PYT/DCT (Daily Cool Thing)

I did the “Cabbage Patch” dance in my mind just now when I saw that I was referred from a site called, “Dailycoolthing.com”.  I know its dorky, but when you feel your voice is going unheard and you think you are losing hope in a cause, it makes a difference to get a shout out from a complete stranger who read your deepest thoughts and thought enough to share them with others!

 

I spent a LOT of time reflecting this weekend about whether or not I am a good teacher, and I came to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter if I think I am a good teacher, or even if others think I am (although its nice when they do…).  Ultimately, I have chosen teaching for some reason.  I chose it, even though I was told explicitly that I would not be a good teacher.  I chose it, even though I knew that I would not make a great deal of money, and would probably never receive recognition for what I did on a daily basis.  I am not a silver lining person.  I tend to try to see things as honestly as possible.  Which is why I struggle with dealing with difficult situations, in teaching, and in life.  I want to be positive, but I also want to be honest, with myself and others.  The black and white lens, through which I view the world, may seem restrictive, but in many ways it allows me to understand that I will not always agree with others (and sadly they will not always agree with me) but more than agreement, I seek to do what is right.  That’s why this blog means so much to me.  It allows me to analyze and interpret my own thoughts and the thoughts of others while holding myself accountable for everything that I say and do.  It’s easy for me to express my opinions and evaluations in a closed room, but difficult to click “Publish” at the end of a post and await a response…  Any response signals success, because it gives me feedback.  In considering transference to teaching, I always attempt to provide feedback to students so that they know that I care enough to give them a look when they say something rude, or have a conversation when they disrupt.  By the same token, I have trained myself to verbally (and often physically) celebrate success in the moment because I know how much it means to hear/see someone caring about your work!

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Sex, Relationships, and Body Changes, OH MY! (Cross post from Media and Technology Blog)

This was my first forray in blogging for my school’s Media and Technology blog.  It was a reflection from a recent lesson that I taught in health that was really fun for my students!

Sex, Relationships, and Body Changes, OH MY!

That’s right folks! It’s that magical time of year where I get to take a day each week and devote to talking with students about the importance of abstinence, inform them about the amazing changes that their bodies are going through, and discuss healthy relationships. I actually do not mind teaching health at all, because I get to know my students REALLY well and I enjoy co-teaching with the PE teacher on days that girls and boys have to be separated. What I do mind, however, is the scripted lessons and videos that put kids to sleep. The bright spot is that the 8th grade curriculum is MUCH more relaxed and allows me to get creative. Which brings me to today!

I drew from a somewhat interesting activity from the 8th grade curriculum, “Thinking About Abstinence” in which students pretend to be a radio talk show host who provides advice for teens and they write responses to the simulated questions. In the past, its been an ok activity where a few students felt enthusiastic, but in the end the responses go into the recycling bin. So, after some inspiring training on Blogging yesterday, presented by Tara and Forrest, I decided to try a different approach.

As students entered, I allowed them to choose their groups of 4 (always best to let them choose when dealing with sensitive material…). I had the dinosaur desktop, school laptop, my own laptop, and my iPod Touch ready to go with the website I created. Students read through the write-in questions, as if they were e-mails, and, as a group, generated responses.

Later, my 6th grade students read through the 8th graders responses and voted on the ones that they thought were best. Then, in groups, using my resources and their own iPhones!, they came up with questions about teen issues that they would like for the 8th graders to discuss. The 8th grade groups that have the most votes will actually record their responses to the real 6th grade questions! I am thinking they could either just do straight podcasts or even a Voki.

The entire process of creating this lesson took maybe one hour, and that includes creating the website, creating the forms with questions, and trouble-shooting the issue of embedding a form in a website (thanks Forrest!). It was really easy and fun. The worst part was when the students were all engaged and talking with each other and I was bored! Luckily, it gave me time to overhear conversations about whether or not their response was too mean, if their sentences made sense, and even some spell checking! I also could not get over how seriously they took this assignment. Even though I explained to some groups that this was not real, I still had students saying that they wanted to meet the students who wrote in! It reminded me of a recent TED Talk that I watched about robots and how people get really attached to robots!

 

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All Hail! Sir Ken Robinson!

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Retreat!

After a long break from blogging, due to sickness and exhaustion, I return, renewed and enthused.  I also attribute my refound enthusiasm to a recent “Tired Mothers Retreat”.  Retreats are opportunities for people to remove themselves from every day life.  Retreats offer individuals space and time for reflection and renewal.  In the past, I have attended retreats with church groups and even my co-workers.  When they’re over, though, reality sets in.  It’s not fair.  Why can’t retreats exist in daily life?

In a seemingly non-related conversation today I was discussing my notion that teachers do not need to offer consistency in classroom management and/or daily routine.  I think each teacher should be able to create the environment that they deem appropriate for their content and personal teaching style.  In a way, every classroom should be a retreat from daily life, and from every other classroom that students experience.  Seems simple, but it’s really not in the current education climate.  Why would it be scary for teachers to have autonomy over their class environment?  Well, students may rebel against uncreative and, to be honest, boring teachers!

