Saturday, February 20, 2016

When teaching is made harder.....

Contract negotiations.  When things go well between teachers and districts, no one thinks much about it.  However, when communication breaks down and agreements can't be struck, it can send a school year into turmoil.  That is what I am experiencing currently.  The district and union have been unable to come to agreement over salary and health benefits this year....and the year is more than halfway over.  Impasse was declared early on by the district and now we are working through the process with the hopes of avoiding a strike.  A lot of progress has been made...the salary increases have essentially been agreed to....but health care is the sticking point.  I have participated in more job actions than I ever thought would be needed---protesting with signs before school starts, attending school board meetings, politely declining extra-curricular requests, passing out flyers in neighborhoods, speaking at a school board meeting...the list goes on.  I am hopeful that we can get this worked out as soon as possible because it is destroying the community where I live and work.

But all of this has got me thinking.  Parents are up in arms because the teachers have stopped doing all the extra things that they have done for years and years--things for which they have not been compensated.  Tutoring, after school clubs, writing letters of recommendations, family nights, posting grades for parents to see, staying for extended conferences, etc.  When it is pointed out to parents that those things are done out of kindness, and are not part of the job description, some "question your morals and ethics."  It is for the children, they say--not recognizing, or caring, that the extra time you give there comes out of time that you give your own personal family.  The extra money that you spend in your classroom means that there is less money for your own personal interests.  The extras that are given generously become expected rather than appreciated. 

So, as this as all reared its ugly head, it makes me wonder why teachers give so much of themselves away.  It doesn't happen in many other professions.  Lawyers bill for the extra hours they put in, doctors don't have to apologize profusely for making you wait 40 extra minutes for your appointment, vets don't treat your sick dogs for free.  Policemen and firefighters get overtime pay.  Companies look out for their best interests, at the expense of the consumers.  We want plumbers at our beck and call--but boy do we pay for it.  What goes on in those other professions that we don't see?  Is it equivalent to the life of a teacher?  People will argue that teachers get a lot of time off--but do they?  Most of the ones that I know work way beyond their contract hours and days.  There are, sadly, more questions than answers.

But I do know this.  I know that when an agreement is struck, the bad feelings won't go away. Words and actions may be forgiven, but they wont' be forgotten.  I know that feeling valued and appreciated is an essential need.  And I have learned that negativity, no matter how hard you try to keep it separate, permeates everything and it feeds off of others.  These are lessons that I can apply in my own classroom.  Words and actions need to be carefully considered.  Finding solutions rather than focusing on problems will produce better outcomes.  Making sure my little ones know that they are loved--no matter what--that I value and appreciate them.  Even when it is hard---those things will make everything easier.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Summarizing Fun!

Being able to summarize is such an important skill--but getting kids to focus just on the important ideas can be quite an undertaking.  Kids love to retell, in every glorious detail!  For them, everything seems important--and let's be honest, it was to us when we were younger too!  Age and life experience has a way of crystallizing importance--but as a kid, when everything is brand new and exciting, every little thing seems significant.

Over the years, I have tried a variety of techniques to help my students learn the difference between summarizing and retelling.  We worked hard to determine what was the main idea and what was simply a detail.  We have sorted, discussed, cut things apart, made charts, completed graphic organizers, etc.  First, next, then, finally.  Two sentence summaries.  For some kids, these techniques were very successful--but I still had many who had two sentence summaries that were at least 8 solid sentences long (which led to another lesson on the run-on sentence)  or who included details that were important to them, but not to the story.  

And then, I discovered the "12 word summary."  I can't recall where I learned about this technique--so I am unable to give credit where credit is due--but it has been quite a game changer in my classroom.  First of all, I don't use it all the time, because it is challenging.  But when I do break it out, the kids get excited--they view it as fun and "easy" because it is only 12 words.   Little do they know, they are working hard to get the chapter down to just 12 words--exactly 12 words (or 10 or 13--12 is not a magic number--it is just reasonable.)  They have to grapple with the most important ideas and work with their writing skills to be able to communicate in a complete sentence, or two.  

Here are two recent examples from a novel we are reading:

Give it a try--you might be pleasantly surprised.  :)

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Reflecting at the end of the year.

The past few months have had more struggles than successes in them...professionally and personally.  Some days I am just grateful to have made it through to the end of the day intact.  There have been moments where I question every decision I have made since becoming an adult.  I hear those cliches in my head such as"What doesn't kill you makes you stronger" and I just think "Seriously?  How much stronger can I possibly be at this point?"  It is all so overwhelming at times.  

And then, something happens that gives you a glimmer of hope, a peek into a future in which the successes will outweigh the struggles, a time when there will be more smiles than tears.  Usually the moment is a small one....a student muttering under her breath "The struggle is real" as she tackles a challenging math problem; a presentation that veers off topic into an unbridled joy of sharing something "very cool"that was learned during the process; hearing your dog snorting with joy when she gets a treat;  listening to impassioned speeches to the school board about the value of teachers....the list of tiny moments goes on.  And it is the tiny moments that are the moments of saving grace for they are the things that make you stronger....that help you get through the ick and muck of everyday living. 

