Saturday, April 27, 2013

All of the Above

I am currently reading the book See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers, by Teachers by Roxanna Elden. As I was reading this morning, I came across this wonderful poem in the book that Roxanna wrote and I think really speaks to the message of  Use Your Outside Voice. It's called "All of the Above."

Thursday, April 25, 2013

This is why I love my students

We have been discussing the poem "Introduction to Poetry" by Billy Collins the past two days in class. Yesterday the students did a close reading and discussed in groups and today we discussed as a class. I always wonder if it makes Billy Collins throw his hands up in exasperation to know that this poem is being broken down and dissected in classrooms across America since the meaning behind it is telling you to do the opposite. And yes, that irony is not lost, even on 6th graders.

One of the best moments from reading the comments and questions they wrote on the poem itself was one student's drawing of his interpretation of the poem:

And people always ask me how it is that I can teach middle school. Because middle schoolers are awesome, that's why.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Outside Voices from the Inside: Sarah Andersen

Today's teacher interview is someone I have had the privilege of getting to know over the past couple years. Sarah Andersen is a high school English teacher in Clio, Michigan. I first met Sarah at the launch party for Carrie Harris's debut novel Bad Taste in Boys two summers ago. Since then I have attended a few conferences with her and I follow her amazing blog, YA Love. Sarah's commitment to making all of her students lovers of reading is something I aspire to and am happy social networking has allowed me to continue to learn from and collaborate with her.

Follow Sarah on Twitter: @yaloveblog

How long have you been teaching?
I'm finishing my 6th year.

What initially drew you to a career in education?  
My parents told me that I should be a teacher for a variety of reasons, but I didn't really think it was for me.  I wanted to be a journalist or a psychologist for a long period of time.  In tenth grade we were reading Julius Caesar and I was one of the few students in class who actually understood what was happening, so I ended up helping quite a few of my classmates.  They ended up understanding the play with my help, and I started thinking that maybe I could be an English teacher.  It was during my senior year when I took both AP English and 12th grade honors English at the same time that I really realized that I wanted to be a teacher.  I loved English and wanted to be like my teacher, Mrs. Spear.

What motivates you as a teacher?
My students motivate me every day. I'm constantly trying to make our lessons engaging and fun, while still making sure I drive the lesson home. I know I'm on the right path when a student uses one of our vocabulary words during a discussion. They let me know when something's effective directly and indirectly, and if I'm not getting one of those cues then I know I need to try harder. Right now I have two Honors Sophomore Seminar classes, so I have been trying my hardest to make sure they're prepared for the AP track and eventually college.

What has been your best classroom memory thus far?
I don't think I have one classroom memory that stands out as the best.  I appreciate little moments like when a student tells me all about a book he/she just read. One of my students this year read Between Shades of Gray for the umpteenth time and then read Out of the Easy. She couldn't stop raving about them, so I told her she should contact Ruta Sepetys via Facebook or something. She did, and when Ruta replied my student was over the moon. She came into school practically in tears she was so excited.  It's moments like those that stay with me for a long time.

What do you want the future of education to look like?
I'd love to see teachers get their autonomy back.  I'd love to see students reading a balance of YA and the classics. I'd really love to see our students offered more choice in general.  And most importantly--I would love to see less standardized teaching and testing.

What makes you stay in the classroom?
I stay in the classroom because of my students. I'm a passionate teacher and it's contagious (in the best kind of way).  I want to mold my students into avid readers and excited learners.  I may get frustrated with everything going on outside of my classroom, but once I'm in my room with my kids, I can let all of that go and focus on what I know they need.

 What do the words “use your outside voice” mean to you?
Those words mean we need to think outside the box in regards to teaching and share what we're doing.  We need to be vocal about all of the opportunities Twitter and conferences like MRA and NCTE offer us. If more teachers were getting involved and reaching out to other teachers, I think many of us would be better for it. I know I am.

Monday, April 22, 2013

I love when I discover my students are better at something than I am

My students and I are currently exploring found poetry.

Last week we created headline poems which involve cutting out words and phrases from a newspaper or magazine and "finding" a poem from it.

Today we created some blackout poems using torn pages from a retired book in our classroom library. Blackout poems are kind of the opposite of headline poems. You take a marker and outline words you want to use and blackout words you don't want to use.

Not only did my students create brilliant poems from both of these exercises, but they proved to be much better at both of these activities than me.

