18 Apr

Saturday Sentiments

This week was one of those… it was full of poor choices on my part, early morning parent conferences, and lots of crazy brain moments.

Friday was our quarterly awards ceremony.  I volunteered to make copies of the awards certificates for a colleague in exchange for use of her cardstock.  So I’m in the copy room Thursday evening, counting out sheets of cardstock to make exactly the right number of each award certificate.  And I miscounted.  And then I accidentally pressed start before I was ready, and the copier took off making 19 additional copies of the good citizenship award.

And that’s when I lost all hope.  Arms crossed on the top of the machine.  Forehead on arms.  Game over.

And right then, the counselor walked by.  And probably figured I was in desperate need of counseling.  So he stopped to see what was wrong, and we got to talking.  Some of my favorite people in education are working towards their PhD’s.  They’re so incredibly knowledgeable about everything, and I’m incredibly jealous.  I noted this as he was discussing various education policies, and he told me why he was so knowledgeable:

Because his law professor told him that if he wanted to work in education, he needed to know what was going on.  So he went home that night and googled “education”, and read the noteworthy stories for the first 4 or 5 pages of results.  And he does that every evening, now.

So I went home and added several education news sources to my feedly.  And I compiled the more noteworthy ones for you as an extension of my Saturday Sentiments over at my lifestyle/food blog.

Now I only started doing this on Thursday, so this week’s a bit light.  But here goes:

The Senate is revising, and therefore reviving, No Child Left Behind.  Be afraid.  Be very afraid.

Up your student choice game with these 7 tips.

Slight Edge: Because who doesn’t want to read education advice that begins with “Will Smith…”

 

18 Apr

Que dile?

Teaching in a school where more children speak a language other than English fluently than not comes with a unique set of challenges.  For one, how do you deal with the whole “he said a curse word in Spanish!” accusation?  Really, a lot like you deal with it in English.

But the major challenge is working with children who are very new to learning English.  Consider this…

“Zack” and “Kelly” are both newcomers (in the country less than a year).  Zack came last May and within the last few months has really taken off with his English.  Kelly is much newer, and while her understanding of English is actually pretty good, she’s still very much in the silent phase.  Kelly has been practicing writing sentences in English using sentence starters that include “I like…” and “I don’t like…”  Her “I like…” list is lengthy, but the other only contains one item: “I don’t like Zack.”

The whole class is in the lunch line, and Zack comes up to me, very upset, and explains that “Kelly do this!” [throws elbow through the air and then smacks his chest] “Really hurts!”  So I walk over to Kelly, demonstrate the motion of elbowing a child, and ask her if she did this to Zack.  She shakes her head no.  I ask again, suggesting that it might have been an “accident” (because kids will readily admit to and apologize to accidents, I’ve found).  Kelly has no history of violent behavior, so I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.  I have to repeat a few times, but eventually she begrudgingly nods yes.

I tell her that she needs to say “sorry” to Zack.  She very hesitantly listens and repeats the word “saw-ree”.  I tell her she can say it in Spanish, afterall Zack understands Spanish.  I model by saying “lo siento”.  She looks up at me, “lo siento”.  Me: “No, look at Zack.”  And I point to him.  She continues to look at me and apologize, plainly refusing to look at Zack.  Three or four times pass, and finally I get her to comply.

Now, I have a rule in my class that after a fight/argument, the two parties have three choices: shake hands, smile at each other, or hug.  This ensures the disagreement is actually resolved, as kids will rarely do this unless they can get over the problem.

Knowing that this process would be lost on Kelly, I tell the two of them they need to fist bump, which is how we greet each other in the morning and say goodbye in the afternoon.  Kelly is refusing, and I’m trying to get her to do this, finally saying “fist bump or move your clip”.  At this, she turns to “Screech” and says, “Que dile?”

Screech, who is fluent in Spanish, turns to me and says, “She says…” and then proceeds to babble about why she doesn’t want to fist bump Zack.  Now, I don’t know very much Spanish, but that’s not what she said.  I know, because I hear “Que dile?” about a thousand times a day.  I’ve gathered that it means something to the effect of “What did she say?”

