Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Mini Christmas Math Project- "12 Days of Christmas!"

Christmas is here! Or the holidays, the break, or whatever you wish to call it.
But one thing is for sure, whatever you call it, the kids are excited, and you still have to teach!

So I figured, why not use something that goes with the theme? Something the kids could get excited about? Something that involved Math, but not endless computation or word problems?

The PNC Christmas Price Index was perfect for what I wanted to do.
They have a site for educators complete with lesson plans.
It's geared toward middle and high school students, so I modified it for my 5th graders.

I used the information they provided on the Price Index and created a table  for the students to fill out using the information in the Price Index.

We  sang the "12 Days of Christmas" before we began. (See video below).

They really enjoyed  creating their own "12 Days of Christmas" chart  I revised the chart again a little this year. Most of them shopped online. .
The holidays are always hectic. This is a great way to maintain structure, but also allow the kids to have fun!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

An Open Letter to My Black(African-American) Sons!

The decision in Ferguson saddened me. As a mom of two sons, it scares me. As an educator, it makes me realize that we have to empathize with the students sitting in our classrooms.

Hey Man,
I address you as "man". I will never call you "buddy". I know you have heard parents say, "Hey buddy." But I cannot do that to you. Throughout your life there will be too many people who will try to make you feel like you are less than a man. Too many who will treat you as though you are less than a man. I want you to know that you are a man.

As you go through school, you will have to prove yourself. You will always have to prove yourself, and I will fight for you. Your skin makes people automatically question your intelligence, your ability to problem-solve, write essays, to think. You may hear some say that you are "articulate", because that is not something they believe you should be, or could be. But don't worry, hold your head high, and keep moving forward.

Enjoy your friendships with white people. In this day and age, kids don't worry too much about race. It's usually something saved for when people start to age. But be cautious, for you can not do as they do. The consequences for you will be more severe. They may get a warning, you will be suspended, kicked out of school, put in jail, depending on the severity of your actions. It's important that you make good choices.

As you grow, you will come to realize that other's perception of you is not really who you are. People may think you want to be high-fived all the time. They may think you want to grow up and be a basketball player.They may think that you don't know who your daddy is. But that's just the beginning.

People will cross the street as you approach. Store owners will watch you when you enter their store. Hands will clutch pocketbooks to their sides, People will silently debate whether or not they should join you on an elevator. If you run, you are running from a criminal act you have committed, not to catch a bus.

You have to understand that "your" face is splashed across a screen every. single. day. A scary face with the crime of the day posted underneath. You protest, "That's not me!" I know it's not you, but that's not the world's view.

When an individual black male commits a crime, his crime is passed on to all black males. He becomes "every black man.". His crimes, your crimes. His crimes giving police a reason to stop and frisk, to humiliate, to charge you with crimes you did not commit, or worse, gun you down in the street with your hands up.

And I know it's unfair that a white man can kill children, and the media spends more time trying to figure out why he did it and the issues that led him to do it, than convicting him of his crime. And no son, all white people are not serial killers or mass murderers. Just individual white people. That's the way of this world.

If you are fortunate enough to be successful, be prepared for the stereotypes people may have.They may assume that you are a drug dealer, an athlete, or a rapper. Architect, computer programmer, an engineer, a real estate mogul, inventor, these options do not come to mind as easily.
You have to understand, just as I say no one understands what it means to be a teacher, unless they are one, it's the same for you being a black male.

The difference is people can become teachers, and understand how it feels. No one can become a black male.

What we need people to do is understand what it is like to be a black male. We need them to understand what life is like for you. Maybe we will get there.
Hold your head high and keep moving forward. I love you!
Your proud Mom

photo credit: Youth Radio via photopin cc

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Teaching By Due Date: Data Vs. Students!

I am tired of receiving emails that ask me to attend meetings prepared with the data of the Formative Assessment of the Week.
Performance Task of the Month.
Benchmark Entries, common assessments, you get what I'm saying.

I am being asked to teach by due date.
Teach by pacing guide.
Teach by whenever an assessment needs to be entered so that we can look at the data and decide how we're going to group our students, teach our students, etc...

It's supposed to be a good thing.
It can be a good thing.

But, in the reality of classroom living, it's not quite working out that way.

If I stuck to the schedule imposed on me, school would be an endless flow of assessments, One after the other, providing data on information that has not really been taught. How can you teach efficiently when you have to make sure that countless formative assessments are completed by a specific date?

Our poor kids.:(

The other day, Scholastic offered a webcast with Usher who talked about the importance of reading. My kids have a performance task that needs to be completed, and graded, the data posted on a chart.

We watched Usher. My students tweeted his important points. They listened to students in NY ask him enlightening questions. They were encouraged by his thoughts and anecdotes of how he became successful. And they sang along with him when he sang "Without You" ,at the end of the webcast. I have no data to provide for this event.Sorry.

Is data bad? No
Formative assessments? No, I use them in my classroom, and they provide information that guides instruction.

But when a due date for data is constantly imposed, assessing becomes the norm and teaching and learning are secondary.

 photo credit: JD Hancock via photopin cc

Thursday, November 6, 2014

I Wish...Monthly Student Reflection Survey!

I give credit where credit is due.
I got the Reflection Survey idea from Pernille Ripp, founder of the Global Read Aloud which began October 6! Yeah!

I actually had my students take the survey at the beginning of October. It was interesting to see their responses to the questions I asked. The questions gave them a chance to reflect on the previous month.