In another, seemingly, unrelated conversation today, a teacher expressed that she felt students “in this generation” have an undeserved sense of “entitlement” and that they are “spoiled”.  Seems familiar.  Students feeling entitled?  How dare they?  In every faculty meeting and professional development “workshop” that I have ever attended, it has been discussed that these students are entitled to the best possible education and that it is our responsibility to figure out how to provide that.  We spout out terms like “21st Century Skills” and “preparing students for a world that we can’t even imagine yet.”  So how do we respond?  By resenting students for not accepting our attempts to teach them the content that we learned and in the way that we learned it?  Seems contradictory!

What we’re all trying to cope with is that education, and the profession of educating others, is fluid.  It changes in response to the people who participate in it.  What’s the best possible situation for students and teachers?  An environment that can adapt with people.  There is no initiative that can act as a panacea.  There is no one person who we should look to in order to copy.  There are no bad teachers.  Whoa!?!  The fact is that anyone who chooses education is a good teacher.  All students can learn.  Central offices are not inherently evil (there is no us vs them…)  The only bad ju-ju in education is the mistrust of the others we are involved with (that includes students and politicians).  This is not to say that we should take everyone at face value or that we should simply accept the status quo of the current system.  In fact, it’s the opposite.  We should question everything, and we should be open to being questioned.

There’s a certain uneasiness we all feel in being questioned.  It makes us feel defensive and unappreciated.  The art of debate has been bastardized and repressed because it creates discomfort, but it shouldn’t.  In my experience, most people I know have said that they grew the most when they were totally broken down.  Our nation has only grown through conflict.  Enlightenment happens when people speak out against the status quo.  On the other hand, we attribute peace to people’s mutual respect for law and order.  How do we balance our need for rules to follow (be it social, moral, martial, etc) and our need to question and become more enlightened?

Retreats!  Allow people (including students) those mountaintop moments in math, science, language, art, media, social studies, etc to explore, question, and grow and you will find societies of engaged and enlightened individuals.  If we make our classrooms into educational retreats, we don’t need accountability measures and unifying procedures because learning will be a reciprocal process that adapts at warp speed.  I think we’ll find parents who show up because they find they want to understand what is happening.  Its kind of a “If you build it, they will come…” situation.

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Tattoo it, if you really mean it

Ok, so this is a HIGHLY edited version of my tatoo (located on the top of my right foot).  It occurred to me today, while I was explaining to a student why they should not use a mechanical pencil to write on themselves…, that there’s some motivation in my generation for tattooing that was not there in previous generations.  Students often comment on my tattoo and ask why I got it.  It wasn’t an easy decision by any means.  I thought about it four years before finally getting the courage to go do it, and even then it really wasn’t my idea, thanks Lacy!

The cherry blossom on my foot reminds me of a time that I felt connected to something.  I would imagine that this is why many military service folks tattoo themselves with symbols and slogans from their particular branch.  My husband has his fraternity letters tattooed on his ankle.  For me, the week I spent in Washington, D.C. as a Cherry Blossom Princess was one of the most meaningful weeks of my life.  I know “princess” sounds a little icky, but it’s really more like an ambassador program where women, ages 19-23, represent their state during the annual Cherry Blossom Festival events.  During that week,

  • I met First Lady, Laura Bush, 
  • Toured the White House (actually went into the rooms! FYI this was not too long after 9/11 so there weren’t tours going on),
  • Toured parts of the Pentagon and City Hall,
  • Got a personal tour of the Senate quarters by Ted Stevens…,
  • Visited the Japanese, Lithuanian, and Thai Embassies,
  • Packed care packages at the USO,
  • Was the guest of honor at a party for South Carolinians living in D.C.,
  • Attended a ball, and
  • Walked in a parade!

It changed my life!  What does this have to do with education?  The only field trip that I have taken my students on this year was to an elementary school to perform for about 30 5th graders.  I don’t discount that this was valuable, but I have to say that I’m ashamed of the lack of drive that I’ve had for offering my students experiences, outside of the classroom.  I’ve decided, tonight, that I will now look at my tattoo and remind myself of the extra work that I need to put in, whether its grants or whatever, to change some lives.

(On a related note, I am having some stirring ideas about creating a co-op and wondering if anyone has opinions about co-ops versus charter or home-school?  And do you know how they work?  Thanks!)

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“You might possibly be the best teacher ever.”

Ha ha! That’s all I have to say about this comment.  It was made after I explained the new policy that I implemented, dealing with electronic device use in my class.  I laugh because I know that I am certainly NOT the “best teacher ever” but I certainly do not mind being labeled as such!  It caused me to pause because I wondered what it would mean to be “the best teacher ever”.  And in my mind I saw many teachers that I have had and I decided to share some of the best teachers I ever had.