And the thing is… I really don’t think Screech was doing this maliciously.  I think he’s really just a terrible listener, and he’s so used to not listening to people, that he fills in with whatever he likes instead.

I call in another kid to translate for her, and eventually, she does fist bump Zack.  The two of them still hate each other, but I’m pretty sure by fifth grade, they’ll be crushing on each other.

Working in a school with such a large Spanish-speaking population does come with challenges.  But sometimes, it’s fun to bust out your middle school Spanish vocabulary when you write a note home to a parent: “pelota de papel”.  And one of my ESL kids was so impressed with me!

09 Apr

15 Questions We All Have For Teachers

Alright, BuzzFeed, here goes…

1.  Do you ever show up drunk?

No.  But I’m not a drinker.  I do have one friend who did once, though.

2.  And do you ever show up hungover?

Again, no.  The same friend did this, as well.

3.  How much did movies like Dead Poet’s Society influence your decision to become a teacher?

Minimally.  I’m a third generation teacher, so that had more to do with it.

4.  Did you ever find yourself attracted to a student?

Ew.  No.

5.  Did you ever have any students that you REALLY hated?

Actually, no.  I have, however, had students I find unbearably annoying.  Like, if we were the same age, I would never talk to them.

6.  How often do you catch people cheating and what do you do?

More often than you’d think.  And it depends.  On a big test (district or state assessment), a write-up.  But that doesn’t happen often at all.  On a smaller test, a very serious conversation with student and parent and some appropriate consequence depending on the level of the infraction.  On a class assignment, it varies.  I usually give them a look and a snarky, “How do you know they know better?”  Elementary students are notoriously bad at all aspects of cheating, including sneakiness and selecting an appropriate person to cheat off of.

7.  Is playground duty the worst?

No, but mostly because we have Playworks.  And because my students are really bad at four square.

8.  Do you hate other teachers?

Not all of them.  But definitely some of them.

9.  Are there in-staff room romances?

Ew.  Yes.  They’re the worst.  And one time, the kids figured it out (4th graders) and made really inappropriate but true remarks about it.  Not me, for the record.

10.  Are there teacher “cliques”?

Yes.  But worse than the cliques is the politicking.

11.  What’s the staff room like?

Dismal.

12.  Do you really “believe” in ALL your students?

Yes and no.  I believe that all of them are capable of learning, but I’ve also done this long enough that I know not all of them will learn and grow.  That’s just reality.  But you don’t know which are which if you don’t try to reach all of them.

13.  Do you really plan lessons?

Do I ever?!  I make almost all of my own homework sheets and most of our in-class activities.  And while I hunt for reading passages, I don’t actually create those.  I script questions to ask the students throughout the lesson, because if I don’t, I mostly end up really frustrated and angry.

14.  Have students ever tried to negotiate their grades?

Not students, but definitely parents.  But I teach elementary, so… you know…

15.  And have you ever knowingly taught something to a student that wasn’t true?

Sort of.  I have, on occasion, simplified the facts because the students wouldn’t be able to understand the whole truth.  When I do this, though, I always point out that that’s not the whole story, but that’s the only part of the story that we’re concerned about in our grade.

08 Apr

Pearls before Swine

Preface: I wrote about a thousand different conclusions to this story to prove that I’m not a complete jerk.  I deleted them all.  I think I’m just going to let it stand alone.  Please don’t judge.

I had a student in my class at the beginning of the year who left to go to a charter school within the first month of school.  So when he came back to our school a week before spring break, it made sense that he returned to my class.  While I have no malice towards his teacher in the interim, I have sometimes grown frustrated that he’s not as familiar with my expectations at this point in the school year.  We’ll call this child “Ross”.

That said, I’ve been trying to move my class towards a growth mindset.  In this effort, I’ve been really focusing on their hard work and perseverance.  So Ross, two other children “Joey” and “Chandler”, and I were all working on a math problem together.  I asked students if they noticed a pattern with these fractions: 6/2, 12/4, and 24/8.  Chandler immediately noticed that you can skip count by the denominator 3 times to get the numerator.  This made sense to him since all three fractions represented 3 wholes.  So I asked Joey and Ross if this was true for 6/2.  They both immediately noticed that it was.  Then, I prompted them to try it with 12/4.  Again, they saw this to be true rather quickly.  When I prompted them to try it with 24/8, Chandler knew immediately that the rule worked.  Ross trusted Chandler’s judgment and immediately agreed.  Joey, on the other hand, took a moment to look at his picture of 24/8, counting them up, and then trying to add 8+8+8.

