It’s been an odd school year for me. I have a lot of freedom and very little to lose, so it’s been a year of throwing caution to the wind and trying new things. I tried the Global Innovation Exchange Challenge, Genius Hour, StrengthsExplorer, and most recently, I ditched our traditional grammar textbooks in favor of lessons based off a quirky workbook with “Clamdigging” in the subtitle (more on that in a bit).
Some of these things have worked well. Some clicked and made a difference. Some royally flopped. But that’s OK, too. I learned, and I think more importantly, my students have seen me learn. They’re seeing me try new things, some that work and some that don’t. When the experiment flops, I admit my mistakes and talk through what went wrong with them so we can all learn together. Continue reading
I teach in a tiny school. The 8th grade class is seven students – and they’re the “big” class. Despite the size, the upper grades are completely departmentalized. There’s a different teacher for every subject, and with the way schedules work out, I never see them. Ever.
Honestly, that works for me, even though I know it shouldn’t. Bouncing around the country for so many years gave me a bit of an independent streak when it comes to teaching. It was survival mode then, but now it keeps me from reaching out or initiating collaboration (I’m working on this now). And from what I’ve picked up in meetings, the overall vision of our school is vague at best. We’re a Christian school and Biblical teaching is given highest priority, but that’s where the vision stops, as far as I can tell.
What kind of academic education do we provide? What learning outcomes are we trying to instill? What are we doing to prepare these kids for high school and the world beyond? If there is an overriding vision, it hasn’t been communicated to the teachers well. All the teachers are very qualified, but we’re all doing our own thing in isolation.
The crazy thing is, by rocking the boat and changing how I teach, I’m now seeing those conversations higher up the ladder. Among other things, the board is talking about pursuing accreditation. Maybe that process will help us define a vision, not just in our religious beliefs, but in our academic practice, as well.
I just finished watching Tara Martin’s interview for #IMMOOC Week 3, and a big part of her message was encouraging transparency and sharing the process, not just the end product – i.e. keeping it real. This is what I needed to hear this week, because for me, this has been the week of push-back in our Global Innovation Exchange Challenge. And I realized that I don’t think I’ve actually described what my students are doing for the challenge on my blog. I’ve been dragging my feet because, possibly subconsciously, I didn’t want to publish until I knew how it would all work out and I could package up a nice, neat, inspirational story. But that’s not how innovation works. It’s messy and scary sometimes. I followed the instinct to just DO, but I didn’t (couldn’t!) have it all perfectly planned or executed along the way.
But now I just need to SHARE – to be vulnerable and transparent in my risk taking, for better or for worse. It’s not all tied up in a nice little bow. For all I know this could somehow still end in my getting fired. (Highly doubt it – I mostly have support, but there’s still time for things to go horribly wrong. You never know.) I’ve blogged for a long time, but it’s all been observations and speculations, with very few windows into my own actual practice, and certainly nothing this risky. Now it’s time to open the curtains. So this post is a combination of #IMMOOC and #InnovationExchange. Enjoy. 🙂 Continue reading
I feel like I’ve been on information overload lately. The more podcasts I listen to, books and blogs I read, and TED talks I watch, the more vast the problems in education appear. My reading list is growing faster than I can afford – a lot of the books I want to read aren’t available at the library, even through inter-library loan. But maybe that’s a good thing. I can only absorb so much at once. (Plus, my reading time is limited with an infant and toddler taking my attention.)
I’m also getting a crash course in using social media professionally. It’s a little embarrassing how much of this stuff intimidates me. It’s embarrassing to say that I’ve never even Skyped without someone else setting up the call. Facebook and WordPress are my comfort zones. Anything beyond that makes me nervous. And yet, I find myself entering into the world of Twitter chats, MOOC’s, and Skyping with other classrooms. It’s starting to snowball, and I’m just hoping I come out more knowledgeable and connected in the process, rather than getting overwhelmed.
Seriously. It’s gotten to the point where I literally pray before stepping on the elliptical to listen to another podcast. God, what do you want me to pull out of this one? Where should my focus be? What’s my place in all this? Help me to do what I should be doing!
