Top Ten Thoughts for the Day Concerning Humanity and Myself.

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Don’t expect this to be a regular thing….but a hospital apparently makes me reflective and I was only there for an hour over a non-emergent issue—no need to send flowers).

Thought #1: By 2014 racial slurs should be extinct. Get it together.
Thought #2: Sometimes I want to do something juvenile. Like fill out a crappy review on the Better Business Bureau website for someone who is being nasty to me or someone I care about. Not because I’ve ever used their business, but because I’m mad and then I would move on. And my fake name would either be: Tawanda (Fried Green Tomatoes reference) or I’d just stick with a blunt, not so literary option: SuckIt
Thought #3: I can actually take a hint.
Thought #4: Sometimes I receive the message/hint loud and clear, but I just keep-on-keeping-on, because I think your hint is hypocritical and,yeah, I’m stubborn.
Thought #5: People that speak via a horse’s a$$ are pathetic.
Thought #6: If you want change, get off your a$$.
Thought #7: There’s a lot of good people in this world. I don’t know if I’m one of them, but I appreciate those that are.
Thought #8: Sometimes I think adult bullies should be disciplined on a regular basis, but then I remind myself that their daily punishment is they’re extremely unhappy with their lives and I’m just fine, thank-you-very-much.
Though #8.5: Plus KARMA is a B_________. So there.
Thought #9: The surface-y image you put out there of yourself does not mean you’re a person of good character. I know good people from all beliefs and lifestyles. It’s how you SPEAK to people and TREAT other people that are either the same or completely different from you, or somewhere in-between that matters. “Playing the Part” and actually “Living the Part” are not the same thing.
Thought #10: You ever wonder…..wait, I’m just going to censor myself on this last one and shake my head instead. It’s not worth it.

The Importance of Being a Reflective Teacher

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Let’s just get to the point.  One of the biggest indicators it’s time to get out of the teaching profession is if you never ask yourself why you’re actually doing what you’re doing in the classroom or you do ask yourself that question and the answer is incredibly lame.  What constitutes a lame answer: “It fills the time!”  Which is why bad educators frequently choose to show lengthy videos.  My advice if you’ve ever done this and really want to turn it around in 2014?  DON’T SHOW THE VIDEO.  Even if it’s the best video ever made in the history of mankind, but you plan on not incorporating an intellectual discussion, a journaling opportunity or the like, and you personally don’t feel like you are going to take the time to help your students see the film’s art to life connection in a way that will contribute in making them better people for having watched the video, then simply DON’T SHOW THE VIDEO.

This brings me to the main practice every educator should do in the lesson development process (and photocopying a worksheet out of a book or off the internet, is not an indicator that you’re developing anything besides busy work), which is REFLECTION.  Reflection shouldn’t only come after the lesson.  When creating the lesson plan, activities, etc. you need to ask yourself, “Why am I even doing this?”  If the main motivator is: It’s the next page/chapter in the book, it’s going to be on a test, it will keep the kids busy, or …I don’t know….I have to do something….right? Then your “lesson” is now a giant waste of everyone’s time. Of course not a waste of your time, because you took all of five minutes to come up with the “lesson”.  

Yes, there are times where you are teaching a skill. because someone higher up is ordering you to do it, but you should still possess the capacity to twist the required, but not always desired, elements into a lesson that you have a personal connection to.  

Why? Why? Why?  Never stop asking yourself, “Why?”  I want my students to be successful.  Honestly, you can be successful without a perfect ACT score.  At the end of the day if I can teach a lesson that motivates my students to decide if they’re going to strive to be better people–contribute to society in a positive way and treat those in their lives with kindness and respect, knowing it takes hard work, then I’ve done my job, because I treated my students with kindness and respect, through hard work as well.  I put the time in, that needs to be put in, to create a lesson with merit and content, not fluff and self-convenience.

Testing, Testing, Testing

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My six-year old son brought home his report card on Tuesday, and as a parent, I love the elementary report cards. They have both academic and behavior grades, but not in the form of a percentage or A,B,C,D, and F letter grade.  It focuses on benchmarks, areas that are needing improvement, progressing, and proficient.  It’s quite detailed and very informative.  The piece of paper in the envelope that was sent home that bothered me the most, was a graph explaining how he did on a recent standardized test (MAPs Reading Assessment).

According to the graph my child is not earning the RIT score he needs to in the winter season of first grade to be considered proficient….but on his report card he’s reading slightly above grade level.  I have no ill feelings towards Eli’s teachers.  They’re amazing.  What I don’t understand is why the state and federal level are requiring us to have little children test on computers…frankly why they have to take these tests at all.  I don’t think the maturity is there to be able to call this assessment environment a true measure of what a little child knows and doesn’t know.  Now, you might be thinking, “Oh Laura, you’re only on the defense, because your son didn’t score well.”  Look, I’ve seen the passages on these standardized tests.  They’re pretty dry.  The test-makers claim they try to find passages at students’ interest levels, but I find they usually miss the mark.  For example, when I taught 7th grade English, our state NeSA Reading Assessment had a passage about Tom Osborne, one of the legendary coaches of our Nebraska football team (if you’re not from Nebraska, we don’t have pro-football, so the Husker College football team is our state obsession).  I’m sure the test creators thought, “This is perfect!  Kids love the Huskers!” The problem is Osborne retired before any of my 7th graders were alive/watching football on TV.  To them, he’s not a household name.