I hope that 2016 brings tons of tiny moments to you.....and to me.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Reddit Gift for teachers!

So this year, I read about the reddit gift exchange for teachers early enough to sign up.  I really didn't know what to ask for---any basic school supplies would have been appreciated.  I couldn't have asked for my first experience with reddit to be better--not only did it warm my heart, but it taught my students a valuable lesson in kindness.

My secret Santa, Edmund, was incredible.  When we were matched up, he emailed me asking for more specific ideas about what would be helpful.  (He said it had been a while since he had been in school--I loved that!)  I wasn't much help with my reply--colored pencils, books, a set of Mr. Sketch markers.   I knew that we would use whatever he decided to send.

Then about two weeks ago, I got a call from the office asking me to send a student down to pick up a box that had been delivered.  I started mentally cataloging my recent Amazon orders, but nothing came to mind.   So when the student returned with a huge box, I was surprised.  As I started to open it, I realized that it was my reddit teacher gift!  I stopped what I was doing to tell the class how a stranger out in the world had sent us some gifts--just because---not to get anything, not because he had to, just because.  (Of course, I had a famous "marshmallow moment" and had a few tears trickle down my face......I used to be as tough as nails, but I think old age has turned my insides to mush--I warn my classes about it now because I cry over touching things all the time.)  We couldn't believe how many things we had received:  pens, pencils, paper, a pack of the Mr. Sketch markers.

The kids applauded spontaneously and one of them suggested we write thank you notes.  So, we stopped Social Studies and got about the business of expressing gratitude.....I think it was an excellent trade off.  I gave everyone a few pens and pencils...which made them super happy--my kiddos love pens this year.

But it wasn't over.   The following week 4 sets of Crayola colored pencils arrived---boxes of 50!  I go through tons of colored pencils every year.....such a useful and fabulous gift.  I will be able to refill my colored pencil pails with ease.

And it still wasn't over.   Today a giant box of books arrived.    The kids have already called dibs on the ones that they spotted as they were peering over my shoulder.  Could there be a better moment for a teacher?!?!?

The best part of this is that my kiddos---who see a lot of horrible things in the world--things that 10-11 year olds shouldn't even be aware of--were able to see that there are wonderful people out there who do wonderful things just because.  And, at a time where we as teachers hear a lot of negative things out there about our chosen profession, to have someone give so generously....well, I have no words.....just another marshmallow moment.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you Edmund, thank you so very much.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Back to School: Engagement

I am linking up again for the final Back to School in a Flash topic from Ramona Recommends, the Not So Wimpy Teacher, and Fancy Free in 4th.  This week it is all about engagement--how to keep the kids motivated and interested in learning.  I think that novelty is so important in this area--especially with 6th graders.  They are usually game for just about anything--as long as their friends don't scoff at it!  And if they think it is a game, they are usually all in.

Last year, I picked a Jumbo Magnetic Spinner Wheel up on Zulily for a bargain.  It took a while to arrive, so we only had it for the last month of school--but the kids loved it.  I think the physical act of being able to spin it themselves and hear the clicks was a big draw.  I think the applications of it are somewhat endless--so I can't wait to introduce it to my new class.  One of its best features is that it has a variety of different laminated faces with different numbers of sections--and you can write on them with dry erase pens.

Another fun way to keep them engaged is to keep them moving.  GoNoodle, Scoot, Math moving chairs, Scavenger Hunts, Gallery Walks.  There are so many different things that you can do to keep them on their toes.  I know that sitting for hours in a workshop is difficult for me--and I have far more patience than an 11 year old.  Being able to get up and move around is beneficial in so many ways--I try to make sure that we move at least once every hour.

Having students work together in partners or groups is an easy way to implement engagement strategies.  There are so many great activities that teachers post on TPT to encourage this--such as the Stick it Together reader response activity from Runde's Room.  Kagan is also a great resource for engagement strategies--one of my favorite is Sage and Scribe. (You can find a simple explanation of it here.)

I truly think that even your most resistant students can't help but learn when they are actively engaged in whatever the subject is and the more entertained they are, the more involved they will be.  A structured, active class is usually a happy, productive one.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Advice for New Teachers Link -Up

Teaching in your own classroom is a great profession--and as much as they try, your college courses aren't able to truly prepare you for it.  This Back to School Link-Up is a great idea because it gives new teachers some invaluable advice and reminds us that we are not alone.

I remember my first day of teaching like it was yesterday.  I was 21 years old, fresh out of college, and had been hired four days before first day of school.  I was in awe of the knowledge of my new teammates and too new to know the right questions to ask.  Luckily, I was armed with a book called "The Keys to the Classroom" that was developed by the New Teacher Project out of my alma mater UCSC.

