I spend a lot of time here on the instruction in my classroom, but the reality is that teaching is mostly about relationships. The truth is that kids decide if they want to learn from their teachers. My job is to invest in them in such a way that they come in and are willing to hear me out and do what I ask of them. If I can do that, I’ll be able to facilitate learning experiences. If I can do that, they’ll be able to learn something about themselves. If I can do that, they’ll be empowered. One of the ways that I invest in my kids is by being human. (Un)Fortunately for them, I’m an odd human.
So, today, one of my students made critical mistake. He asked the age-old question: “Mrs. W., why don’t you have a clock in your classroom?”
Poor kid. I very loudly began to proclaim an honest but dramatized response.
Me: I don’t have a clock because I don’t like time.
S: You don’t like time?
Me: What you don’t realize is that time is a social construct created by society to imprison us within the confines of the clock.
S: **incredulous look**
Me: That anxiety you feel when you can’t tell how long we have left in class? That is your addiction to the imprisonment you’ve been brought up to admire, creeping up to wrap you in its grasp once again.
Ss: **more incredulous looks**
Me: You know why I don’t have a clock? I like to teach. I like to teach without a constant reminder that “society” has decided I only have 45 minutes to instill a love of knowledge in my students and fill the gaps created by years of education you missed while you were staring at the clock, wondering when the bell would ring and your enslaved selves would be obliged to move to the next required learning experience. I like the freedom I feel when I teach despite the bell. In spite of it. It is the same freedom that scares you when you search my walls and don’t find your familiar oppressor there, reigning you in once again.
Ss: **a sudden look of epiphany**
S1: OK, then.
S2: Hmm. Maybe that is why this class always passes so quickly?
I don’t think I ever understood the term “righteous anger” until I became a teacher. I didn’t understand how anger could be good, or productive, until I sat in my classroom and got angry.
I wasn’t angry at my kids. I’ve learned to stop blaming them. They are KIDS. I got angry at systems. Systems that failed them. Systems that didn’t work. Broken systems.
What I’ve come to realize is that many schools/ communities/ organizations/ lawmakers/ etc. do not understand the gravity of education. We (I use “we” here because I catch myself forgetting, often) cannot comprehend the weight of what we do.
I’ve just returned from a couple days at the TCEA Conference/ Convention in Austin, TX, and I left with a feeling that reminded me of how I felt during graduate school.
I was simultaneously elated at my new learning and furious with the injustices my new learning exposed.
The weight I feel is so intense. The only word left to describe it is: Gravity.
It’s funny. When I was a kid, relatives would constantly tell me that I was “going places”. They assumed my smarts and demeanor would take me away from my family and rocket me down some highway to Harvard. They weren’t wrong… but they weren’t right in the way they thought they were going to be, either.
Many teachers face the constant questions about why they became a teacher instead of something else… you know… something that could “take them somewhere”.
I’d beg to differ with them on the point that teaching can’t take a person to new places.Teaching is like learning in that it expands the mind, and it expands perspectives. Teaching takes my mind somewhere new, every day.
In 6 years, I’ve taught at every level of K-12 education. I’ve taught everything from 2nd grade (all subjects) to Beginning Spanish, to AP Spanish Literature, to English, to Math, to basic twitter use for teachers! I’ve done the math… and I’ve taught nearly 1000 students (including my final internship).
I’ve also literally gone places, of course…like the Spanish Spelling Bee in Tampa FL, where my 4 students got completely creamed, but they were ecstatic to go and compete. Like Oak Cliff (Dallas), where I never could get my second graders on a bus to take them somewhere, so I walked them outside to do a lesson on the lawn and shake things up a bit. Like Fort Worth and Desoto, where I took buses full of country kids to read to bilingual students. Like the entire stretch of 287, where I made a 250 mile drive (one way) into a day-trip, just for the fun of it, for a group of seniors who got to see a play–live on stage, and experience a protest, and see modern art.
You know… I don’t always take the kids with me, though.
In San Antonio, I changed direction as a teacher, and it changed my life. I gained a PLN I haven’t let go of since when I joined #langchat. I went on numerous adventures, professionally, and personally–as I took my first solo trip post-motherhood to attend the ACTFL conference in 2014. I ate breakfast tacos, and I didn’t have to share. I celebrated birthdays with friends from other countries. I walked alone down the streets of San Antonio, in the rain, just for fun. I discovered the Pulsera Project and it changed everything.
