So I’ve had my last day at Jardine and cleaned out my office yet I still can’t bring myself to take those boxes to my new classroom at Truesdell. I’ve gone to some trainings for the new program I’ll be teaching, I get along really well with my partner teacher next year and the new curriculum looks really exciting. Yet those boxes are still in my car. I can’t believe how incredibly hard it has been for me to let go of a school where I only worked for one year. I am usually one to embrace change and take charge of a new situation, but I am really struggling this time with moving forward. The students at Jardine are such awesome kids and the staff was so incredibly welcoming that I’m just plain afraid to leave. In a month I’ll be completing two weeks of training for the Project Lead the Way program that I’ll be teaching next year and I really hope that I will have been able to bring myself to get those boxes out of my car. I am certain some of this fear stems from having lost my job last year and then being told that I won’t be returning to Jardine due to restructuring. I have been forced to take a long hard look at how I go about doing business and reflect on my own practices. I really feel that I try my best to do what is best for kids and improving our flawed education system, yet I continue to be moved about in our district. I work in the education system because I believe I truly can make a difference, but I must admit that my fear of the unknown is making me leery of moving forward in my usual “all in” way. I’m afraid that if I jump in with both feet the way I usually do that I will once again be shuffled along, but I know that if I start pulling my punches in order to walk a safer line I will not be able to look at myself in the mirror each day. So here I am, with a car full of moving boxes but unable to take that next step.
In my job I run into a large number of nay-sayers, negative Nancys (or Neds), glass-half-empties, or whatever it is you call a person that always sees the flaws and defects in something first. You know them. When you show them how to use a blog as an online journal for their classroom, the first thing they say is “my kids can’t use the internet at home” or “no way I can get into the lab enough to make it worth the work.” As soon as you show them an internet-based alternative to the “Inspiration” software they don’t have in their new school, they’re pointing out how this tool only saves as an image so you can’t edit it later. When you show them how to create student usernames and passwords for their wiki or content management system, they’re upset because they already know their students won’t be able to remember the password. You know them.
And as much as I try, this can at times be a drain on me, both emotionally and physically. Just this week I was at a school helping teachers learn to use their new SMART boards and the complaints came in mountains. The vast number of pre-made lessons available on our website weren’t exactly how they wanted and they don’t have the time to learn a new tool. “Does the board really have to be re-oriented every time I move the projector?” “I’ve had that table there for three years and now I have to move it because someone put this board in my room. That table won’t work anywhere else in my room.” And this is only about a SMART board. I don’t even want to get into the conversations that happened when teachers found out that our contract with Blackboard isn’t going to be extended and that they’d have to learn a new tool if they wanted to keep their content online.
I have come to realize that it is part of my job to keep smiling and holding hands so that teachers don’t lose faith, so that teachers will keep trying new ideas, and so that classrooms can take yet another step to being student-centered learning environments. This is the most difficult and important part of my job and it wasn’t even in the job description when I applied. So after a couple of years, I’ve stumbled across some concepts that seem to help me do this, the most important part of my job.
To begin, I always try to let “Nancy” know that her opinion is valid. Even if I think it is an imagined hurdle or fear, in that person’s mind it is real and therefore I need to listen and validate it. I also need to make sure I stay positive while I’m listening and responding so that “Nancy” will see that there really is a light at the end of that tunnel. It also helps to be a quick thinker and problem solver so that when a teacher comes across a hurdle, I/we can quickly come up with a solution for getting over that hurdle. The next part is something that I personally have to work really hard at doing, and that is checking back frequently to make sure the solution is still working. I have found this one to be important because so many times if there is one bump in the new road for that teacher, that bump will keep him/her from traveling that road at all. But I have found that if I check back with individuals, it seems to keep the motivation up and that they will eventually feel comfortable enough that they can contact me without waiting for my emails. Finally, I have to be continually looking for new ideas and ways for teaching “old” concepts. This is because technology is changing so rapidly and new hurdles and bumps show up in the road every day. This one is probably one of the best parts of my job, as it means I get to spend time surfing the net and learning from my PLN which always leaves me inspired to do more.
And just in case you’re wondering, here’s a few suggestions for the problems presented above. For blogging nay-sayers: suggest that maybe at first try using the blog as an extra-credit opportunity for journals to see how many students truly don’t have access to internet at home. For those upset that free mind-mapping tools don’t often allow for changes and updates, point out some of the great online image editing tools that will allow for later “additions” so that teachers can demonstrate to students how the learning process is continually changing and growing. And for the teacher that’s worried her students won’t remember passwords, well this is one I still don’t have a fantastic response for so if you have one – help me out and leave it in the comments section.
Events of late have left me thinking and reflecting about heroes and their roles in our lives. When I was growing up my mother was my hero. She is a strong, intelligent, motivated woman that is always there for her family. She was also a full-time nurse in an intensive care unit, highly admired by her co-workers and supervisors, and even won bedside nurse of the year. (I say was because she completed her master’s degree a few years ago an is now a nurse anesthetist.) With all of these fantastic atributes, how could she not be my hero, right?
When I was classroom teacher, we always did an activity at the beginning of the year in which, among other things, I asked my students who their heroes were and what they wanted to be when they grow up. An overwhelming number of students would say that their hero was some kind of sports figure and that they wanted to be a professional athlete. Now, I’m not one to crush a child’s dreams and aspirations, so I always tried to work at the angle that the students needed to be successful in school in order to get a scholarship into a D1 school and get drafted/selected for their desired professional sport. But this is also when I started really thinking about how professional athletes size-up as role models and heroes.
Don’t get me wrong, there are a number of pros out there that lead admirable lives. In fact, I used to work with an amazing teacher that had been a professional soccer player and now as a coach requires his students have passing grades to continue to play. But by and large, the athletes that make it into the news are also those that are being arrested or are in some other kind of trouble. It is this that I find troubling for children, not only my own but for all children. I feel like that if children see professional athletes making massive amounts of money and getting deals from Nike at the same time that those athletes are in the news about DUIs and being arrested on gun/drug charges it sends a terrible message to children. It says that breaking the law and immorality are excusable if you happen to know how to throw or catch a ball really well. It says that people will look the other way if do bad things to yourself and your family if you are also talented enough to help a professional sports team win championships. The same issues arise when we look to t.v. and movie stars as role models.
So, what can we do as educators and parents? Try to be the best possible role models ourselves. Let our children know that we are human and are flawed but show that we learn from our mistakes, that we are life-long learners and continue to grow every day. We need to continue to support our children and encourage them in their education and outside interests. We need to let them be OUR heroes, as they are already our future.
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?
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.