Some of their headline poems:

Some students' blackout poems were very simple yet no less profound and/or entertaining:

And others got creative and artistic with the way they"blacked out" their words:

Either way, they proved to be way better at this assignment than me. I tried my own blackout poem and it wasn't nearly as meaningful or profound as what my students were able to come up with.I love when they prove to be better at something than me.

As my class was leaving at dismissal today, one of my students said to me on her way out, 'Thank you Mrs. Shaum. I'm going to go home tonight and make some poems out of the newspaper."

And I love even more when an assignment inspires them to do or learn something on their own.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

More ripples...

One week and over 5,000 views later, the "Why I stay" video continues to have a ripple effect.

More teachers are writing about why they stay...

Kevin Hodgson at Kevin's Meandering Mind:

"I thought you taught them writing and reading, dad?" my son asked.

"I do, but I teach them much more than that. I teach them about life. Writing gives them voice and reading gives them experience."

Kay McGriff at Mrs. McGriff's Reading Blog:

I want to share with  my students the power of words and stories to change their lives.

Mrs. Bennett at Used Books in Class:

My reason for “why I stay” is purely selfish.…I want to share the stories.

I want to share with children, teens, and adults the stories they have read, seen, or heard.

I want to share the stories in picture books.
I want to share the stories in chapter books.
I want to share the stories in the canon.

So, I teach students to read stories so that we can talk and share the stories that make us human.

On Wednesday, Sherry Gick sent me pictures of the bulletin board that  the teachers in her school are creating after watching the video. When she sent me the picture it was still a work-in-progress, but I am honored and humbled that the video inspired them to continue this conversation within the walls of their school.

Thank you to everyone who has sent me their stories and their reasons. Keep sending them to me. I'll keep posting them if you keep writing them!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Of poetry, empathy, and class discussions

To get my students thinking about how they are going to perform the poems they have chosen to memorize for the last day of National Poetry Month, we watched a few Def Jam poetry performances in class yesterday. One particular poem intrigued them so much that we had quite an extensive discussion about what the poem means and they just seemed genuinely concerned for the poet. They wanted to know more about him and the story behind the poem. Both of my literature classes felt equally drawn to this poem and each class initiated a discussion where everyone took their turn speaking, asked thoughtful questions, and gave equally thoughtful responses.

It was one of those moments you have as a teacher where you consciously stop and remind yourself, "This. This moment right here is why I stay."

The poem we watched and discussed was "Knock Knock" by Daniel Beaty.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

It's time for an educational "uprising"*

As the results of a recent standardized test taken by adults in Rhode Island have proven, along with the refusal of teachers in Seattle to give students the Measure of Academic Progress test, plus now the frequent number of teachers who are writing and publishing their resignation letters on the Internet, it's time for the teacher scapegoating to end and for us to make a real change in education that takes high stakes testing off the table.

Back in March I attended the Muse concert at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. Muse has always been one of my favorite bands, and my favorite song of theirs is "Uprising." As I stood there in the arena singing along, I couldn't help but think how apropos the words ring true for the educational climate of today. I feel like this song should be the rallying cry for teachers against all the media, politicians, and "reformers" who do nothing but bash us and try to make it all about the test scores.

There was one part of the second verse that I initially didn't fit the rallying cry the way the rest of the song did:
"We should never be afraid to die"
But given our nation's current obsession with arming teachers after the tragedy of Sandy Hook, those words actually have kind of a sad irony to them.

"Uprising" by Muse

Paranoia is in bloom,
The PR transmissions will resume,
They'll try to push drugs that keep us all dumbed down,
And hope that we will never see the truth around
(So come on)

Another promise, another scene,
Another packaged lie to keep us trapped in greed,
Green belts wrapped around our minds,
And endless red tape to keep the truth confined
(So come on)

They will not force us,
They will stop degrading us,
They will not control us,
We will be victorious
(So come on)

Interchanging mind control,
Come let the revolution take its toll,
If you could flick a switch and open your third eye,
You'd see that
We should never be afraid to die
(So come on)

Rise up and take the power back,
It's time the fat cats had a heart attack,
You know that their time's coming to an end,
We have to unify and watch our flag ascend

They will not force us,
They will stop degrading us,
They will not control us,
We will be victorious

*This was originally posted over at my other blog, A Foodie Bibliophile in Wanderlust. It seemed befitting to post it here too.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Ripple Effects

3,000 views in three days. Wow! Now that the video is starting to make its way around the Internet, I am starting to see the ripple effects. Reflecting on the impact the video had on them, the following rock star teachers wrote their extended thoughts about why they stay in education. If you know of any others, please pass them along to me.