In San Diego, I presented at the ACTFL conference. My session didn’t go as planned, and when I started to roll with the punches, the attendees opened up and shared their needs. I threw out my whole plan and started from scratch right there, on the spot. We had an amazing time, and they told me it was the best session they attended that day. I took the fairy to my sessions, and I walked to the convention center each day. I spent my lunch hour at the beach. I got way too close to a seal. I watched a man build the longest hot wheel track I’ve ever seen, while my eyes kept glancing at a homeless man, who was searching a nearby trash can for food.
In Austin, my face melted. The world is so much bigger than we can imagine, and it is even bigger than ACTFL could help me see. Seeing what was “new” and “next” changed my praxis. Much of what I saw didn’t directly apply to me, but all of it applied to my students. So, instead of trying to jam it all into my class, I came back and tried to share what I could with those around me. I got lost in the convention center. I got every free t-shirt available in the expo hall. I managed to get a free light saber, 2 selfie sticks, and 73 free pens. I tried fried avocado. I made a point of stopping at every Buc-ees between Dallas and Austin. I made life-long friends and true collaborative relationships.
So. To that person in your life telling you that teaching won’t take you places: they’re wrong. Teaching will expand your mind until it hurts. It will explode your heart until you can’t help but feel every. single. thing. It will challenge your thoughts, opinions, and perspectives, until you become a person who can see many sides to a single situation. It will literally take you outside the four walls of your classroom on many occasions, if you are willing to invest the time it takes to walk out those doors. If you let it, teaching will take you all over the United States, and beyond. If you let it.
FYI: The picture of the overpass at the top of the post… is from that time I decided to walk from to the airport to my training, just because. Because if you are willing, you can find adventure anywhere. 🙂
I posted 2 days ago about the amazing opportunity I have been given to travel with the Pulsera Project this summer on their Spanish Teacher Trip to Nicaragua. On my GoFundMe page, I wrote
Teaching, in and of itself, has made me an advocate of all my students, and especially, as a Spanish Speaker, an advocate for my Hispanic students and their families.
See, teachers have many names. There are posts all over the internet, and posters plastered on many classroom walls about all the roles that teachers play, including: nurse, counselor, parent, judge, comedian, party planner, etc. But the most powerful role I fill is that of an advocate for my students.
This year I’ve made the strange transition from actively teaching Spanish as a Spanish teacher, to teaching High School English. I have maintained that I am still a Spanish teacher at my core, and this is certainly still true, but being in a core-content area classroom has taught me a lot about what goes on outside of the Foreign Language hallway.
I have always had all types of students in my classroom, but their goals, abilities, and interests were diverse, and the flexible nature of language allowed me to adjust to their needs very fluidly. Teaching a course associated with a State Exam, surrounded with these same students, but with much of the flexibility reduced (not gone) and time constraints imposed, has opened my eyes further to the needs of my students–especially my Hispanic students, Spanish-speakers, and ELLs.
Before, the very culture of my classroom generally meshed with theirs. The assignments we completed were valuable, even if they came with the native speaker and heritage learner “growing pains” many of us language teachers have to overcome with these kids.
Now, I’m faced with a language of instruction that, in itself, imposes dominance. I can throw these kids a cultural bone with relevant readings or topics, but I can’t fundamentally change the elephant in the room.
I spent five years helping English Speakers understand the concept of the other.
Now, I’m reminded that the other still exists, and many of my students are part of it.
This whole issue came to a head for me today during a conversation about English Language Learners with a colleague. We discussed the intricacies and complexities involved in deciding if an English Language Learner is Dyslexic, or even in need of Special Education Services. There are so many issues here that I’d need a whole separate space to write about them. I’ll do my best with some bullet points:
A test for disabilities given in English to an ELL is inherently flawed, because it would be near impossible to tell if the deficit is cognitive, or linguistic.
Tests like these given in Spanish to Native Speakers are often flawed as well, especially if: (1) they are written, as many Spanish Speakers were not formally educated in their country, so they are not literate in the language and (2) the test was written in a dialect other than their own (ex. Spain vs. Mexico).
English tests are often given to ELLs because they “speak English”–which is usually not broken down between their BICS (skills for everyday conversation) and their CALP (academic or technical language skills).
“Speaking English” is very different from WRITING and READING it. Many student compensate verbally after many years, but remain years behind in writing and writing, which makes them “appear” learning disabled on paper.
Placing entire generations of ELLs in Special Education and 504 services is institutional racism, because it equates their language deficit with a cognitive deficit.
These students are often underserved. WAY. Underserved.
Many students come to school as English Language Learners, but are not able to be identified because their parents are afraid to admit Spanish is spoken in the home.
