Aug 16

Well I’ve “moved up” to high school this year as a data leader, which means I help staff members use classroom and assessment data to drive instruction (that’s the hope anyway.) I have always worked in middle school so I’ve never been able to see “the end product” with my students. Until this year that is. I am at the high school right next door to the middle school where I had my first teaching job and this year’s seniors are my last group of sixth graders from “across the lot.” It has been very exciting for me to see so many of my former students these last few days and sad to see many of them not here because they have already decided school isn’t “the way to go.” When I taught “across the lot” I had all of the ESOL students as soon as they left the Newcomers’ program. I have been impressed and awed by the development of so many of my former students’ language skills – they ROCK! I’ve been really surprised and flattered by the number of students that not only remember my name but also have memories from my class that they’ve been wanting to tell me. These are SENIORS people and that was six years ago, which in “teen-aged years” is practically a lifetime!

Some of my favorites have been memories of the hissing cockroaches I had in my classroom, the time that a student tried to pull the tail off of my leopard gecko, how much they loved “Science in a Box” days, using technology in class “almost every day” and various memories of my former partner teacher and I goofing off in the hallways. One story in particular stuck with me. A little girl that spoke very basic English in 6th grade (Vietnamese is her native language) walked up to me in the hallway and said “I remember you. You were my very first science teacher in the United States and your class was so interesting. You had those hissing bugs and gross lizards, but I loved your class anyway because we got to do the work with our hands, which helped because I didn’t speak English very well yet. And my friends from that class were just talking the other day about how you said that when you got your diploma book at graduation there was a problem and no one got their diplomas that year. You had to go back to the school later to get them. Some of my friends are wondering if the same thing is going to happen to us. We think that would be funny if it did!” It was such a small story that I told to my students yet six years later there is a small group of students that remembers it. It’s astounds me everyday the connections we make with our students and the impact on their lives we have. I don’t know why they remembered that particular story, but it made me feel so very important that they would pay attention to such a little thing like that and reminds me again of the important role we as educators play in our students’ lives.
So with this in mind, remember that your students really are listening when you speak and that you play a HUGE role in their lives – both educationally and otherwise.
Photo courtesy of iStock
Feb 08

Caution: It’s about to get real candid up in here!
I serve many roles at my school in addition to technology teacher. I am also a mentor, after school tutor and lunch recess supervisor. I get to know my students on a completely different level in these roles than I do as a classroom teacher and make connections I would not otherwise probably be able to make. At recess I am able to be a little more goofy than normal with the kids, in my tutoring group I serve as a reading teacher and with my mentoring group I get to help kids learn who they are as people. At the exact same time though, I “get” to learn more about my students’ lives than many people do.
Now, let’s preface all of this by saying I was certainly no angel growing up and saw some things in my home that I have made sure as an adult that my own personal children will NEVER see. The fact that I had my oldest daughter my senior year in high school is a testament to that. Nevertheless, I have used all of that life experience in my career as an educator in order to connect with my students. But, my heart is broken nearly on a daily basis by the lives that I see my students living outside of the walls of our school.
On the playground I hear some of the most foul language possible to hear, as well as some extremely sexually explicit comments. Yes, some of this comes from media in our culture, but the graphic nature of the conversation indicates that not only are they being allowed to take in media that is completely inappropriate, but also that they are hearing that type of talk in casual conversations at home. Never mind the types of clothing that my students are wearing to school…it’s quite disturbing at times.
I tutor 6-8 grades students and have three students that are at or below my 1st grade daughter’s reading level. The heart-wrenching part is that they are completely oblivious to the fact that they should be able to read much more difficult texts. It pains me to think that “my kids” weren’t read to as small children. No one sat with them at bed time and read Green Eggs and Ham or the The Napping House. In conversation with them, I learn that for most of them they didn’t even HAVE books in their homes when they were little – nor did they have crayons, markers, scissors and paper to use for crafts.
In making phone calls home to my mentoring students I call just as many grandmas and “aunties” as I do moms and dads. I see kids with pants that are far too small, shoes that have been worn way past their end of life and children taking home bags of food from the Communities in Schools programs because there just any food at home. I have homeless students, students who travel from one parent “home” to the other having to be the adult in both homes and so many students who don’t even know both of their parents that it makes me want to cry.
I’m just so incredibly baffled by how this can possibly be. I messed up my life big time as a teenager when I got pregnant but I have spent every day since trying to make a good life for my daughter and be a positive and strong role model for her. I understand that life happens, circumstances aren’t always what they want them to be, but how can anyone just GIVE UP on their kids? How can I have students with all of their brothers and sisters being gang members? How do I have a student hand me a picture of a family member and the student says “This is my nephew and his daddy – he looks really high huh?” In what kind of home does a child have to live that they find it perfectly normal to come to school and call their peers and teachers every cuss word imaginable?
There are days that all I can do is sit with a student and let her cry in my room, or let a boy sleep instead of complete the classwork because he didn’t have a bed to sleep in the night before. Some days I just sit in my classroom after they’ve all gone and cry myself because I know I can just never do enough in the small amount of time I have with them. All I can do is take solace in the fact that I know I can provide a safe, caring and stimulating environment for them to grow and learn.