When I read their responses, I was blown away by their honesty. I don't know if the fact that I wrote, "An honest evaluation of yourself during the month of September. The key word is honest, I am not judging. No one reads this but me. I received responses from "Great" to "It hasn't been that good."

There were some great insights, but I was really taken with their responses to the phrase, "For October, I wish Mrs.M would..."
A couple of kids said, "Do more fun things." I thought they were doing a lot of fun things! Guess they have to realize it's not going to be "fun" all day long. 
They wanted to have their first Mystery Skype. (done). And they did a fantastic job!
Give us more Quiet Time, (they get 10 minutes after Recess-engaged quietly in an activity),not getting any more than that. They also get a GoNoodle break at 2 p.m.
Teach more, Teach more? I need to revisit that one.:) Luckily, only one student said that one.
Tell more about myself, (I feel they learn a little more about me each day during Morning Meeting).
Sing in class one day. :) (done)
And this one didn't surprise me considering who it came from, "Do less work on the computer."

This was one of her concerns at the beginning of the year, because she did not have a computer at home. I have gone out of my way to make sure she has enough time to access the computer in school when necessary. She felt comfortable enough to share this with me in the survey. Looking forward to see if she feels any better in this month's survey.

October's survey is posted. I am excited about comparing it to September!

Just as adults need to step back and reflect on how things are going, or how they went, it's just as important for our students. The fact that it allows me to reflect as well, is an added bonus!

photo credit: WingedWolf via photopin cc

Saturday, September 13, 2014

30 Years a Teacher! And Still Going Strong!

It's hard to believe that I have been teaching for 30 years. Actually, it's been longer than that since a fresh-faced 20-year old graduated from college,ready to begin a teaching career. Unfortunately, (or fortunately), 1980 was not a good year for teachers in NYC.  I couldn't get a job in a public school for 4 years. Instead, I taught pre-K, Headstart, and kindergartners.

In 1984, I got my first teaching position.They gave me a kindergarten class. I did not want a kindergarten class. I had had enough of the "babies", but, it was a teaching position, so I took it. The first week my class wasn't ready, so I subbed in a 3rd grade classroom for a teacher who was out, just a couple of days. Administration kept walking in and wandering past, I was thinking, "What's going on?". Next thing I knew, that was my class, and they moved that teacher to the library. (I hope he was happier there).And so it began. I taught there for 15 years, two months in Baltimore, and the rest in my present position.

Last year, a 1st year teacher said to me, "My husband said he doesn't see me as just a teacher for 29 years,(the number of years I had been teaching), he sees me as an asst. principal or principal."

You know, sometimes you really don't catch on to what someone has said, and what it really means, until later. Just a teacher?

Here's the thing. There seems to be the misconception that teachers are at the bottom of the rung when one considers hierarchy in education. For some reason, many people, including teachers, believe that the main objective for becoming a teacher is to eventually leave the classroom.

I have chosen to remain in the classroom. If I am fortunate, I will retire from the classroom. The only thing I will miss from an administrative position is the salary.:) That is my choice, and I know a number of teachers who have made that choice as well.

And although teaching is not always a cakewalk, being in the classroom for 30 years has allowed me the pleasure of:

  • working with children
  • impacting the lives of over 700 students
  • watching students "get it" year after year
  • connecting my students with the world
  • building confidence and self-esteem
  • providing a warm, nurturing, environment
  • laughing in the morning and the afternoon
  • playing outside at Recess
  • field trips
  • dancing in the middle of the day
  • trying out all the wonderful, innovative, ideas, I learn from my PLN
  • did I say working with children?
Being a classroom teacher is not for everyone, there are excellent administrators and intructional coaches out there. 

However, there is no shame in my game.:) 
I am a classroom teacher! 30 years, and still going strong!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Wanted:A Great Year! Teachers and Parents Working Toward the Same Goal!

Every year, at the beginning of the school year, I send this form home. I ask my parents to fill it out in ther interest of learning what they want from their child's teacher. What can make this a great year for their child? I always get a handful back, read them, and try to be conscious of living up to reasonable requests throughout the school year.

A student returned her form to me today, it had been living in her bookbag for the past two days. I read it, and found that I really enjoyed reading this parent's insights on what she wants, from me, for her daughter.

One teacher who cares about G.'s educational needs and making sure all resources are applied.
The person must like love there (sic) job, and want all students to succeed. and must be willing to make sure every student under their instruction gets the best education offered. 
This teacher must know that all students learn at a different pace and should be patient, understanding,, and determined.
She/He must love helping children grow and hate failure and excuses. 
Her/His favorite comments to parents should be, "Your child is doing great!"
She/He would love saying, "It's a pleasure having your child and teaching to the students.
Must also be good job.
In return the teacher will receive all positive feedback and support.

While I may not agree with everything this parent wrote,  I appreciate the gist of her message. The great part is, I want what she wants for her child. As a matter of fact, I believe most teachers want what parents want for their child.

I would settle for constructive feedback, and I will gladly take all the support a parent can give! Working together, I know I can give my parents what they want, a great year!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

#MichaelBrown May Be Sitting in Your Classroom...

Demonstrators Aaron Little (R), Gianni Cook (C) and Troy Jones hold signs while protesting against the death of black teenager Michael Brown, outside St Louis County Circuit Clerk building in Clayton, Missouri August 12, 2014.(attribution to Reuters)

So will #trayvonmartin, #renishamcbride, and so many other unarmed  African Americans who have been murdered.

Most of our students have probably been exposed to what has taken place in Ferguson the last few days. The shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black male by a police officer.Some may be experiencing a number of emotions, anger, fear, anxiety, etc...

