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.
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.
I wrote in a previous post that I’d retire when I had nothing more to learn. I guess it is a good thing, then, that I learned some new things today!
We had a consultant visit our school district today to get us started with Google Apps for Education (GAFE). Although I am already familiar with GAFE, Google is always updating, adding to, and improving their products–which means I’ll always have more to learn! Here are the top 3 tidbits I picked up on today:
Google Doodles! I already knew that Google Doodles were themed, and that some of them lead to neat little tricks or games, but I did NOT know that you can click on any special google doodle and explore the history or cool facts behind it. Check it out for yourself! This would make a great bellwork topic, a rainy day assignment, or the opening to a fun research project!
Google Slides Q & A. If you don’t know what a backchannel is… it is the digital, behind-the-scenes conversation that goes on behind a presentation. More info, here. Google has now incorporated a backchannel in Presenter View on Slides. Instead of using Twitter, Today’s Meet, or Google Docs for a backchannel, it is now incorporated in the same tool! Here is a little write-up about it!
Google Forms Quizzes! Many educators have been using various add-ons for this now for years… but Google finally just added the option right into Forms for us. In your settings, choose the quiz option. Check out a quick tutorial here.
I hope your first days back at school are full of awesome new things you can take back to your kiddos as well!
Oh man. I thought I was ready to go back tomorrow.
Wait. Let me qualify that: I am NOT ready for summer to be over. What I mean is… I thought I was ready to start at a new school. I thought I was ready to be an English teacher. I thought I was ready to not be teaching Spanish. I really thought the post I wrote a few days ago had settled all that…
I still believe, and know, all the things I wrote. I am a teacher, no matter what. But, OH! how my heart hurts not to be going back to the kids who had become mine, and not teaching the thing I know best.
To some extent, this happens every year. I mourn the loss of students I know I won’t have again, either because they won’t be in my classes, or because they graduate. I celebrate their successes and I wonder how I can ever do better for my next group of students. I wonder if I’m good enough for the kids coming in. I wonder if we’ll be as awesome together as the last classes were. And every year, we surpass my wildest dreams. Every year, together, we do something that I would have never dreamed possible.
I know this feeling I have of loss is really part of the “one big Sunday” that August is for teachers. I know the truth, in my head, at least: we’ll do it again. They will be awesome, and I’ll grow with them. Together we’ll do something great.
Teaching is full of new adventures all the time. This summer has taken me from the school and department I’ve worked with for the last 3 years, and away from my beloved subject area: Spanish.
Next week, I start a new adventure teaching high school English.
But I hope you’ll follow along on my English escapades as well as my tech-ventures and occasional Spanish relapses.
Oh man. I’ve had months to mourn my loss. I’m comfortable in the Spanish classroom. I’m in love, in fact. I’m in my zone; I’m on my game. I know the TEKS like the back of my hand; I know where the students struggle. I know where I can drive a point home to make an impression that lasts. It is my home, my happy place.
I’m still a little bit sad, but I’m looking forward to a new adventure. Here’s the truth:
I’m a teacher. I’ve always been a teacher. And the subject area doesn’t matter. From middle school Spanish to Spanish Literature–I’ve done it. From 2nd grade to 8th grade math and 8th grade English–I’ve been there. The subject area isn’t really my passion. Teaching and learning is my undeniable passion.
I’m looking forward to speaking the same language as most of my students again. Going from teaching mainly English speakers in Spanish, to teaching mainly English speakers in English is going to take down a huge barrier I’ve had to fight every school day of the last 5 school years.
I love a challenge. The STAAR exam is a challenge. I learned an important lesson teaching AP Spanish (Lang & Lit): don’t waste time complaining about the test. There would have been no point in wasting time complaining to my team, to my students, and to their parents. There would have been no point in giving the students a time and place to complain. We had work to do… and we killed it with 100% participation, and 100% pass rates in both classes. I’ll add to this: while I had the very best students, they didn’t all come to me in the ways that we usually define as the “best”. They weren’t all rich, they weren’t all white (or all hispanic), they weren’t all well prepared, and several of them rarely experienced academic success. I’ve set goals going in to this position, and I’ve spent a lot of time analyzing the test, and the TEKS. A lot of teachers will say there are gaps, there are. A lot of teachers will talk about teaching to the test–but I know that it is not possible on this new generation of tests. To those teachers, I’d say that I’m not interested in all the reasons my students can’t be successful.
I love a challenge, part 2. I’m getting to re-read literature I loved. I’m having to read the literature I pretended to read … I am having to learn new TEKS and a new set of expectations. It is a challenge and it has been a lot of fun.
I’m a learner. Most of teaching is continuous learning. I believe that when I finally know everything, and no one can teach me anything, it will be time to retire. Of course, I wish all the people who’ve already gotten to that point would go ahead and retire too…
So, here on this blog, I’m going to keep on adventuring. I’m still @cwilsonspanish, and these are still the adventures of a Spanish teacher–because at my core, that’s what I’ll always be. But I hope you’ll follow along on my English escapades as well as my tech-ventures and occasional Spanish relapses.
To celebrate, I’ve updated the look on the blog, gotten a fresh and fancy domain name, and connected my social media pages. Enjoy 🙂
Really, it sounds like such a great idea at first. Hold the kids accountable. Use those last few minutes of class productively. Get a quick snapshot of student understanding. Have something quick to grade for a daily grade. Have kids actually apply the standard you just covered.
