‘Tis the season for Joy. Today was a great day, and it made my teacher heart cry. Today was one for the highlight reel.
3 years ago, this week, I bought a kid some folders and a backpack. He was a second year freshman, and a pain in my rear. Of course, I taught him 8th period. When else? I bought him the backpack so he couldn’t tell me all the reasons he didn’t have his work any more. That was my snarky reason… But the real reason was because I saw so much in him and I wondered if he’d ever see it in himself. It turns out that just a few years before, he had been at the top of his class: with commended scores on every standardized test, and real dreams. But him mom passed away, and life went on, and he didn’t. My heart hurt for this kid because I’d been there. Except, my downturn lasted 6 months, not almost 6 years.
After many other obstacles in his path and a time of recovering the credits he’d fallen behind in, I learned that he earned the credits necessary to graduate, as of today. He isn’t my son, but I’m just as proud as I know I will be on the day my sons graduate high school. I haven’t been his teacher in three years, but I’ve never stopped praying for him. So today I cried tears of joy for him, and for the reality that though education is often viewed as a system in shambles, there are places where what we do is working. It worked for this kid, and that makes everything worth it.
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.
Every Wednesday at the school I work at, is “college day”. Teachers and staff are encouraged to wear jeans and a college T-shirt. The idea behind this is that by wearing college T-shirts, we might encourage students to learn about and attend college.
Teachers are also encouraged to choose one college with which to decorate their classrooms. Rather than choosing only one college, I have chosen to use every Wednesday as a college day in my classroom. Each Wednesday, I highlight a different college, and I wear that college T-shirt. Additionally, I answer my students’ questions about college. We have covered everything from crazy dorm-mates to ACT scores. I use the questions and answers from our Q & A sessions as the decor for my classroom. I also post a logo from each college that we talk about.
I teach at a rural high school, and many of my students view college as something that is not an option for them. If they do view college as a possiblity, they typically look at the colleges that are nearby, which are small community colleges or universities. Our students can get a good education at these schools, but I want to encourage them to look at all of their options, and to evaluate more than family tradition when considering a college. I have been asking them tough questions. How is the program that they want to attend ranked? Does this college offer their major?
Lastly, many of my students believe that they can only afford one of these small schools. I have been trying hard to bust this myth. I teach at a title I school, where over 70% of our students live in poverty. This means that many, if not most, of my students would qualify to have the vast majority of their education paid for.
Whether my students’ goals include a career school, a small college, a big university, or the military, close to home or far away, I want to make sure I’m taking the chance to provide my students with the knowledge they need to evaluate their options.
This is where YOU come in. I am running low on college shirts for my Wednesday bit. I’m hoping some of you would be interested in sending me a college, university, trade school or military t-shirt from anywhere in the state, country or world that I can wear to show my students I am invested in their future.
Sending a shirt (and maybe a quick note?) would mean investing a few dollars and a few minutes of your time in my students. Address below.
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.
Last week, I shared some of my learning about Universal Design for Learning in my post. This week, I got the chance to delve into some of the UDL resources offered by the CAST organization at cast.org . (In order to access the free content, you will need to create a free account…)
First, I want to reiterate that creating lessons that reach every student, and help them each move forward in learning is an extremely daunting task. Luckily, CAST has created several tools to help link educators together and make the hard work of teaching a little more accessible. For instance, within the CAST website, there are links to:
I’ve been thinking about something my grandad said to me when I was about 14 years old. Like most teenagers, I knew everything.
Over the years I’ve come to terms with a general discomfort with the fact that some things cannot be known, and now, rather than fear it, I’m humbled by it and captivated by the unknowable.
When I say I’m captivated, that doesn’t mean I’m chasing it. It means that the unknowable no longer evokes the arrogance it used to. The unknown is kind of comforting.
You see, when you know everything, when you lose control of your little world, it is terrifying. Shouldn’t you know why it is happening? But, you don’t. Because you never even realized the things you don’t know were going to spin your world out of control.
If you don’t know what you don’t know, how can you learn more? You become unteachable. Unreachable. Arrogant. Ignorant of the fact you might be ignorant of something.
They begin in likely places and in unlikely places.
This morning, my timehop app reminded me of a day 4 years ago that I approached with much trepidation.
Once I turned in my application for internship, in the spring of 2011, I started praying. I had heard the horror stories about teaching internships. Some people didn’t make it through. You can’t miss even one day (at my college, you couldn’t) or they made you do a whole other semester, the kids wouldn’t respect you, the supervisors were critical of everything, the internship mentor teachers might belittle you or leave you on your own too early. I was terrified. So, I started praying. I wanted to be placed at a school that would prepare me for the future. I wanted to be teaching a level I was comfortable with. I desperately wanted to have a supervising teacher I could learn from and who would support me.
I sent her an email.
We met a few days later at Panera. I was nervous. Would she be a native speaker? Would I be good enough? Would she be disappointed in me? We talked for about an hour and I could tell we both felt nervous. We weren’t sure if we were a good fit. I kept praying.
I showed up for my first day and those first days and even the first week or two were painful. I was nervous and neither of us had developed a comfort level with the other one.
One day, we had a breakthrough.
I don’t recall the exact conversation, but I remember exactly how I felt. I was moved to tears and I remember thanking God for that moment. Suddenly, in one conversation, we became a team. Friends. Mentor-mentee. Mother-daughter. Co-workers. My husband and I had Thanksgiving at her house that year. She was one of the first to know, just 4 days after I found out, that I was carrying my first child.
Four amazing years later, here I am. A thousand miles away, in a different state. More kids, more dogs. A lot has changed. A lot hasn’t. Posting this picture on my Facebook this morning led to a comment conversation with her, that turned into a Facebook messaging conversation, in which we started sharing ideas for proficiency grading and sharing google documents and planning ideas for collaboration next school year. Two of our preps will match up next year. Four years later, the collaborative, crazy, and silly relationship we began has continued to develop. I will be forever grateful for all she taught me. Every student I have in class can be sure they have also had my supervising teacher in one form or another. So many of the structures, expectations, and methods that permeate my classroom are things I learned from her.
What started with fear and lots of praying on both sides turned into an excuse to dress like twin cone-heads during homecoming week and play a projected version of Spanish Scrabble with our classes. What started with uncertainty blossomed into the foundation for everything I do with my students.
This is only one of several beautiful examples of collaboration I’ve been blessed with in my career, and it is appropriate that I share this today, on the anniversary of our connection to one another!
What collaborative relationships have been formational for your teaching?