What do we as educators do? How do we react? Should we pretend it's not happening, and stick to the curriculum? Should we open it up for discussion, making sure not to taint the discussion with our own bias? I imagine middle school and high school students would be more acutely aware of what is going on then elementary students. What do, or should, we say to them?

I read a FB post that was reposted on Twitter, a woman rants against African-Americans.

Notice the word "they." That word "they" makes it easy to treat fellow human beings indecently. When African-Americans are seen  as "they", and  a series of characteristics are attributed to them, they are no longer human. "They" are a series of stereotypes, strung together, easily shot down.

"They" are not hard-working people who have contributed much to society. "They" do not get up every morning, just like everyone else, and go to work. "They" are not doctors, lawyers, scientists, politicians, bus drivers, and teachers!

What can we do with, and for, the #MichaelBrown in our classroom?

We need to make sure that they understand that their life is worth just as much as anyone else's. We need to listen to them, not only to their words, but their actions as well. We need to let them tell us how they are feeling, what they are feeling. We need to understand that maybe, just maybe, analyzing text is just not that pressing a need as it might seem. We need our students to understand that they are not, nor do they have to be, "they." And as educators, if we agree with Catherine's sentiments, even in the privacy of our homes, we should not be in a classroom with #MichaelBrown.

#Michaelbrown may be sitting in your classroom, what are you going to do?

Monday, July 28, 2014

"Real Life" Vs. Technology!

Saturday was our annual cookout. Fun, food, family, and friends! Good times.:)

As I was walking past the group on the deck, I noticed they were passing around a tablet.
When I asked what they were doing they replied that they were playing Scrabble.
I pointed to the table below, and yelled, "There's a "real life" Scrabble game sitting on that table!"
They ignored me and continued to pass the tablet.

My 23 year old felt the need to remind me that this was 2014.

I didn't forget the year.

However, why should I forget what it feels like to actually play "real life" Scrabble?

The excitement of choosing your letter, feeling disappointed or thrilled with what you pulled.

The feel of the tiles as you hold them in your hands, fresh from the bag.

The snatching back of letters as you suddenly think of another word.

The feeling of impatience as a player dawdles.

The click as you place, (or slam), the tiles on the board.

Turning the board around so that you can see when it's your turn.

Trying to peek at someone else's letters.

Maybe I'm an old fuddy duddy. Sigh.

But we shouldn't forget "real life" in our classrooms.

We shouldn't get so tied into the next great tech tool that we forget to let them draw, tell jokes, paint, sing, act, activities that don't necessarily require technology.

Can you combine the two? Sure. My kids drew scenes from a story and then we played "Guess My Scene" with another class via GHO(Google Hang Out). But, my kids drew the pictures. On paper. With crayons and colored pencils. And while they drew, the talked, discussed, and reminisced about the story. Real life.

I love tech as much as any other techy teacher, but I won't fail to incorporate "real life" in my classroom. There's just some things technology can't replace.

photo credit: ericmay via photopin cc

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Kids on the Way to the Park: Is Joy Stifled in School?

There is a playground in my development.

During the summer, I have the pleasure of listening to children as they travel to the playground.

The excitement can't be contained, talking, laughing, running!

"Come back!" "Don't go too far!" "Wait!", parents trying to contain them, understandably, not wanting them to go too far ahead.

The pure, unadulterated joy of going to the playground, of knowing what is a few feet ahead. The jungle gym, swings, seesaw, grass to run in!

And then I think about school compared to the playground. What awaits them in school? What awaits them in our classrooms? Do they come to school with the same sense of joy? Or do they drag ,dreading what awaits them?

Tons of worksheets, test prep, assessments, no recess, and/or absence of the arts?

Has school become a place of data overload, constant barrage of assessments, and strict adherence to standards?

Is so much time spent on making sure we meet goals established by non-educators, that school has become a place of dread for students and educators alike?

If a child does not want to come to school, there is nothing we can teach them, nothing they can learn.

If a teacher does not want to be in the classroom, what level of teaching can be expected?

We need to bring joy into our classrooms. Joy does not mean teachers entertaining students, but engaging them. Giving them a chance to learn in a meaningful way. Giving them ownership of their learning. Giving them a place that feels like home should feel, safe, secure, and welcoming. Making school,or at least the  classroom, a place they want to be.

School should be a place of joy for teachers as well.  A place where their opinions are valued. A place where they get to make decisions about what's best for their students. A place where they are given the tools they need to engage their students. A place where they are not constantly looking over their shoulders for the "accountability" axe to fall. A place where they are teaching not testing. A place where they don't mind coming to every day.

 Let's make school a place teachers and students want to be, let's return joy to the classroom!

photo credit: Seattle Municipal Archives via photopin cc

Monday, July 7, 2014

Loving Classroom Tools That Start Free, and Stay Free! We Appreciate You!

Click the pic to take you to the article on WeareTeachers Blog!

It is common knowledge that teaching is one of the hardest professions. We  make very little money, and yet , we have a high level of "out-of-pocket" expenses.  That's why I (and probably every teacher I know), love it when someone comes out with a Fun Resource that Entertains and Engages,(FREE) ! Get it?

However, what irks, and disappoints  me the most,  are the companies who provide you with a free tool when they first enter the market.   They reel you in, and you use their products for an entire school year, loving every minute of it.  You get to the "How could I teach without this? point", and then BAM! They want you to pay! 
Isn't there another way? Couldn't they be a little less expensive? 

