Here at the close of not only 1st semester but also a calendar year, it's time to reflect and ask ourselves a cocktail of honest questions...to hold up a mirror and take a long, hard look...
(What's not working?)
Am I meeting the needs of every student I teach?
(Am I being the teacher that I would want to have?)
How can I motivate and inspire my students to love learning?
(How can I motivate and inspire myself to love learning?)
How can I encourage and support my colleagues on their journey?
(Which relationships/situations are stunting my own professional growth?)
If we really want to be reflective practitioners, we'd ask ourselves these sorts of questions on the daily, but truthfully Life sometimes gets in the way of our best intentions. As I prepare for 2nd semester and the start of a new calendar year, I commit to being a professional who owns her $#*%, who puts herself under the microscope lens first, who corrects what needs correction, and who can let go of what is not fixable.
Owning your $#*% isn't easy to do. It's a whole lot easier to lay blame on others and feign perfection. But I'm in no position to sport a crown, trophy, or Olympic medal any time soon, so own my $#*% I shall. Bring on 2nd semester and 2018...my mirror is Windexed and ready.
As a Middle School teacher now, my eyes have been opened to the reality that some students expect me to be a run-of-the-mill teacher... a teacher who stands and delivers the content, assigns the work, dishes out the homework, and gives the grades.
I am anything but a run-of-the-mill teacher.
I believe in letting my students and the curriculum take us places while we learn together.
I believe in giving my students relevant and creative opportunities to show what they're learning, rather than spoon-feeding them content and waiting for it to be regurgitated back at me on an assessment.
I believe in providing my students with feedback when I see them disengaged and disconnected.
This teacher cares.
This teacher tries and fails and tries again.
This teacher works hard.
This teacher thinks outside of the box.
This teacher has GRIT.
I want my students to have GRIT, too.
Can GRIT be taught?
Can GRIT be learned?
Can GRIT be evaluated?
Can GRIT trump grades?
These are questions I hope to answer by the end of the school year.
Rewind the tape back to August 16th, and press play.
Watch me introduce myself to 16 students in Advisory, 26 students in Contemporary Issues, and 75 students in 5 sections of Geography. Listen as we play games and struggle with locker combinations. Notice that rules and regulations aren't discussed, but rather that routines and relationships are established.
Fast-forward a week and watch in slow-motion a conversation with students for expectations not being followed. Fast-forward another week to witness me apologizing to a student. Advance the tape another week ahead and hear me remind a few clever teens about my classroom cell phone policy.
Now press pause.
As I look back on the first 3+ weeks of school, I'm amazed at how smoothly I've transitioned to life as a Middle School teacher. I enjoy my curriculum, colleagues, and students. I love how quickly the hours pass and how productive I feel at the end of each day. Middle School life is everything I prayed it would be and more.
Press play again, and watch me bloom!
Over 30 years ago, I told my mother when I finished 1st Grade that one day I was going to be a teacher. I think she doubted the certainty of my decision and laughed off the career announcement. Here I am, though, a happy and successful educator with 16 years under my belt. I may never achieve success outside of the classroom, as in becoming a best-selling author or a national speaker, and I'm OK with that. The real work happens in the classrooms, hallways, gyms, libraries, and offices inside school buildings anyway.
Some people say that Education is a business. Others say that Education is a public service. Some say that the job of a teacher is to teach the curriculum and maintain safety and security. Others say that the job of a teacher is to educate the whole child. After being a teacher for just 16 years, I must say that I agree with all of these views. As a teacher, I'm in the business of providing a public service to a community's children, and I am responsible for the education, safety, and security of those children.
The real work, though, is HARD, and by "real work" I mean the motivating, the inspiring, the guiding, the counseling, the listening, the advocating, the disciplining, the educating, and the future-preparing. The real work requires fiery passion. The real work requires relentless dedication. The real work requires rebellious change. The real work requires being willing to have your heart broken daily.
I didn't know what I was getting myself into all those years ago when I told my mom that I wanted to be a teacher. And teaching and learning has changed so much just in the time that I've been in a classroom. But I'm committed to continuing to do the real work, and I know that the real work is going to keep getting harder.
Much like any other hard-working person on this Earth, I like the feeling of being needed and appreciated and of having a purpose. Being a wife and a mother are rewarding roles, and my husband and daughter make me feel special in their lives (almost) daily. Taking care of others gives me purpose and instant gratification, which is why I struggle with being "off" for the Summer. I have to admit that I'm one of those (crazy) teachers who emotionally does not do well in the off-season.
