Teachers Need To Give Up

It’s that time of year again, when summer floaties and outdoor supplies go on sale, and teachers everywhere stand in abject horror as the school supply aisles start to go up (to be shortly followed by the Christmas aisles, but I digress). We scramble to get last minute appointments done, gather as many discounted glue sticks as allowed by law, and get ready for another year.

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Now, every school year begins with a bang for most teachers. We are (sorta) recharged, have dropped off our cares for the last school year, and the bad, bad, snarling student we somehow had assigned not only to our class, but also our study hall, well, his memory is fading. How will we feel in October, however? Or February, which I’m convinced is the longest month of the year no matter what the calendar says? I think we need to just get this out of the way now. Teacher, let’s give up…

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We need to give up basing our worth on other people’s expectations about what a teacher is and what we do.

I know that sometimes it feel like all we do is ‘teach a test’, look at statistics, attend meetings, run copies, enter grades, and clean up, but what we forget is that we have access to young lives that trust us, model us, and sometimes, if we’re lucky, even love and respect us.  All careers begin because someone learned something that sparked an interest. I love Taylor Mali’s poem about ‘What Teacher’s Make’. Let’s get fired up.

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We need to give up thinking that what we do doesn’t make a difference.

Sometimes, we are the only smiling face a child sees in the course of their day. This past year, I had a student who was being bullied at home and school.  His family didn’t have much money, so he wore what he could find, which generally consisted of dirty jeans and a girl’s hoodie.  My fellow teachers and I got together and found him some up to date clothing, got his hair cut for him and even had some extra money put in his lunch account. Another teacher told me she was behind him in line in the cafeteria one day and he was told he had $50 in his account. ‘Wow!’, he said. ‘Someone really loves me!’ His whole attitude in class changed for the better, and he wore a smile with his new clothes.

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We need to give up spending time on trying to be perfect and spend time on being tangible.

I love being organized. I hate chaos, last minute changes, and things beyond my control. What I had to teach myself as a teacher was that it is more important to love your students and really listen to them, than it is to dust that shelf. It is more important to give that pat on the back or that high five, than it is to sweep under dirty shoes. It is more important to make sure the students know that I am there for them, than it is to shoo them away from my desk so I can grade.  The students don’t know if a lesson plan went off without a hitch, and could care less if you have the correct TEK by the test question. What they do care about is knowing that you are human, that you’re not perfect and that it’s okay, and that you care about them.

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We need to give up on blaming ourselves when students don’t like us.

Do you like everyone you know? I would wager that unless you also sing in a hut in the woods and birds and wildlife flock to hear you, the answer is probably ‘no’. Students are the same way. It used to bother me when kids would say ‘You’re my 2nd favorite teacher’ or ‘Mr. so and so is the best on campus’, or ‘I hate your class’. You have to realize that it’s okay. You’re not perfect and neither are they, and sometimes, people don’t gel. You just need to do your job, make sure they learn, and that you’re kind, even when you don’t want to be. (I always have to keep saying ‘You ARE the adult. You ARE the adult’ in my head because I teach teenagers).

Sometimes, they do come around. Just this past year, I had a student that drove me bananas. He clearly didn’t care for me, and the feeling at that point was mutual. Somewhere along the course of the year, he matured a little bit, and by the end he was bringing me flowers and cards. His teacher’s appreciation letter said ‘You are very patient and forgiving. I don’t know that I could be as forgiving as you. Thank you for forgiving me’.

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We need to give up our (occasional) negativity. 🙂

I tend to gravitate toward negativity about October. Why? I’m tired, haven’t had a day off in months, the kids are getting squirrely, and misery loves company. This year, I’m going to watch this video instead. I think sometimes, everyone can use a pep talk. 

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We need to give up leaving the profession.

Not all is perfect in teaching, but it’s not perfect anywhere, in any job. You were chosen to teach for a reason. I say that because I believe that a profession, a calling, literally ‘chooses’ you. If I can reach one kid a year, just one, that leaves my class feeling good about him or herself, it was all worth it. I’m reminded of a very simple, yet poignant story…

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So teachers, let’s give up. Be strong, think positive, and remember that you are the ones entrusted with educating the future. Let’s change the world by giving up what makes us question ourselves, and building up our passion for educating our students.