And I'm already way ahead of them on solutions to affordability.
"Write a grant" they say.  Grant writing is a timely process and just like money, that's not something I have a lot of!
"Ask your district", they say. Can anyone say "budget cuts?"
"JUST $29.95 a year!" Well imagine if I pay every company for the tool I enjoy using $29.95 a year every year! Do the Math...
"We have the free version", and the free version sucksess-fully(I have to say, some non-premium products  are still pretty cool), though keeps me from giving 20+ kids what would really benefit them in the classroom.
"Come up with an innovative idea, and then get hundreds of people to come to our site and vote for you!"

I know, it's their companies and they have the right to charge and make a profit, it's the American way! I  am also aware that I do not have to purchase the product or tool. 

But understand this.

I am one of those teachers.  

That teacher that is going to dig among the lint in his/her pocket, swipe that card, and buy that product, in order to offer my students the education I would give my own children. A lot of us are, and maybe that's why many of these companies start charging after they gauge how many of us would pay.

But, enough venting, I end with a special shout-out, "Woo-Hoo!" to all those companies, (You know who you are), that offer teachers tools that are still free, (or even give a free version that's doable).
You are truly appreciated!:)

Sunday, June 29, 2014

10 Things That Stand Out Because I Joined the #NotatISTE14 Community!

I am not at ISTE2014. :(

I planned to go since my sis lives in Atlanta, but I figured the wedding of my teammate was much more important. AND, I heard ISTE2015 will be in Philadelphia next year, 30 minutes away! YEAH!

Here's the good news. Jen Wagner decided to start a #notatiste14  group. I think it evolved into much more than what was originally imagined. Over 250 people have taken advantage of this wonderful opportunity! Our community has connected using Voxer, Google +, Twitter, any number of social media tools. Due to the resourcefulness of the members of this community, we have even connected with vendors at ISTE. We are being recognized in tweets as an official group. ISTE attendees are sharing information! This community is amazing!

1. I am not an island. There are so many out there who are looking to connect, and SHARE!

2.  One idea, (Thank you Jen Wagner), can produce amazing results!

3. There is something to be said about teamwork. There are awesome teachers behind the scenes pulling all this together. Whether it's GHO's, challenges, getting vendors to give prizes, etc..., they are getting it done.

4. People understand that sometimes things don't work out the way you planned! My big Kahoot quiz/contest was a huge bust! Instead of being upset over time wasted, everyone was so understanding!

5. Educators are THE most creative people in the world! Did you see those #notatiste14 badges?
I still have more ribbons to add thanks to the creativity of my #notatiste14 peers.

6.  This community validates what I already knew about teachers, and wish everyone else knew. We are in it for our students! I was on the computer most of the day, (Thank God for my understanding husband), along with hundreds of others, connecting. Why? So that we can take this information into our classrooms, back to our students!

7.  We do not know everything. There is always something else we can learn. Aah, the beauty of being a life-long learner! And boy, have I learned a lot from #notatiste14!

8. Teachers are not stick-in-the-mud people. We want to, and we do, have fun! The #notatiste14 challenges have added to the excitement of the group.  Craig Yen was even up for some Voxer #notatiste14 Karaoke!:) And Jen Wagner is hosting a #notatiste14 GHO Karaoke night tonight! 

9. There are 600,000 different ways to communicate via social media! Voxer, Twitter, Flipboard, Google +, a new one I learned about today,, the list is endless!

10.  I didn't have to go to ISTE. I ran into "old friends", but I have also connected with tons of new ones from the comfort of my study chair. Need. to. get.up. and. move. now.:)

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Improving as a Teacher: Reflecting on Student Responses to Class End of Year Survey!

I got the idea to create surveys from Pernille Ripp. She is a huge fan of using surveys to help her reflect on how to gauge just about anything. I created a beginning of the year survey based on questions she wrote, putting them in Google forms.

I decided this year that  I would create an end of the year survey, something I usually never get around to. It became a simple task after reading an article on self-reflection by Vicki Davis. I used, and modified some of the questions she asked to create my survey.

The questions I asked gave me insight into my students' thoughts in a way that I wouldn't have achieved sitting down with them one by one. I emphasized to my students that the survey could be anonymous, and some of them took advantage of that option. I was looking for honesty.

Here are a few of  the good, the bad, and the ugly.:)

  • "Not yell  because that makes us kids mad and sad."Here's the thing, I don't yell. At least that's what I thought. I know there are times when I have raised my voice. When I get frustrated, my voice gets louder. Note to self: Work on not yelling.

  • "I wish we had more time for Mystery Skypes." My students love Mystery Skypes! Yeah! They would have loved more Mystery Skypes. Will definitely have to work on that next year.

  • "The Reading packets were so long and gave me headaches". I feel them on that one. I hate Reading packets with a passion! However, we switched to Common Core, and were given no resources. I spent so much time at the copier. smh Thank goodness, my team is working on rectifying that situation. We want books!!!!

  • "Work more with the students in the back to help them more with their work." I felt really bad when I read this one. It was anonymous, so I'm guessing that it was one of the kids I  pulled for small group. Obviously, they don't feel I gave them enough attention to help them through.I will have to implement more strategies to make sure they really comprehend for the long term, not just while they are at the back table.

  • "More time to study...two days after we learn it, we have a test." This student is absolutely correct. Don't they know I have to collect data, so that when I attend PLC, I have data to go over with the team? What's wrong with that kid? All kidding aside, this is definitely something I have to work on. After all, who am I here for?

