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.  :)