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Have a great school year!

Standardized Testing: The Highs, the Lows and the Stash of Chocolate

If you’re thinking of becoming a teacher, let me tell you now: Covet thy chocolate. Have an extra stash somewhere in your room, because you never know when the moment may arise for a Hershey Bar.  I’ve had a stash of gummy bears this year, and I don’t get the same experience with them as I do with my cocoa beans.

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I needed my chocolate, desperately, beginning in the last of March until this week.

“Why”, you may ask? Any teacher in Texas will tell you: STAAR (State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness) Tests. These are also know as ‘The Damn STAAR Test”, “Those Standardized Tests”, “Non-Instructional Days”, “Today calls for a Xanex”,  and “Sign Here. Good Luck”.

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Planning for this test began, and I kid you not, the previous May when last year’s test results showed up. We spend all summer in workshops (no, contrary to popular belief, we DON’T get 3 months off with nothing to do) contemplating the ‘how’s’, the ‘whys’, and the ‘what the heck happend’s’.  We look at data by grade, by test, by teacher, by department, by question, by question type,  by state requirement, by student, by ability level, by District, by school. And what do we come up with? Someone, somewhere comes forward with a ‘new’ idea that is going to help our kids ‘beat’ this test, knowing full well, no one really knows what’s on it for sure and that it changes every year.  In short, we are taught new ways to essentially ‘teach the test’.

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Now, being in education as both a student and teacher for many years now, I can say that I truly believe that a well rounded education aids in a person’s ability to problem-solve and draw conclusions. I sometimes feel, as I know others do as well, that in an effort to make sure that education is equal and all are learning a certain set of standards, this process has created a generation of people who are quite adept at bubbling in ‘A’ or ‘When in doubt, C it out’, and less adept at simple decision making and the application of learning to their lives. (WHOLE other blog this could be)…

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This year was not different for me. I made sure I covered everything the State said they needed to know. In order to get this down, especially with my lower level classes, we didn’t have time to take a lot of tangents, or stop often and test a hypothesis (where I think real learning takes place when kids get to see why something does/doesn’t work).  I followed the prescribed lesson plan format, I administered the 3 common assessments we are required to give EVERY 6 weeks (no I’m not joking), and I retaught and cycled back in things they scored low on. These are all good teaching methods, but when you feel like your hands are tied and are constantly reminded that the kids ‘don’t need to know that for the test’, you sometimes wonder where the priorities really are.  Now, some people will argue and say that ‘No, we don’t teach a test to kids’. I can’t speak for everywhere else, but I know in my neck of the woods, if you teach an age group that’s tested, you try your best to get in the real special extras, but you do focus on what’s going to be on that test so sayeth the State.

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I stood in the back of the room as I ‘actively monitored’ 4 different tests at 4 hours each, and I felt the compassion I always feel for my kids as they work away, and with it was mixed a twinge of guilt. The cold brick against my back, I realized that I had done them no favors by not teaching them Science in a way that I knew would undoubtedly inspire a love of learning.  Just like the hard wall I was leaning on, I felt a barrier between the teacher I knew I could be and that I wanted to be, and what was expected of me by local test standards.  I would have loved to take them outside to look at our impact on the environment, to spend a semester doing a weekly examination of the decomposition of a McDonald’s hamburger,  or to have taken a field trip to our local Edison Museum.  There was never time after all I was required to do in relation to test prep and I was always told “it’s not on the test”.

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As focused as we were made to be on scores, we taught the kids to do a ‘data dump’. Sounds charming, I know, but for weeks prior to the test, we worked on getting that formula chart out of the test and once they were told to begin, to ‘dump’ everything that had learned this year on the formula chart. Moon phases, acronyms, signs of a hurricane, atoms, Newton’s laws, tides…we went over and over that, thinking full well, only some would do it. The day of the test, when they were told “If there are no other questions, you may begin”, an amazing thing happened. 95% of all 8th graders on my campus used this technique and they wrote down everything they could think of. My 2 8th grade coworkers and I had people come up to us after the test and basically state, “I don’t know what you taught those kids, but I have never seen a group do that before or be so eager to take a test”.