  • "Giving more students more responsibilities and trusting them with more tasks. After all, we are 5th graders." And all this time I was thinking that I was doing great in that department! More than one student said this, so it leads me to believe that I am not as great at trusting them as I thought I was. 

One of the questions I asked my students is, "How do you think I can improve as a teacher ?" One student wrote, "I think you already have teaching DOWN! You are an awesome teacher already." Loved this statement.:)

However, I know we all have room for improvement. When it's time to go back, I'm going to reread this post, take another look at the survey responses, and make adjustments in the new year!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Making "Tenure" a Bad Word Helped Steal "Due Process!"

If you say something enough times, most people will believe it.

Not only will they believe it, but they will embrace it, passionately.

They will, foolishly, repeat, word for word or  improvise with their own words of wisdom, every bit of nonsense they have heard from "them." They will own it.

And there begins the story of how "tenure" became a bad word. Tenure became something evil that "those lazy, 3 months off, every holiday, 4 hours of prep(I actually read this in a comment),horrible, horrible, teachers", are using to keep their jobs!

That's the mantra, right?

Tenure is due process, period. It gives teachers the right not to have their jobs arbitrarily taken from them, period. Anyone see anything wrong with that? Apparently the Vergara Verdict leads me to believe many did.

Obviously, many people agree. The duped public, the "ed-reformers" aka "get rid of unions so that we can take over the schools and make tons of money", the faux celebrity "educators"
( e.g Michelle Rhee), duped journalists, (e.g. Roland Martin), did I mention the duped public?

"Is this the end of the powerful teachers' union?" Direct quote from the reporter on CNN.

Why were unions originally established? To gather together the employees of a workplace in order to provide power in numbers. What happens when you take away the union? StudentsFirst, StudentsMatter, Pearson, etc..., realized that there are billions of dollars in education. And who is standing in their way?

I was listening to my favorite radio station the day of the verdict. They had Dr.Stephen Perry, apparently America's most trusted educator, discussing why the verdict was a good thing. He reiterated the same words spoken by all others. "Tenure is bad. Horrible teachers keep their jobs. Children of color suffer with these bad teachers we can't get rid of." I wonder what Mr.Perry's thoughts are on neighborhood schools being torn down because of test scores? What does he think of amazing veteran teachers being removed from their jobs and being replaced with Teach for America teachers? (But I digress.)

Yes, there are "bad" teachers, but tenure is not to protect the "bad" ones, it's to protect the good ones.

One statement made by Tom Joyner, the DJ, that really stood out for me is this, "If you are an effective, (define effective), teacher, you don't need tenure." Grrrrr.....

Can anyone one say ageism,( TFA teachers are taking over schools all over the country), nepotism, "can't be molded"ism, or just plain old "I don't like you"ism? Does he really believe that if I am a great teacher, I can't get fired if I don't have protection?

I texted and tweeted him asking for a response to the trial  from an actual educator. You know, the ones that actually work in the classroom, under intense pressure, with no accountability expected from anyone but the teacher, but I received no response.

"United they stand, divided they fall!" Teachers complain about their union, but imagine if you did not have one? Ask those teachers who work in non-unionized charter schools. Make your union work for you. Join an organization that fights for a teachers' right to be respected. Write, email, and/or call the politicians that represent you,  especially President Obama, who has ignored us since he was reelected.

The union is appealing the verdict, but it has happened in California, and now they will come for your tenure as well!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

"Remember That Time When...?" An End of Year Memory Book!

I was on #5thchat Tuesday night chatting with my fellow tweechers about activities we do at the end of the school year. @patriciahewitt shared a wonderful idea.
I thought this was such a wonderful idea and let Patricia know I would be using it the next day.
I decided to use the students' writing to create Memory books for each student.

Front Cover: 2 group pictures. One from the beginning of the year and one from yesterday. The kids loved comparing the two pics. We laughed because one of my girls had on shorts in both pictures, and you could see how much longer her legs were in the most recent picture.

First page: A Tagxedo word cloud of all their names and mine.

The next couple of pages are filled with "Remember the Time When...?" stories. I had just taught sensory details and asked them to use it when they wrote, but that didn't work out too well, end of the year and all. However, one student did, and I have to share it!!!

End pages: My kids don't have Autograph books so I added Teacher and Student Autograph pages.

The kids were upset that  I didn't add a picture of myself. It wasn't deliberate. I didn't think of it at the time, but it's a good idea. What's a Memory book without a picture of the teacher?:)

Most of my students chose a different memory. The only ones that were shared more than once were Mystery Skypes, none were inappropriate.

I loved reading them because it gave me a view of my classroom through my student's eyes.

I shared it with a teacher friend, and she really enjoyed reading their memories. I am going to miss my babies, but now I have their memories of our time together, and so will they.:)

Monday, May 26, 2014

Parental Support and Involvement: Should Teachers Make Do Without It?

More and more, the buck seems to start and end with teachers.

We seem to be the only ones held "accountable" for all that goes on in our classrooms, and it is frustrating!

It's become the norm to send a child to school and hope for the best.

I have done what I need to do as a teacher to get parental support, and then some.

If I post videos and sites you can use to supplement what your child is learning in school, why aren't they using it?

If I send email reminders, and newsletters, with information about what is going on in class, why is it you still don't know?

If I ask you to read one of your child's posts on their blogs the entire school year, why is it you haven't read a single one?

Why is the test checklist signed every week, but their grades are a surprise at conferences?

If  I send an email, could you  take a second and say you received it? Or even respond to it if a response is required?

