Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Monday, June 21, 2010
I’ve been thinking about money and school, and realistically, how would more money change my teaching, my classroom, and of course, ultimately, the learning of my students.
Some of the more miniscule items – paper, pencil, art supplies – really wouldn’t change anything other than the amount of money that comes from my own pocket. As a matter of fact, having an unlimited supply of materials might actually lead to making students more dependent on me supplying it, resulting in their own lack of independence and personal responsibility for coming to class prepared. Still, it would be great to not have to worry about assigning posters, or colored coded graphs, or expecting students to have index cards for note taking. Having all the materials available would allow for more flexibility in many ways.
The big stuff is where I see money making the biggest impact in my classroom. I would first buy new tables and chairs for my classroom instead of the mismatched, broken legged wobbly ones I have now. How sad is that?
Would that change how I teach and how my students learn? Maybe not… However, when students come to school in buildings that are out of date, it gives them a feeling that they are not valued in our society. They see the difference in other places they go and how decrepit the school building and its furnishing are, and they, albeit it unconsciously, understand the prioritizing of public funding and the many discrepancies.
If we could open school buildings that look inviting, with kid-friendly structures, large classrooms, fresh paint, adequate furnishings, students would not feel despair when they enter our halls.
In my own classroom, given money, I could create a learning environment more welcoming, with a variety of seating options. The hard plastic and metal chairs I have now hardly lend themselves to a comfortable resting spot for anyone for 60 minutes, much less for an active growing adolescent. I would give them beanbags, rocking chairs, and other more kid friendly choices. Not only would these be comfier seating choices, the constant interruption of them scraping across the floor would be eliminated.
Beyond the chairs and tables, my classroom could have a neater and tidier appearance, with matching bookcases, storage space in closed cupboards, white boards with plenty of markers and erasers and cleaner. Instead a conglomeration of mismatched homemade tables on which to put things, my room could look like a classroom with real furniture! My walls would be painted with stripes of bright colors, instead of the boring drab off-white.
I could have new laptops, with logical power sources, instead of crisscrossing extension cords and powerstrips, duct taped hither and thon. The laptops would ALL work, always! I could have a SmartBoard to share websites and notes with students. I could have some sort of student response system, to engage them electronically, each student responsible for giving answers, in a safe, non-threatening manner!
Nooks and crannies for reading, art projects, and other creative ventures would beckon students to their corners, intriguing minds to create and produce, think and innovate.
There would some sort of reliable temperature control, keeping us on an even keel, instead of the highs and lows from 55° to 95° we experience now.
I would create spots for student storage within the classroom, places to keep portfolios, supplies, and even personal belongings.
A comfortable place to view videos would be there as well, almost an actual media center, where students could curl up and watch the occasional video I show in luxury, instead of craning around the heads of other students, straining to hear the words from the cheap reject speakers.
All that sounds wonderful ….. but in actuality, would it change my teaching? Would it change the learning of my students? I’m not so sure. But it is kind of like winning the lottery. You always read that winners aren’t any happier once they’ve won the BIG BUCKS, as is often creates a new set of problems. But I always think, give ME those problems!
Give me the magical classroom budget, the perfect setting, and let me see if it COULD make an impact on student learning. Let me just give it a shot?
Outside the physical nature of my classroom, with more educational funding, I would create a learning environment where teachers have time to work together, create together, and support each other's endeavors. This time would be built into the actual school day.
Time for teachers to really look at student work and assess it, then provide feedback to students and parents would be built into the school schedule as well. I would eliminate multiple choice tests, and have teachers using more meaningful tools to analyze student progress.
I would create learning communities made up of teachers, adminstrators, and parents, all working together to design learning goals for students in our school. Then I would work to help students take these goals and chart their own course of study, finding ways to meet these goals.
I would have my school be a community center, offering after-school support, programs, academic support, athletic programs, food programs, medical care, whatever our student body needs. We would support the whole child, completely.
School would no longer be an 8-3 venture, but a lifestyle for our community........
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Many people assume the best parts of being a teacher are June, July, and August. I will admit a sense of euphoria when school lets out, a release of tension, a settling in of a relaxed feeling. Then the reality of being a teacher sets in with summer projects, classes, and other professional development endeavors.
