Monday, September 19, 2011

The Best of Intentions

They say the road to heaven is paved with good intentions. If that’s the case then I have laid down a 12 lane super highway there and back already.

What the words of wisdom fail to describe are the mistakes, heartbreak, and utter failure we leave in our wake. It is a well known fact that before you are ultimately successful you will inevitably fail…possibly over and over again. Just look at Justin Beiber…he tried…like twice…to become famous and it took until he was 12 years old. Okay…bad example. But you get my drift.

No matter your profession, family situation, or charitable cause you will have thoughts and visions of how you will make a situation shine. You may make plans. You may enlist the help of others. You may even invest some moola to make a difference. Unfortunately, none of those things will guarantee success.

There is nothing that will guarantee success. There is no perfect plan. And hell, some people may take your good intention and stomp all over it like a million-legged creepy little bug.

And no, I am not Nattie the Nay-sayer…I am simply becoming a realist in my fifth decade of life.
But no, none of this should dissuade you from acting upon your good intentions. In fact these facts should inspire you to push forward.

If all who failed before us had given up I would not be playing Angry Birds on my nifty little iPad. I certainly wouldn’t be sitting on my couch typing on my super-thin laptop while surfing my Facebook page. And not a single low-income kid from a horrendous neighborhood would ever make it to college and eventually become a scientist who discovers a cure for cancer. Okay…the last one hasn’t happened yet but it certainly could.

Indulge me for a minute…good intentions can have some far reaching ramifications. Mrs. Dunkin was an elementary school teacher in Wisconsin who certainly did not have all easy days while wrangling the unruly fourth graders in her classroom for 30+ years. She taught in a low-income neighborhood to children of all races and backgrounds. I’m just a-guessin’ that she had a few rough days. But she had good intentions. She had at least one student who she inspired. She had one student who took Mrs. Dunkin’s best intentions and used them as inspiration for her own life. So without good intentions we may never have heard of Oprah Winfrey. (You know I couldn’t go too far without mentioning my Oppie.)

Really, the short story is that we need to keep fighting the good fight. We need to know that we may encounter bumps in the road but we also will find the beautiful ending to a story yet to be written. It is what makes this world a great place to be…we all have some good intentions…we just need to keep making them a reality…or at least try.

Keep the good intentions flowing.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

My Life as a Bobble-Head

Boy do I love having summers "off". It is such a HUGE benefit of being a is. Of course having two months off does make it a tough nut to swallow when you have to finally return to the daily grind...I mean classroom. Don't get me wrong...I'm excited to get back to doing what I love...but I did love sleeping until 7am too.

But I digress. As part of my contractual obligation, I am attending "new" teacher orientation. This is a three day event developed to introduce newly hired teachers to the district including policy, pedagogy, and juicy little tidbits of info. Who doesn't love to get a free lanyard, coffee mug, clicky pen and key chain? I LOVE that stuff...can't get enough. And the four inch binder FULL of info...great stuff. But a light bulb went on during day two as I was struggling to keep my head from flopping around like a bobble-head doll on the dashboard of a Jeep while four-wheelin' on the beach.

As I watched the third presenter face the big giant screen in the front of the room and read the PowerPoint slide verbatim to the crowd (about how to engage students)...I said..."Hey! I know how to read!!! What exactly is your POINT!!!!" Of course I only said this in my mind for fear of being ostracized as the one idiot who blurted out what everyone else was thinking. If I ever taught like that in my classroom the kids would eat me for breakfast...or at least slip into comas only reversible by the bell at the end of class.

Now keep in mind, EVERYONE who is presenting is involved in education in some way.

At one point we were talking about the need for students to get up and move around because they will learn better...yet we had been sitting in a chair being read a story from a giant screen for 45 minutes straight. Granted, the chairs were comfy...and I discovered early on that the chairs were bouncy...but anyone see the disconnect here??