Schools exasperate the problem when they do not have the foresight required to provide community liaison support for these families.
I’m going to have to stop there. I really am. I got pretty fired up today, because while I tried to explain all this, the other person understood, but didn’t really understand. The person cares, as much as I do. But the misunderstandings prevail, and kids get lost in the mix.
So, today, and every day, I’m an advocate. The biggest job of an advocate is to educate. Not only do I educate my kids about the content, but I also work to educate them about themselves. I work to educate those around me. And, I keep repeating myself until someone listens.
I am a teacher. I am an advocate.
p.s. If you are reading this, please consider supporting my trip with the Pulsera Project, while I seek to continue learning how to best advocate for my students and community.
NO. This isn’t a sappy list about hoping all kids will learn and have a warm jacket for the winter. I DO hope those things, and I pray for them daily. But no. This isn’t that list. This is a real list of stuff you should buy the teachers in your life. Really. For real. Do it.
If you have a teacher in your life, here is what (s)he wants for Christmas:
-A large amount of pencils and pens. Don’t go all out, we are planning to give these away.
-GlueSTICKS. Liquid glue is of the devil, but even high school teachers need glue for their classes.
-Scissors. These little devils grow feet and walk away like none other.
-Scratch and sniff stickers. WE NEED SOMETHING TO LIVE FOR.
-Stamps. Kids will do anything for a stamp, and, apparently, so will we.
-Expo markers and dry erase supplies. Not black, please not black. We need to see color, considering 90% of us don’t have a window to look through.
-Red and/ or colored pens. Nothing gets us going like a new color to grade in.
-Giant Sticky notes (17″X25″) . Most teachers don’t know these exist, which means they don’t know that this is truly the desire of their souls. Help an educator out.
So, if you are wondering, YES. I do want all these things for Christmas. But so does every other certified educator ever. Feel free to share so teachers all over the world can have more than a Merry Christmas, but also a stocked-up New Year.
The first month or two of teaching English was an adjustment and a challenge all its own, but I think I survived, and survived well.
I don’t know if it is the upcoming Super Moon or some manifestation of Murphy’s Law, but in the past couple weeks I’ve been “Taking L’s”. This is what “the kids say” when they are taking “losses”, real, perceived, or immaterial. I’ve been taking all of the above.
So to cheer me up, here are some “W’s” from the past few weeks and things I have planned coming up.
I planned a trip and took several high school seniors on a DAY trip nearly 250 miles away to watch a play in a real theater. We also went to a modern art museum. They saw real-live protesters on strike protesting their wages. We ate at Chick-Fil-A, and we did all of the above (minus lunch) for FREE. #WIN
I searched for and planned maker-spaces to go with all my units for the rest of the school year. Our Poet-TREE has been coming along well! #WIN
For our Informational Text Unit coming up, I’ve designed a survey using Google Forms to allow the students to pick the topics that we read about in the coming weeks. I’ll gather the results and choose our texts according to their interests! #WIN
This 6 weeks, our homework will be student choice using a learning menu. There are 12 options, and the students will choose 4 to complete over the course of the grading period. #WIN
I’ve got several exciting projects planned, but the most immediate one is an infographic project my students are going to be working on this 6 weeks. Stay turned for exciting stuff in the Spring!!! #WIN
So, L’s: I’ve got some pretty great W’s to balance this out. You don’t win. I don’t lose. This weekend wasn’t quite long enough, but it was plenty to remind me that I love kids, and high expectations are part of loving them and believing in them. Teaching is hard, and sometimes those stakeholders are more like “stake-throwers” while we navigate the seas of change together, raising the stakes. (How many “stakes” puns can I put in a paragraph?) I’m not mad, and as frustrating as it is, I’m not allowed to be hurt, either. I’m just moving forward and buckling down. Thanks for reading.
I’m not sure other professionals are as qualified to discuss and analyze e-portfolios in the same way that educators who have graduated college (of any level) in the last ten years are uniquely qualified. During my undergraduate degree I went through a number of e-portfolio initiatives put on by the State of Florida in an attempt to ensure we were actually educating our preservice teachers. Now, in my Master’s degree here in Texas, I am going through it again. I have an e-portfolio for the university, and separate e-portfolios for different classes, and one that has run the course of a few classes with the same professor.
And of course… there is the e-portfolio that never died. This one. That is right! This blog began 6 years ago as part of an e-portfolio initiative in a class I was taking at the University of South Florida. What it turned into is even more than what was intended, I’m sure. This blog has turned into my teaching happy place. This has become a place that I voluntarily go (at the bequest of no one) to reflect and vent and innovate.