Spread across my dining room table, gracing a spot it will stay most of the summer, sits my mountain of school work. One pile is Algebra 1 books, CD’s and other support materials. These all beckon to me, reminding me I am teaching this class for the first time, and should probably hone up on my own skills. Another pile is for my 7th grade social studies class, the class that always seems to get pushed to the back burner, and I end up resorting to reading the chapters in the textbook and copying worksheets, because time is too short to plan another project, write another rubric, research another current events issue. Summer gives me a chance to delve into the curriculum and plan another unit to supplant or better yet, replace, the book work.
The last pile is for professional reading, books I want to read this summer to broaden my own teaching horizon. Six books are sitting there, waiting for me to read or reread them. Building Literacy in Social Studies is on top of the stack. I’ve read and actually reviewed this book before, in 2007, but I want to look a bit closer at how to use some of the ideas given to improve how I teach social studies. The chapter on textbook literacy in particular interests me. Our students, as often is the case, struggle with informational text so I am hoping to get some ideas about helping them become more effective at looking for key concepts in what they are reading.
Alongside that, Ignite Student Intellect and Imagination in Social Studies sits. This book is filled with cookie cutter project ideas, some of which I hope to mine for ideas for my class. I like the idea of developing activities with choices for students, but often struggle coming up with equitable choices. I once had a pyramid model, and would like to use this book and its ideas to revisit that activity.
The Forest and the Trees will also be a book for my social studies class, as I try to find ideas for looking teaching the skills of finding important ideas in text. I am especially interested in the part of this book that addresses the skills students need for taking multiple choice tests. In today’s educational arena where so much rides on those high stakes test scores, teachers have a responsibility, unfortunately, to not only teach content and offer opportunities to develop high order thinking skills, but we must prepare students to think like test takers.
The last two books address teaching writing and reading in content areas: Teaching Reading in Social Studies, Science and Math and Content-Area Writing . I am a firm believer in the power of having students write for learning. I want to explore ways to use more writing in math class to have students understand and discover their own misconceptions.
Beyond the reading, and the lesson planning, there are the special projects. While I said no to many things I normally do in the summer, I did get suckered into two so far. This week I will be attending a workshop called MORE Alignment Workshop. The idea seems to be getting a sprinkling of various discipline teachers to look at online resources and align them to the state standards. The idea intrigues me because anytime we can use technology, students are immediately more interested in what we are doing. I am hoping by working to create alignment links for others, I discover many online resources I can myself use.
The last thing I have agreed to is a simple 2 day workshop in August that is part of a grant I wrote for a team of 3 teachers last year. We received a MACUL MI-Champions grant to attend last year’s conference, next year’s conference, and this 2 day summer workshop, all dedicated to technology integration. The agenda has up looking at wikis, blogs, and other simple ideas to more effectively integrate technology into our curriculum. It sounds pretty straightforward and uninspired but who knows? Maybe I will come away with some cool ideas. At the very least, I will have written a unit plan to use in my classes! A win-win scenario no doubt!
And before you know it, it will be time to be back in school, rearranging furniture and plugging in power strips, making copies, hanging posters, writing parent letters, and setting up my gradebook for fall. The halls will be empty, the floors shiny, all waiting the arrival of the KIDS!!!
Friday, June 11, 2010
My comments posted at the article:
The inequity in public education in this country is appalling. While some districts are struggling to keep their doors open, to simply provide transportation for students at all, districts like this are able to give their students WiFi access on the bus?
I teach in a rural district in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Our district covers over 1,000 square miles (larger than the state of Rhode Island) with only just over 800 students, K-12. Our students ride the bus up to 2 hours to AND from school, not total. We have a population density, in the primary county of our school district, of 8 people per square mile. We bus students from 4 counties to our school. Vail School District in Arizona is a megapolis compared to us. The nearest traffic light, Walmart, and town with a population over 10,000 is over 65 miles away. Our students are isolated and for the most part, poor. They do not enjoy the luxuries other places and schools provide.
Since our students do not have school issued laptops, and many of them cannot afford personal laptops, providing WiFi would be just another way to waste taxpayer money. Outside the village limits of the one small town in our school district, there is no access to internet other than through a dialup connection or satellite.
Good for Vail, good for its students. This is just one more indication that public education in this country is for the wealthy, not all Americans. We talk a good talk about equal opportunities, but in reality, the divide between the haves and the have nots in this country continues to widen each day. It is sad to see my students miss out on the opportunities afforded children schooled other places simply due to geography.
Until we even the playing field of education, providing truly equal opportunities for all students, I fear for our future, as we create generations of children unprepared to compete globally.
