August 31, 2015

You Gotta Know When . . . .

"You gotta know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em. Know when to walk away, know when to run."
We all know the infamous tune by Kenny Rogers, but what is the application to your life? For me, it is a constant struggle when trying to figure out how much to get involved in a school culture, that has in many ways, rejected what I have tried to share. I'm not resentful-- although it has taken me more than a year to reach this place and was a key reason for me to begin blogging in the first place. I am, however, curious. I am chewing on the reasons for my perceived rejection, as well as trying to become cognizant of the acceptance that does exist. 
Let me be blunt: When feeling like every interaction ends with frustration, when/do you stop trying to connect with admin?

Brene Brown often says, "Don't hustle for your worthiness." Got it. But there is extreme fear to think that your employers find no value in your work. The spinning out begins. The what-if's rear their ugly heads and in the end, my compelling need to belong and be valued drive me straight into her office. Usually at 7:00 am, after practicing the entire drive to work every possible scenario of conversation. In the end-- I leave feeling less understood and now annoying as well. Dammit.

Okay. I resolve to stay in my room and just let the rest of the school be. After all, as Aunt Paula says: Not my circus, not my monkey.  Well that works until it involves my student, or my class. Ugh. So, I advocate for students. However, the narrative that I have created is that I had better be cautious. I cannot predict when my advocating will be acknowledged,  and when it will be perceived as a challenge and undermining to authority. 

Case in point: Student is suspended on 4th day of school. Reason given: suspected computer hacking. SUSPECTED. SUSPECTED! He said that he could hack computers (14 years old) and then when some wacky glitches occurred (regular glitches), he's suspended. OUT of school. My take was that he was trying to make a connection (he's new to our school). If he was a serious hacker, he probably wouldn't be so braggy about it. And, he was punished before anything was really known. 

So, my question is: Do I do anything? I feel strongly that this is wrong and unfair. BUT-- I am scared to start the year with a perceived challenge on authority. In the end, I think I have to ask myself: Will my message be heard? No. No, it won't. So now what? . . . . .

August 25, 2014

Mr. Keating was fired . . .

It is the night before my 13th year of teaching. I find myself flipping through random channels as I flip through a local newspaper that features two articles about education and teaching. As fate would have it, I find that I am just in time to start at the beginning of Dead Poets Society.

John Keating. . . . 

The untimely passing of Robin Williams a short time ago generated an appreciation for his many talents and movies. For educators especially, his role as John Keating served as the inspiration to join the ranks of education. As a senior in high school, I compiled a video compilation of movie clips that represented who I was and the aspirations I held for my life. Clips from Dead Poets Society were present in large quantities as I began my journey in education.

First Day of School . . . . 

I stifle a laugh as the opening scene unfolds. The film takes us from classroom to classroom as teachers begin their classes. There is the Latin instructor that firmly believes in the repetition strategy of instruction as the boys repeat a series of words over and over. We see the instructor that outlines all his rules and policies and warns the boys not to challenge him on these points. A few more introductions and coma-inducing procedure lectures leave the students waiting for more of the same as they wait for Keating to arrive. They are startled by a cheery whistle and sit in confusion as he leaves the room after gesturing for them to follow. It is here that we experience one of the most iconic moments of the film.

Carpé Diem . . . .

Gathered in a hall, the boys are surrounded by trophies, awards, medals and photographs of the glories achieved by the alumni. Keating encourages the boys to look into the faces of those that came before them as he whispers, "Seize the day! Make your lives extraordinary!"
Disruption . . . .
The rest of the movie features additional moments where Keating is pushing and challenging not only his students, but the status quo of the traditionalist institution. It is hard to not smirk, or to break out in a wide grin when Keating challenges the notion that 17 year-old boys cannot be free thinkers. The sharing of the secret society that "sucks the marrow out of life" has us leaning in with delight for the beauty held within poetry. With the headmaster watching disapprovingly from above, Keating leads the boys through a lesson showing ease at which we fall into conformity by having the boys walk in the courtyard. From ripping pages from text books that describe mathematical formulas determining the success of poetry, standing atop desks to see the world from different point of view, and, the final straw, infusing the boys with the "carpé diem" spirit to such an extent that Todd defied his father's orders and continued his acting. It was this rebellious act that ultimately led Todd to end his life - a life he couldn't fathom living without acting- and Todd's father to allege that it was the teachings of Keating that were to blame.

Reality. . . . 