And this wouldn't be the first time this has happened. I once attended a day long professional development session (in a different district) where the speaker (a very famous child psychologist who shall remain nameless here but he talked an awful lot about one mind) repeated over and over the importance of differentiating our instruction. He stressed how much more successful our students would be if we could address all different types of learning during the course of a class. Funny thing is that for 6 hours...yes 6 HOURS...this guy stood at the front of an one place...just holding a microphone and talking. There was no presentation, no video, no music, no special affects, no handouts, NO NOTHIN! He didn't even move around. He stood still and rambled on. Talk about being a bobble-head doll...I counted 99 people fast asleep at one time.

But lets get back to the present. Several of the folks who came to speak with us about being the best we can be were excellent. They were energetic, engaging and clearly passionate about teaching.

Just one suggestion...if the expectation is that the new teachers will stay in the district and be exciting, engaging, and knowledgeable educators...please provide the same for them!! Just sayin'

All the moanin' and groanin' aside...I was pleased to see all the excited folks just itchin' to get started again. We learned some interesting info, were reminded of some things we already knew (somewhere deep within our brains), and were motivated to make this year the best year ever.

Trust me...I'll be ramblin' some more about all the GOOD stuff we've got going at our school...this is going to be a GREAT year!!!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Lights, camera, action

I’ve been thinking lately (which is often dangerous)…some teacher folk I have spoken with over the years have vehemently stressed that they are not performers…they are teachers. The argument continues as I suggest that perhaps adding a bit of excitement to the classroom would help with classroom management and concurrently with student achievement. But I am shot down, time and time again by folks stressing the importance of teaching the necessary information to the students. (But I think that’s what I’m suggesting would happen if we take it up a notch…no?)

And, well…I think they’ve missed the boat on that one. I see those two descriptors – teacher & performer – as one in the same. Its like peas and carrots…cookies and milk…Oprah and Gayle. One just doesn’t work without the other.

The reality is that we need to be masters of our craft which isn’t about understanding what wicked cool acronyms like IEP, ASCD, MEPA, PDP, MELA-O, ELA, ELL, and (my personal favorite) ADHD stand for. Being a master teacher embodies the effective delivery of information. Effective delivery of information can only be quantified in the understanding displayed by the students (and possibly the presence of a pulse in each student at the end of class).

Method #1: Drone on in front of class requiring copious amounts of notes to be taken along with rote memorization of vocabulary words. Then, review for a test by simply asking a question and requiring the verbatim answer to be correct. Stick to the routine. Do not deviate. Stay on schedule for fear of failure. We all learned that way and we turned out just fine.

Method #2: Become a performer. Entice students with provocative questions, be animated about the subject, provide multi-media forms of presentation, ask students to teach the class, dress up like an astronaut…and the list goes on. This all takes the ability to be interesting. Be a dork…be a nerd…be a wild and crazy professor that everyone fears…whatever works for you but be something exciting for criminy’s sake.

There are some super duper smart people in this world who know more than I can ever dream to know…however…they couldn’t teach a ball to bounce. They may have the personality of a donut (not that there’s anything wrong with that) or they may just be SO smart that they cannot relate to us mere mortals on a human level. Either way…just too darn smart to teach.

Then there are those who just like to take the summer off. They do the minimum to get by because “These kids just don’t care.” Yes…I’m not gonna lie…having summers off is one of the GREAT benefits of being a teacher. However, that is not the reason why one should take the challenge of teaching. I know that during the summer I take the time to research more material, create new lessons, learn about new technology and trends in education. It takes those 2 months to recoup from all of the craziness throughout the school year. But why not use those two months to whip your hair back and forth and get into a rhythm for crying out loud.

And then there are those who are dynamic, interesting people who love to see the light go on over the head of the kid who entered the room in a coma. We might not be the smartest of the smart but we sure know how to handle a holster full of info. We can motivate students to ask for more. We can deliver a unit of info with some pizazz and are darn proud of it. And that doesn't make us crazy...just passionate.

