Saturday, November 18, 2017

Live in the Moment

     Don't wish your days away. A wise friend of mine told me that once and it has stuck with me ever since. I used to do this--wish it was Christmas break, spring break, summer break, any kind of break. But after my friend told me that, I reconsidered my wish list. Why was I wishing all this time to pass? If I disliked my job enough to anticipate every break...well, maybe I should look for a different profession. But I liked my job. What I didn't like was the count down mentality I acquired.
     I know I've written about ending count down talk in the past, but as we near the holiday season, I have to remind myself to live in the moment. Every minute I spend in the classroom, for me, is a blessing. I may, in time, be forced from the place I love. I think about it often as kids file into the classroom, share corny jokes with me, wonder about my comments on a paper, or shoot the breeze with my students. I want to live in the moment and give every particle of myself to my students. I want to enjoy their humor, be a part of their lives, and encourage them in their learning. I want to be a positive voice in their lives.
     This time of year it's easy to get caught up in the wave of looking forward. But I like the view from where I'm sitting--in the present, living in the moment.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Complaint-Free Zone

     This has been a great school year. One of my best in years. Did I change jobs? No, I still teach at-risk students. Is my class size smaller? No, I'm running at capacity. So what made the change? A little purple band a friend of mine gave me that read "Complaint-Free World." He said every time I caught myself complaining I had to switch the band to the other wrist. This made me more aware of my words and my attitude, which impact my outlook which influences how I treat students. Ergo, by cleaning up my act, I set the stage for a more positive vibe in my classroom.
     Complaining is almost a way of life with some people. Nothing's ever good enough, they don't make enough, their students are problematic, they aren't happy with their lives--the complaints go on and on. If I had a negative Nellie like that for a teacher, why would I want to be in her class? We're surrounded with negativity in the world. The last thing we need is more of it in our own classrooms.
     So the little purple band reminded me of my words and their power, but it also shook me out of my comfort zone. Every year I'd get a flyer about having a Poet in the Classroom and every year I'd circular file it. Instantly. Negative thoughts spewing into my mind. "What a dumb program," I'd think. Who has time for this on top of everything else I have to do," I'd wonder. Negativity swirled in my thoughts. Except this year. I looked at the program, read through the pamphlet, and talked to the other English teacher. Did we want to take on the Poetry Out Loud project and write a grant to bring a poet into the classroom? We did. For me, I needed to challenge myself to explore a program I had only dismissed in the past. Well, we got the grant and the poet has been here. It was probably one of the best moves I've made in a long while. The poet was a HUGE hit. Had I been in my normal attitude zone, I would have circular filed it again.
     I'm having a good year because I have a good attitude. I LIKE my students. I LIKE my job. I LIKE my coworkers. The problem during turbulent school years may have been as simple as needing to adjust my attitude.  When kids know you like them and enjoy being around them, they respond positively.
      No one likes to hang out with grumpy stumps. For me the little purple band will continue to remind me how important attitude is. It impacts not just me but everyone around me. I don't want to be another negative force in the lives of my students. Get yourself a purple band (acomplaintfreeworld.org) and make some adjustments of your own. It could make all the difference.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Readying for WAR

     WAR is coming and I'm getting ready for it. Not the nuclear bomb-dropping kind of war but the WAR for Literacy conference on March 24, 2018. The planning team just held its first meeting and it got me jazzed for this event.
     One person I'm especially excited to see present is Joe Davis, a poet whom we were able to bring to my school this year to work with our students. Joe was terrific. He engaged the kids, got them thinking, writing, and sharing (no easy feat) and performed his own poetry for them. Joe stamped "Cool" over the word poetry and allowed my students to see that poetry is for everyone. After watching him in action and seeing how the students responded to him, it was a no-brainer that I needed to invite him to present at WAR. If you go to WAR for no other reason, Joe Davis is worth attending the conference to see his presentation.
     Another new presenteer this year at WAR will be Patrick Henry a professor at UND. With a masters in fiction, Patrick teaches creative writing at the university. He'll be teaching a session at the WAR conference on characters and character development. What's amazing about this addition is he reached out to us, asking if he could get involved some way in the conference. Yes, please.
     We have others who will be facilitating sessions and leading discussions. I can't wait. WAR is coming to Grand Forks. I'll be ready for it--will you? It could make all the difference.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Innovating Passionate Students

     I talked to a friend and colleague yesterday about what some students are doing in one of his classes. These kids, a group of them anyway, organized and are hosting a cultural fair for their school. It may not sound like much or that real "learning" is taking place, but it is . We discussed everything these kids were being exposed to and having to utilize from their English "backpack" so to speak.
     The high school where he teaches is the magnet school in our district for ELL students--English Language Learners. So a cultural fair here makes all kinds of sense. Want to teach tolerance and acceptance? Educate others on the different cultures involved and around them. It's a terrific idea and one with great benefits.
     So what kind of "great" benefits? Well, the students did all the organizing and relied on the teacher as a coach or mentor. They learned to approach businesses for donations (speaking and listening skills not to mention the soft skills needed for this interaction), they learned how to budget and purchase needed items for an event like this, and they learned to communicate with media outlets. The students also designed and sold t-shirts to raise money--creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, problem-solving all factor into this. Aren't these the skills teachers are told by the world we need to instill in young people so they can be successful contributors to the work force?
     These are just a few of the skills taught/reinforced/gained by students involved in this project. They are the initiators, they are the learners, they are directing the learning. The result? Passion in kids. My friend told me the kids were so enthused about this project they worked feverishly on it, devoting more time writing, thinking, reading, planning, speaking, and interacting on this than they ever would have in a textbook-focused class. Isn't that what we want to see as teachers? Kids engaged in active learning? Kids so passionate about school they don't want to miss a day? Exposing them to life so they can solve problems? Maybe not everyone, but it's what I hope to achieve with my students.
    So props to you, my friend. The work you're doing with students is something they'll never forget. You're giving them learning opportunities and exposing them to skills they will use for a lifetime. And that can make all the difference!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

What's Your Passion?