At the creation of this blog, I hoped no one on the internet would stumble upon it. Now, I check my app every day to see if anyone did. I’m not famous. I haven’t gone viral. However, I’ve had views from all over the world and I’ve had amazing conversations with students and teachers who found my blog while scrolling on social media. Not only does this blog serve as a learning tool for me, it serves as a piece of authentication to the students who may come across it: Mrs. W is a real teacher, really trying, really learning, really failing, and really continuing on the path. I’m not there for the paycheck. And, I’ve got a weekly post to prove it.
All these thoughts bubbled to the surface this week while reading over a section on authentic assessment and the use of e-portfolios in Web 2.0: New Tools, New Schools. E-portfolios can (and should) become more than just a collection of worksheets and assignments. As in the case of educators, they can become a useful and fluid curation of resumés, philosophies, unit plans, resources, ideas, and more. The idea behind authentic assessment is that our assignments lend themselves to real life, or in my case, my actual classroom setting.
More importantly, e-portfolios in a Web 2.0 world have another capability: they can aid the learner in reflection. While my blog does curate some of my trials and failures, it mostly houses my reflective practice. This space holds me accountable to my integrity both as a teacher, and as a life-long learner. Creating spaces where learners can authentically showcase their work, fluidly revise and edit that work, collaborate with others on it, then return for reflective practice… this is the gold standard in learning. How can a learner who does all of those things not learn at a high level?
Fullan and Stiegelbaurer (1991) summarized this by saying, “Nothing has promised so much and has been so frustratingly wasteful as the thousands of workshops and conferences that led to no significant change in practice when the teachers returned to their classrooms” (p. 316).
-Web 2.0 New Tools, New Schools by Gwen Solomon & Lynne Schrum, page 101
There are a few things that both blow my mind and frustrate me:
I am reading a book written almost 10 years ago that STILL hits the nail on the head.
I am reading a book written almost 10 years ago, that quotes something written 25 years ago that STILL hits the nail on the head.
Education hasn’t changed at all.
That’s right. For all the hype and the memes on social media informing us of the changes in the role of the educator, the change of the student and the family profiles, and the changes in educational theory… We still have nearly identical problems set in new contexts.
The problem is simple: we have new information, we have new resources, we have new systems, and we have an ineffective delivery method.
Actually, I’ll correct that: We have effective delivery methods, that many districts refuse to implement. Or, they try, but they aren’t really trying–because they are not on board with the philosophies themselves. Instead we spend millions of dollars (maybe billions?) doing things described as:
“one-day program” (p.101)
“pray and spray” (p. 101)
“4 hours right after school” (p. 101)
“entire staff is required to attend” (p. 101)
So, what are some of these more effective delivery methods?
It is pretty simple really: teachers need support. Actually, something I’ve been saying for a while now is that teachers are students. In fact, let’s take a detour to think about how we teach and reach students, and what we expect of them.
Do we instruct them one time, never revisit it, and the hold them accountable for learning? No. (and if we do, please fire this person, ‘mkay?)
Do we casually mention information here and there, tell them “no pressure to know this now”, then test them on it and blame them when they don’t know? See answer above.
Do we give the information, provide them no support, no authentic practice, overwhelm them with 4-8 hours of single subject information with no breaks, no collaboration, and no clear expectations? See answer above.
The answer is: I certainly hope not!
In order to truly “develop” teachers, we need to focus on really teaching the new ideas, the new tools, the new resources, in the ways that we know stick in the brain.
We need learning communities. (Web 2.0 Tools, page 103). Actually, what we need is TIME to actually engage in these communities. I am (personally) sick of seeing schools add classes to the schedule to accommodate Athletics programs (YES! I said it!), rather than giving teachers a “learning” period to really engage in professional practice.
Someone will argue that 2 “off” (hahahahahaha) periods a day costs schools money, because they have to hire more teachers. However, better test scores, higher graduation rates, and actual utilization of the devices and software schools pay so much subscription money for doesn’t “waste” money. It saves money, or at the very least, prevents the waste of money.
We need peer coaching and mentor programs. (McREL Technology Initiative, Pitler, H., 2005) I was astounded to find (read sarcasm here) that when teachers are supported with coaching and mentorship, they use technology resources at higher rates and have more success in their classrooms doing so.
The best teachers are constantly giving their students time to learn, time to apply their learning, time to compare learning, time to reflect on learning, time to collaboration on new learning and support to re-learn old concepts that need to be retaught. But, for some reason, the classroom teacher is not afforded those same opportunities herself, and yet, is still equally (if not more) accountable for the learning.