Ha. Wrong. You see, first you have to cut out all those exit tickets. Pass them out. They have to do them. <–All of that is the easy part. People suggest these exit tickets as a regular part of the routine. Several times a week or even every day. The only problem is: there are some things that paper clips can’t fix. i.e.: my desk. See sample below.
You see, for teachers like me, who are moms and wives and department chairs and, you know, 12 other responsibilities to mention, we don’t have time for that. I don’t need another tiny slip of paper (or stack of them) to try to remember not to lose.
How can Google Voice help?
With Google Voice, you get a phone number. Not only can students leave you a voice message (as mentioned in Part 1 of this series), but they can also text the phone number as well! The messages collect in your Google Voice account, and are also sent to your email account.
This is life changing.
At the end of class, kids put their things away, and I ask them a short question. For me, usually, this is a short production task (in Spanish), perhaps, a question to answer or a topic to write about. Students text the phone number and the assignment comes to my email.
Why is this so awesome?
Sometimes kids need more time to finish than time allows. They can take the cell phone with them.
You can provide feedback! Text back!
Are you worried about the privacy implications of that? Well, worry a little less. Texting through Google Voice creates a paper trail. All messages to and from the account are saved. Its the ultimate teacher “CYA”.
Students without phones can still complete the assignment on a sticky note, or from the phone of a friend.
It eliminates (or nearly does) the tiny stacks of paper ravaging your desk.
Other ideas: I haven’t tried but really want to!
Give this phone number to parents instead of your regular cell phone number. Keep the conversation going via text.
Encourage kids to text questions about homework, projects and more.
Create lists in Google voice to text extra credit opportunities, links to important info and more.
I’ve learned over the past 2-3 years, as I’ve moved from proficient to fluent in Spanish… that everything i’ve learned is wrong.
Not everything, but a lot of things. For instance, lots of the “rules” that we teach kids in Spanish, aren’t really true. Not every sentence that starts with “Ayer” has the preterite. Not all of the rules we learn and teach fit into spoken, normal, everyday Spanish.
Recently, I’ve had the great pleasure of meeting a lady who is a true genius and actually re-wrote Spanish grammar to reflect simple truths about Spanish. Her book is called “Spanish Grammar for the Independent Learner”. I intend to use it with my upper level classes next year, and in the future, from the beginning in any class that I teach.
As teachers, let’s not perpetuate the reasons that kids hate Spanish/ Foreign Language.
Another great read, kind of a “pep rally” for Foreign Lang. teachers is Chapter 2 of this Texas Framework.
No matter the subject area, no matter the school, no matter the class or the individuals in it, as teachers we realize that students have different goals for their learning, and we have different goals for their learning too.
Don’t get me wrong: The standards are the same. I just mean, that maybe we know a kid needs to work on a certain skill, or maybe we know where he wants to go in life, or how he is motivated, so we cater to that in our instruction.
One way to do this is though differentiated assignments. For instance, assignment “menus” where students pick various tasks within the menu to complete to demonstrate their competence.
One neat idea I’ve toyed with in the past, but actually go to use for the first time this school year is the idea of tiered assignments. The fact is: students learn language at different paces.Sure, we can aid that pace, but we can’t completely control it. This year, I had to come to grips that I had to provide (with 22 kids in the room) the same, somewhat modified, instruction to all of my kids (sure, i could supplement in small groups, etc.) knowing that half where native speakers of Spanish, and half were not. …and knowing that the content of the instruction was vital knowledge for their learning.
I had to come to grips with the fact that after a reading selection, the summaries of the native speaking 2nd graders would be full, developed, grammatically “ok”….while my non-native speakers at different proficiencies could do, well, various things. Some of them could tell me, some could draw it, some could write it…but not well, some could give me a better paragraph than a native Spanish speaker could.
In order to facilitate learning and gradable assignments, I started using this idea of different levels of assignments that targeted the same skill but required different levels of language proficiency to complete.
Taking this from a content based 2nd grade Dual Language classroom… back to secondary next year… here’s what I’d like to do:
Teach AP Spanish in the same classroom with my Spanish 3’s. I’d like to give them the same/ similar content…but, give them tiered assignments. You see, what happens a lot in smaller AP Spanish programs is this: the AP kids get stuck in the back of a room and do “independent study” aka: automatic “A” & probably not gonna pass…….
Instead, I’d rather teach them all–but then modify the assignments to meet them where they are in their proficiency and assess their progress that way.
It worked with 2nd graders… ask me next summer if it works with AP 🙂
i started this blog on my journey towards my degree in Secondary Spanish Education. i had a goal of becoming a Spanish teacher… and I did. I interned in a high school, then worked in a high school and later a middle school. i loved it.
if you are a language person, you have probably already noticed that i have been writing in the past tense….
after moving to Texas from Florida and working on transferring my certifications, i began the process of applying and interviewing for jobs. after 12 interviews at 3 different schools (i know… lengthy processes, right?) i was waiting to hear back from someone, when I got a phone call from a school I hadn’t even applied to.
the job? Second Grade Dual Language Teacher, Spanish. I literally laughed. I thought, but didn’t say, “I don’t even like kids!” and “I’m not certified for that!”
I needed a job, and I thought that it couldn’t hurt to have another interview under my belt. surly after they meet me, they will understand… My answers in the interview were basically, “I don’t know, but I’m willing to learn!”
Walking out of the interview, the principal shook my hand and said, “That was a very good interview. We’ll let you know soon.” I wondered if he had heard my answers at all?
By now, you might have guessed that I’m not teaching Spanish at a middle or high school. I accepted the position in Early December, and now, I’m on a new adventure: a Dual Language adventure!