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When I entered my classroom two years ago as a new teacher, I had some very big goals for my students. Not only would they grow by two grade levels in math and reading, they would read 2,490 books and reach all of their IEP goals.

Now, after two years of teaching more than 3 dozens students with IEPs and having spent the past few weeks helping train almost a hundred new teachers how to write meaningful big goals for their classrooms, I reflect back on those first goals I wrote (and heavily advertised throughout the year). They make me laugh. They make me cry. They make me wonder what in the world I was thinking throwing in general growth goals that would have potentially contradicted IEP goals. And 2,490 books??? What was I thinking?? I didn't even realize my students didn't know their vowels at that time!

But what crushes me the most in hindsight is that I set those ridiculously arbitrary and misfitting numerical goals with very little thought and purpose behind it. I knew I wanted to change their lives, but I didn't know what it would look like and how the numerical goals would be a proxy in measuring the real learning I needed to facilitate.

As I lament my failure to spend time crafting a meaningful, life changing goal for my students, I am inspired by the work of the new teachers I am working with. Each person is in the process of designing and articulating what they want their students to be able to do by the end of the year.

And so that is a question I must ask everyone: What is your class vision? What do you want your students to achieve by the end of the course? How will that change their lives?


I've just spent my first week with my 5th graders in an ever improving school. I walked in thinking that they would already know simple things, like how to show respect for others, how to work together... They don't. That's changed what I want for them a lot.

I want them to know respect, show it to others and expect it for themselves. I want them to have confidence in their abilities. I want them to learn to ask questions. I want them to be able to follow directions without whining and complaining, and get started on classwork without hollering that they can't.

I don't know who taught them they can't do things. They give up so easily, most without even giving it a shot. Right now, my directions are specific, but the ideas are general.

Academically, I want them to read anything they can get their hands on. I want them to be confident readers at their level, but I want them to feel comfortable challenging themselves and reading things that are a bit more difficult than they're used to.

I want my girls to embrace the idea that math isn't dorky. How else will they know how much they have left to spend on shoes if they are buying 5 pairs for $69.99 already but only brought $1000 with them? I want them to be confident in their answers, even when they're not correct, and be able to explain their thinking.

I want all of my students to understand that life can be better than what they're used to, but it's up to them to make it that way. I want them to take school seriously, because some already have the mindset that it's a place to hang with their peeps and homeys, but that they don't need to do much else while they're at school.

I worry about each of my kids...all 20 of them. They are all brilliant, but no one has taught them that yet. I want them to understand that by the end of the year, and to take it and run with it.

I am writing from the perspective of 30+ years in the classroom. I set goals every year--and every year the goals are incrementally higher than the previous year's. I underestimated my students, early in my career. They can do things now that seemed impossible, even 10 years ago.

It's fruitless to write goals, however, until you know your students. Knowing your students is job #1--and that means knowing them as human beings, not just their accrued paperwork or test scores.

My plan this year is to take a page from Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark and ask my students to write a mission statement for what they hope to achieve this year in my classroom. Clark recommends writing a mission statement prior to attacking a piece of writing. Like my students, I will be sharing my own mission statement for the class.
Here in part is what I wrote in a first draft.
"In English we read and write....We write for only one reason: so that other's might know our thoughts. And so for that reason we will be writing for each other and not just for the teacher. Our goal is to know if what we have to say means what we intended it to mean...All of our talking/reading/and writing will be the discovery of what we think we know right now for sure....A book, essay, even a news article, is a journey into another's experience without ever moving physically. It is, as Emerson said, a vacation of infinite distance because it is entirely within the imagination.

I have been teaching many more years than Theresa and find a lot in common with her.

I want my fifth graders to become self-motivated and self-disciplined individuals. I want each of them to feel they have talent in at least one area and the knowledge of how to develop more skills and knowledge in any area they choose to pursue. I want them to be aware of the many careers open to them so they aren't limited. I want them to view themselves now and for the rest of their lives as citizens in a democracy and to understand the rights and responsibilities that entails. I want them to know how to know and understand what is going on in the world and their community and how to express and support their opinions well in a variety of situations.

As Nancy wrote, I have to get to know each of my students in order to make those goals happen for each in their own way. It won't look the same for every student.

Setting high goals is not a bad idea. The tricky part is achieving those goals. Students don't come neatly sized and set for a semester or scool year. My plans are always in pencil. As I tell students when they fell bad over some error in spelling or calculating, or just a msiplaced line, "That's why God made erasures.".

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Recent Comments

  • Bob Frangione: Setting high goals is not a bad idea. The tricky read more
  • Tanya: I have been teaching many more years than Theresa and read more
  • Mary Tedrow: My plan this year is to take a page from read more
  • Nancy Flanagan: I am writing from the perspective of 30+ years in read more
  • Teresa: I've just spent my first week with my 5th graders read more




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