Reflections of the First Week

Year 15 of teaching in the Agriculture department at San Luis Obispo High School is a significant milestone for many reasons. When I stepped into my classroom at the age of 23, most of my new Ag Integrated Science freshmen had just entered the world. “You know you guys were born… the year I started teaching…” I told one of my classes this past week. That definitely makes me feel old, but it also makes me reflect upon all that has happened while teaching in my oddly rectangular classroom built in 1935. The first day I started, my amazing teaching partner was on maternity leave with her first baby. Now he’s 15, 6’ tall, and sitting in one of my seats. There have been 15 first days and 15 first chances to create the climate that promotes a balance of educational excellence and personal growth through leadership.  It is what we strive to do in our program and at our school. To create well balanced, smart, communicative, skilled, problem solving, and caring individuals. In order to accomplish this, we have to be innovative in the classroom and reach students by creating an environment that makes them feel comfortable to be themselves. To achieve this, they need to step out of their comfort zone and so do we, as teachers. We have to create relationships.

On Monday, I hid from my classes. I thought about this 15th first day and imagined what it would be like if my freshmen classes got to my room, heard the bell, and didn’t see their teacher. Could they handle this? I left a large note projected on the screen in my room to read all the instructions on their desk. I left a map, team colors, signs, and instructions to a private class instagram account for video clues that I had filmed the day before. I made sure to have an adult staff member lurking in the background to make sure all of them were safe. As projected, they were completely confused and in assigned groups that were not exactly their normal friends. Once they took a deep breath and focused on the directions, slowly but surely they started to leave my room on their journey.  I started to receive requests to “join” our class account, then they received the message to “GO!” I sat, at our school farm … and waited…with my attendance sheet.  A leader emerged in each group, guiding the team to each spot, sometimes even temporarily in the wrong direction.  I could hear them coming. By the time they reached me, they were out of breath. “Hi…I’m your teacher, welcome to my class and I’m glad you found me (smile).” It was fun to reflect with each class afterward about what they thought and the challenges presented with this introduction to my world. In a strange way, we all bonded because everyone was out of their comfort zone.  

The next day the same groups attempted the cup pyramid challenge with the idea of creating a control and variables in an experiment. Sitting back to watch kids attempt to manipulate cups into a pyramid with a string and rubber band while blind folded, backwards, with their mouth, less dominant hand etc… was entertaining. After their ordeal the day before, they really didn’t hesitate with their groups. Their third and fourth day they were presented with a scientific method overview with a real veterinary forensic case of a puppy that ended up dying of bufo toad toxicosis (from a poisonous Florida toad).  This experience led them through a staged crime scene, a myriad of hypothesis discussions, diagnostic testing suggestions, variables and creativity to accept everyone’s ideas. The look on their faces when I finally had them Google three words … Dog, Florida, Poison.  They all looked up at me… “Really? A toad?” Yep… Case closed.

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Students make observations and collect data from the puppy crime scene

As the first week comes to a close, we are all settling into our routine and learning about one another. The expectations in our classrooms have been set, but the leadership, communication, trust and organizational structure will continue to grow. It creates our unique climate and transforms our students, one “first day” at a time.