Cindy Minnich at Charting by the Stars:
It’s the most difficult job I have ever had. I make a million decisions every day about a million different things that happen in my classroom. There is no standardized list of what to do that works like a magic wand for all students. There is no guide for every scenario that comes your way. There is no easy answer for every curveball heartfelt questions you could get asked. You learn as you go, sometimes through trial and error, always through reflection.

It is the most rewarding job I have ever had.

 Christine McCartney at An Educator's Re-Education:
I will no longer be a silent, complacent bystander, or worse, participant, while you have your way with the American education system; I have invested too much and there is too much at stake; neither my students nor I are going to end up in that abyss …not while there is still time to turn things around.

Katherine Sokolowski at Read, Write, Reflect:
I stay because I will not be defeated. 
I will teach how I believe is right. 
I will teach how I know is necessary for growth. 
I will not let my students become numbers on a sheet.

Sarah Andersen at YA Love:
I stay because...
  • “Mrs. Andersen turned me into a reader.”
  • “You explain stuff better and I actually understand it.”
  • “Really, this class is hard and a lot of work, but you make it feel like it’s not.”
  • “Are you going to get *insert book title here* when it comes out?”
  • Students need passionate teachers.

Sarah Gross at The Reading Zone:
A book can change a child’s life. With a classroom library and the wide range of books I am always reading, I can help students find that special book. That’s why I stay.

Not because of the tests. Or the mandates. Or the races to the top.

Kaitlin Popielarz at Kait and Bill Make a Home
Teaching is difficult and challenging but it is also REWARDING, JOYFUL, and MY HOME.

Sherry Gick at Library Fanatic:
There has been a shift in the value of educators and our knowledge of how to best teach our students.

 It's time for us to stand up and speak out not only for each other, but for what is truly best for our students.

Michelle Nero at Literacy Learning Zone:
I stay...

. . . for the smiles, the laughs, the high-fives.  There are multiple celebratory moments sprinkled throughout the day -- those "a-ha-light-bulb" moments of "I get this!" or a second grader coming into my classroom telling me "I'm a reader now!" or a fifth grade student telling me she just finished a book and what she's reading next.  That's why I stay.

Catherine Flynn at Reading to the Core:

Maria Selke at Maria's Melange:
I teach to create the future, one small human at a time.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Outside Voices from the Inside: Kaitlin Popielarz

I am beginning this Outside Voices from the Inside feature with someone I know very well and whom I am quite biased about because she happens to be one of my teaching partners.

Kaitlin Popielarz began her career last year at St. Paul Catholic School in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. I have had the privilege of learning from her and watching her grow these past two years and when I think about the fact that I will be leaving this wonderful school in the next few weeks, Kaitlin is one of those people who cause me to get a lump in my throat at the thought of never getting to work with again.

Her enthusiasm for social studies is infectious and she is always willing to humor me when I thrust a bounty of books upon her that I think might be helpful to integrate into her lessons. She is the epitome of a team player and when you see her eyes light up with excitement, be careful: no shoulder is safe as she will most certainly accost you with delight and ardor, declaring, “Get out!” or “No way!” or my personal favorite, “Are you serious?”

Any student would be lucky to have Mrs. Popielarz as a teacher and any teaching staff would be privileged to have her on their team. I am blessed that for two short years, she was on mine.

Kaitlin tweets at @KaitPopielarz.

What initially drew you to a career in education?
I wanted to be my 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Karsten. That was the kick start to my desire to become a teacher. I grew up having incredible social studies teachers that fueled my love of the subject.  I was also always involved in tutoring, day camps, and working with younger kids.  I absolutely loved the feeling of helping a student, coaching, or teaching people above my love of social studies.

When I was a junior at Michigan State, I had a very influential professor and teacher education class.  My eyes were opened to the ways in which education can change the world.  I know that without that class, I would not be the teacher I am today. It gave me the drive to be a teacher and it helped to realize education is my vocation.   

What motivates you as a teacher?
There are so many motivational factors that give me the courage to teach. To begin, I strongly believe that education, in all of its forms, is the single greatest vehicle for change in our world.  I believe that education can make the world a better place and, as a teacher, I can be a part of this movement.  

My students motivate me to be in the classroom.  I get such a rush teaching them about various social studies topics.  I live for the “a-ha!” moments my students have when they finally understand a difficult topic.  I love hearing questions, thoughts, and prompts from my students that I have never thought of before, which challenge me to be a better person.  