Why can trip slips come back in a day, but important notices take repeated phone calls?

Why have I never met you during the course of the school year?

These are just a few of the issues that continue to frustrate me, year after year.

All parents do not work two-three  jobs, are homeless, suffer from poverty, are on drugs, or alcoholics. This seems to be the consensus of why parental support is lacking. Others believe parental involvement is not necessary or useful.

Parenting requires hard work, effort, and sacrifice. It is not an easy job, and hats off to all who do it. If you are not willing to put in the hard work, make an effort, and sacrifice for your children when it comes to their education, teachers will work without you, but we can't always pull it off.

I don't want parents held "accountable", just as I don't want teachers to suffer from "accountability."

What I do want is a parent who realizes they need to join us in providing an education for their child. School is not a day care center. You can't drop them off, pick them up, and that's it. I know supportive, involved, parents exist, because I have worked with many of them!

If a teacher provides ways for you to support, and be involved, in your child's education, take advantage of it. If they don't, find out why. If you don't know what to do, get help! But be involved, your child is worth it!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

"Does It Always Have to be the "Good" Ones? Giving All Students a Chance!

I was talking to a high school teacher about the mentor program that was established between the 5th graders and the high school football team.

The response was, "Which football players?"

When I said I wasn't sure, the response was, "I hope it's not the ones I'm thinking about!. really hope it wasn't those kids!"

I paused, and said, "Well whichever ones they are, they have done an excellent job with our boys!".

Why do we automatically put down our kids? Why are we so quick to label? Why do we want to put our kids into a box?

Don't they deserve as much of a chance to fail and/or succeed as anyone else? 

Shouldn't we give them a chance to prove their worth?

Isn't it possible that when we place them in a certain environment, an environment where we thought they couldn't, they prove us wrong, and show us they could?

I am guilty of this as well. When there's a chore outside the realm of the Job Cards, there are certain names which are always at the tip of my tongue. I have to consciously stop myself, and think of another child I can call on. 

Everyone deserves a chance to prove that they aren't what we think they are. Some will succeed, some will fail.

Our kids loved having lunch with their mentors every week, enjoyed talking to them,  the field trip to their football game,playing with them at recess, and got a special thrill out playing with them in the End of the Year Flag football game. Whoever these young men were, they were a positive influence on our students.

I loved watching them interact with our "babies." Watching their eyes light up when they came for lunch, and greeted their mentee. The pride they felt in being a mentor.

I don't know which football players were chosen, but our kids loved them. 

It doesn't always have to be the "good" ones.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

"I Salute Those Who Stay!" Appreciating Tenacious Teachers!

This is not to take away anything from those who quit.

You have quit for only reasons you know, or have shared with thousands of viewers on Youtube, in articles, or on talk shows.

I attended the 74th annual Eastern Regional Conference of the National Sorority of Phi Delta Kappa, Inc. this weekend. The keynote speaker told  a story about a young man who was a fantastic, motivated, teacher.
One day the young man approached him and said, "I can't take it anymore. I just can't take it anymore. And he quit.

He said that between the disinterested students, the nonsupportive parents, testing, administration, he was done. Another good one was lost.

The speaker was upset that he quit, but he could also understand his decision.

Then he shouted, "We talk a lot about those who quit, but today, I want to salute those of you who stay!'

Thunderous applause!!!!!!

We stay. We stay, even though we are bowing under a lot of the same pressures this teacher faced. We stay. We refuse to give up, even though some days are harder than others.

We worry, who will be left to teach our children? If we leave, will our children be left with teachers who see teaching as a job, a paycheck? Will they be stuck with teachers who don't share our passion?

One thought that was repeated this weekend is that teaching is a ministry. You have chosen to do this, or it has chosen you. Regardless, most of us want to do it well. Most of us are in it for the kids.

The speaker talked about how he is torn when young people come to him and want to join the profession that could quite possibly suck the life out of you.. It reminded me of Pernille Ripp's article about her daughter who wants to teach.  His first thought is to tell them to run, but on the other hand, he knows what kind of teachers we need in the schools.

I salute all who not only stay, but stay and do their job well amidst all the chaos called teaching. Those of you who continue to challenge, encourage, engage, inspire, support, love,  praise, push, prod, and most of all, teach our children. Those of you who realize that if we all quit, who would be left to teach our children?

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week! I salute those of you who stay!!!!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

From Director to Facilitator:Losing Control of the Classroom!

The other day I witnessed an interaction in my classroom that made me realize that my students were where I wanted them to be, independent of me.:)

My students were writing blog posts about our trip to Frawley Stadium. They were inserting pics from a Google Folder. This was a new concept, so I taught one or two of them. Teach two, they teach the rest.

I could see one of my students struggling at the back table. Although I was standing right beside her, she didn't say a word to me, did not bother to ask for help. She stood up, walked over to the desktop computers, and asked a student I had previously taught for help. That student walked over, and proceeded to guide her through the process. Listening to the way this student patiently explained it to the struggling student made me proud.:) Why? I was not part of the equation. They did not need me.

How many of us can let go of control in our classrooms?

How many of us can allow students to ignore us, and turn to their classmates?

How many of us can do this? Especially those of us who have believed that discipline and classroom management comes from rows in single file, and no talking?

That's the tradition I come from, but I relinquished that power a while ago.

Is my room a perfect slice of heaven? By no means! I have the same issues other classrooms may have. Disrespectful students, bickering, tattling, bullying, and/or students who don't want to work, but it doesn't happen often. I have 20 students this year, but it has worked with 27. I have students of all races, and they are not all "gifted." So, there's no, "Oh now I see how you do it!" here.

