Posted in Teaching

I think I have lost my marbles…


Do you have to have some to lose?  I decided to write my own book for my classes.  Learning to read out of a book about learning to read is SUPER boring.  So, I have been thinking..I know don’t hurt myself.  Why don’t I create my own book?

I have all of this stuff…and I mean a whole heap of stuff.  Why not put it all together and use that for my classes?  My students will have a better book, it will fit me, and then they won’t have to spend $125 on a boring book.

Not to mention that all the online learning integrations are not working together like they should…

Yes, I know how much work this is going to be…but I also know how much better it is going to be!  I am super excited actually.  Even knowing the insane amount of work this is going to take.

Posted in Teaching

Mentor or not to mentor…


It shouldn’t be a question.  So why is it?  I will readily admit without finding my group I would never have made it in this profession.  Those women saved me.

They also brought beer and made me leave the building when they knew I needed to, but I thought I could get more done.  These are the kinds of people first year teachers need to surround themselves with.  These are the same women I can still call when I feel like a huge failure.  They will listen, then laugh at me and tell me to stop.  Then they remind me of everything I have done well and all the kids I have reached.

It is sad to me that so many new teachers are out there and feel like they are floating on an island all alone.  If we are to keep new teachers, and attract others to this profession, we need to show them that they are not alone.  We need to be able to show them that we have failed too.  In spite of those failures, we have picked our sorry selves back up and gone back the next day.

Today I was teaching a lesson on annotation (it was beautiful in design and crap in execution).  For it, I used an article on first year teaching.  It got me really thinking.

It isn’t just first year teachers that need to remember a few things.  So, I decided to make my own list…

  1.  Help someone that you feel needs some advice or guidance.  If we all think back, we had help those first few years.  If we didn’t we should have.  Watch them teach for a few minutes when you can or a whole period if you can.  It is less intimidating to have a friend come into your classroom than the administration.  You can offer suggestions, and guess what else?  You might get some ideas for your own room.
  2. Make Professional Development a Goal.  Just because we have been at this awhile doesn’t mean we don’t have things to learn.  Lots of them.  Find a super cool workshop and go.  I learned the most at the ones for my specific subject areas.  Then share that knowledge with a newer teacher.
  3. Get to know your students.  Not just their names and what sports they play.  Really get to know them.  Research shows that students with close relationships with a teacher do better in high school.  If those students are at-risk, it is even more important.  I can personally vouch for this one.  Over the years I have had every single kind of student you can imagine.  Yes, all of them.  My greatest success stories and my favorites are the ones that other teachers had all but given up on and shown the door.  I got to know them, went to bat for them, made them work for me, and most of all loved them when they didn’t always love themselves.  Guess what, it worked.  This is one of the best things you can do in your room.
  4. Laugh at yourself and with your kids.  They will appreciate it.  Let’s face it, we all make mistakes.  I make more than my fair share.  The ability to laugh them off speaks volumes about you.  It is also going to show your students that they can learn and laugh at their mistakes in the classroom as well.  Life is serious enough, laugh a little.
  5. Remember how you felt.  I will never forget throwing up in the kitchen sink before I left the first morning of the first day of school.  I was so nervous.  I have no clue why.  But, I was.  It could be because I was 24 and I was teaching 9-12th grades.  Or it could have been that I was teaching Drama and I had taken all of one theater class in college.  I was positive that I was never going to make it.  They were going to hate me.  Then they hit on me.  Not what I expected, but it broke the ice and I felt better.  Don’t forget how you felt, the nerves, the hope, the excitement.
  6. Don’t squash the excitement out of the newbies.  Seriously just don’t.  We are losing great teachers by the masses.  I see wonderful new teachers run like their hair is on fire away from schools, simply because they have no support, work their asses off, get treated terribly, and have vets tell them it never gets any better.  If you have no excitement anymore, maybe let their excitement infect you.
  7. Remember why you became a teacher in the first place.  I am pretty sure that not one of us did this to become rich.  If you did, you have lost your mind.  I love what I do.  I love some parts more than others.  I love the “AHHA” on a kiddos face when they really get it.  I love when they really learn.  When they know that I care about them more than just what is on that paper.  Those are my favorite parts.
  8. Reflect on your lessons.  This is one I still need to work on.  At the end of the day think about what went great and you can use again, and what you need to pitch.  Tell those newbies about it.  They can learn for your success and failures as well.  It helps them to know that even those that have been at this awhile have the ability to suck it up too.
  9. Talk to the new teachers, take them out for a drink, make them sit with you at in-service.  Seriously, all of these things.  They are brand new.  If your district doesn’t have a mentor program (I wish they all did) make up one and grab a new teacher in you building.  Invite them to lunch on in-service day, out to drinks after conferences (you know you all need one), or just walk into their room after school to see how it is going.  These things will mean more to them than you will ever know.

I don’t have 10 things.  Just 9.  As I was writing this, I kept thinking about my first few years of teaching and I couldn’t help but think about how really lucky I was to be where I was.


Posted in Teaching

Then I dove off the high dive…with arm floaties…

If you know me, you know why this is funny.  I love what I do.  I am passionate about it.  I work very hard to make sure that I at least give the illusion that I am good at it.