Obviously, this is the practice that I would like in this situation.  Way to go Joey for figuring out a problem for himself!  And rather than chastising Ross, as I already felt like I had been doing all day long (we all have that student, right?), I chose to highlight what Joey was doing very well: “I really like how Joey is carefully checking his work to see if this is true.  That’s a really good strategy!”

And Ross responded, “You should call him the thinking boy!”

“I’d really like to call you the thinking boy… but you’re not thinking right now.”

07 Apr

No Child Ever

Imagine something that hasn’t come naturally to you.  At all.  Something you desperately wanted to learn, but you struggled so much to do so.  For me, it’s not anything school related.  That all came very naturally to me.  Even the stuff that didn’t come naturally (science), still wasn’t ever a tremendous struggle.  I always passed.

But teaching.  That hasn’t come so naturally.  In college, I had professors encourage me to switch majors.  Truth.  Once I actually started teaching, I struggled to get my students to understand.  I felt like I was doing a lot of teaching, but that wasn’t translating to a lot of learning.  And that killed me.  As a teacher at a high needs school, I knew that my failures affected children’s lives.  I worked tirelessly.  And yet still, I struggled.

Things have certainly gotten better in the last three years.  Some things certainly are a whole lot easier now than they were when I first started.  I’m still no expert, but my students are learning.  And that’s something.

But I can feel that struggle like it was yesterday.  It’s heartbreaking to attempt something every day, to give it your all, and to fall short.  We all have something like this, something we wanted desperately to be good at, but just… weren’t.  And we struggled, persevered, and we got it.  Because we wanted to get it.

And that’s how I know.  No child ever.  None.  Zero.  A big fat goose egg, as we say in class.  No child ever has wanted to be confused in class.  No child ever has wanted to feel so overwhelmed by a test that they give up and bubble in a pattern rather than giving it their all.  No child ever wants to be the only person not raising their hand.  Every child wants to be successful.

The degree to which children are willing to persevere might fall short of our expectations.  But let’s be clear: they don’t enjoy failing.  Nobody does.  So when it’s easy to feel like that child doesn’t care… when they sit at their seat and stare into space rather than attempting a math problem… when they stare at me blankly or shrug their shoulders rather than trying to answer the question… I remind myself.

No child ever.

26 Jul
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Parent Communication

At the beginning of every school year, I send home a form to parents.  This is in addition to any form they fill out for the school.  It allows them to tell me their prefered contact method (call, text, or email).  Since implementing this in my classroom, it’s been life changing.  Here’s why:

1) Letting parents know that you’re willing to communicate with them on their terms makes them more willing to communicate.

When you ask parents for their prefered method of communication (and then you use that method whenever possible), you’re saying that their time and preferences matter.  And they do!  Parents are used to schools doing everything on their terms, from parent contact to parent teacher conferences.  Parents are expected to take off from work and be there on our time.  This small step says that they matter, too.

You also have to consider their work environment.  I know at my school, you aren’t allowed to make any personal calls during the school day.  This seems like a reasonable expectation to me and to most teachers, but I find that we often assume that parents don’t have similar reasonable expectations at their workplaces.  A text message is easy for a parent to read quickly and then determine whether they will take a break to address the situation.  Or, if all it requires is a quick text response, they might even send that back immediately without risking their job security.  Obviously, parents who feel you’re putting them in a tough position with their boss are not going to be as open to communicating with you.

2) Communicating with parents on their terms means better, more reliable communication.

First, many parents are far more likely to answer a text message than a phone call during the day.  If you’ve got a behavior problem that needs to be addressed ASAP, communicating with the parent in a way that maximizes the probability of a response is crucial.  Also, when a parent is annoyed with you before they even answer the phone, you’re more likely to have a more positive interaction.  See above.  You’ve already started out the conversation by saying “you matter”.