This saddens me deeply, thinking of my students, many who are economically disadvantaged already, coming from homes where education is not valued, where college is not even considered an option, and thinking of the great divide between districts. It simply is not fair. It starts my students out in the world behind those in other districts. It sets them up for failure before they graduate high school. I simply do not understand why we allow this to happen in our country?
Good for Vail. Good for all those districts that have money to spend on great ideas like WiFi on their busses! Why can't it be that way in EVERY school? Why aren't MY students just as worthy as those other places?
Wednesday, June 09, 2010
Packing the classroom is bittersweet. As I tuck away the notes from students, the pictures they have drawn me, the cards from them and parents, I find the ones from years gone by, and linger over those, remembering other smiling faces. Teaching really is a journey, a trip carefully orchestrated. All the stops along the path are the students you meet each year. Just as on vacation, some stops are enjoyable, ones you wouldn’t mind visiting again. Others, you leave with a ‘been there, done that’ feeling, knowing you’ve grown somehow from the experience, but don’t need to repeat it.
When I taught 8th grade, watching those kids leave the last day was sad, knowing they would disappear to the high school. Most of them I would never see again except in passing here and there. A few would wander back to the middle school halls to visit on occasion, those visits getting scarcer as the years went by. Letting them go was difficult and heartbreaking.
Teaching 7th grade is easier at the end of the year. The kids will be back, just around the corner. They won’t be ‘mine’ anymore, but I will see them every day in the hall. In September, many will still congregate by my room before school, causing a bottleneck in the hall, telling tales of summer, of their new classes and teachers, whining they wish they were still in 7th grade. As the year goes by, the start to wander away, finding their new hangout location, usually by the boys’ bathroom, causing a new bottleneck in traffic. My new 7th graders start to migrate to block the traffic outside my door, leaving behind their 6th grade memories.
Ending this year was different though. I will teach one section of 8th grade next year, so some of those students will be MINE again next year! It was a weird feeling, seeing them go, but knowing they will be back. Next year will be a journey we travel together, with me teaching Algebra 1 for the first time, learning alongside the students. I feel an overwhelming sense of responsibility to this group, the top of the top, the cream of the class.
Algebra 1 is always a tough class for kids. Many students end of taking it again as freshmen, they first experience with failure. How will I handle that experience? Failing a student I know has worked as hard as possible…
When I first starting teaching, an E I gave out bothered me. I thought every student should strive for the A. But as time has passed, I have come to reluctantly accept some failures as unavoidable.
The failures in Algebra, will they be avoidable? Will I be able to break the trend of having many students repeat this crucial class? I feel like a new teacher all over again, butterflies in my stomach. It will be an entirely new journey, with familiar faces along the way. I embrace it with trepidation and anticipation, and even a bit of dread.
For now, the Algebra 1 book sits on my dining room table, my summer homework project. Armed with the teacher’s manual, the exams, the support materials, I am determined to be ready when the empty hallways and lockers beckon in the September.
Wednesday, June 02, 2010
I was talking to a friend the other day who is also a teacher, in a school much like mine, but far away. We laughed about the similarities of our situations, the kids, the administrators, the politics, and the unpredictable nature of our days. As I went down the litany of what I had done in the course of my day, my friend said to me, "You must have worn your cape today! Who are you? Wonder teacher?"
Knowing his day had been of the same intensity, I laughed at his comment. But later it started me thinking about our jobs as teachers, how much is expected of us, the wide range of skills we must possess, and how little we are rewarded in return for our efforts.
Maybe instead of the mundane teacher postings most districts advertise, they might want to consider the following:
Job Opening:Wonder Teacher
1. Must have own cape and able to use it to fly to ubiquitous locations at any moment.
2. Ability to mold (not the fuzzy green kind) small minds.
3. Able to change actions mid-stream and head in an entirely opposite direction without a paddle, canoe or any flotation devices.
4. Make do financially on less than any other professionals and use a portion of those funds to supplement necessary classroom materials.
5. Work long hours, with summers and holidays off but devoted to additional training/professional development at your own expense, despite the fact you already have earned a Masters degree.
6. Deal with irate parents who think your main goal in life is to hinder the progress of their child.
7. Deal with administrators who have either never taught or have simply forgotten what it is like to be "in the trenches" on a daily basis-be subjected to their whims, mood swings, and half-baked ideas.