So, it makes me angry, teary eyed, frustrated, sad, and down right ready to throw down when newbies (I promise I am using that term lovingly) tell me they know “exactly what they are doing now after doing it for a year.”  Uh…I have been at this for a while now and I have to wing it more often that I care to admit.

As a new teacher and hell as a veteran teacher, you NEVER know “exactly” what you are doing.  Mostly, because you never know how any kiddo in your room is going to act that day, or how they are going to come to school, or if they are going to understand it in the way you are presenting it.

Let’s think about it for a few minutes shall we?  I know that learning never really stops.  I certainly never want to stop learning.  Maybe that is why I am a teacher.  Or that is why I am a great teacher (depends on who you ask).  Once you decide you have stopped learning and know everything you have quit.

For a teacher to say this to parents is cause for serious pause and serious concern.  What is more concerning to me as a teacher and a parent is some of the other things that get said…here is where I am going to strap on my floaties.  I have already climbed the damn high dive.

Kids are super impressionable.  They want to love or at least like their teacher. As a parent (I just happen to be a teacher) I want to be on the teachers side.  Now, if I can’t do that we have a problem.  I can’t be on a teachers side (pretty sure it is going to be hard for most people to be) when my 8 year olds come home telling me that they were told by their teacher all about how girls are better at math than boys, false facts about how long you can live without food and water, about zombies, El Chappo, and other super things.

The one that gets me the most is the stereotype one.  Which is super ironic that it was said today, since I did a whole thing today on stereotypes and diversity in one of my classes.  Gender stereotypes were a big one for us.  This is my thought and I sincerely hope I am not alone.  As teachers, we cannot perpetuate any sort of stereotype.  We can’t buy into that.  Once we do that our students lose.  We lose and society loses.

What is great about our classrooms is that all of our kiddos are different.  Yes, it makes me nuttier than a snickers somedays.  However, it is also what makes each one of my classes my favorite.  Each of them brings something new and challenging to the table.  As teachers we can be the best thing in a kids day depending on what they have going on at home or we can be the worst part of their day.  What we say and how we interact with them is super important.

Now I am going to go ahead and jump.  Not only is it important for us as teachers to interact well with our kiddos, we have to interact well with their parents as well.  Even the ones we want to run from.  Maybe it is more important that we do well with those ones.  Why?  Am I nuts?  Well, yes…but again I have a point.  Last week, I had to have an meeting for one of my own apes.  As I was explaining some of the things that that they were going to see and the things that I knew worked for them.  I got a look from the teacher that said, “you are just ‘that mom.'”  Now, I may be.  However, I am also “that teacher.”  This is when interacting well with parents serves you well.  It was in that moment that I lost massive amounts of respect for someone that should be on the same team.  As a teacher, when a parent comes to talk to you about one of the students in your class with legit concerns, you better listen.  Yes, there are helicopter parents, I get that.  More than we would like, but most of the time their concerns are valid.  Kids shouldn’t suffer because a teacher “knows exactly what they are doing.”

So, now that I have flung myself, floaties and all of the high dive…I leave all of us with this thought…we never know “exactly” what we are doing.  What we are doing is making a difference.  What we are doing matters.  What we are doing is teaching the whole kid.  What we are doing is making sure they have ALL the tools they have to be successful, no matter who they are.  What we are doing is loving them…no matter what.  What we are doing is building relationships.

Posted in Teaching

Ack! Why do I figure out the easy way after I do it the hard way??


Today is that day…really.  It is a total what the hell was I thinking day…

Not because of anything that happened in my classrooms, they are great.  I might have to say that they are maybe my favorites of all time.  I say that always though.  But really, I have some super awesome students this semester.  They are fun, they talk, they interact, they get my little strange marching band in my head.

No, it is simply because in my glorious quest to make sure they get what they need, I made my life a living hell and it was already done for me.  Way to go Dana.

Why as teachers do we do that to ourselves?  We don’t look at things close enough to realize that something is right there.  Instead, we make something time consuming and painful.  Do we have a gene that makes us want to have things as hard as possible?

As teachers, we talk about DI, student centered learning, and all that wonderful gab.  When we go to implement in, how do we do it?  Do we barrel in head first without know what we are doing?  Or do we step in slowly?  I barreled in head first.

I am using a new program this year to help tailor my classrooms to what basic skills my students really need.  My thought is this, if they don’t need to work on stated main idea outside of class they shouldn’t have to.  If they need some extra practice, it is there.  In class, they can be the leader of a group that might struggle.  I know who has mastered what and can build my classes that way.

Teaching is never going to be a one size fits all.  As I was teaching annotation today, I was struck by the notion that there are probably a million way to annotate one thing.  I know that if they tried to read my notes and annotations they might cry.  So, in teaching them what they need to know for college, I also have to teach them as people.  That is maybe more important.  Teachers have to understand, even at my level, that they are people and they are still trying to learn in the best way for them.  A one size fits all approach is not going to work.  Besides…do you want to learn from someone you don’t like or want to listen to?