Back to the local paper I was reading while channel surfing. One story focused on the disservice done by Hollywood by portraying teachers as saintly martyrs instead of active professionals (Mentors Not Martyrs). The article features several iconic teachers, and I realize, they all battled to teach the way that they believed in. Why? Why do we have to battle so much? I want to be a Keating-type of teacher for my students, but does this have to come with the price of potentially being removed from teaching? Is insubordination the worst thing I could do? 

Disruption. Creativity. Innovation. 

They certainly come with a price. I personally, have decided it is one that I will gladly pay. I'm sure there will be some technicality or minor error that will snowball into substantial reason to let me go. So far I have been reprimanded for requesting student emails (for crosschecking our database), saying the word "crap" (Junior High??), and being "too overwhelming" for some people with my enthusiasm/passion for teaching. At any rate- fear can cripple creativity and passion to the point of mediocrity. It is when egos supersede camaraderie,  protocol over personalization and control trumps creativity that kids are truly failed.

Mr. Keating was fired.

August 19, 2014

What is best for kids . . . .

Go ahead. Google the phrase "What is best for kids."  You will get a long list of sites, blogs and information for administrators. One of my favorite people to follow on Twitter is even listed on the first page-  so I don't mean to present this as a completely negative outcome. 

My point is this: What is actually meant when administrators use the phrase "What is best for kids"?

On a day that teachers are attending building opening meetings, it seems to be the top catch phrase. 

I understand that for some situations, it may be said in an effort to make some hard choices, or to get outside of our own egos, comfortable spaces, old habits and fixed Mindsets. 

But does it carry an implied message? When it follows new procedures, policies, or assignment changes, it can feel manipulative, subversive, or at best, condescending. 

This last year I was shifted from my role teaching 7th grade English/Accelerated English to a schedule with three different Reading classes and three regular English classes. This shift also included being moved "off-team" from three fantastic educators that I worked with very well. 

When I asked for reasons for this shift, it came down to the need to fill positions with people that were "highly qualified" and this included moving a 9th grade teacher into 7th grade classes. This teacher was adamant about not wanting to teach 7th grade. She felt she was not a good fit with the - let's say- energy level of that age group. 

The solution was to put her "on-team" where she would have "support."

This move was filed under the phrase: We believe this is what is best for kids. 

I am incredibly grateful to have had the summer for reflection and "silver lining" finding, however, I still chew on this phrase. 

From my perspective, "what is best for kids" would be access to a teacher passionate about teaching the writing skills assigned to the 7th grade English  curriculum. A teacher who thoroughly enjoys the transformation of student during the 7th grade year from children to young adults. A teacher who works well with the teachers of the other subjects and meets on a daily basis. 

Is this the whole picture? No. It's my perspective. Could there be more to it? Certainly. Are kids really going to be traumatized by this decision? Doubtful. 

I welcome and appreciate the opportunity to grow from this new challenge, as is the new 7th grade English teacher. We can't change our situation, but we CAN change out attitudes. 

I continue to hear "What is best for kids" as the final line from administration. 

I would appreciate if ownership was taken that it is THEIR VIEW of "what is best for kids."  I have wondered, "Why don't they realize that is EXACTLY what I'm trying to do?"

Let's talk. Let's drop the lines that can imply a lack of effort, caring, intelligence and, especially, professionalism: what's best for kids, just use common sense, etc. 

July 21, 2014

Always a teacher. . . .

First of all, I would rather teach all year than have 12 weeks off in the summer. Sure- it's great for the first 3 or 4 weeks and then . . . I'm done! This is when I start noticing all the things that should be cleaned. You know - the baseboards, the light bulbs, the ceilings, the window sills, the "Monica" closet (see Friends reference here). Not only do I see projects everywhere, but I see the messes my son walks away from everywhere! Towel on the floor, milk on the counter, socks all over! Poor kid is eight and really does try to pick things up, but he still doesn't "see" what he leaves behind. Teacher mode activated.

Attempted Solution
We have tried job charts and check sheets, but as soon as we forget to keep up on them, they lose all credibility. I have tried apps and reminders, but as soon as I open my phone to update, I check Facebook, Twitter, email and . . . . there was something I was supposed to check. . . Oh well!
I need something physical. Something that is visible to us all but not creating more clutter.

Awareness Jar
A jar of glass rocks. We are starting it half full that way there is room to move both directions. Rocks will be added as a visual to note increased awareness and removed for lack of awareness. I'm not really wanting to attach rewards or consequences, so I am working on how to make it relevant and meaningful.