Here's how I managed:
  • strong, classroom management (There has to be structure)
  • build a sense of community (I use Responsive Classroom)
  • allow students to move without permission
  • get rid of rows (My students decided how they wanted the desks)
  • let students be part of the decision-making process (That was difficult for me)
  • let go of direct instruction every minute of the day
  • upped engagement in the classroom (integrating tech in my classroom has enhanced my lessons, not replaced them)
I love having  students who work cooperatively, think creatively, and continue to amaze me with their ownership of our classroom!

 photo credit: Boston Public Library via photopin cc

Friday, April 18, 2014

"From Nothing to Something":Thank a Teacher!

The words in the title are not my words.

As I was making my way home from a loooong day that was a combination of my 5th grade babies and my hour stint as a Read Aloud volunteer, I was listening to the radio station, winding down  from a day of all children, all the time.

The question being asked of callers was, "Which teacher would you like to thank, and why?"  According to the host, the lines were lit up ever since the question was asked. Caller after caller, named a teacher that was near and dear to them. That teacher they never forgot, could never forget.

It seemed that their responses shared a common theme. Surprisingly, not one of them said that they remembered the teacher that got them to pass a standardized test. :)

I listened to callers talk about teachers. A teacher who "took them from nothing to something." The teacher that was "strict, but showed them mother-love", the multitude of teachers that would not give up on a child, even if giving up seemed to make the most sense. You could tell from the passion in their voices, that these teachers they spoke of, were not in it for summer vacation, days off, or benefits, they were in it for those kids.

It just seems that in order to make that kind of impression on a know teachers have the ability to do just that.

In order to make that kind of impression on a person...these were not children calling in, these were adults.

In order to make that kind of impression on a person...where they remember not only the grade, but your full name, you had to mean something, you had to do something that stuck.

You were so much more than a teacher, you were what connected them to wherever they were headed.

I am fortunate to have taught so many years, and to be on the receiving end of visits and/or emails from former students. What a wonderful feeling to know you have touched someone's life so deeply.

I know we all don't take a child "from nothing to something.", but we make a difference. We care, we love, we matter.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Field Trippin!:Take Me Out to the Ball Game- No Educational Experience Required!

Sometimes kids just need a day out and away, an escape from
Common Core, Standardized testing, close reading, non-fiction, an escape.
Teachers need it too.
And when we are out together, having fun, it just makes for a good day!:)

fresh air.
baseball. (Have to be honest, out of 9 innings, I only saw 4 plays.)
conversation- student to student, student to teacher, teacher to parents, and teacher to my now middle school babies who attended the game as well.
food - hot dogs,  Crab fries-Can you say yummy?
selfies- never saw so many selfies being taken in my life! (Ok, yeah,the teachers took one too)
real world math - "Look, Mrs.M, (pointing to scoreboard), decimals!" (LOVE it)

Discover paid for our kids to attend a Minor League baseball game. Just a day out, teachers, students, and parents chillaxing at the ball game. It was great! A chance to get to know each other away from the confines of the classroom. Nice.:)

My babies will blog about it, so that others can share in their excitement. Stuck all our pics in a Google folder, and shared it with them all. So, even if they didn't take pics, they have access to them. If they took pics, they added them.

Also, going to work on creating a Narrable of our trip.(HAVE to find the time!) We have our headphones from DonorsChoose, so it will be easy to have students record their voices.

fresh air

We were field trippin, and we loved it!:)

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Childhood, Where Art Thou? Why Can't Kids Be Kids?

My girls are coming in with highlights in their hair.
I'm not even thinking about the damage coloring can do to one's hair, it just seems to me to be one of those things you wait to do when you grow up.
You know.
Like going to the spa.
Traveling the world.
Hotel parties.
Having boyfriends and girlfriends.
Getting a mani-pedi.
Staying up all night.
Seeing R-rated movies.

Our kids are doing all these things as children, and it makes me wonder what they will do when they get older.
What will they do for excitement?
If you have done all the things you wanted to do when you grew up, what do you yearn for when you grow up? What do you wish for?
Is anything left?

I know.
We want to give our kids what we didn't have.
I can see the pros and the cons of that want.

You know what I want? I want them to go outside and play.
I want them to enjoy movies appropriate for children.
I want them to have something exciting waiting for them when they "grow up."
I want them to understand that there's nothing wrong with laughing at something dorky, or singing a silly tune.
I want them to know they will be a child once.

And I just hope that no matter what goes on outside of school, they know that they can be a child, just a child, highlights and all, within our classroom walls!

photo credit: roseannadana via photopin cc
Kids: conversations

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Custodian Made Them Walk: School as a Community!

The other day I was on my way to pick up my students from Special. Our custodian, older gentleman, was speaking to two kindergartners.

He stated firmly, "Ok, now walk down the hall."

The two kindergartners looked at him, looked at me, and began walking.

He turned to me, shaking his head, and said, "They were running down the hallway!"

I said, "Good for you. They could have hurt themselves."

Another adult might  have watched those kids run, and thought, "They're not my kids."

Too often, our school is just that, a school. A place where everyone has a position, and they don't budge from it.

The custodians clean, administrators lead, lunch staff serves lunch, teachers teach etc...

But it shouldn't be that way, we should all be involved in the well-being of our students. Not just the ones in our classroom, but the students in our school.