The reason why I’m frustrated with my son’s dipping graph that was sent home, is because it doesn’t match how he’s performing in the classroom and it doesn’t match what my husband and I are seeing at home.  Our child reads and thinks about higher-level topics all the time.  A couple weeks ago he asked us, “What is a split atom?”.  His verbal vocabulary has always blown me away.  He will use a word like “element” instead of settling for “thing.”.  What many people, who don’t my son, will see when looking at this testing data is a number; a student who’s “not performing at grade level”, when in fact he is, and in his mind is probably mentally giving these computerized/standardized tests the middle finger.

A Little Sparkle Never Hurt Anyone

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I teach in a 4 by 1 block schedule, which means come Monday I will have a brand new roster of students since an 88 period day equates to teaching a whole year’s curriculum in one semester.  I teach Reading to mostly freshmen and a handful of upperclassmen that need extra help in the area of fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension taken in addition to their required English class.  The first week of fall semester was the first time I’d ever taught a “Reading” class.  Prior I had taught English 7, Composition 8, English 9, English 10, Communications 10, English 11, English 12, and Creative Writing/Newspaper during my first 10 years as a Language Arts teacher.  

What I learned within the first 10 minutes of class was that these kids were going to keep staring at me with their glazed over/dazed expressions if I didn’t pull out my version of the Disney World Castle Fireworks Extravaganza.  A.K.A. I was reminded of the importance of front-loading. I normally do it before a lesson, but the first week I take a portion of each class to simply give the students ideas of what their independent reading books/titles could be.  I book-talked, I held up the concrete evidence that the book existed in my room, etc., etc., but I found what convinces any student to actually even consider reading the text is an artistic or creative audio-visual.  This generation of students love to watch movies, YouTube clips, video games, Vine’s, etc.  There are some great book trailers out there, posted on YouTube or on publishing companies’ websites and I am grateful, whether it’s a pre-recorded book review, a mini-movie or movie preview vibe, or an Edmodo/slideshow-like explanation of the book to music with written words, it’s much more intriguing to my teen audience then listening to their aging teacher’s advice (no matter how with-it I am in terms of pop culture).

Every teacher in every subject matter needs to enthusiastically front-load if they are truly invested in encouraging their students to be excited about the topic being covered in class.  Just because you really love Math, History, Science, etc. doesn’t many there’s a single student in your classroom that feels the same way.  Most of my students find the act of reading to be frustrating so rather than to continue to read/practice the skill, they’ve simply decided it’s the last thing they want to engage in, in their spare time.  Not only do you have to possess life and energy in your voice, but ask yourself, non-verbally do you seem excited about what you’re covering in class?  Are you standing up and walking around the room or sitting in one chair for the whole duration of class?  The visual you provide just from your stage presence alone is huge when initially grabbing their attention.

The line I have to draw though is making sure the technology you use does not replace the instruction/human-to-human contact/relationships.  Front loading shouldn’t just be pushing play.  Most of the “Sparkle” needs to come from you and the content coming out of your mouth.  You’re the foundation/castle, and the audio/visual is the extra little pizzazz even light show (let’s just go with this analogy, shall we?).  Yes, the fireworks spice it up at night when the castle can’t be seen as well in the dark, but during the daytime, when there’s no pyro-mechanics taking place, you’re still respected and acknowledged.  In a phrase, make it as memorable as possible, but keep it real. 

If book trailers don’t work for you, consider using music.  There are a plethora of raps, jingles, and parodies used to explain Math and Science concepts (for example).  There is also plenty of artwork, along with music, that artists have created to illustrate moments in History.  It’s not enough to simply say, “You need to do this to get ready for college.”. “You need to do this to prepare you for next year.”, or “You need to do this to survive in the real-world.”  Don’t get me wrong, those are all valid reasons as to why a student should “do” something, but why will they enjoy it in this moment? Show them. Light the way.

Looking for a New Year’s Resolution? Try Common Courtesy.

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There’s been a lot of wonderful events to celebrate and appreciate when I look back on 2013, but now it’s 2014 and as everyone has decided THIS is the year they’re going to lose weight, and hey, an awesome goal, but I think we all can tack another goal onto our list of resolutions/life reformations: Common Courtesy/Tact.  I feel the reason why this topic can’t leave my brain when I decided what my next blog post would be (I’m trying to write more in 2014), is because while out and about when shopping for my son’s Christmas presents last month, I saw an abundance of common courtesy offenders.  There were days where I felt surrounded by annoying juvenile behavior…but yet I was surrounded by adults.  Here are some obvious (yet it doesn’t feel like they’re practiced enough) offenses we should all try to avoid:

Category #1 = Volume Issues

* Don’t make your children’s problems everyone else’s problems when in public.  I’ve seen moms and dads verbally rip their toddlers/kids apart and I don’t question their parenting pre-scream, because every child goes through the Terrible 2’s and Horrible 3’s or teen angst/attitude.  It’s when I see parents screaming at their child to “Stop screaming!” that I think, “You’re hypocritically adding to the noise pollution, and you’re the adult in this scenario.”  Get at the child’s level, tone it down, and try to make your public situation as private as possible.  Trust me, no one around you will be put-out if you can deescalate the issue yourself.  They’ll quietly/silently thank you for it.