Dec 19

I’ve had a crazy semester (thus the non-posting by Ms. M) but as it comes to a close I inevitably reflect on my experiences, both with others and on my own. This is just a random collection of thoughts I’ve had in the last week or two.

  • I still truly believe that teaching is the most important career (aside from being a parent) that anyone could choose to pursue. I love kids and am amazed on a daily basis by their perspectives on life – positive or otherwise. I tell my students that I change the world every day, as everything that happens in my classroom impacts them in some way and they will take that with them when they leave me. Thus, it is my goal to change the world in a positive way as much as I possibly can. Every day has to be a fresh start for every child that walks into my room, no matter what has happened in the past.
  • I have to realize that I have no control over what happens in classrooms that aren’t mine and that the best way to help students overcome adversity is to be a positive role model and support them even when they don’t think they want or need it. Dwelling on negativity not only doesn’t help anyone, it becomes a disease that will infect my classroom if I allow it. Not only do I need to give my students a fresh start every day, I need to allow myself that same privilege. Every morning I need to start over, forgetting whatever slip-ups I may have had. No one is perfect, so I should not expect perfection from myself. To be human is a beautiful thing – imperfections and all.
  • It’s time I start being an advocate again for technology integration and Project-based Learning. With changing schools and jobs this year I have let that slide, and it is unacceptable. I will start blogging again, I will start posting student projects to my class website and I will start offering to host PLCs in these areas. They are things which I truly believe will impact positive change in education (and face it, our education system is seriously damaged right now) and if I want it to change I’ve got to do my part to change it. Someone’s got to be an impetus for change, why can’t it be me?

I am incredibly grateful for my small collection of friends that have helped me through this incredibly challenging semester and am going to try from this point forward to be the positive influence in the lives of both students and teachers that I know is needed. I can not control what others do, but I can control what I do and hope that it impacts others in a beneficial way.

Mar 26

Have you ever noticed the number of people that are apparently on serious power trips in the world of education? From the physics instructor who destroys a laptop in class to emphasize that laptops are not allowed in his class. (What is this guys scared of anyway? That students might learn additional information than he isn’t giving in his lecture??) Or administrators that create rules for students simply so they can play “Gotcha!” when a student breaks the rules. To districts blocking Youtube, photosharing sites and a vast number of other internet tools all in the name of internet safety. Or the classroom teacher that simply feels that if they were capable of learning without all these “new, fancy tools” their students should be able to do so as well. All of these are intended to make sure everyone around knows “who’s in charge” and that deviants will be punished. 

But why? Why must there be keepers of the knowledge or controllers of the access? If our goal as educators is to make sure our students are prepared for life after school, why then are we actually preparing them for life thirty to forty years ago? Billie McNamara in an article title “The Skill Gap” states “Today, basic soft skills dominate workplace needs: interpersonal and intrapersonal knowledge; skills and abilities such as ethics, personal organization and work habits; time management; teamwork and interpersonal communication; anger management; reasoning and problem solving; and managing one’s learning.” How are we preparing students for a work environment that requires them to manage their own time, work with others, manage their own learning and solve problems if we are controlling every move they make? It seems to me that we are moving students in the exact opposite direction of where we want them to be by NOT allowing them to think for themselves or have any say in the direction of their learning. 

Personally it is so rewarding to give students the power select which tools they will use in the learning process and to give them a say in how to reach the learning objectives. This not only allows students to learn those “soft skills” that so many employers are looking for in new employees, but it actually reduces stress on the teacher – it’s really quite liberating. So what do you say? Can you give it a try? Just let go…

Mar 26

Textbooks are a staple in most classrooms and can be a great resource for teachers. The problem I find (not that I am even close to the first person to realize this) is that a large number of teachers use their textbook and accompanying teacher’s guide as the ONLY resource for teaching. This is prominent from kindergarten all the way to post-secondary education. The problem with this is that teaching from the textbook shuts the door in the faces of students and locks them into their classrooms. Our world holds so many resources for educators – all we have to do is open our eyes and minds and look for them. 