My happiest day of the year was the day following the test, not because testing was over (that was good too), but because I could tell the kids with absolute sincerity that pass or fail, because they had obviously translated all their learning and did what I asked, that I was proud of them. That’s all a teacher can ask for (especially when you’re working with teenagers).

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In real life, we face tests of a sort everyday. Some we pass, while others we fail or barely skirt by.  It’s not really about always getting it ‘right’. It’s about the lessons we learn along the way. I am not against standardized testing to see where certain deficits lie and what could be improved. What I am against is the stifling of a group of extraordinary people known as teachers who want kids to love learning as much as they do. We are a diverse, bright, skilled group of people. I wish the people who focused only on tests and test results could see that we would get the job done, and, if left to our own devices, would even leave them pleasantly surprised.

 

 

A Bad Administrator In The Classroom: A Fairy Tale

Keeping with my theme of make-believe and fairy stories, I began to think the other day during a staff meeting (where we discussed what we had already received in a memo), what would happen if people long, long, long out of the classroom, such as bad, out of touch administrators, were thrust back into duty?

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Now I know some Admins. make it their mission to never loose touch with what it was like to be in the classroom. Some will even substitute on your sick days to get a feel for the students. I don’t know these people, but I’ve heard they exist.

I’m talking about, however, the ones safely behind their desks in their shiny, clean offices, decorated with live plants, carpet, breakable things, and state of the art technology. The ones with access to intercoms, a copier that works, food delivery, 2 hour lunch breaks, special parking, and the ability to call a meeting because…eh…why not. Those people.

Now granted, many Administrators worked in classrooms for years and have earned their chance to relax a little because they have their own set of responsibilities we know nothing about, such as running an entire school without the place flooding, exploding, catching fire, being shut down from a lice epidemic, etc. etc.

Think of one that you really didn’t/do not like. One that snuck in on the ‘good ol’ boy or girl’ system. One that spent the bare minimum amount of time in the classroom before working their way up to Assistant Principal, where they spent another bare minimum amount of time on that before they received a Principal position.  Let’s call her Mrs. Jones. Here’s her fairy tale….

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Donna Jones had been a teacher for precisely 3 years before attending a 3 hour course to be an Assistant Principal. She got the next open position and spent another 2 years there before barely passing her Principal certification. Donna Jones didn’t like being in the classroom, but she had big ideas. She was going to go all the way, to Superintendent if she could. The test scores at her school were very good, thanks to her solely of course, and the teachers were well trained to ask no questions, make no suggestions, or challenge any of her ideas. She was always right anyway. What did they know.

Donna arrived at school one morning with a smile plastered across her face. After splashing some water on teachers crossing the parking lot full of holes, she parked right next to the door prepared to begin her day as she always did: Announcements.  The Principal before her had always allowed the Students Council to do the announcements, but Donna liked to hear herself talk as she believed she had an excellent speaking voice, so she did all of them now. She had also planned a last minute staff meeting that should take up most, if not all, of the teachers’ conference periods where she planned to discuss changing all the curriculum at the Semester because of a book she read. She liked the ideas in this book and, although none of the book had statistics to support the curriculum theories, she thought it would be a great idea to change. And if the teachers didn’t like it? Well, she would assign them terrible duties and that would put an end to the whining.

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Upon entering her office, Donna was dismayed to find students lined up outside her door. ‘What are you doing here?” she asked. They stated that they needed retests and homework help and since no one else was there yet, they had been instructed to come to her. “Homework”, she thought with a huff. “Sorry, but that’s NOT my job,” she stated squeezing her way in the door. “What are we supposed to do?” a student asked. “Go ask a teacher,” she replied. “None of them are here,” they said.

How could this be? She worked her way into the receptionist’s office. “Where are all the teachers?” she asked, in a grumpy tone. This was not how she wanted to start her day! “Everyone has called in sick!” the receptionist said, dismayed. “I’ve called in enough subs for all but 1 class. Could you take the class? We’re desperate?”

Donna thought it over. It wasn’t the way she wanted to spend her day, but how hard could it be? “Alright,” she sighed. “I’ll do it.” The receptionist looked relieved and assigned her to a class in the adjoining building. Science. “The teachers always seem to make this look easy, ” she thought. “If THEY can do it, I’m certain that I can do it”.