3) If you have a smart phone (but also, even if you don’t), it’s easier than ever to communicate with parents using your phone, without giving up your privacy.

Google Voice can create a number (for me, this is important, as my cell number is actually long distance where I work), and then you can give this number out to parents instead of your own.  Then, download the google voice app onto your phone.  Now you can place all calls through the app (or from your computer, if you don’t have a smart phone).  When parents answer the phone, they see your google voice number.  When they call you, they dial your google voice number.  Nobody even needs to know your personal cell phone number.  You can text and call this way, easily.

Moreover, if you’re concerned about parents calling and texting outside of school hours, you can also turn on the “do not disturb” setting on the app.  This forwards all calls and texts to your email instead.  Lastly, I like to put a parent’s prefered method of communication under the “company” section of their contact.  That way I can remember whether they prefer a text or a call.  And on the off chance that a parent really does abuse this method of communication, I can block them and/or change the phone number without having to change the phone number that my friends and family all use.

4) It’s so much easier to text a parent during the school day than call them, if the situation allows.

On those days when there’s an early release from school, there are always those kids whose parents (or who think their parents) don’t know about the early release.  How are they getting home?  And I send them to the school phone to call home and find out.  Meanwhile, my parents who are texters, I can send a quick text to instead.  Or, if it’s something I really need to have a phone call about, I can text them to ask them to call me when they’re available (especially when I know they’re at work).  Many parents can step out for a few minutes to make a quick phone call, while receiving a personal call at their desk would be frowned upon.

5) The better you communicate with parents, the better they will communicate with you.

I had a student last year who, about once a month, the mom would text me as she dropped her son off.  She was in a rush to get to work and couldn’t come by the room, but asked me to call her if I had time.  Sometimes I did, sometimes I didn’t.  Honestly, I prefered this to her dropping by the room and assuming she could have my full attention.  When I did call her back immediately, she would tell me that her son was in a bad mood and he just needed some time to cool down.  How much better to be informed of this than to find out when he blew up at another student who was standing too close to him.  Perfect!  I would let him do his morning work in my office right off the classroom, and then when he cooled down, he was ready to have a productive day.

Parents are experts on their kids, and the more information they give us, the more we can be experts on their child, as well.  Even though it can be cumbersome at times, we really do need parents to communicate with us.

12 Jul
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Creating a Culturally Inclusive Classroom

When I told my uncle we were planning to visit Santa Fe, he made fun, arguing that Santa Fe is exactly what Hollywood says Santa Fe should be, not what Santa Fe is.  He had all kinds of arguments about how settlers from Missouri… and that’s about when I tuned him out.  My sister argued back that she likes what Hollywood says Santa Fe should be.  And who wouldn’t?

A lot of times, we treat culture as more of a caricature of itself.  Especially in the classroom.

I work with a population of students very different from myself.  Culturally.  Racially.  Socio-economically.  But there I am.  Sticking out like a sore thumb.  It’s a very real, obvious difference.

My students get upset with me, and because of these differences, they suddenly call me a racist.  I rant about the situation to fellow teachers, and I usually make some silly remark like “Right… because he’s the only black kid in my classroom…”  And while I certainly don’t think I’m a racist, I do know that I am not nearly as culturally sensitive as I should be.

I treat my kids like an “authentic” market in Santa Fe where everything is made in Punjab, India.  (Some have queried if they chose this location in order to still call the products “Indian”.)  I might do the right things on the outside, but I still have a lot of prejudices festering under the surface.  I say things like “my students are so different than I was at that age”, when realistically, I could more easily say “my students are so similar to me at that age”.

Our commonalities far outweigh our differences, and I need to remember this when I’m wondering why on earth a student made the choice he did.  … because in the end, the students love the ways in which we’re similar.  They love that I can say “Of course I shot rubberbands at my brothers growing up, but that fact does not make it ok at school!”  It’s human to make mistakes.  It’s human to deal with consequences.  They should know that I’ve had similar struggles to behave appropriately, and I still do.

None of that is to say that cultural differences don’t exist.  Just that maybe I should focus a little less on all those differences, and a little more on all the similarities.