And then, 20 minutes after school started, one my new 4th graders blurted out "That's jacked up" when I was going over my expectations.  At that point, I don't know who was more terrified--the student who said it or the teacher who had to deal with it or the 28 other students who were waiting to see what was going to happen.  With a deep breath and a prayer, I asked her to step outside and after I got the other kids busy, I was able to talk with her and found out that she was just scared because there were words up in the classroom that she didn't know and she was afraid that it was going to be a bad year.  It was easy to empathize with her.  I was experiencing many of the same emotions.

So my major piece of advice to new teachers is be empathetic.  There is that saying that goes something like "Be kind for everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about."  Too often we make assumptions about situations based on our own experiences. My first thought was that little girl was challenging my authority because she wanted to show off in front of her friends.  Turned out that she was just acting out because of her own fears--she actually was a really neat kid with a really horrible background.  By removing her from the spotlight, it allowed her dignity to remain intact, as well as my own.  And the conversation we had was the first step toward developing a relationship that made her school year more successful.

Two things that are indispensable to me are my Mr. Sketch markers and my planbook.  I make a lot of anchor charts for the kids (we used to call them VIP--visual instructional plans!)  Mr. Sketch markers are beautiful, bold colors that rarely run out as you are creating the charts.  Using different colors helps focus students--for example, you might be showing the steps of long division and can use different colors to match the different steps so that it easier for the kids to follow or refer back to at a later time.  Making sure that you start off each week with plans is essential.  It is so easy to lose instructional minutes throughout the day--especially when you are first starting out.  Planning helps to keep you on schedule and focused.   I doubt you will stick to the plans as written, but they will give you a great framework.  This year I am going to attempt to make the jump to an electronic planbook---I don't know if it will take or not, but I figure it might be worth a try.

Lastly three tricks of the trade--wow, there are so many tricks out there.  Before you know it, your bag of tricks will be overflowing and you won't believe there was a time when you didn't use them.

One of the most important things that I have learned throughout the years is that kids respond much better to positive directions instead of negative ones.  Tell them what you want and expect to see instead of what you don't.  Are there some students who are off-task?  Instead of calling them out, try to say "I see 20 students working really hard on learning right now--thank you so much."  I bet the off-task ones will get right to work.  I am not advocating the "Let's be more like Johnny" approach--refer to table groups, or areas of the room, or just say students.  It really is amazing how much most of them will respond to this method of classroom control--and it helps build a really positive classroom environment.

Another trick I have is clean-up at the end of the day.  My 6th graders love to use our clean-up time to stand around and talk--they aren't too keen about picking up after themselves.  However, if I say that I have a "mystery object" and will give a prize (always small) to the person who finds it and either puts it away or throws it away, you would be amazed by how many kids start scurrying around the room desperately trying to be the winner.  When most of the trash is picked up and things are put away, I pick my object--that is the trick part!  (Although most of them never figure that out!)

Finally, a handy trick that I have learned with creating my anchor charts in front of my students is the pencil trick.  Create a chart ahead of time lightly in pencil.  Then, when you are making it with the students as you are providing direct instruction, you just go over the pencil marks with your markers.  Your chart ends up looking pretty good, it helps keep you on track with your lesson, and your kids think you are a superstar as you create the chart with ease!

Hope you have a fabulous year and--when you get a chance to breathe--remember to enjoy it!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

A Giveaway & BTS in a Flash: Decor

Hi there--

My $20 TPT giveaway ends soon, so if you haven't signed up, click here.

I'm joining the Back to School in a Flash Linky Party that some great bloggers (Ramona Recommends, the Not So Wimpy Teacher, and Fancy Free in 4th) have put together.  This week it is decor and more!  

I use colored pencils a lot in my teaching.  I am not a huge fan of markers because they run out of ink so easily and crayons can be difficult to use due to their thicker I encourage my kids to use colored pencils on a regular basis for their coloring.  I also use them to underline specific things we are looking for in our reading, instead of highlighters (mainly because they are cheaper and you have a greater variety of colors.)  I used to just toss my extra colored pencils in a bin and when my students needed to find a particular color, they went searching.  However that took a lot of class time--waiting for them to root through the container.  A few years ago, I saw a teacher who separated colored pencils by color and then I spotted the pails at Target.  It has been one of the best improvements in my classroom!

Another thing that helps me out a lot in my room is the words that I have hanging from the ceiling.  They are the different verbs for Bloom's Taxonomy and are a great visual reminder for me when I am discussing any subject matter with them.  In the past I would tend to ask questions that were mainly knowledge or comprehension--but now I hit the higher level thinking questions with greater regularity.  In addition, having the those academic words posted is great for the kids to see on a daily basis.  

I can't wait to see what other teachers have posted...there are so many great ideas out there!