I also believe that education is my vocation.  I know that I am meant to be a teacher and I know that the classroom is my home. I never feel more alive than when I am in a beautiful and productive learning environment with my students. Being a teacher is not just my job, it is who I am as a human being.

What has been your best classroom memory thus far?
During my student teaching year, I taught high school world history.  I had one student who really struggled academically and needed to pass my course to move onto the next grade.  For the final exam, he really prepared and studied but on the day of the test, he panicked. This student ended up completing the test with me after school once he regained his composure. When he finished, I quickly ran the test through the Scantron so I could tell him his score. My student had passed with flying colors and was really able to show how much he had learned throughout the trimester! We screamed, jumped up and down, and ran through the hallways. The librarians gave us the funniest looks. It was pure joy and a perfect way to wrap up my year of student teaching.

What do you want the future of education to look like?
I want the future of education to be about what all students need to succeed.  
In the future, I see schools with equal resources and plenty of supplies.  I see safe and welcoming schools where students feel completely at home. I see students that are recognized for their ability to think outside the box rather than their standardized test score. I see students and teachers working together to foster thriving learning environments. I see students with teachers who are respected and adored for all that they give to their vocation. 

I believe that one day, education will not be a debate or political struggle. One day education will be completely about the students and how we can give them the classrooms they deserve.

What do the words “use your outside voice” mean to you?
This phrase is so inspirational to me! It is encouraging and gives me confidence that I need as a teacher.  It also makes me feel a part of a greater teacher community.  In our own unique way, we are all striving and pushing to have our voices heard in order to benefit our students and vocation.  Using our outside voices will keep us going each day.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

A different kind of resignation letter

Many teachers have been publicly resigning from their jobs as of late, the most recent and well-known being Gerald J. Conti in Geddes, New York.

But Christine McCartney (who also graciously added her voice to the "Why I Stay" video)  wrote a different kind of resignation letter and sent it to Arne Duncan, our spin doctor of an education secretary. She is resigning her silence and complacency. She is resigning that education should be a top-down endeavor and is using her outside voice to shout "It's time for some bottom-up!" I hope we can all join her.

Read Christine's letter here.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Time for a little perspective

Teresa Bunner, who graciously contributed to the "Why I Stay" video, recently returned from a school trip to Costa Rica.

Today she posted this picture on Facebook, along with the following commentary:
This was by far one of my favorite parts of our trip...visiting a local elementary school in Costa Rica. Love that kids are kids anywhere you go. And teachers? We think we have it tough? The teachers at this school fundraise so that the kids get a meal each day. They get little money for supplies. Some of the kids ride horses to school because if they had to walk, it would take 2 hours and they teach multiple grade levels. And, like us, they love their jobs.

Thanks for helping us with a little perspective Teresa!

Friday, April 12, 2013

What started this whole journey...

As I mentioned in my first post, the inspiration for this blog came from a class I'm wrapping up at Eastern Michigan University entitled Writing, Public Policy, and Public Writing which is designed to help find ways to give teachers a voice in a time when policy makers are using teachers as scapegoats for all that is wrong with education.

The theme of my project for this class is teacher retention because I feel like this is education's dirty little secret that no one talks about. For many reasons that I could write in a whole dissertation, teachers are leaving the classroom at an alarming rate - and we're especially seeing it now with the spate of public resignation letters flooding the internet.

With so many teachers leaving though, who is choosing to stay, and why?

I gathered up my Twitter PLN and asked them a very simple (and yet complex) question: With all the negativity surrounding our profession today, what makes you stay? This was the result. I hope it will help to begin a healthy, positive dialogue about how we can celebrate and recognize teachers as the professionals and heroes that they are.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Let's have a conversation, shall we?

Hello everyone!

Welcome to my new blogging project.

My name is Beth Shaum. Some of you might already know me from my other blog, A Foodie Bibliophile in Wanderlust, where I write about food, books, travel and also sometimes my life as an English teacher.

The impetus for this blog came from a graduate class I am wrapping up this winter semester at Eastern Michigan University entitled: Writing, Public Policy, and Public Writing. The goal of the class is to find ways to give teachers a voice in a time when policy makers are using teachers as scapegoats for all that is wrong with education.

I want to focus on all that is RIGHT with education because if we don't start celebrating our most valuable resource, our TEACHERS, then who is going to want to do this job anymore?

In the next few days and weeks, I hope this blog will begin taking shape and we can start having a conversation about how to bring teachers into the discussion of helping to make real change for the better.

To find out more about this project, head over to the About section.