I keep myself busy/distracted for as long as I can with Twitter, personal PD, school year prep, and reading, but I get to this time of the Summer (every. Summer. since. I. started. teaching.), and I feel absolutely climb-the-walls stir crazy. The laundry is done. The dishes are clean. The bills are paid. The house is spotless. But me? I'm a freakin' wreck.
I don't think non-teachers realize how much the job of teaching gives back to those of us fortunate enough to call ourselves educators. Designing fun lessons, finding ideal resources, delivering instruction to students, listening to class discussions, providing safety and security to children...these duties aren't just part of the job and the reasons for receiving a paycheck bi-weekly. They give me PURPOSE.
Since only a few of said duties can be done between now and the time I report to my new classroom, I will focus on finding resources to fit my new curriculum, and I will make plans for how to incorporate those resources into my units. I don't have to spend the next 5 weeks feeling rootless and frenzied. I can firmly plant myself back in the soil, roll up my sleeves, and find purpose in preparing for what I hope will be one phenomenal school year.
Ice-cold lemonade. Delicious bar-be-que. Pool time and family vacations. The season synonymous with these things is upon us, and although I eagerly look forward to it, I view the Summer as just the off-season. Like a dedicated athlete, I spend the majority of the Summer training for the next school year. Training may include attending a workshop, participating in Twitter chats, doing some curriculum planning, and/or reading professional texts.
I just finished reading Shift This by Joy Kirr (@JoyKirr on Twitter), a book that in my opinion should be required reading in all pre-service educator programs in America. The ideas (or "shifts") discussed in Shift This must reach a novice audience of educators if instruction in America is truly going to be student-centered and innovative. While reading the book, I realized that Joy's ideas are not about buzzwords. Her ideas are about common-sense best practices for learners. Her ideas can help a veteran teacher like myself to be at the top of my game.
Here are my top 3 take-aways from Shift This:
1. I need a mission statement, one that sincerely speaks to my core beliefs as an educator and boldly states what I will dedicate myself to providing for my students. Once I have crafted my mission statement, I should share it with my students, their parents, and perhaps also my colleagues. My mission statement should be the light on the path ahead, keeping me honestly focused on my professional promises.
2. I need to teach my students how to have productive discussions in class, and doing EdCafes is one avenue by which to reach that destination. EdCafes also present choices to students, allowing them to choose topics of interest on which to meet and confer with their peers. After modeling, practice, and support, I see EdCafes becoming an integral part of how we'll learn together in the coming school year.
3. I need to change the what and why of how I grade. I should be assessing the transfer and application of skills to complex tasks--not how neatly notes are written and objectives that do not align with curricular standards. This will no doubt be the toughest shift to make, but I have to do what is right for my students instead of what is easy for me.
Joy Kirr's book Shift This has so much to offer to both the novice and the veteran teacher. I am better for reading her ideas and reflecting on my practice. Shifting gears not only to a new grade level but also to best practices are changes I want to make. Change starts with each one of us in classrooms...one "shift" at a time.
I've always been the type of person who is content with having a few true-blue friends rather than having an army of so-so acquaintances. Over the past year of my life, I've had to make some tough decisions about friends who changed into strangers. I now find myself not only starting over professionally but also socially, and I've decided on a vibe that will hopefully continue to attract my tribe: Be a fountain, not a drain.
It's easy to be pessimistic in today's world. It's also easy to feel discouraged after being burned in relationships with others. But didn't someone famous once say that life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we react? I choose to move forward with a renewed purpose...to be a resource to those I meet, to be a positive, supportive voice in their ear, and to be life-giving in new friendships to come.
Have you ever seen a Give A Penny/Take A Penny container near a cash register in a store? The idea behind one is simple: Leave a penny or two that you receive back as change or take a penny or two that you need to cover what you owe. Give. Take. Just pennies, right? No big deal.
But let's zoom out and look at what is going on in the world around us right now. On a daily basis, I am shaken by national news I read on Twitter, by words people choose to use towards others, and by acts of violence occurring in my country and in other nations. Hate is being broadcast live, spewed from mouths, and used as a weapon to hurt and kill. So much is being taken and not much is being given. One has to look hard to find the good, to find the givers in the world instead of just the takers.
It is an incredible challenge to be an educator in times like these, to teach students objectively about both the givers and the takers and to help students determine where they stand regarding an issue, be it political, economic, or cultural. As I think ahead to my future 7th-graders and to the topics I know we'll discuss, I feel...nervous. I'm nervous that my students will have the same information that I do about a current event, that they will have the same questions that I do, and that they will need just as much help as I will with understanding the world and how its citizens are behaving.
