Thursday, April 27, 2017

Wait--What? School's Almost Done?

     Someone announced in the teacher's lounge the other day we had four more Monday's left of school. My reaction? What? No way was school that close to being over. Aargh! I didn't want to face the truth as I knew then it would be time to assess me--what goals had I accomplished, what had been successful and what an utter failure? What would I scrap and what would I use next year? All valid questions that needed solid answers.
     So for the past few days I've been thinking, wondering, postulating, exploring, and evaluating what I've done this year. I've reviewed the course and teacher evaluations my students complete at the end of a class. What suggestions did they give that I can incorporate into my teaching?
     I know of a few things that will change and some things that will stay the same. My corny joke of the day garnered the most accolades from students followed by Funny Fridays where we watch a clip of some comedian (usually Jim Gaffigan, my favorite). Why do I waste precious class time with such inane things? Because I don't think they're inane. My kids need to learn to laugh and they need to see an adult laughing. Laughter is good for the soul and often these comedic moments lead to great class discussions later. Funny Fridays won't be abandoned by me any time soon.
     Being a reflective teacher leads to being an effective teacher. Unless I can honestly look at my teaching and evaluate what I do in the classroom, I can't change. Unless I change, I'll be mired in the same morass of repetitive teaching; teaching that didn't knock anyone's socks off the first time around.
     I don't want to be a static teacher. I want to be dynamic, ever-changing and reflecting on how I can improve both myself and my classroom. Did you know we only have four Monday's left in our school year? How are you going to spend your time? Me? I'm going to keep looking backward so I can move forward. It can make all the difference. 

Friday, April 21, 2017

Being Positive in Negative Times

         Turn on the news and education negativity floods the airwaves. Teachers fail here, fail there, aren't doing enough, are doing too much--it seems as though educators can never win. Instead of focusing on outside opinions, I try to pay attention to what I can control--my classroom, my attitude, and my teaching. These are variables in my domain and they can set the stage for the mood in my classroom and for how my students learn.
     Negative teachers, and there are plenty, spend energy on complaining, energy they could be using for improving. We will never have ideal students. We will never have ideal administrators. We will always be lacking somehow in the eyes of the public. Accept that and move on.
     It takes effort to be either positive or negative. I figure if I have to exert the energy any way, why not have it take a constructive twist? Only benefits come from being optimistic. Can all students learn? Yes, they can. When you believe it, so will they. Can all students achieve success in the classroom? Yes, they can. When you recognize their success, students will aim even higher. I'm not sure I know of any student who wants to and intentionally does poorly in school. Remember, they want to experience success.
     My attitude definitely impacts my students. I set the tone in my class every day. I determine the mood. Negative situations arise in everyone's life, but how we deal with those encounters says a lot about who we are and the priorities in life. I don't want a "can't-do" attitude to be prevalent in any of my students, so I need to be careful not to foster that in my classroom through what I say or do.
    Don't let the news of the day, the drama of the hour, or the students who may be having a tough day dictate your attitude. Rise above it, be encouraging, and avoid letting negativity spread into your teaching. We face enough less than positive people and events and so do kids. Let's focus on seeing the good in kids and our day, rather than the bad. It amazes me how little adjustments in my outlook can turn around what may have begun as a sub-par day and help it end on a positive note. 
     Negative times are inescapable. However, how we deal with these episodic events can turn a sour day into a bright one. What is your outlook in the classroom? How do you set the stage for success not failure by your attitude? What we say and how we act in creating a positive learning environment--it can make all the difference.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Risky Business

     I'm grateful I teach at the school I do. It suits me, my style and my attention span--which some compare to a gnat's. Seriously, though, I change up what I teach almost every block. I think if I'm not too excited about what I'm teaching, how much worse is it for the kids? I'm actually supposed to LIKE this stuff!
     Recently I talked to our state superintendent of public instruction. During the conversation, as she queried me about my teaching practices in an alternative school, I made my confessions. No, I don't teach Huck Finn. No, I don't teach what is considered "normal" English stuff. I try to teach what I think my kids need to learn. This year? Soft skills and resilience. Both of these ideas are more prevalent in literature than people think. And that's what I'm ultimately trying to teach my kids--how to think. How to analyze and deconstruct an argument (or construct one), how to logically express themselves, how to problem solve...basically how to be a critical thinker.
     The state official laughed off my confession and said we need to think about what we're teaching (the standards) rather than how we teach it (the material). Our conversation and the follow up email she sent me confirmed to me that what I'm doing may be out of the mainstream and many English teachers probably wouldn't like it, but I'm okay with what I'm doing. I see the benefit everyday in my class when I get into a positive discussion about soft skills and teenage jobs.
      Even the students like what we're doing. They see a real-world application to the learning. And that? That can make all the difference.