Posted in Teaching

That was not what I had planned…

Not even a little bit.  Why does technology hate me on the one day I really need it to work?  WHY?

So, we still get evaluated even at this level, which makes me so nervous.  I had a terrible experience my last go round…so, I don’t like them at all.

So, I am working on text structure…simple right.  It is review day and I have a cool game and some other stuff.  It is based on the fact the my projector will work.  Nope.

I turn it on and it sounds like it is going to explode.  Oh for the love of everything…then a spider falls out of it.  My only saving grace was the boss was not in there yet.

So, I had to punt.  No game, no power point.  Just review and discussion.  Boring.  I was bored.  They had to be.

Is it really not a good thing to hide under my desk and drink?  Can we all do that?   I cannot image that went well.  At least they had their cell phones put away and participated.  Gah!

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Posted in Teaching

I think I have lost my marbles…

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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…

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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.

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

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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?

Posted in Teaching

Technology…why do you hate me?

Today was not my finest hour.  Remember when I said “the ability to punt is your greatest asset.”  I put that to good use today.

I had the most awesome stuff prepared and all ready to use for my classes today.  I know, that happens when?  Well, sometimes.  Do you think I could get my laptop to work?  NOPE!

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This is how my face looked…so I had to improv…good thing I can.  It is kinda hard to talk to my students about how to be prepared and be all super stars and successful when you are sucking it up at that.  Gah!

However, I ran with the crumbs I had and we had some fun with it.  No, they didn’t get all the fun infographics on how to take stellar notes, or the power point on how to be the best student ever.  Instead, we talked about life stuff.  It will really get them farther anyway.  I hit on the goal setting, and notes simply because they have to hear it.

What they really needed, they heard.  So, I guess they learned something…

Posted in Teaching

Circles, reading, and chit chats

I can feel fall in the air.  My kids have gone back to school and so have I.  This year I am trying a few different things.  It could be bad and it could be great.  As a teacher you never know what will happen unless you try.

Teaching students that have struggled to read and might hate to read is a challenge.  Why?  Well, they hate it for a reason.  This semester, I asked them what made them hate it.  Almost all of them said the same thing.  It wasn’t always the books they had to read.  It was the way they were forced to do it.  Read these chapters and do this study guide.  Then repeat.  At the end take a test.  How boring is that?

Why are we still teaching literature that way?  Why can’t we use things like literature circles?  I know there are teachers out there that do!  What is wrong with a student having an opinion on a novel?  It is okay if they think a book is terrible.  I think Moby Dick is awful.  It was so hard for me to read.  I would have cried if someone would have made me do a study guide on top of just having to read the damn thing.

So, this semester we are going to try somethings.  Sitting in a circle.  Who thought up rows?  They are boring and I end up standing up front talking.  Who wants to hear me talk?  Not me.  No one learns from me lecturing.  They learn when they get to discuss how they found the main idea and what it was.  Or could it have been something else…and “how do you know?”

The discussions so far, awesome.  Even just reading some short paragraphs and talking about what they think…awesome.  It is giving them some ownership of their own learning and their own thoughts.  Guess what else, they are still reading and still going into that text and drawing meaning from it.  Funny how you can get kids to do that without a study guide huh!

 

Posted in Teaching

Dear Students,

Finals week brings out both the best and worst in you.  It makes your realize that you have not had your shit together all semester, and somehow you need to get it together in three days.  It also make that my problem somehow.  Guess what?  As much as I want you to be successful, I can’t go back and make you come to class or do those assignments for you.

So here is some quick advice for you.  If you are going to go see your professor to discuss your grades, make sure you are taking what you need with you.  No teacher or professor is going to give you points because you say you did something.  Also, teachers are pretty fair people.  If they take points off there is a reason.  Arguing with them about a few point when you have a pretty good grade is really pointless.

It helps if you have been in class regularly and been ON TIME!  I know that I am way more likely to round a grade up if you have been here ad given me some effort.  If you skip class and don’t hand things in, well, chances are I am not going to take your late work.  I am going to stick to my syllabus and say “sorry about your luck.”