Donna had not had a Science class in 25 years, but being as brilliant as she thought she was, she headed off to the Science building.

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The bell rang and the students haphazardly began to enter the Science classroom. “A Sub!” they squealed! “We have a Sub!”

“Now sit down young ladies and your gentlemen,” Donna began, but it seemed like no one was listening to her. She raised her voice a bit and repeated the request. Students milled around the room, one chased another and two were fighting with IDs on cords. Donna raised her voice a little more. Nothing happened. A teacher stuck his head in from across the hall. “Sit down and shut it!” he bellowed. The students scattered, finding their seats, and settling down. “Oh hello, Mrs. Jones,” the teacher said. “I thought they were in here by themselves. I’ll leave you to it.” As he disappeared, Donna had a fleeting thought that she wanted to call him back, but no. She had this covered.

She began by calling roll. It wasn’t until the 12th student or so when she realized that some of them had answered multiple times. “Are you giving me your correct names?” she asked. Heads bobbed. A few chuckled. “Because if you aren’t,” she said, “You will receive a stern discussion with me.”

“What did she say?” whispered one student to another. “I don’t know,” the student replied.

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“Hey,” said one student. “Aren’t you that lady that does announcements?”

“I,” Donna said, standing up a little taller, “am your Principal. Don’t you know who I am?”

Students shook their heads.

“How come you never write anything down for those announcements?” another student asked. “You make a lot of mistakes.”

Donna was shocked. How DARE they be so insolent! “Your teacher never makes any mistakes?” she asked, determined to show them by logic that their comments were faulty. “Not really, ” replied a student. “She’s very smart and funny and we like her.” Donna sniffed.

Clearly these children couldn’t be reasoned with.

She passed out the worksheet and the students began working, except for one. “Why are you not working?” she asked him. “I don’t have a pencil,” he said. “Why do you not have a pencil?” she asked. He shrugged. She returned to the teacher’s desk and dug through it looking for a pencil. “Here,” she said, presenting him with a pencil. “It’s not sharpened,” he said. “So sharpen it…” Donna replied. “Nah,” the student said and continued to sit there. “What was wrong with these students?” she thought. Clearly, she needed to address students having supplies and showing respect at the next staff meeting. This was ridiculous.

A student asked her a question she couldn’t answer, and then another, she also couldn’t answer. She referred to a Science book and then realized that Pluto was still a planet in the book. “Why are these books so old?” she thought. Students couldn’t learn with outdated material. Another student raised his hand because he didn’t have a pencil either. “This is unacceptable,” she mumbled to herself as she dug through the desk again.

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The class ended and the next came in, worked up as before. She tried to politely settle them until the teacher across the hall came over again and yelled at them to be seated. Four more didn’t have pencils, everyone asked who she was, 1 wanted a Band-Aid, everyone had questions she couldn’t answer, and one wouldn’t stop talking to save her life.

Another class followed, this time with 4 students without pencils, 2 wanting to use the restroom while she was trying her best to give directions, 2 were arguing like an old married couple and wouldn’t be quiet, one kept throwing paper airplanes and another kept wandering around like Moses looking for the promised land. No one knew who she was…again.

Papers stacked up on her desk like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. How in the world did the teacher grade these, keep class under control, make lesson plans, make copies, help with homework and retests, attend staff meeting and do duty? Right then, a student came up and asked for paper. “Why?” Donna asked. “I like to eat it,” the student said. Donna gave her the paper. At this point, who cared.

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The rest of the day was a blur and when the last bell rang, she sighed with relief. That is until the receptionist came in and told her that the teacher she replaced had parent pick up duty. Off she trudged to the lot. Did her shoes hurt this much when she put them on this morning? Students milled around and talked while parents were clearly waiting in cars. Another teacher had a megaphone and was calling names, sometimes 3-4 times before the student responded. “Great,” Donna thought to herself. “Now they don’t even know their own names.” Forty-five minutes later, duty was over and Donna drug herself to her car. She couldn’t remember where she had placed her keys so she had to go back to her office. Finally, after searching for some time, she realized they were in her pocket.