That is my two cents. (Mic drop.)
P.S. I will end with this thought: many schools will say they provide all of this, but they do it outside of the work day. You know, when teachers are responsible for grading, planning and creating all of the content for their classes. It is ENTIRELY unreasonable to assume that time provided primarily “outside of the school day” is effective. While a few online PLCs can find an effective niche there, that won’t be what turns a school around.
Today’s classrooms look very different than they did 100 years ago, or even 10 years ago. Today we have access to a million different resources on a daily basis, which can enhance learning (whether it does or not… well, we’ll talk about about in a paragraph or two!). We also need every bit of those resources. Unlike the classrooms of our forefathers, our classrooms are diverse.
Diversity is more than race. Diversity is ethnicity, culture, economic status, ability, life experiences, home life, home diet, technology experiences. Diversity literally means “all the things that make us different from one another”. Personality counts too!
Despite our best intentions and greatest hopes, technology is not the long awaited savior of education, nor it is the “great equalizer” we once hoped for. In fact, a great article I read this week, though “old” by academic standards, still had nuggets of valid insight, like this one: “The level of effectiveness of educational technology is influenced by the specific student population, the software design, the educator’s role, and the level of student access to the technology” (page 5).
We must constantly approach technology as a tool for our trade. Everyone is passing out hammers (technology), but some kids have screws and not nails. The educator’s role in determining what a student needs to move to the next stage of learning is vital. We will never be replaced in this way.
Universal Design For Learning
Before reading about Universal Design for Learning, it never occurred to me that I might already be doing it–but I am (most days)! The basic premise behind it is that in our age of diversity, in classrooms of mixed ability levels, with access to thousands and millions of tools for learning each day, there is a way to help every student move forward in learning every day.
Essentially, lessons should be designed to give students options and access to learning that is relevant and on their level, in three main ways: (1) multiple means of engagement (the “why” of learning), (2) multiple means of presentation (what knowledge is presented to various learners) , and (3) multiple means of action or presentation (how they show what they know).
I am teaching high school English classes right now with students on a 2nd grade reading level in the same room as students on a college reading level, the average being about 6th grade. And somehow I need to help every kid move forward in learning. Somehow I need to engage every learner, teach every learner, and get a product out of every. single. kid.
It is a tough task, but it is much more difficult to pretend that the issues and challenges do not exist. So, I press on–as do most teachers. And I believe Universal Design is a great way to do that.
How does technology fit in to UDL (Universal Design for Learning)?
It is pretty simple, really. An iPad does not fix everything. Bringing students all to the same website does not fix learning. During a literature lesson last week, I wanted to introduce Edgar Allen Poe with a biography, to help the students better understand his dark writing. Rather than choose one, I chose 3. (Multiple means of presentation)
If I want students to present information, I can provide multiple tools for doing that. Can students with a fear of public speaking make a video ahead of time to show to the class? Can students use an infographic instead of a powerpoint? (Multiple means of expression).
If I want students to write a research paper, can I have students choose topics they are passionate about? Can I work with each student to choose what an appropriate way to cite sources would be based on their project choice? Can I allow students to collaborate using a variety of tools of their choosing?
I am working on a UDL unit right now, and I am very excited to see how it turns out. I am even more excited to see it in practice come April 2017! Stay tuned…
Some things just warm my heart, and this one thing in particular tops my teacher-list for sure.
My AP Spanish Literature kids did it last year without prompting, and already this year, another group has joined their ranks.
I love to begin reading a work by circling up my students and reading it together, popcorn style. We stop every few sentences or paragraphs and I point out important details to model the thinking I want them to do for the piece. We discuss imagery, authors’s purpose, context, and we draw conclusions. This may last for a few paragraphs or a few pages.
Eventually though, I knowwe will never finish the work if we keep on that way, so I ask the kids to continue independently.
In the case of my class yesterday, we spent the whole class that way, and today, I planned to have them continue the reading independently, to prepare for an essay on Friday. While they were to do that, I planned to come around and hold mini writer’s workshops with each student.
While I was at my desk taking attendance and getting their work in order to come around and conference… The class took matters into their own hands.
Without my prompting, and without my explicit permission, I looked up to find this:
Some teachers would be angry. This is my class. My decision. Some would be upset. What about my writer’s workshops? Others, like me, would pull up a stool and join in.
Nothing warms my heart more than students who know what they want and need. That is more valuable than any lesson plan.
Notice: No kids on phones. No one disengaged. 100% student choice. That is the ideal.