Check your grades before finals week.  That way you know what you are missing or what you need to be doing.  Instructors are not nearly as likely to give late grades the week of finals when you have known all semester that something was missing.  Keep on top of your grades.  You are a big kid now and you need to be responsible for yourself.

This week is one that has the ability to make or break your semester if you have not been on top of your classes.

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Posted in Teaching

What happens after the PLC?

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This is resonating with me this morning after I reflect on the events of this week.  It is so true that teachers should and need to collaborate and learn from one another.  None of us have all the answers.  Some of us have great lessons for one thing and others have a great lesson for other things.  Where one struggles to teach commas, maybe your co-teacher has a great idea that will help you.

While none of us can take someone else’s lesson and carbon copy it (wow that makes me look old), we can take it and make it fit our needs and our teaching style.  We can and need to learn from each other.

What we need to stop doing is forcing the mentality upon our colleagues that “this is the way we do it, and it is the only way.”  Just because it works for one teacher, doesn’t mean it works for the person next door.

This one size fits all way of thinking and assessing student learning does not work for education.  It does not work for our students, it is not what is best for them and it is not what is best for teachers.

Teachers who have the ability to think outside the box are often ridiculed for not fitting into the mold that was created for them by some antiquated ideal of what a teacher should be.  These same teachers have students who are in their classes who are engaged in the learning process and are learning.  Those two things should speak volumes about the teacher.  Not what some ideal of what a teacher should look like.

I certainly do not fit into any mold anywhere.  I can’t even find the box.  Yet, my students are learning.  They are becoming better readers and writers.   I know my content area like the back of my hand.  Why, because I am passionate about English.  I am a giant nerd.  I read all the time.  I spend hours trying to figure out how hone my craft.  Not only that, but I want to know my content inside and out so I can be a better teacher.

This also gives me the ability to figure out how to reach the students that may seem un reachable.  I want them to learn.  I want to know what they know.  I want to know how I can help them get there.  Sometimes the process is just as important as the outcome.  Sometimes it is more important.

As teachers, we need to learn to collaborate in a positive way.  We need to support each other.  Enough of the world is against us and tearing us down. There must be a friendship build amongst us that enables us to share our thoughts and ideas with each other in a meaningful way.   It is beyond time.

Posted in Teaching

Don’t smile till November or is that May?

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It is near the end…I can see it!  My students can see it as well.  I should say this is my face while doing my new course build.  It isn’t though, I am actually excited about this course.  It has been so long since I have gotten to teach Composition.

Anyway…the end is in sight.  As, I am coming to a close in this semester, as always I am reflective.  What worked, what didn’t.  Well, lots didn’t this time.  I feel like more didn’t than did.  Which, as a teacher isn’t always a bad thing.  Just because it didn’t work, does  not mean they didn’t learn something, it means that you have the chance to do it differently and make it better.

I am going to use writing.  I have never liked to teach outcome based writing.  Yet, that is what I have done all year.  Mostly because I thought, why not give it a shot.  I suck at it.  I know that and I am pretty sure they know that.  So, knowing that makes me know what I can change and how I can do it differently.  I teach development or basic writing.  How in the world am I going to teach process writing?  I don’t have that answer yet.  I will have it, and it is going to take some serious work and effort on my part.  That face above.  I bet I make it lots.

Do I feel like my students are writing better in spite of the fact that I suck at outcome based writing.  Yes, they are.  I know they are.  Am I maybe being to hard on myself?  Probably.  In teaching, you have to be patient with yourself and know when to push yourself harder.  In this case I need to push harder.

This profession is a double edged sword.  In spite of the fact that it exhausts me, I find myself through my profession.  This is what I do and who I am.  What drives me is my students.  The students who learn in spite of all the obstacles placed in their roads.  The students who want to learn, who want to be part of the what it is to be a college student.  The student-athlete who remembers that they are a student first.  The student who dares to dream.  That is what makes me come back for more.  That is what makes me smile in August and in April.