     Are you in a job or do you have a career? Are you passionate about your position or do you go to work with a sense of dread every day? A 2013 Gallup study found a mere 13% of the workforce felt engaged by their jobs--meaning they felt hugely connected and engaged in what they were doing and spent their days innovating ways to make their company perform better. Conversely, the same study said that 63% of workers are "not engaged," meaning they're workers who during the day visit their "happy place" mentally. Finally Gallup found that 24% of workers are "actively disengaged" meaning they pretty much despise their job. Add the last two categories together and you find only 13% of workers who are emotionally  engaged in their workplace and find fulfillment there.
    Even though the study is four years old, the numbers disturb me. Can really that many people be so dissatisfied with their occupations? That's a hugely unhappy workforce. All these statistics made me look to my own profession. Teaching. I'd say we're statistical anomalies. Most teachers are engaged and passionate about what they do. Their problem isn't the kids, it's the lack of administrative support and recognition. Yes, there are bad teachers out there who merely "warm a seat," but I think that is the exception rather than the rule.
     I ask myself every August if I'm still passionate about teaching. Whenever the answer is "no," I'll know it's time to hang it up. If I'm miserable in the classroom, my kids will be miserable in the classroom. How fair is that? I want school to be an exciting experience that offers real-life application of academic skills to the real world. Some may question whether I teach English or not, but I'm pretty sure I do. Some classics, some choice, some moderns, some short stories, some poetry, some writing--last I checked those are all components of English.
     So evaluate yourself. If you're one of the 87%, maybe it's time to find a different workplace. For me, I've found my niche.However,  my passion isn't just to teach content, it's to teach kids. That is my passion and if you're a teacher, it should be yours too. It's easy to get caught up in content, but it's more important to get caught up in kids. When you do that, it can make all the difference.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Seeing Beyond

     Ever have a really bad day? Or week? Maybe everything in your life is in turmoil. Illness, strife, transitions--all of these can be contributing factors that distract you or keep you from doing your best. When times are tough, we want people to cut us some slack. So do students. Life happens and oftentimes it isn't happening the way we thought. Instead of complaining about a student's lack of focus, maybe we should show we care and take time to find out why.
     I teach at-risk kids. It seems their lives are in tumult constantly, usually through no fault of their own. Some don't know where they are going to sleep, what mood dad will be in when he gets home, how they're going to get to work because their car died, what bills they should pay...well, you get the idea. There is so much "stuff" going on in their lives that school often takes a second or third slot in their priorities. Maybe we need to look beyond the curriculum, see the student dealing with struggles, and realize that school isn't all there is in their lives.
     Growing up  wasn't easy for me. I can relate to a lot of the difficulties my students face. Maybe that's why I'm quick to give second and third chances. When I see a student struggling, I know there's more to the story. By taking time to converse with my student beforehand and establish a relationship with him or her when they start my class, it will be much easier for them to confide in me later when they are facing difficulties. I don't want to be their counselor, but I do want to be someone they can turn to for support and empathy.Sometimes that's all they need.
     We can have tunnel vision as teachers, focusing solely on the class and not the student. We're under pressure to teach content, meet standards, achieve proficiency and so much more. Some days the last thing we want is to hear the troubles of our students.But by taking a moment out of our day and showing genuine concern, we can make a difference.
      A student I had eight years ago stopped in the other day to visit. I remembered her clearly and was glad to hear how she was doing. What surprised me was a comment she made. "Remember when I was going through things and you talked to me? That was the first time I had a teacher care more about me than school. And what you said stuck with me. I think of it a lot when times get stressful. Thanks for what you did."
     Eight years. Honestly, I didn't remember the incident. But she did. Maybe what we say won't resonate with us, but it may with our students. We need to look beyond school and see the teen standing there, feeling helpless, adrift, troubled, and confused. School can wait, but their problems can't always.
     Seeing beyond school to the life our young people live isn't always fun. It can be complicated and messy. And that's just for us. Imagine what it must be like to live in the situation.Seeing beyond school to the student standing there is imperative--it can make all the difference.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Swimming Upstream

     Ever wonder how a salmon feels swimming against the current, trying with all its might to return to home base? Sometimes I think teaching is like that--when you try new things in your classroom, that is. I mean, really, how much effort does it take to do the same old, same old? Be like a salmon, and swim upstream.
     I'm in salmon mode right now. My students are working on a project that I don't feel like I have a handle on. Every day something new comes up and problem-solving occurs. I know it's okay to feel a lack of control, but everything inside me cries out to step in and take charge.
    How is this new idea working out? I'm not really sure. Is it what I envisioned this summer when the idea was born as I sat at Starbucks with a colleague imagining the possibilities? Not in the least. Yet I think it's working. Just because I feel out of whack, doesn't mean things aren't progressing. It's a lesson I have to learn and sometimes relearn--how to give up control and let the students be in charge. It's so much easier and efficient for me to step in, but would that allow students to learn as effectively?
     I don't want to be the only one swimming upstream in the classroom. I want students to feel a bit uncomfortable, maybe a bit off kilter, because they aren't being told what to do. They decide. They take charge. They figure things out.
     It's easy to see why teachers don't embrace projects and project-based learning in the classroom. We're control freaks. And giving up that control is not easy. But challenge yourself. Be a salmon and swim against the current. It could make all the difference.