So while I try really hard to value the opinion of others…I have to respectfully (and LOUDLY) disagree with the idea that teachers are not performers. In fact I think we should have the Teacher Oscar aWards. The TOW’s would be the most glamorous, coveted awards in our society. Not only would the nominees and winners be great teachers but they would also be a master of the stage. They wouldn’t be afraid to dress up like a wizard or don the Snooky poof to entice students into a lesson. The TOW’s would be awarded to those who are not afraid to look deep within themselves and call upon that thespian who is driven to improve the knowledge of others in dramatic and exciting ways.

Who wouldn’t want a TOW?

Friday, January 21, 2011

The idea of being a Total Tech Nerd (TTN) and having Google recruit me for their Boston offices is a dream…only second to being on Oprah. However, as a Teacher Nerd (TN), the idea of technology in the classroom makes me quiver with joy even more than the idea of being locked in the cooler with a spoon at the Cheesecake Factory.

In light of the recent snow days suffered by my school district (3.5 in 2 weeks + 1 holiday) I have been pondering the idea/dream/vision/illusion that if we were totally connected than we would not be suffering the set-backs we are all contemplating while donning our snow gear to clear the driveway…again.

Stay with me here…

If the kids were all accustomed to logging in and posting comments to a chat board or blog, we could continue the learning process even when we don’t see them.

If the kids were in the habit of checking the website for new assignments or updates to class activities, then the learning could continue even on extended weekend vacations.

If the kids had an appropriate use for Facebook and Twitter (like communication for group projects) then they could continue to push forward and discover more information.

Of course in all of these examples the TN would be able to oversee the progress and communicate with her students while they were toasty at home in their pj’s.

Don’t be scared. This would NEVER take the place of being in the classroom and having that ability to personally communicate and connect with the kids BUT…being connected and using the technology that the modern business world created and uses daily might benefit our kids more than we could even imagine.

The other option is to take January and February off and go to school in July and August.

I vote for being a TNN and TN.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

And snow it goes

You know you are a total teacher nerd if you look at the blessing of a snow day as an opportunity to create more mind-blowing, earth-shattering, eye-popping lessons that will leave your students thirsting for more and begging to stay after school for extra credit work.
Forget the idea that you could take some much needed rest or catch up on the reading of trashy novels. Those projects that are piling up in the basement…that’s OK…they’ll be there tomorrow…or next week.
But the idea that a thought provoking PowerPoint or a super spectacular webquest that will urge guided discovery could be just over the horizon of my mind…now that’s exciting.
So I’ve cleared the driveway 2, 3, 4 times today…but I keep going back to my nerd quest of information and lessons. And snow it goes.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Kids are so kind.

My students never cease to amaze me. They have the ability to grasp the obvious, avoid using a social filter, and just say it like it is.

Quote of the week:

Student: "Ms. you know how we know its Friday?"

Ms.S: "No but I wish you would tell me."

Student: "Your hair is a MESS."

Moral of the careful what you wish for.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Well how did this happen...

This past summer I kept driving by this old building in the city on my way to wherever I was going and I would comment in my head, "That place looks like an abandoned building...I wonder what it is"...and now its where I work. Funny how life can pull a fast one on you.

At the eleventh hour, I became a middle school health teacher. Stop it...stop cringing. Yes...they are funny little creatures...Yes they have no social filters yet...Yes they are are stuck between little kid and teenager...I know all of this...but they sure make a day go by quickly.

This is supposed to be the toughest school in the city. The kids have Spongebob backpacks.

These kids are supposed to be tough to teach. They come into my classroom with new questions everyday.

I've even been told by some folks in the community that the kids are like wild animals. WHAT?!?!

You know that feeling you get when you find that pair of sweat pants that you want to wear everyday because they are so comfortable...and you do wear them everyday because you feel so darn good in them...Yep...that's how I feel about my job.