So how do you build focus in eight year-old boys? Building stamina for difficult projects and perseverance is critical for all aspects of life. Granted, I am typing this as I have a hallway full of clothes, sheets and dishes from cleaning out cupboards yesterday that I have yet to box up and donate.

Starting with 15 minutes, we each will focus on one task. No distractions or breaks. Then 15 minutes of choice time. Twenty minutes task. Twenty minutes free.

How is he using his free time after 15 minutes of weed pulling? He's visiting my grandparents across the street. Yeah. Maybe I cut him some slack.

July 10, 2014

Cultivate . . . .

"Il faut cultiver notre jardin" ~Candide by Voltaire
Cultivate your own garden.
My friend Paige first introduced me to this sentiment in the fall of 2013. We were both working on transitions happening in our personal and professional lives. As Brené Brown refers to it, we were in the middle of our "Breakdown - Spiritual Awakening." Trying to remember who we were at our core, who others believe us to be, and who we are when we are most happy, we began a journey that has led us to deeper experiences and relationships. 
Welcome to my garden. 
My plan for planting includes an abundance of creativity! When is the last time you picked up a crayon, colored pencil, paint brush? There is something remarkably simple and rejuvenating about the act of applying color to a blank canvas. It seems that, as teachers, in order to increase difficulty and formality in education, we cut out the creativity. The color. The fun. Without sacrificing the integrity and objective of an assignment, what can be included in lessons for this opportunity for creativity? I don't mean just coloring the front of a brochure- but real, inspired creativity. 
Thinking about connecting with others in conversations that are thought-provoking, challenging, inspiring, and safe, I realized that I needed a bigger network. I got locked in to thinking that my network was the school/district where I work. My level of frustration was extreme when this network was not able to provide the types of conversations that I craved. But when feelings of frustration started to surpass my feelings of passion and enthusiasm- I knew that I had to find another way. I thought about leaving the profession. I could apply all the common reasons for this decision- burnout, criticism, exhaustion. And then what? What would I do? Luckily summer came and I had ordered a book with a catchy title from Amazon. Teach Like a Pirate: Increase Student Engagement, Boost Your Creativity, and Transform Your Life as an Educator by Dave Burgess.  Wow. I could not stop highlighting! THIS is my kind of teaching! I'm not quite as "pirate-y", but I get it! Renewed enthusiasm. Randomly checked Twitter a week later (still an unused resource for me) and was clicking each trending hashtag. I was still not sure what these were anyway. #tlap. click. An EdChat. On . . . wait for it. . . yep. Teach Like a Pirate! I jumped on. Commented. Before I knew it, I was in a conversation WITH DAVE! THE AUTHOR! Talk about feeling starstruck, relevant, involved, and most of all- CONNECTED! My garden has whatever boundaries that I put on it. So, I broke them down. It still took almost another year to actually see and use Twitter for the resource that it is. Good thing it isn't a race.
Really working on this one. I know that I DO NOT have all the answers. I just like trying new things. I love change. I love experimenting. I love failing. “There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” - Paulo Coelho. I will own all my failures. I will own my successes. I will give credit and appreciation to my inspirations. 
This is what I know something about - not everything, and will continue to cultivate in my garden:
Writing Instruction
Creating Readers
Common Core ELA
Google (docs, calendar, email, sites, forms, sheets, + , picasa, etc.)
iPhone 5
Love and Logic
Brain Research re: Education
Amazon Addiction
more . . . ?
Archives for #tlap 

June 24, 2014

Beginnings. . . .

A glass of wine and surrounded by the best people I know, we lay out our personal aspirations that scare us the most. One, a math specialist, has been hired as an instructional coach for two elementary schools. Terrified of teaching anything remotely ELA, she is jumping in. Another, encouraged by a college professor, is embarking on a journey to write a book about Chinese immigrants in Idaho - specifically the women involved. Jumping in. My mother, dedicated to her work for over 20 years, has been drawn towards doing her work on a larger level as well as her current position This leaves me. . . . . 

They were shocked. My closest friends and my own mother were shocked by what I was scared of most. I am scared to start this blog. My mind runs with insecurities and yet, at the end of the day, I know this much is true: I don't propose to know more than anyone. I only know differently. A bit of tech, a lot of writing, and a need to organize it with other random information. 

So - I'm jumping in. Both feet. Eyes open. No expectations of grandeur or success. Just the hope that I can learn from others and that here, on this blog, I can have a voice.