Because if there’s one piece of hope for me in all this, it’s that my conviction has grown so much stronger. There is a place for me in all this, though I can’t exactly see what it is yet.
In addition to the StrengthsExplorer curriculum that started the year (I have students writing personal narratives based on their strengths right now – I’ll let you know how that goes after we get past the first drafts), I’ve also been exploring the idea of doing Genius Hour with my students.
I’ve admitted before and I’ll confess again – I’m not the most tech-savvy person in the world. I blog, but that’s mostly personal reflections typed out of the world to see. There’s not much on here but basic word processing, and maybe the occasional embedded image or video. I’ve been on Facebook since the early days, but in every other area I’m slow to the game. I got my first smart phone in 2015. I like technology in the classroom if I can see its value to what I’m teaching, but I resist tech for tech’s sake. Continue reading
Testing… testing… Is this thing on?
After two years of silence, I’ve probably lost most of my loyal followers, but that’s OK. I’m here now because I need to write and process ideas again, and this is a good place to do that. I always lose the spiral notebooks I scribble in.
If any of my former readers are still following, here’s my life update in a nutshell: The nomadic lifestyle is done for good. I’m now the mother of two sweet girls, the wife of a practicing optometrist, and a part time middle school language arts teacher – yes, I am a teacher “for real” again!
I’ll be honest – this job isn’t my ideal niche, but I’m happy to have it. I enjoy the students, the schedule is fantastic, and I have more autonomy in my curriculum than I’d ever imagined possible. I do miss working with high school students, though. Continue reading
I did something today that I don’t often get to do. I visited my former students. After a year away travelling, I’m back in Boston for my husband’s graduation, so I arranged to visit the school where I taught last year. A few teachers knew, but my arrival was a surprise for the students. Before I walked through the front door, my former boss met me and gave me a big hug. She smiled as she asked, “Are you ready to be mobbed?”
Fortunately, the students didn’t all see me at once. If they had, I don’t think I would’ve remained upright. As it was, they came at me so fast that once or twice I didn’t know who was hugging me. Then most of them moved on to stand in the popcorn and cotton candy line near the main entrance (it was “Family Game Day” at school). They were happy to see me, but even that wouldn’t distract them from food. The older students handing out concessions simply yelled their greetings to me and offered me a snow cone “on the house.” I declined. Continue reading
Today, instead of my typical advice-imparting, life-lesson-giving posts, I’ve decided to share some of my tales from my days substitute teaching. The stories I chose for this post come from my early years of subbing, so my personal friends may already know them. To everyone else, just enjoy the humor and insanity of what happens when a regular teacher leaves the room.
The Anatomy Lesson:
This particular story took place in a small study skills class with only four 7th grade boys. I quickly noticed that these boys had a hard time focusing on their work, so I kept a close eye on them. I had to cut off a few inappropriate conversations as well. They had individual laptops that were kept in the classroom for the kids to use, and I was occasionally circling the room to make sure they were actually working and not just playing games. During one of these rounds, I discovered one of the boys looking up a scientific diagram of female anatomy. He was so engrossed in his “studies” that he didn’t notice me walking past behind him. Continue reading
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Contrary to popular opinion, the straight-A students are not necessarily our favorites. In fact, the number in the grade book usually has very little impact on how much we like certain kids. So how do we pick our favorites, then? Is it perfect behavior? Whether or not the student likes the subject we teach? Whether or not the student likes us?
No, no, and no. Because we don’t pick. We don’t sit down with a spreadsheet comparing the class roster with the grade book and the number of behavior referrals and circle the names of students that will then become our favorite pets for the rest of the year. It doesn’t work that way.
When I decided to write this post, I took an informal survey on Facebook, asking my teacher-friends to tell me about their favorite students. No one responded by saying, “What?! How dare you insinuate that I prefer one student over another! I like all my students exactly the same amount!” Because honestly, we all have favorites. If we do our job well, favoritism won’t impact our teaching style, but we are still human beings with opinions, feelings, likes, and dislikes. We will be drawn to some students more than others. It’s only natural. Continue reading