Sunday, September 28, 2014

What do Good Mentors "Do?"

           "Advice is like snow; the softer it falls, the longer it dwells upon, and the deeper it sinks into the mind."~~Samuel Taylor Coleridge   

           What do good mentors do? @teachthought has given 30 reflective prompts for teachers to blog about during the month of September. This is number five, so obviously I'm not going to make the deadline. However, I’m going to muster forth to finish the journey I started. 
            The question raised in the title, a timely one, was recently a topic of discussion among my colleagues. "What do good mentors do?" Listening to the conversation and intense discourse by my co-workers, I came to this conclusion. I don’t think they “do” anything. I think they “are.” They mentor through listening, through example and through modeling good teaching and relationship building. Maybe they “do” guide teachers by asking questions that make new teachers evaluate their actions. People I look at who have mentored me, one in particular, Max,  never had all the answers to my questions but he certainly had more questions that made me reconsider what I was doing and the direction I was headed. He'd listen to my thoughts on education, ask a few simple questions, and those questions would haunt me until I dug internally to find the answers. Or Max would ask questions that forced me to research and wrestle with the information until I came to my own conclusions. He never told me what to think, he just encouraged thinking. 
            Good mentors don’t always agree with teachers under their tutelage, but they aren’t disagreeable.  Max and I didn’t see eye to eye on everything, and that was okay. It was freeing because he didn’t impose his beliefs on me, merely questioned my stance enough to make me own it or disregard it. How much did I believe in what I was doing? Was I certain this was the direction to go or the way to handle a situation? His questions made me a better teacher because it taught me to be more reflective. 
            I hope every person has a Max in their lives, whether a teacher or not. People like him are good for the mind and soul. They cause us to pause, just for an instant, and consider the ramifications of our actions. And that is always a good thing. Be thankful for that person in your life and let them know. Thank you, Max, more than I can say. Thank you.

What's Missing From This Picture?

I’m starting my thirteenth year at my current school and this is the first year with a classroom of my own. In the past I moved from the computer lab in the morning to the FACS room in the afternoon. You guess which classroom I liked best. So, now I have my own classroom for which I’m incredibly grateful.
                In the picture above, you probably can’t tell what’s missing from my classroom, but I can tell you. Macbooks. Yes, that’s right. Laptops. I really want to get a cart of Macbooks for my school. It’s something the other two high schools have in town and something I’ve wanted for years. I’m currently looking for grants to write in order to attempt to achieve this dream, so if you know of any granting organizations wanting to give away $25,000 or so, let me know. J
                What you won’t see but I have are netbooks. My district is on the road to being a full 1:1 district. In fact, my school was the first to pilot netbooks a number of years ago. Although I appreciate the machines and would much rather have them than nothing, netbooks are difficult for young adults to use. At least the netbooks we have. The screens are small, the keyboards crunched together and the programs are limited. However, they are GREAT to have in lieu of nothing else. They allow my students to get access to the web which is something I really appreciate.
                So why do I want Macbooks? I think I could have my students do more imaginative projects using this tool. It would afford them a stronger vehicle to release their creativity, especially in video form. It’s a machine better suited for their size, being easier to manipulate than smaller netbooks.
                I will continue my quest for this illusive dream. It’s good for students and that’s what I hope my classroom is all about—things that benefit kids. Dream today, reality tomorrow. Just wait and see…

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Life Interrupted

     I'm in the process of moving. Ugh. Nothing resonates within me when I think of this daunting task. Despite having shed ourselves of many an earthly possession, it still has been a lot of work. All this to say I'm taking a short hiatus from this blog and will resume with my reflective teaching blogs when time allows....