  1. Dallas Webb-Burton:  My third grade Advanced Academic Placement (AAP) math and reading teacher.  A few stories stick out with this teacher.  One is when she read Roald Dahl’s, Matilda.  She read with passion and humor.  Also, in math, we had a day where we brought in our favorite drink and practiced measuring different amount (e.g. how many ounces are in a pound, 16, how many pints are in a quart, 2, how many millilitres are in a liter, 1000…)  But most of all I remember the following song about words that stand for “to be” – “Am, is, are, has, have, had, be, being, been, if you learn these words for the test, you’ll make an A my friiiiend! to which our classmate, Jason replaced the last line to say, “you’ll have a girlfriiiiend!”  Priceless!  Twenty years later and I still remember the song!
  2. Mrs. McLaughlin, Hopkins Middle:  My 8th grade South Carolina History teacher.  She really believed in seeing the places that we were reading about and took a group on the “13 Colonies” field trip.  We toured New York City, Boston, a tiny bit of Maine, Baltimore, and a few others.  She made history come alive for us and seem applicable as we set our eyes on the USS Constitution, which was restored with wood recovered from the disaster of hurricane Hugo (a very real memory for many of us).  Her passion for our common South Carolina history opened our eyes to the value of knowing “from whence we came” so that we would not repeat the mistakes of the past and would build on the successes.
  3. Christine Kiernan, dance teacher: This teacher, in a way, taught me everything that I know.  She made high school manageable for me.  She helped me to cope with hard times, and hard people. She showed me that teachers are real people who can, and many time do, care about the whole student.  I shared my thoughts and hopes and dreams with this teacher, and in the end, without planning it, I followed in her footsteps.  To me, this is a great testament to the education that she provided.  I am, now, able to look back and wonder what she must have experienced in our school, as an artist and teacher, and what impact that had on her.  I know that I am eternally grateful for the doors that her rigorous curriculum opened for me when I decided to re-enter the dance world a the ripe old age of 22.

There have been MANY more amazing teachers, like Angie Greene and Melinda Waegerle, over the last 5 years.  They have built me up, torn me down, and put me back together while I struggled to find out what kind of teacher I would become.  I know I often deal in black and white, and seem to have inherent confidence in my practice, but the fact is that I often question myself, and my teaching.  If it weren’t for the questioning mentors that I have had, I would have certainly failed.  I hope that at least a teeeeeny-tiiiiiiny particle of my great training transfers to my students. It’s not so that I can make their list of great teachers, but more so to maintain the integrity of the great teachers that I try to emulate.

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“I Love Hippies”

This post was inspired by a recent assessment that I did in my sixth grade classes.  I simply asked my sixth graders, who were finishing their nine week rotation in my class (a really cool thing that we have at my school where sixth graders get to try a nine weeks in PE, Dance, and Gymnastics and then choose which class they would like to take again for fourth nine weeks) to show me what they learned in dance.  They could write, speak, or dance their learning.  Most students chose to write a Thank You letter to me about what they learned.  A few chose to create a dance that showed what they learned.  A handful chose to verbalize their learning as a speech.  A few students, as part of their written expression drew pictures.

One student wrote in beautiful block letters, “I love hippies.”  I was immediately intrigued as to what this meant and the response was the most I ever heard this student speak in my class.  He said, “You’re a hippie, right?”  I didn’t know how to answer so I asked him why he thought that.  He said, “You do things differently than all of my other teachers.  You listen to weird music.  You ask us to talk about stuff.  You let us do a bunch of stuff that we like to do.  You never tell us to be quiet.”  Whoa!  I’m pretty sure I have told every class to be quiet at some point!  Not wanting to freak this quiet kid out, I thought for a second while he put his shoes on to leave.   Finally, before he walked out, I said, “Did you learn anything about dance?”  Without thinking much more, he said, “Yeah, I guess.  I mean, I like this class.”  I was totally freaking excited by this whole conversation!

It made me realize how much I have reverted to my middle school self over the last two years.  In middle school I listened to music from the 1960’s, specifically songs from a treasured Woodstock CD I got on my 13th birthday and the Beatles.  I was a self-proclaimed “Flower Child” who wore many outfits purchased from a downtown retro thrift shop as well as some clothes salvaged from a neighborhood house that my brother was helping to clean out (which had literally been untouched since the early 1970’s).  I watched SNL, along with my BFF Jenn and we would re-perform the “Mary Catherine Gallagher” and “Spartan Cheerleader” skits at school on numerous occasions.  In eighth grade we were “Spartan” cheerleaders for Halloween and when people came to the door we met them (or rather scared them) with, “Hey! Who’s that Spartan in my teepee?  It’s me! It’s me!”  I was a vegetarian.  I did not care that I was probably one of the weirder kids in my school (in which I was in the 12-15% white minority).  I was outspoken (I don’t know when I’ve ever not been…)   I adopted a Siberian Tiger, named Raja.  I thought for sure that I would change the world.  I was, in a sense, the truest version of myself.

In teaching students at such an interesting, and sometimes confusing, age, I often wonder what, if anything, that they will take away from my class.  I have expressed to many people that middle school is tricky because you don’t necessarily get to see how you influence students over the long-term because you don’t always know what they go on to do.  With that being said, this one student made me feel like I was making a difference.  He made me feel like I had expressed many things that I so long to express: peace, love, acceptance, and passion for art.  So to answer his question, I guess I am a hippie!  And just like this awesome student,

I LOVE HIPPIES!

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