There are some silver linings in the clouds, though. I am thankful to have a smart PLN (just a tweet away) to advise me. I am blessed to have supportive family and collegial friends. And I am hopeful that there will be deep learning in the struggle as my future students and I academically grapple with the givers and the takers together.
Those who know me well know that I am NOT good at navigating. You can hand me a street guide, a GPS device, and a donut, and I'd only know what to do with the donut. That being said, it's pretty ironic that I'll be a Geography teacher come August. If it weren't for the awesome squads of colleagues I've met on a curriculum writing team and on Twitter, I'd literally and figuratively be LOST. These new-found colleagues have become my roadmaps, and they are helping me to navigate not only my curriculum but also the multitude of incredible resources available to Geography teachers these days. Allow me to elaborate...
I joined my district's Social Studies curriculum writing team in March, after being assigned to Antonia Middle School and being given the opportunity to teach 7th Grade Geography. Since the grade level and content area would be new to me, joining the curriculum writing team was a smart move. I now have a good grasp of my content area and am starting to visualize teaching the 6 units that my team and I are designing. I find myself paying way more attention to international news and human rights issues. Certain topics really matter to me now, and not just because the topics fall under a Geography unit umbrella. The topics matter because I'm a global citizen, in charge of educating other (much younger) global citizens. The colleagues I've met and work with each month on the curriculum writing team have helped me come to this epic understanding.
Right about the time that I started writing curriculum for my content area, I started participating in the weekly World Geo group chat on Twitter (@worldgeochat). The chat has 5 moderators, each of them gifted in their content areas and knowledge of instructional resources. I have been diligent about participating in their chat (almost) each week since March because a) the moderators and other participants are SMART, b) the chat has widened my net of great edus to follow on Twitter, c) the chat topics are interesting and relevant, and d) I always come away with resources to explore further on my own time. The World Geo group chat on Twitter and its moderators are now precious roadmaps to carry with me into the new school year and beyond.
I've seen often on Twitter posts about finding your "tribe". Now that I know where I'll be come August, and what I'll be teaching, it's safe to say that I've found my tribe. If you haven't found yours yet, there's still time. Look around you at the next staff meeting or at the next Summer PD workshop you attend...or hop on Twitter and use the right hashtags to find your tribe...to find your roadmaps.
I love going on trips. I especially enjoy the packing that precedes going on trips. I'm a light packer, and I can expertly fit days of clothes, shoes, and accessories into one small suitcase. Remembering what to pack is easy for me, and if I forget something, I don't stress. I just make do without it or buy it when I get to my destination.
I'm in the process now of preparing for my big "trip" to Antonia Middle School, so you can imagine the packing (and purging) that's taking place, As I make decisions about what's going with me, what's going into storage, and what's going to the nearest dumpster, there are other choices to make and a few questions to answer. I realize that I have professional luggage. (Perhaps you do, too?)
One question I have is...
What will I intentionally pack to take with me? Of course I will pack supplies for my students and I to consume during next school year...the usual suspects: writing utensils, highlighters, sticky notes, paper, and chocolate, just to name a few. I also plan to pack my sense of humor (because it's quite handy on most days and in most situations). I also must take with me the many lessons I've learned over the past 16 years of teaching in an elementary setting. I'm sure most of the knowledge will transfer and apply.
Another question I have is...
What will I intentionally not pack? I refuse to pack sad memories and bad habits. It's just that simple. Whatever happened in the past during my life as an educator needs to stay in the past. Only the lessons learned should travel with me... in a small carry-on perhaps?
Another important question to answer is...
What will I realize I didn't pack but will definitely need once I get there? I will not be able to take along my best colleagues and friends to teach alongside at my new post, and yet I will need them...for the move in, for support during the first quarter, and for some laughs and levity when things get stressful. I look forward to maintaining old relationships and starting new ones. I hope to make lasting connections with my future AMS colleagues.
What will I eagerly unpack? You can't imagine how excited I feel about starting over, about having fresh soil in which to grow and bloom as a professional. I openly embrace change and usually adapt well to newness. I will eagerly unpack my I-got-this mindset and my let's-do-this attitude. I think my positive vibe and my willingness to dig in and work hard will serve my students and 7th-Grade teammates. Hopefully what I unpack (besides supplies) will inspire others to follow my lead in and out of the classroom.
I have just three days left in my current position and building. I am savoring the time with my students, grade partners, and friends. And I am enthusiastically looking forward to my future at AMS!
My name is