Friday, August 30, 2013

Be Brave

On August 1st, kindergarten teacher Matt Gomez wrote a blog post about the one and only rule in his classroom: BE BRAVE!

For all the teachers starting their first day of school this coming week (and those who've already started too), let this song be your mantra this year. Stand up for what you know is right for your classroom. Don't let the evils of education "reform" prevent you from being the teacher you're meant to be. Be brave and use your outside voice.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Good hair day

Last week I did something wild and crazy (for me). Since I'm not teaching this year, I decided it was time for me to bring out my inner teenage rebel.

I went and did this to my hair:
I call it, "business in the front, party in the back."

I'm finding new ways to use my outside voice it seems.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

September's Just Around the Corner...

Everywhere around me I see signs that the new school year is almost beginning (for some of you reading this, it's already begun). Back to school shopping is in full swing, teachers are talking about having to report to work for PD workshops, and there's an energy in the air that seems to shout, "SUMMER IS OVER! TIME TO SET YOUR ALARM CLOCKS!"

One of the things I will miss about not teaching this year is spending those two weeks before the school year begins getting my classroom ready. The anticipation and excitement of what the school year will hold builds as I organize my classroom and feel the satisfaction of watching that room go from disorder and chaos to my second home filled with books on the shelves and posters on the walls.

This year I won't have that sense of anticipation and satisfaction, so I decided to offer my services to a friend who is setting up a new classroom this year as she was just hired at a new school district.

I interviewed Sarah Andersen here on the blog back in April and she also contributed to my Why I Stay video. She was just offered a position teaching high school English at a new school district and so yesterday I drove to her new school and helped her start the process of making her classroom go from cold, gray walls, to a warm, inviting room filled with books.

I had a great time going through Sarah's books and helping to organize her shelves, and while we weren't able to get everything done yesterday, I hope that was able to help her put a sizable dent in her overwhelming mountain of boxes that took up an entire wall of her classroom.

Organizing a classroom before the school year begins is something all teachers, whether they'd like to admit it or not, look forward to. It is something that, despite knowing our last few days of freedom are coming to a close, helps give us time to wrap our minds around the important job we have ahead of us. Sitting in that empty classroom and watching it transform from the chaos of desks strewn about, books piled in odd places, and posters yet to be hung, to a welcoming place that we can be proud of is a microcosm of what we hope the rest of the school year will be.

When I returned home from my day helping Sarah, I was browsing my Facebook feed and noticed a few of my teacher friends had shared a blog post by another one of my interviewees, Gary Anderson. Gary is beginning his 34th and final year of teaching and his positive, upbeat outlook about not only the year ahead but his career as a whole was thoroughly refreshing and gave me hope. We need to see more teachers like Gary sharing their stories. Given the fact that we find ourselves hearing of public retirement stories from teachers who are leaving the profession out of disillusionment and resentment over the lack of trust left in our profession, stories like Gary's seem few and far between.

I'm on a mission this year to find more Garys out there. To find more teachers who are doing great things despite the fact that the media, politicians, and public opinion tell us otherwise. So if I know you and you're a teacher, don't be surprised if you hear from me soon. I want to come visit your classrooms and see what great things you're doing that, as a teacher, you're probably too humble to tell the world. Let me be your champion because I want teaching to go back to being the revered profession it once was, not fodder for news reporters and politicians.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Guest Post: What I Learned In Summer School

My friend and former colleague, Kaitlin Popielarz, just started taking classes to earn her Master's Degree. Ever the eager educator, Kaitlin offered to guest post here because she wanted to talk about all she has learned in the short two classes she took this summer. If only we could all embrace learning with such enthusiasm! 
What I Learned in Summer School 

This summer I began my Masters in the Art of Teaching and Curriculum through Michigan State University.  The program is completely online which makes it more manageable for me.  I took two courses this summer, Professional Development & Inquiry and Learning Communities & Equity, in a quick six weeks!  Before classes began, I was a bit nervous and hesitant because I honestly was not in the mood to start classes again.  But I soon realized that after this past school year and amidst my job search, my classes could be some much needed motivation for me.  They ended up being incredibly inspirational and really filled my teaching spirit for the school year ahead.  Here is a gist of what I learned this summer and what I hope to share with my students, colleagues, and peers.