I speak to every student I see in the hallway, even if they don't answer. Sometimes, I get a big, cheery, hello. Other times the eyes are averted, or downcast, and a squeak of a hello comes out. And then there are the times, I get no answer, but I still speak, because I consider all of the kids in the building my own.

One of my colleagues "mentors" a student in a lower grade, trying to get him to be successful. Not because she was asked, but because she saw his struggles and wanted to help.

One of our custodians is a coach, so he makes a habit of talking  to the kids while he's in the lunchroom waiting to clean up.

A parent, who don't even have kids in the school anymore, reads to students.

And forget about our secretary, she is everyone's mother!:)

I attended a union conference Saturday, and the president stated, "When I talk about the union, I'm not just talking about teachers. I am talking about custodians, lunch personnel, bus drivers, any, and, everyone who supports the schools."

"It takes a village..."(African proverb)

It does. And that's the way our schools should be, everyone, from the administrator to the custodian, should have a sense of  responsibility for the success and well-being of all our students.

Monday, March 3, 2014

I Wish I Could Clone You: A Teacher's Dream Child!

I have at least one every year.
That child  I wish I could clone.
The kid that is so sweet, respectful, polite, works hard, helpful, gets along with their peers, an absolute delight!

Sigh. I wish I could clone them.

But you know what? I would have a very boring classroom.

Each one of our students is an individual complete with their own idiosyncrasies. Love it or hate it, we have to accept them for who they are.

However, we do have the option of tweeking them. Not so much that they lose who they are, but enough so that they can be a positive influence in our classroom family.

There's nothing wrong with trying to make the disrespectful, respectful.
The needy, self-sufficient.
The slacker, a hard worker.

That's part of our job. We can't throw back the ones we don't want, and we definitely can't clone them. But we can work with what we're given, and hopefully, make a difference!

photo credit: Blue Skyz Media via photopin cc

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Questions for a Standardized Test: Maybe Your Creators Can Answer!

  • See the picture above, that's my first question.
  • Why am I told to make anchor charts that my students use throughout the year, and then told to take them down during testing? Do you really believe that any of my anchor charts have answers on them?
  • Why are we told to use technology to enhance instruction, become paperless, etc.., and then told our kids cannot use the computers once they are finished the test? What are they going to be able to do, give another student answers?
  • Why must I force my students to sit for hours taking a test that proves...?
  • Why do my students' show growth on these tests, but are still made to feel like failures because they did not meet the "target"?
  • Who created these "targets"? What are they based on? Made a call to DOE 2 years ago, still waiting for an answer.
  • Why am I giving a Science test based on the K-5 curriculum? Seriously? Have you ever heard of the Summer Slide? Now, consider 4 years!Oh wait, I forgot, I can just review when I am not teaching the current curriculum.
  • Why is my effectiveness as an educator tied to a single test score? And now, a "target" test score!
  • Why are we forced to focus on the "maybe they might pass it" kids and give them intensive test prep, ignoring the rest?
  • Why do we hold Pep rallies in your honor?
  • Why do my kids become a statistic based on gender, race, special education, etc... because of the scores they receive?
  • How does a test score prove that my students are not learning from me?
  • Why do I let you make me feel as if I am a failure because my kids don't pass? (At times)
  • Why are you important? What do you tell me about each child, each individual, in our classroom? 
Why don't you just go away and let me teach?

Monday, February 17, 2014

Seniority Has No Privileges:Eliminating Teacher Tenure!

I've always equated age with wisdom, thus, leading me to believe that a veteran teacher has a lot to offer.

Of course, there are older teachers who refuse to change. They are teaching the way they used to be taught, and see the changes in education as
just another phase.  But there are a number of older teachers, myself included, who have changed, and shouldn't be thought of as someone who should be put out to pasture.

In the past few years, tenure has been under attack. When tenure is attacked, many veteran teachers fall victim. This article about tenure explains what tenure really is. Tenure is not a way to keep "bad" teachers in the classroom. That is a myth. Tenure is a way to make sure teachers receive due process. Unfortunately, this process is being taken away from teachers.

Two instances stand out for me. North Carolina is being battered.  They are a right-to-work state, they are suffering from pay cuts, and tenure has been removed. "Teacher tenure has been replaced by a merit-based system that rewards long-term contracts to the top 25 percent of teachers, and shorter contracts to everyone else."  When I asked the question regarding the criteria for the top 25%, one of my Facebook followers said that there is no criteria. Are you as scared as I am? I'm thinking of two ways off the top of my head that a teacher can be placed in the top 25%.  Test scores or your daddy is a good friend of an administrator. Can you say cheating scandal and/or nepotism? Cases like these, those who are really the top 25% wouldn't benefit.

In California, there is a lawsuit against tenure by students, and a Silicon valley mogul. This mogul set up a nonprofit group called StudentsMatter. The students say it is too easy to keep "bad" teachers because of tenure. Of course there are "bad" teachers. But does this mean you should strip away a process that benefits "good" teachers? They are also worried about seniority rules which allows the newest teachers to be fired, even if their performance is adequate. Of course, how teachers should be evaluated, is not part of this lawsuit.

There are many groups that have been formed to "get" teachers. It's unbelievable that a profession where the majority of its employees work hard, and go above and beyond for their students, are so reviled. StudentsMatter and other groups are already talking to people in other states about lawsuits to eliminate tenure. Think about it, if you were trying to destroy public education, and replace them with money-making charter schools,would you want unionized employees?

 If they win the lawsuit in California, watch out! No tenure and/or seniority may be coming to a district near you!