Students today are collaborative, communicate with their peers on a highly frequent basis, create, explore, adapt, and design – except when they are in school. Often times when students enter school they are asked to “power down” their phones, computers, and themselves. On their own, students use technology to explore their world and communicate with others. But in their classrooms, many times the option to use those tools is not available to them. In a large portion of these classrooms, the reason isn’t a lack of access, but rather teachers simply aren’t allowing the students to use the tools available to them.  This lack of use is usually born out of one thing – fear. A fear that the technology may not work properly, a fear that things may not “go as planned,” a fear that the students might abuse the technology, and probably mostly a fear of not being the expert in front of students. While it is okay to be afraid, it is not acceptable to allow that fear to prevent you from creating a more appropriate learning environment for students. Even if nothing works they way you plan and the students end up having to show you how to use the tools, the learning that will occur in that time will be completely worth it. The experience may even allow you to see strengths in your students that you may have never before seen.

If you are reading this post you are probably not tied to your textbook, but I’m willing to bet that you know someone that is. So why not offer up a few ideas to that person that will help them expand a learning environment beyond their classroom walls, or at least beyond the covers of the textbook? Introduce someone to the power of the internet for not only creating more engaging learning environment, but also as a way to extend their own learning network. If you’re just starting to explore your options outside of your textbook, seek out another person to either explore with you or someone who could act as a mentor and guide in your journey. Trust me, whether you enter the partnership as a guide or “student” you will find yourself learning from the experience and eager to do more learning and exploring.

A couple of days ago someone on Twitter posted a link to David Warlick’s article If you can’t use technology get out of teaching! which inspired this post, so thanks to my PLN in Twitter (and David Warlick of course.)

Mar 26

So I sat this morning through four hours of training on the intervention program that was piloted in a few of our middle schools this year and will be at all of our middle schools next year. I started the session with all other instructional support personnel beginning a KWL chart for this program. The presenter, who is a representative of the intervention program company, comes to our table and starts talking to us. Everyone else at the table had met with the rep before so she immediately asks at which school that I teach. I of course say something along the lines of I don’t have a school, that I am an instructional technology specialist for the secondary level. That woman ran away from me so fast I could almost see the smoke coming off of her shoes!
Before she really got into the presentation she moved us all away from power outlets and told us there would be no need for computers, that paper would be provided if we wanted to take notes. So we all “powered down” for the next 3 1/2 hours (you read right). I sat and listened to the presentation and followed as best I could, although I kept thinking about how I was either going to lose the piece of paper on which I was taking notes or that I wouldn’t be able to read my handwriting later.
The program itself is not bad. Students take an assessment at the beginning of the year. This particular program places them in an “on or above” grade level class, 1 – 2 years below grade level, and then 3 – 4 years below. All classes follow a five-part lesson structure, which is all well and good, and “tiers 1 and 2″ pretty much follow the same curriculum – “tier 2″ having more support structures in place. The “tier 3″ students follow the same scope and sequence as the district, but has a very regimented class structure within which the teacher has no real freedom.
The presenter then walks us through a typical lesson within the structure. Not a mention of any technology. Not only is there no mention of technology, but when the question was asked if they could receive the materials electronically so teachers could use them with SMART boards, clickers, or other such equipment, they were shot down. There is apparently no need to “distract the students” with such items when they can’t even read or do math. (I’m not making this stuff up here.)
I never really recovered after that point, although it did shed some more light on the “no computers during training” from earlier.
So now I’m left to think “Are our kids really going to have to power down across the district in the coming years?” and “Aren’t we taking a huge step backward?” I know that there are many teachers out there don’t implement technology simply out of fear-be it fear of the technology not working or the fear of not being an “expert of all things” in their own classrooms. But are we really benefiting children and learning if we continue to validate those fears? Why is it acceptable to push students out of their comfort zones in school but not teachers? One would think that in order to promote life-long learning in children, one would need to be a willing life-long learner – wouldn’t they?

Mar 26

I was sitting in my living room a bit earlier this evening when the doorbell rang. When I get to the door I see that it is “Juan.” (Student’s name has been changed.) Juan was that kiddo that did absolutely everything under possible to purposely get under the teachers’ skin. He was a gang banger (or really close to it anyway), attended class only intermittently, had more missing assignments than completed ones, and had one heck of a mouth. To say he caused me stress would be an incredible understatement. To say he failed my class would only hit the tip of the iceberg. And to say there were days that drove me crazy, well that one is accurate. Juan was definitely on a path straight to nowhere good. In fact, more people knew him by his street name than his real one – even the teachers. Juan was one of those kids that really tested me as a teacher and a human being.

