Saturday, August 29, 2015

First Day

      In my world of teaching, I have at least six first days per year. Because of the six segments my school year is divided into, I start new classes every 28-31 days. No doubt, though, I put more effort into the "real" first day of school than I do into the other ones. Having a plan for the first day and assembling needed tools can contribute to a smooth start to the school year. Trust me, I've learned the hard way.
Photo by EpicFireworks
      I admit it. I've done it before. Taken a cavalier attitude towards the initial beginning and just kind of winged it. The result? The only bomb with more explosion power was possibly the a-bomb. Possibly.
      After stammering and stuttering through the first half hour of nonsense, I stopped. Not because I thought it best but because of the raised hand and following question of a student. "Uh, can you stop now and just let us read?" Much to my students' relief, I left them alone and allowed them to begin. I had pity looks that first day, looks I hadn't had since the high school dances!
      Only, the glances of my students hurt worse. I had let them down. In my over-confidence, and dare I say laziness? (I dare), I failed to prepare properly for the first day. While languishing  in humiliated silence, I reviewed the bombshell, noting all the things I failed to do.
      Lesson learned. I've never repeated that scenario nor have I longed for those pity looks from my kids. Instead I prepared. I knew what I wanted to cover, how I wanted to cover it, and made a plan to do so.
      This small practice has reaped huge rewards. I'm more comfortable and confident on the first day (and ensuing first days), knowing I have only to glance at the board or my notes to know what's next. I've tried desperately to be like other teachers I know, who use the cavalier method which works for them. Obviously, I needed more structure. Obviously, I needed to admire not emulate my colleagues. Obviously, I needed confidence in my own style.
      That bomb detonated years ago. Since then I've still failed at some of the things I've tried my first day, but I failed in confidence, knowing I had planned but my ideas didn't line up with my kids' ideas of a first day. No big deal. I may have failed, but I did so comfortably, knowing it was something I had prepared for that just didn't work. That happens. Just less often when you have your stuff together.
      So happy first day of school. Review your material, know what you want to do, and be prepared. If you do this, one thing you won't have to review is the emergency exit map. Keep the bomb shelter for another day.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Getting Geared Up

      Today was a professional development (PD)day for my district. Students begin Monday, the 31st. This was the most productive PD day I've spent with my English colleagues. I feel as though we not only accomplished something but I'm also being challenged to learn new ideas and concepts.
      The best part of the day? Establishing book studies with our colleagues. We wrote down titles of books that we'd like to learn more about and then signed up for the book we wanted to study. We'll meet as a group, read and discuss the book, and then create a presentation for our next PD day in April. This is relevant professional development that allows teacher's to have a choice and a voice in what we do. Finally. This was a successful day.
      Days like this gear me up and excite me to get in the classroom. And I think that's what PD should be about --energizing and exciting teachers to go implement what they learned.
      Props to those who made this day happen. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Stay Calm

     Do you sense it? That snap in the air? The crackle of electricity shooting around your classroom? There's only one reason for this--school's about to start a new year.
     Most teachers never feel quite "ready" for the fall to commence. Too much tweaking (or too little) leads to a lack of satisfaction for me. Every year I field the same queries from friends and acquaintances. "So, are you ready for school?" is the familiar question. Usually I respond with a few mumbled words. This year, however, there's more of an anxiety surrounding this new beginning. Why? Because I'm taking risks, trying new things, and chancing failure. I know, I know, failure isn't bad, yada, yada, yada. Except to overachievers like me.
     I want everything to be perfect even though I know in my head it's an impossible feat. Yet after all the years I've taught, if I've learned anything, it's that I need to roll with the punches. Relax. Chill. Everything's going to work out okay.
     I have a colleague who never gets riled about anything. He tells us all the time to "Stay calm" because he's a trained social studies teacher. I'm not sure that makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside, but I do appreciate his chill attitude toward school. If it doesn't work out, no big deal, he'll try something else.
     This staff member also says, "All you can do is all you can do." And he's right. It's all any of us can do. So start this school year off  following his advice--stay calm. Everything really will be all right...I hope.

Friday, August 21, 2015

One. More. Page

   I've been saying in multiple social media posts that I only want to focus on one or two things this year and do them well. After a lot of thought and an incredible conference with Penny Kittle, my focus this year is reading. That's a pretty broad goal and isn't really a goal at all. So the question is, what do I want to achieve in the realm of reading?
     My ultimate goal is to create readers out of my students. Give them choice and freedom to read books they want to read--their choice. A recent article in Canada Education reports on the power of engaged readers. This story supports its claims with evidence that surprised me.
     But it's no surprise that words can capture a person and hold him/her prisoner within the bound pages. It happens to me almost daily. I'm currently reading Deadline by Chris Crutcher and I'm absorbed in it. I know I need to get some other task completed but it's usually only after an internal struggle that I can put it down.
     How can I make that happen in my students? By giving them the freedom to choose their own book and the trust that they know what they're doing. By treating them like adults and allowing them choice in what they read, students become active learners and participants.
     So that's my goal this year. To get my students so engaged in reading and so immersed in their books that when it's time to stop for the day they beg: One. More. Page.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Spread Some Sunshine

