Yes, it may be hundreds of degrees outside, but guess what? It’s actually Fall, and soon legions of Texans will be optimistically pretending that we actually have a human need to wear sweaters. But inside your pre-industrial revolution school building, an overtaxed air conditioner is hard at work providing you with the icicle-laden, recycled air of the Arctic. This can only mean one thing: the school year is upon us.
This month, millions of schoolchildren will be walking through the doors of your classrooms. So, like all great teachers, in this time of new beginnings, we are spending our first day of school in August thinking about that glorious last day of school in June.
By June, all those unknown children you’re meeting right now will be better known to you than most of your family members and all of your friends. By June, you will have wept over these children at least three times – once out of love, once out of sadness, and once out of pure frustrated rage. By June, you will be emotionally and physically exhausted, slumped against the door of your classroom and wondering, “What did I do this year?”
Start the year thinking about what you want the answer to that question to be on that glorious last day in June. What are you going to do this year? How? At the end of the school year, on that last day, what, exactly, will your students have learned? How can you ensure they really know it?
There are so many questions that get asked at the beginning of the year. Are you joining the PTSA? Have you bought your parking spaces? Do your calculators have batteries? How do you take attendance? All of the everyday minutiae that dominate our first week of school can slowly but surely begin to dominate our every day and crowd out what we really should be considering as we start on another journey through a group of students’ academic landscape.
What, exactly, do my kids need from me this year?
Grant Wiggins, an inspiring curriculum guru who sadly passed away last year, taught us to design from the beginning for the outcome we desire in the end…in other words, begin with the end in mind. Where do we want our students to be when they finish our class? What are the essential skills and understandings they need to have to be successful in the next year of school? When they get out of school?
Suddenly that huge list of standards seems less insurmountable. The goal of our Prezis and Nearpods become “Is this understandable?” and the goal of assessments becomes “How will I know they got it?” When we PLC, we can talk about evidence and strategies instead of being focused on covering this week’s lesson plans. When we think of the “why” first, then the “how”, and THEN the “what”, we create a trip itinerary for our year that predicts the twists and turns that are going to get our students through some really tough concepts.
Priorities and purpose are driving us forward this year, and although it seems like it is a destination far too distant to make out now, June will descend upon us faster than a class discussion inspires a kid to run to the pencil sharpener. So as this year begins, we must focus on the culminating event nine months from now: the day we say goodbye to these kids and hope we have prepared them well for whatever comes next.
About the Authors
Sarah Underbrink (left) has been working with at-risk students at the secondary level for eleven years. In her current role as an intervention support teacher, she works devotedly for student results by providing both students and teachers with instructional support in the science content area. Her experience working with high-needs populations has convinced her that the only way to create an equitable society is by using education to give everyone the same tools – information, the competency to use that information, and the power to participate.
Stefanie Garcia (right) is a reading specialist in a Texas secondary school, working as an intervention specialist to help struggling high school readers. Prior to working as an interventionist, she worked in Detroit with children in the foster care system. A graduate of Texas public schools and colleges, she proudly maintains support of high-quality public education in her capacity as a literacy coach. She spends her time working with the North Star of Texas teacher consultants and writing intervention curriculum for her district.