  • Our schools should be an extension of our ideal home.  This idea is an extension of what I read in John Dewey's School and Society.  In essence, our schools should not be a place set aside for learning and where I students leave their lives behind them.  Our schools should resemble what we love most about our homes – inviting, warm, encouraging, inventive, failing, trying, loving, fighting, and always learning. 
  • It is okay to be a “positive deviant”.  Some of the best teachers are those that stray away from the “norm”.  Teachers that think outside of the box, try new lesson plans, and engage their students in unconventional ways can be seen as “deviants”.  We must remember though that deviants are not supposed to be a bad thing if we see them in a positive light and if we are open to new ideas!
  • Don't be scared to imagine or think outside the box.  For example, this school year, I would really like to invest in a high top table with high chairs.  I cannot sit all day in a desk so why should my students?  Trying out some different ways to sit, or stand, during class is something small that could make a huge difference in the classroom.
  • Involve the community.  Our schools should involve the community our students live within. Invite parents, community members, and local businesses into the school community!  Good things can happen when schools are involved with their community.
  • The teacher does not always need to be in control.  I am a control freak with a type A personality.  Sometimes it's hard for me to give my students total control in the classroom.  It's mentally and emotionally challenging for me depending on what my students are doing.  This school year, it's my goal to loosen up on my reigns and let my students be in charge more often. 
  • I really like writing papers on teaching and reflecting on where I am in my career!  I highly recommend taking a moment to write, journal, discuss, or contemplate about your life as a teacher.  It is my goal to do this more often.
  • Be open to others’ ideas and let it inspire you.  As teachers, we have the immense gift of being lifelong learners.  We must embrace this head on and savor what it can give our lives.
  • Cross-curricular action is exciting!  We should be working more with our colleagues that teach across the hallway.  Science and Social Studies, Math and Language Arts, Art and Spanish. Let's come together!
  • Colleagues are everything.  With my colleagues, I am by far and away a better teacher.  Period.
  • Differentiated instruction is crucial.  We teach all different learners and we must embrace all of their varying strengths.  But we must do this without tracking our beautiful students.
  • Be observed and evaluated.  Have your work critiqued so you can grow and learn as a teacher!
  • Admit to failure, learn from it, and move on.  Plain and simple.
  • We must be culturally responsive.  As teachers, we must embrace and teach other cultures.  Even more, we must be role models to our students on what it means to be a global citizen.
  • Technology and social media are your friend!  Seriously, are you still teaching without being on Twitter, using Pinterest, or obsessing over Evernote?  Get in the game!
  • You get out of it what you put into it.  Immerse your soul into your passion and what you love to do.  It will be challenging and painful at times but you will always be grateful you gave it everything you had.

“I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.” - John Steinbeck

Friday, August 2, 2013

Conflicting Emotions

So. It's August. I haven't posted since June. To be honest, I wasn't intentionally neglecting the blog, I just found it difficult to come here knowing that it's summer and that, come September, I probably wouldn't be teaching.

That probably has pretty much become a certainty. Just before the school year ended in June, thanks to the class I took that started this whole blog in the first place, I was offered a job as the social
My new job: I even have business cards!
media coordinator for NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English). This is only a part time position (and it's work from home!) so I theoretically could teach and do this job too, but I've decided that this year is an opportunity for me to take some time and do some thinking about my future in the classroom. Maybe I'll substitute teach, maybe I'll find a part time job at a book store, or maybe I'll just use that extra time to write.

But lately I'm finding myself with some interesting conflicting emotions.

The other day I went into my garage, where my classroom library currently resides. I was searching for some books to send to a friend who teaches high school and is looking to bring more
My classroom library sadly waits to be extricated from my garage
middle grade literature into her classroom.  As I was looking through all of my books, this feeling of longing swept over me. I looked at all of those boxes, piled one on top of the other in my sweltering, dusty garage, and I suddenly wished I had a classroom to put them in. I was sad that I would not be sharing the joy of reading with my own group of students come September.

But that feeling of longing is also paired with another emotion.  As I'm thinking about how much I wish I had my own classroom again, I'm also thinking about this summer. About all I have done and seen. About how relaxed and happy I have been that I no longer feel the pressure to always be doing something for work. I can go out and run errands and not constantly feel that tension in my entire body that tells me, "You don't have time to do this. You should be doing (insert teaching related task here) instead."
Appreciating this time to just enjoy life

But then we had some of my husband's friends from Germany come visit us here in Michigan this summer, and despite the fact that there was somewhat of a language barrier between us (my husband speaks fluent German but I do not), one of them said to me very seriously and poignantly, "I think you miss your students. You need to go back to teaching."

I agree with her. I don't think this is the last you'll ever see of me in the classroom. But I also think that I am going to relish in the time I have this year to just BE. Instead of always worrying about test scores, curriculum mapping, report cards, responding to parent emails, grading essays in a timely manner, I will take some time to just enjoy life.

I wonder though: when will teaching be a profession where enjoying life isn't met with feelings of guilt every time you want to have one.