Where Do I Go From Here?

I haven’t blogged for a while. I haven’t blogged because I’m confused. I work hard to be a good teacher. I do all the things I’m supposed to: I read professional articles, look to other teachers for ideas, reflect on my practice, plan lessons that encourage kid to think deeply, tie what I do to essential questions and real-life applications, and differentiate my instruction as best I can to meet every kid where they are regardless of how or why they are there. So what am I confused about?

I don’t know when I became the enemy.

Look at Wisconson. Sure it’s easy to criticize those lazy teachers for wanting all that money when we in a recession (teachers being paid so well and all), but here we also bargain for planning time and the amount of extra duty we are required to do  in order the give us enough time to build solid lessons and to give adequate feedback to students on their work. We bargain to limit the amount of preparations teacher need so that no teacher is stuck planning superficial lessons because they have to plan four or five different lessons for each day. Part of our bargaining is so we can be better teacher. Affordable health care and a living wage is only part of it. I’m not gung-ho about unions, but I’m frustrated by the way I’m being portrayed by people who are supposed to respect what I do. I’m tired of education reform being about cutting salaries and firing teachers.

But it isn’t about education; it’s about money.

States need to cut funds and teacher make easy targets becasue the rhetoric politicians use is so easy to buy into. Tell me one teacher you respect that doesn’t want what’s best for students? One teacher that thinks believes teacher’s needs trump student needs? We believe in everything they are saying…but what they are saying isn’t what they are doing.

And I have become the target.

Perhaps I’m taking it too personally, but I’m not used to being the enemy. I’m not sure what I did to get there…or how I’m supposed to stay here and still be good at what I do. I’m starting to think the answer lies in the test prep workbooks in my closet.

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Just Say No?

As teachers we are often expected to go above and beyond. Sometimes it is schools that place these objectives on us requiring more paperwork or lengthier lesson plans. Sometimes parents expect it: asking teachers to call home every time a homework assignment is missed or wanting 24/7 contact to discuss every detail of the child’s schooling.

But sometimes it’s us. We expect a lot of ourselves in this profession. Raise your hand if you’ve ever worked passed the close of the work day? How about more than two hours after work? Taken work home? Bought school supplies? Paid for a field trip? Shoot…right now, you’re probably reading this on your own time hoping that there’s something here that might help you tomorrow. And if you’re reading my small blog, you’re probably reading a lot of other blogs, too. Are you on the EC Ning? Twitter? Are you a fan of educational sites on Facebook? Is most of your personal reading really designed for young adults?

It’s a lot of work. So the question is…when is it OK to say no?

I used to wholeheartedly belive in the teacher-as-martyr philosophy, but with kids of my own, I just don’t want to spend tons of time on school work. I blog mainly because it is a good way to get my thoughts in order (and receive occasional advice through comments in return). But I’m coming to believe that it’s OK to not be a part of everything. To not spend hours on in-depth assessment for every paper. To not be connected to other teacher every single day. To not have every lesson be innovative and chock full of meaning (meaning lots of planning time). That if I were meant to work a ten-hour day, I would be paid for a ten-hour day. So I’m asking again…

When is it OK to say no?

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Sticky Notes Bonanza

I love using video to share ideas with students. I also love sticky notes. This week I combined both to teach a lesson on the importance of planning before writing.

First I showed this video:

Then we talked about the message, about what happened in the clip. Was the presentation effective? How long do you think it took to make? Do you think they knew what picture came next or did they make it up as they went along?

Then I show the making of video:

Imagine…6000+ stickies each with a little round of tape on them. The second video shows a lot of what the artists did to plan. Since all the kids (really, all of them) like the first video, I can make the point that good things take time to create. When they write, they need to take the time to work out a plan, to decide what it is they want to say before they start saying it. I think these videos helped get that message across. Beats just nagging them to write a web.

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Power Point as a Classroom Management Tool

Power Point gets a bad rap, I think.

True, there are other tools out there that can make cooler, more visually interesting and stimulating presentations. In fact, I’m using (Prezi for an upocoming one on using video). And true,  it is overused and overdone far to regularly. (Watch this if you don’t know what I mean.)

But it is an amazing tool for classroom management.

Put vocab up so you can flip through the words quickly. Put instructions up so you can go to the next step quickly. Have reading samples to go with guided questions up in a snap.

In middle school (and in other grades, I hear), students are distracted easily. With directions posted on the projector-directions without a cool picture taking up the whole screen or a dancing clip art man-directions that are stated simply and plainly and with key words bolded are invaluable. When the distracted kid loses his place, there is a cue right in front of him to remind him what to do.

Plus, it’s easy to edit on the fly. Step 2 not written clearly enough for period 2, hit escape and retype it. You realize kids may need a visual to understand the text, put one in and it’s ready for not just that period, but every period after it.

I know there’s nothing new here, but I think we get stuck thinking of tools only in their intended use and not how they can be adapted to the need. I rarely use PowerPoint for presentations, but I use if often to guide people through a demonstration. Sometimes it’s just the right tool for the job.

PS. If you don’t have office, check out Open Office. Not as cool, but free and effective!

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From the Other Side

My oldest daughter started kindergarten this week. I’m finding the whole experience a bit surreal. First, there’s the fact that my daughter, who was just born yesterday, is starting kindergarten. She’s at real school. And the school seems wwwaaaaayyyy too big for my baby.

Then there was registration, especially amusing when I had to go to the station that I was working at my home school. The woman very patiently told me how to sign-up for Edline…just like I had been telling parents the day before. I left with a huge stack of papers, many that I had giving to parents at last years registration when that was my spot.

I walked into the office, but wasn’t allowed around the desk. I went into her classroom and was (nicely) escorted out so class could begin. I went home and logged onto Edline to get information…using my parent account. I couldn’t just call down to the office to check on her.

I had to do everything that the parents of all my students do, and it is nothing like I thought it would be.

This will be interesting seeing education from the other side.

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Vocab, Thinking Maps, and Dabbleboard (Oh, My)

I was looking for a new way to approach vocabulary. I teach Greek and Latin roots, but was having trouble finding a way to show how the morphemes are able to manipulate words. (Up to now, there were more lists to be memorized.) Our reading specialist recommended the Circle Map since she knew I was going to be trying Thinking Maps this year. (Not selling them; my school bought the handbook.)

The morpheme we are studying goes in the middle. Words created using the morpheme go in the circle and manipulated or connecting words go in the frame. See:

We do one morpheme a week with one map for each morpheme. At the end of the day, I combine all the maps into one, take a screenshot using Jing, and post the link online for student review.

I think it might work. Will let you know.

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First Day

Is it possible to have an exciting first day? Sometimes I think that I should just tell them everything and get it out of the way. Other times I think that I should wait until later in the week when they aren’t overwhelmed with teacher rules and supply lists. Don’t want to do a pretest since I don’t interact with them, but don’t want to launch into something new without knowing where they are.

So I showed this:

And a did a Power Point with pictures of my daughter obeying class rules.

And I talked about the sequel to Hunger Games.

And I told them where the fire exit was. Just in case the school burst into flames the first day. Could happen.

But mostly I told them the class would be work and I valued the work, the thinking, the learning over the product they turned in. I told them that what we do will be hard, but my job is to help them learn the hard stuff. I told them all they had to be was a little bit better than they were before. I told them it would be work.

I think they’re a bit scared of me now.

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