many things, but I love that they share these thoughts. One such occasion happened one morning when my students and I were reading quietly in different areas of the room and Haylei came up to me and replied, “I didn’t know there was a man named Good Samaritan in the Bible.” She was reading Tomie de Paola’s Bible Stories for Children. I explained what the story meant, but inside I chuckled. I just love Haylei!

    1. Hey there, Frances! I’m so glad you’re enjoying 4th grade. I think that’s a fantastic age group to work with–it’s one of my favorites, too. 🙂

  3. “Aw shucks, it was nothing!” Wonder where you picked that up from?
    Good info here, even for an empty-nested Mom. 🙂

  4. The biggest thing I learned this year is that while you may get “that class” one year, you just never know what the next year will bring. Last year I had an absolutely HORRENDOUS group of children. They are the only children I have ever worked with who truly just did not get along (and that had been true since 1st grade — I had them in 4th). This year I changed schools and grades and had the best group of children I could have asked for to help me “heal” from last year’s frustrations. There is always going to be a child who needs you and sometimes you have to move to find that child. I’m very glad that I did because I had 24 kids this year who really needed me. And I needed them.

    1. Hi, Sunny! Great observation. I’ve found that it’s very unusual to have “that class” two years in a row. If you can tell yourself it’s only for 10 months out of a lifetime, you can get through it!

      I’m glad you stopped by to comment. I had been wanting to reach you by email but couldn’t find your email address on your website. Can you send it to me? angelawatson [at] live [dot] com. Thanks!

  5. I am looking forward to your post regarding Google Apps! I’m not very familiar with them and I’d love to learn about them from some one who has used them for education.

    1. Great, Elizabeth! They actually have a Google Apps for Education certification process for teachers–I’m not that highly qualified, but I’ll share what I know!

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