12 Jul
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Teaching with Art

It’s right after lunch in my 5th grade classroom.  Time for science.  This quarter, we’re learning about physics.  I’ve got the phet loaded onto my interactive whiteboard.  For some reason, my students just aren’t quite understanding the forces at play in this scenario.  Perhaps I’ll draw an illustration on the white board to help them understand.

I start to sketch some stick figures, and I hear students giggling behind me.  I’m not much of an artist.  I never really have been.  But these stick figure sketches are surprisingly informative.  The students catch on quickly, and I’ll deal with a few giggles, if that’s what it takes for my students to understand.

This year, I’m adopting a “comic book” theme in my classroom, which is interesting for a couple reasons: 1) I hate classroom themes, and 2) I think this means I have to become an artist.  The idea is to allow my students to do a lot more comic book style writing, based mostly on pictures.  I have varying levels of reading and writing skills in my classroom (who doesn’t?), and pictures are universal.  I’m required to teach plot and character and setting regardless of how well my students read, and I think comic books and graphic novels allow me to do this.

I’m also required to teach my students how to write narratives, and comic books allow hesitant writers to participate in that.  Sketching out what’s happening in a story first can be a stepping stone to writing out that story.

But what about the kid that hates to draw?  Do you leave him out as much as a conventional classroom assignment would leave out the students performing below their grade level?  Of course not!

I’m trying to provide my students with a lot of flexibility.  I want to give them multiple ways to access the curriculum.  I don’t want to create a one-size-fits-all comic book tunnel anymore than I want to create an entirely lecture-based classroom with kinesthetic learners left out.

But there is some value to sketching out ideas, even if you’re not good at it.  Enter Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Dear Dumb Diary, and the like.  I’m hoping my kids will create their own sorts of hybrids as we work in our reading journals this year.  A little narrative about what we learned, a little drawing to illustrate it.

I also think I should keep one as well.  Each day I ask my students to journal about what they learned, I’m gong to as well.  Obviously, I won’t be learning about root words and affixes, but I’m sure I’ll be learning a lot this year, and what a great reflective practice.  I’ll be sure to share my reflections as well as my students’ once we get started.

 

12 Jul
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Virtual Field Trips

I’m spending a lot of time traveling this summer.  So far, I’ve spent a lot of time all over New Mexico.

I’ve sledded down the dunes of White Sands National Monument.

I’ve been to the National Solar Observatory at Sunspot, NM.

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I’ve climbed into the cave dwellings at Bandelier National Monument.

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I’ve had adventures.  Many of my students have never seen the ocean when we live a short 2 hours drive from it.  How can I share my adventures with my class in a way that doesn’t just say “Look at how rich I am that I get to travel all over the world”?

I think we start by finding new, interesting places together.  A lot of zoos and aquariums have live webcams so students can watch the animals in action.  You can also view amazing pieces of art and historical artifacts online.  Where do we want to go together?  Let’s figure out a way to do it for free online.

As appropriate, let’s pepper those field trips with some of my own experiences.  We’re talking about Native Americans?  Check out these sweet cliff dwellings I went to!  How are these similar to and different from what we typically imagine Native Americans living in?

We’re talking about desert ecosystems?  My grandmother happens to live in one of those, let’s take a look.  What different biomes have you been to?  Let’s bring in pictures of all the different biomes we’ve been to.

Share your experiences.  But mostly, help students realize that their experiences are a necessary part of your classroom community.

12 Jul
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This Space on the Internet

1 decade ago.  I starting thinking I might like to be a teacher.  I started volunteering in a classroom one afternoon a month.

1 year ago.  I decided to leave my job at an education non-profit and get a full time classroom teaching position.

1 month ago.  I finished my first year of teaching.  I ran from the buses screaming “I’m still here!” and high-fived my fellow teachers and my administrator.

1 week ago.  I got excited about education again.

1 day ago.  I decided I needed to share my journey with you.

Welcome to this space on the internet.  I’m not altogether sure what it’ll be yet.  I’m sure it’ll be a place to learn, grow, share, laugh, and cry.  I’m sure it will be a place for me to find my inspiration again.

Let’s do this thing.