* On the flip side, there are also times when friendly shouting is unnecessary.  Like if someone can’t hear you even when you’re shouting….continuing to shout isn’t a means to an end, so again walk up to the person and start using that lovely indoor voice.  Most of the time your volume isn’t registering in their ears, because there isn’t mutual eye contact.  Get close to those lovely side holes and talk at a normal register, or if you’re argument is, “But they REALLY CAN’T hear me—they’re old, those darn ineffective hearing aids, etc.” Then good grief, just write it down.

*In my old neighborhood I had great neighbors and I had neighbors that were loud!  The latter never exited their cars to knock on a door; it was instead a constant of honking, loud swearing, hyperactive dogs barking, stereo’s blasting, etc. You can get just as much accomplished in your life without trashing up the atmosphere with noise rather than worthy words/audio. Same goes for the classroom. For example: If your neighboring teacher is giving a test (because it’s FINAL EXAM DAY) then probably not a good time to show a movie with surround sound.

Category #2 – Space

*Respect other people’s space, whether if you’re in their home, classroom, or out in public and standing next to them.  Even if you’re at someone’s house and they’re not the tidiest, that still doesn’t give you permission to be messy or to add to the mess.  If you plan on not taking it with you, and it’s not a gift, it better find it’s way into a trash bin, courtesy of your doing, before you leave that location.  Don’t spill something and then walk away, it is your job not to add to the stain museum that may or may not already exist.  I’m amazed at how people see something fall from their plate, and walk away as if the invisible dog (that’s obviously not there) licked it up for you, WHEN IT CLEARLY DIDN’T!   I will take this time to acknowledge that my CAPS might be a contradiction of the whole “not shouting thing”, but there’s no audible noise attached to it, so, yeah, there’s my retort:).

*Don’t complain about the temperature in the room.  Start wearing layers.  I have had students complain about the oven I teach in the second they walk into the room.  I remind them that I can’t control it; I’m in here for 7 hours instead of 90 minutes at a time, and that no one hears me complaining about it, I just turn on a fan.  I also have students that are self-sufficient.  For every warm room in my school building, there’s cold rooms too.  How do they solve the problem?  They don’t whine.  They bring a blanket for those specific classes and move on with life.  Genius.  And never, NEVER change the thermostat if you’re not paying the utility bill yourself or it’s part of your rental plan.

*Double-parking.  Yeah, yeah, there are some lines/establish spaces that were painted/measured before mammoth trucks and SUV’s were built, but if you can’t maneuver your beast, then get a jelly bean on wheels and park your automobile between the lines.  And for those of you that back into reverse so you can peel out of that children’s piano recital as quickly as humanly possible, only do it if there aren’t cars behind you or if you can miraculously back it in, in one attempt (and those of you that can, I’m envious).  Holding up the line for that high-maintenance move is kind of lame.

Category #3 – Table Manners

Let’s get to it: 1). Don’t talk with food in your mouth; 2) Use a napkin (cloth/paper, not tongue); 3) Don’t touch food that you’re not going to eat; 4). If the food is meant to be eaten with a fork or spoon, then use the utensils; 5) When in doubt, if you can cut it with a knife and a knife is provided then don’t eat it with your hands; 6) Don’t take thirds of something until people have had an opportunity to have seconds;  and 7). Don’t critique children’s table manners (they’re still learning) if you’re a slob at the table yourself.

Category #4 – Contribute

*Basically, stop being lazy/make excuses.  Don’t expect other people to do something for you.  Don’t volunteer others to do something you’re fully capable of doing yourself.  One of my classroom rules has always been, “If you volunteer someone else against their will, you have just volunteered yourself.” Ask them first.  I’ve always told my son, you can ask them, but they can say, “No” and that’s okay.  That’s why you, “Have to have a Plan B (and C, and D)” another one of my classroom mottoes as well.

*If you sense there’s a problem, then fix it.  Some of you might be thinking, “Well, Laura, you’re voicing the problem, and not being a part of the solution.”  And to that I argue that posting on a blog, not anonymously, blurting out everything that’s been bothering me over the years about lack of common courtesy is doing something about it. Trust me, I’ve bit my tongue and rolled my eyes without saying anything for a LONG TIME (whether professionally, personally, or publicly) Let’s just get this out in the open shall we? I realize I’m taking a risk by burning bridges and/or making a lot of people in my life paranoid, wondering “Is she talking about ME?”, but I can guarantee you if you possess the ability to self-reflect prior to reading this post, and you consider yourself an ambitious person, then you’re probably not a frequent offender. I try to lead by example as best I can and I hope we can all be more respectful, kind and courteous to our friends, family, and strangers.