To apply, please contact your local school district.
That job description was written in jest, initially. Then I started thinking about each of the individual components of the "posting".
The first qualification: Maybe teachers don't need an actual cape to perform their daily duties, but they certainly need to be able to be in more than one location at a time In starts with hall duty, separating students in a scuffle at one corner as another student chats about their night, and four more ask what assignment they missed when they were absent. Two students are seeking a band-aid as another one strolls by in severe dress code violation—all before the day actually begins. And when the day does begin, it only gets more complicated, with six students in the class on task, four more finished early and bored, 12 needing additional help, three who were gone yesterday and are lost, one with ADD, one with ADHD, one with OCD, one with ODD, and a few others as yet unclassified. Does Amazon sell capes in my size?
The second qualification: Able to mold small minds. Teacher preparation classes at universities attempt to provide students with the necessary skills to teach all youth we will encounter by giving us a repertoire of lesson strategies, assessment tools and classroom management skills—most of which, once teachers are in a real classroom with real students, seem woefully inadequate. Think of a forest fire and a bucket. No matter how hard you try to put out all the flames, they just keep popping up. There is always one more student needing one more thing. There is always another stack of papers to be corrected, another parent phone call to make, another lesson idea to work on. It seems all those mundane tasks of teaching suck up more time than the time actually spent "molding young minds" until the teacher's mind is the one covered in a furry green substance.
Band concerts, fire drills, IEP's, intercom interruptions about the next dance or bake sale, schedule changes, observations, knocks at the door, guest speakers, unannounced assemblies, snow days, and on and on. The best-planned lessons are interrupted; the most well designed schedules disintegrate without a trace. It feels like you're on a torrential whitewater river, crashing downstream in a $4 blowup raft from the Dollar Store, bouncing over sharp boulders, with no steering device or safety equipment.
The third qualification: Teacher pay is simply not comparable to the compensation in other careers that require similar education and levels of professionalism. It begins with low starting salaries and it's compounded as you find you're required to pay for your own continuing education, all the while climbing up the salary ladder at a turtle's stately pace. I just heard about General Motors cutting back on a program that previously paid employees up to $10,000 a year for graduate classes. Now they must settle for $6500 a year (the same amount offered to employees working towards their bachelor degree). Holy cow! Imagine $6500 a year for graduate school tuition. I'd dance naked in the streets (trust me, not a pretty sight) for that kind of tuition reimbursement. Teachers everywhere would be overjoyed with such a support system. Keep in mind that continuing education is required for maintaining teacher certification, and the classes are offered either nights, weekends, or in the summer. While this makes it possible for teachers to take the classes, it cuts into time with our families. Few other occupations require as much commitment of outside time to keep your current position.
The fourth qualification: In the course of many years of teaching, most parents I have dealt with have been terrific. They are positive, supportive, and yes, even appreciative of my efforts on behalf of their children. However, somehow all it takes is that one irate, irrational parent to negate the entire positive past interactions. Every teacher has dealt with parents who are of the opinion that from 8 until 3 each day, their share of the responsibility for raising their child is zero. We've also had that parent who defends the actions of their little angel regardless of the evidence. We've had parents threaten us with physical violence, with lawsuits, with rumor and innuendo, seemingly thinking we get out of bed every morning with the sole purpose of picking on their child.
The fifth qualification: Having the support of your principal and your superintendent makes the job bearable-or not. Knowing that when things are rough, you have someone who will support you, stand with you, and acknowledge your efforts, really can make all the difference. When administrators don't listen to the professionals upon whom their own success depends, the teaching life can become pure drudgery.
Maybe the title Wonder Teacher is appropriate after all? When you look objectively at the job, sometimes it does make you wonder why anyone chooses to become a teacher.
For me though, objectivity has never been a strong suit. Waking up each morning, thinking about the day ahead, the smiling faces I know will be there to greet me, the enthusiastic questions, the wonder at learning something new, the perseverance through rough times, the laughter, the note passing, the corny jokes, the smell of markers, the chalk dust in the air, sound of lockers slamming, the cafeteria cuisine, the forgotten textbooks, the missing pencils—all that makes up for the anything the parents, the administrators, or the school board can toss my way. Most days, I just can't believe they actually PAY me to come here, and I wouldn't have it any other way.
Does that make me Wonder Teacher? Not at all. Just your normal, typical everyday American classroom teacher.
By the way, do you have to dry clean these capes?