     Everyone has cloudy days. Maybe even months or season in our lives when life's circumstances can overwhelm us. But how we react to those cloudy days reflects a lot on who we are as people. The same is true with our students. What do we do as educators to help them out of their funks? Sure, we're not counselors, but a small act can go a long way.
     The video below shows a boy in the face of the worst kind of adversity who could wallow in cloudy days. Instead, he makes a decision to take a different path in life and spread a little sunshine. After watching this video, I had to ask myself if I was on the same journey as this little guy. A journey I think is worth taking. See what you think.

     This little guy may only be six, but he's already endured incredible loss. People may think he doesn't really understand what happened because he's so young. Having lost a parent when I was seven, I can honestly say I disagree. Yet so filled with loss, Jaden finds solace in others and making them happy. When I was seven, I was too immersed in me.
     So lesson learned. Despite the day that may be filled with disappointments or challenges, ask yourself this: Did I make someone smile today? Because really, we all need a little sunshine in our lives to help remove the clouds.Instead of ignoring the sullen student, give him or her a little gift of your time or extra care or a smile. The outside may remain as somber as ever, but perhaps you brightened up the inside. Who knows? After repeated attention, may you'll be a cloud chaser yourself and allow sunlight to penetrate the gloom.
      When clouds threaten my day or my students, I'm going to remember Jaden and spread a little sunshine. I think it's a lesson we can all learn. Thank you, Jaden. You're going to reach your goal in spades. Just you watch. Our world is a brighter place because of you.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Invest In Yourself

     Professional development is important in any line of work. However, I believe it is vital for teachers. Let me clarify--good professional development that is meaningful, relevant to the teacher, and teacher-driven is vital for teachers. This type of experience can recharge and revitalize teachers. So when I saw that the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) Convention was to be in Minneapolis this year, I decided to invest in me.
Penny Kittle with colleagues from Grand Forks at NDCTE conf.
      When opportunities to hear speakers of the quality of Penny Kittle, Kelly Gallagher and authors such as Chris Crutcher come along, well, all I can say is, sign me up. I was fortunate to hear the first two at my state conference the last two years (NDCTE). They gave me more ideas to use in my classroom than I've had from speakers in quite some time.
      With Gallagher and Kittle presenting, I know I'll come away with more ideas on ways to improve my teaching. And that's just two speakers. That doesn't include the breakout sessions.
      I know, it's not right that teachers have to pay for conferences on their own. It's not right that districts don't invest in teachers and help them attend national conferences. But don't let that be a barrier to your not attending. Granted, it takes some planning and financial investment to make a conference a reality when there is no school budget. However, in all my years of teaching (25), I've never attended a national conference in my subject area before. I've gone to two conferences, one as a presenter and one as an attendee. I figured I was overdue and with the speakers, I knew I couldn't let a chance like this pass me up.
      Yes, it's going to cost me some money. But when hasn't my profession cost something? The investment may hurt a bit, yet I believe my students are worth it. My teaching is worth it. It's time to invest in something that matters. It's time to invest in myself. And I couldn't be more excited to do so. 
       If you're an English teacher, check out the NCTE Convention November 19-22 in Minneapolis. It may take some planning and creative financing, but do it. Take the time and invest in you. You won't be sorry. I'm sure of it. 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Not "Just" Reading

     I am excited and a bit apprehensive about this upcoming school year. I feel this way every year, which, I think, is a good thing. It's good to be anticipating the year, looking forward to implementing new ideas. It's also good to be cautious about what I'm trying out, knowing the new ideas may fail.        
     This year I'm starting a lunch time book club. I utilized to fund this venture and have been gratefully surprised by the support this project has received. After only a short time, the project is nearly funded. This money will purchase the books I need to have the book club.
     As stated in previous blog postings, I've had reinforced this summer the need for kids to not "just" read but to have choice in their reading material. That's something I've worked at over these few months is beginning to build a classroom library. But that's a whole 'nother topic. Kids need to read. Period. I'm hoping this lunch time book club will ignite an interest in reading and sharpen analytical skills. In essence, bring about a joy for reading students may not have experienced before.
     Something I do know, is this isn't "just" a book club. It's a place where I can introduce students to characters and places they've never met or been, sparking an interest in visiting more places and meeting even more characters on their own.
     Reading is fundamental. It's not "just" reading anymore than I'm "just" a teacher. Reading is an invitation to imagine and enter worlds beyond ours, experiencing new things and being exposed to new ideas.
      Reading isn't "just" for school or students. It's for everyone. Summer's almost over but it's not too late to visit new places or meet interesting people. Pick up a book today and immerse yourself in it. You'll be glad you did.