But, he was smart – REALLY smart. When he was in class and awake, he knew all the answers before anyone else. When he participated in labs, he always figured out the solution before anyone else in his group. And when I asked for feedback on the lessons he really gave sound and constructive advise – when he wasn’t cussing at someone. I knew that the window for “keeping him” was closing rapidly – and I taught 6th grade. So, I made sure he stayed in the classroom even when he was trying everything he knew to get kicked out. I knew that he was listening, even if he didn’t want to and wouldn’t admit to it. And I just really felt that if I made him stay in my room, he might just inch a little bit closer to the right path. The next year certainly didn’t see much improvement for Juan’s behavior or academics, and I lost track of him after that but I was quite sure he was one that had gotten away from us.

So imagine my surprise when he arrives at my door, selling coupon books for the varsity soccer team for his high school. A team on which he is playing. That meant he was still in school AND passing classes! We talked for a bit about school and how his life is going. I bought that silly coupon book, of course. He introduced me to his soccer buddy, saying I was always in his business but my class was still pretty cool. And then he says “And oh yeah, I want you to know that I’m getting a B in Biology even though my teacher is boring.”

I don’t often get to see my students after they have left me. Usually they become way too cool to talk to their sixth grade science teacher, and once they go to high school I loose track even more. But I am so incredibly grateful that Juan showed up at my door today. Seeing such a drastic turn-around definitely energizes me to keep going. I don’t want to leave anyone with the impression that I think this child was put back on track by me. That decision was clearly his own. But, I would like to think that I played some role, no matter how small, in his decision to do so. Juan left two hours ago and I’m still smiling.

Mar 26

In my job I spend the majority of my time teaching adults how to integrate technology into their daily instruction. I love my job! That being said I have spent a lot of time lately thinking about the preparations that I do teaching adults compared to when I go into a classroom full of students and how different the two groups really are.

When I was in the classroom, I had learning outcomes, planned the activities (knowing full and well that some wouldn’t get done and some would be modified for each class), and we would move forward. There would be weeks that all would go relatively close to how I had planned, and weeks that I would scrap it all ten minutes into the first lesson of the week. Either way, the students were always up for it. If I said to them, “Hey guys, I don’t think what I had planned is going to work. How about we try something else?” They would follow me into the supply room and help me carry out all the new supplies for the day and we would all learn together – and we all loved it that way.

The first session I did on my own in this job was a total disaster. I tried to do a hands-on educaching session with middle school teachers. I basically went in, told them what geocaching and educaching is, showed them how to use the GPS units, and sent them on their way. It was a total disaster! I had complaints that there weren’t enough hand-outs, complaints that I didn’t explain enough about how GPS works, complaints that we didn’t find enough caches together, and even more complaints that I can’t even remember. On top of all that, someone complained to my boss and he told me he was already thinking that he had may have made the wrong choice in chosing me for the job. Needless to say, I was totally devastated. From then I went into planning overdrive for the next six months. Every time I had a training session, I spent hours planning, anticipating participant questions, creating hand-outs and “quick start” guides, and basically structuring every minute of the session. After six months I still had complaints that I didn’t have enough hand-outs, or the right hand-outs, or didn’t do enough step-by-step instruction. After a while, I realized that I wasn’t enjoying teaching anymore. Not only that, but I was only teaching people how to use the tools. I wasn’t modeling the kind of integration that I wanted others to do. In other words, I wasn’t doing my job.

So I had to do some major self-reflection to get moving down the right path again. I knew that I was a good classroom teacher and I knew that I had things to share with teachers. I just had to figure out where the disconnect was. I realized that the reason my teachers weren’t responding the way my students had was because they were of different generations. I had never really taken time to internalize the major differences between the education styles of “Generation Y” and previous generations. Teachers wanted step-by-step because that was the way they had been taught when they were in school. The only way to get teachers to move away from that model is to push them out of it, but support needs to be provided.

With this new “revalation” (which many, many, many before me had already experienced) I re-invented myself as an instructional technology specialist. I still spend large amounts of time planning training sessions, but my sessions are now almost exclusively hands-on and learner centered. I still make hand-outs, but they are more along the lines of a guided notes outline than the whole printed slide-shows from before. Additional support pages and references are posted to the web and participants are pointed to them if they feel the need to print them. I’ve also started implementing multiple types of resources and differentiation into sessions in order to catch all learning styles and allow learners to go where their needs take them.

In all, I think that I have become more effective and affective in my position and that I am still postively impacting students. I have come to really love my job and the continual learning and growing that comes with it. I find myself actually grateful for all those complaints in that first session. If it weren’t for those complaints, who knows how long I would have wandered down that winding, inefficient, and ineffective path.