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Loving the Teaching Life

Teachers are in it for the outcome not the income. ~~Unknown

Today’s challenge forces me to question what I do. Why do I do it? Why am I a teacher? What is it about teaching that fires me from the inside out? What is it that I love about teaching?
            Yesterday’s post was about teacher evaluation. This one will be too, in a way. I believe in teachers being self-reflective, in evaluating themselves and their motives for continuing on as teachers. If we can’t say we love teaching, should we still be operating in that capacity? Anyway, I digress. What is it that I love about teaching? There are a few things, actually.
            First and foremost, I love my students. They inspire me and make me strive to become more effective and engaging. I care about them and the struggles they have and the victories they win and the situations they’re dealing with that may seem overwhelming. I love my students and honestly, I think they know it.
Image courtesy dnacharge
            Another thing I love about teaching is the collegiality I experience in the workplace. I share a common thread with others in this profession and I truly enjoy sharing lessons learned, new teaching strategies, and successes and failures alike with my in-person colleagues and virtual ones via #edchats. I find the #edchats incredibly beneficial to me, connecting me to fellow teachers in my state and others who share a commonality—love of teaching, students, and technology. I love sharing with these virtual friends all things teaching and being challenged by them to raise my standard, to engage students more intentionally, and to strive to use technology in a rigorous manner. If you’ve never experienced an #edchat, open a Twitter account and involve yourself in that community. You won’t regret it (check out #ndedchat, #gfedchat, #westedchat).
            The final thing I’d say I love about teaching is summer vacation. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit this. However, I don’t think there’s anything wrong in admitting it. As much as I love my students, teaching is draining.  Teachers go full steam ahead for nine or ten months, planning for, connecting with, and teaching students. Yet it’s more than that. It’s the emotional toll teaching takes as we watch kids we care about struggle to find housing; to pay the rent; to help support their family; to make costly, destructive choices; the list goes on. Many times we feel helpless, unable to give students what they really need. Instead we offer them a safe zone, a secure place to be, a place where they don’t have to worry about being judged or criticized for what they wear or whom they appear to be. Creating this environment and relationship with students exacts a price on teachers. That’s why I love summer vacations. It’s a time for me to recharge and re-energize myself so when August rolls around, I’m ready to rumble in the classroom.
            So that’s what I love, in condensed format. What about you? What do you love about teaching? Think about it. Live it. Show it. Mean it. Guaranteed the kids will know it. Guaranteed.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Evaluating the Evaluations

           In the last few years, my district has adopted a teacher evaluation format. Its purpose is to standardize teacher evaluations (really, is this possible? They are still subjective) across the district and to improve teacher “awareness” (I think??) of what they teach and why. We have created learning goals or targets for every assignment, written rubrics to monitor student progress, created standardized assessments, and worked toward achieving all the design elements and questions within the evaluation. Although teacher evaluations have become more rigorous, they do expect teachers to achieve a higher standard of performance. 
            One area in the evaluation process that forces teachers to raise their level of thoughtfulness and planning is incorporating learning goals. Having learning targets that follow the Common Core standards has been the hardest thing for me to create. However, being compelled to refine these goals has been a good practice in forcing me to evaluate everything I teach to determine the value of the assignment. I need to work on this area, however. Because of the nature of my school, I don’t lecture or have class attention. In fact, I don’t have one class. I usually have four or more going on at once. With this the case, it’s hard for me to remind students of the learning target for that assignment when they often move to the next lesson without notifying me.
            Another difficulty with the learning targets is that I’m constantly revising my curriculum. Every block (six per school year), I tweak what I do. That means changing the learning targets associated with the lesson. Although taxing for teachers, keeping the learning target in mind when creating the lesson is beneficial. It makes me be focused in what I teach and alerts students to the purpose of the lesson. 
            When I think about all the things I’m evaluated on, and there’s a lot of them, learning targets is one area I need to improve. It’s good for kids. And if I see value in added work helping students, then I’m all in. Good teachers stay student-centered even when asked to do more. Especially when asked to do more. Remember, the better I become as a teacher, the more effective I am reaching kids. To me, that’s what it’s all about.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Tackling Technology

Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Technology in the classroom. Talk to any teacher and they either love or hate it—or both. They love it when it works, but when there are glitches in the program or hardware, teachers disdain technology.  I’m always on the lookout for new things to try in my classroom and this year I want to try Google Classroom. It’s not a perfect setup for my type of teaching situation with six blocks in a school year, but I see many advantages to the potential it offers.
The technology partner for my school mentioned it to me. I had heard of Google Classroom but didn’t know much about it. I still don’t, but I’m learning. What I like so far is that it helps to organize assignments much more efficiently than my method in Google Drive. That alone is worth the effort it will take for me to try this. I plan on setting it up this block and rolling it out next block, starting October 20. I’ll update my progress on this.
Technology opens doors to engagement that would otherwise remain closed. But it’s getting teachers to buy into using technology that can be difficult. Some teachers are intimidated  while others tackle the challenge. Honestly, I get overwhelmed easily when I think of all I could do using technology. But as a wise woman once advised me, “Limit the new so it can become the old.” In other words, learn a few things well before taking on more. Great advice for someone like me. I want to try everything which usually leads to a lot of frustration on my part.
So this year, I want to be judicious in learning and implementing new software or hardware in my classroom. My choice is Google Classroom. My goal? To learn this new application so it becomes old. What about you? What new piece of technology are you going to learn, master and use? Yeah, technology can be frustrating, but it’s the way of the future. Whether we master it or not.