Donna was in bed at 7:30 pm. As she tried to sleep, she realized that being a teacher wasn’t as easy as she remembered. “I really need to do things to help those teachers out,” she thought to herself. She drifted off to sleep planning all the things she was going to do to appreciate and value her teachers, including buying each classroom a supply of pencils. “Ridiculous,” she mumbled into her pillow.

The end.

Is ‘Duty’ a 4 letter word?

Truthfully, I can’t say I have personally ever spoken to a fellow teacher who enjoyed duty. Granted, I teach at a Junior High where watching them chew with their mouths open is a lot less charming than to see little ones swinging and playing hopscotch.  However, one thing it seems that most can agree on: Almost all schools require and need some form of duty either before or after school, or in some cases, both.  Several years ago, we had parents who dropped students off at 6:45 am. Unsupervised, they tore out ceiling tiles, stole items from display cases and broke things in the halls…and these were kids who were typically considered good. The main problem? There was no one there to watch them.

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71.64% of respondents to my poll about duty noted that they have duty both before and after school. 11.94% have it only after school, 4.48% have it only before school and somewhere, over the rainbow in a land of unicorns and wonderment, 11.94% noted that their school requires no duty. (Where is the place, and are they hiring?)

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My school requires duty twice per week, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. I have had what I affectionately call ‘Pop Tart Patrol’ for going on 5 years now. We’ve joked that teachers should have a sash and earn patches for duty stations much like the Boy or Girl Scouts. If so, I’d have 4 Pop Tarts and 5 Parent Pick-Up Cars on mine.

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Some of the comments, I wanted to share:

Even though I do morning (albeit, once a week) duty, and afternoon
walker duty… I’m fortunate to have been taken off of lunch duty. Feeling like
I should light a candle for my coworkers…    Henry

I think duty at my school is pretty fair.  Generally, we all have an
assigned duty–some better than others.  Car duty is the worst.       Suzanne

I teach in a high school.  We have duty assignments for before and
after school.  Additionally, the students have an hour lunch, but the teachers
have 30 minutes.  Guess what we get to do for the other thirty minutes?  Duty.
Duty may include the traditional standing in the cafeteria watching the kids
eat, tutoring, pacing the halls to make sure that the kids are behaving (the
kids can eat just about anywhere they want), supervising kids during open gym,
or in “interest groups.”  Most of the students ignore the activities we offer
and spend the lunch hour eating, gossiping, and walking around.          Kim

Before, during, AND after school.  Before and after my contract time
with no extra compensation.  Also, lunch duty while I am eating lunch.     Kristin

Duties are part of the school day both for classified and certified
staff. At my old site, certified regular ed classroom teachers had 15 min. of
duty daily. At the current school (same district) we have 15 min. daily 3 days a
week for half the year and 2 days the other half. We are also expected to be
with our students every day after school until they are picked up, usually
another 10-15 minutes.                       Heidi

Fortunately, my school is big and with the number of teachers and staff
involved, we only have a bus duty or car duty for parent drop off and pick up
three or four weeks each year. Classroom teachers have to do their own recess
time, but the cafeteria has paid aides, so that helps.                Charmaine

We have before school duty, lunch duty, recess duty and after school
duty. I’m ‘dutied’ out.                     Jennifer

I am the school secretary at an alternative school. All of our teachers
have duty before and after school to supervise buses. We pay two to supervise
lunch, and they spread it among those who are interested in selling 15 minutes
of their lunch time. Our teachers have one hour before and 45 minutes after
school for their prep period. It kind of comes with the territory. I don’t know
what the contract says, other than they are allowed a 30 minute duty-free lunch.
On the other hand, I am a pastor in my other life. I don’t get paid for “extra
duty,” for hospital visits, pre-marriage counseling or funeral counseling for
members (non-members are a different story). I don’t get paid for all the extra
meetings I attend, preparation for those meetings, or preparing my sermons; nor
do I get paid for all the resources I buy to or access to get those things
accomplished.As a school secretary, I don’t get paid for the cell phone I often use to
contact my principal when she is at meetings and we have a crisis, for attending
planning meetings during the summer that affect my life as the school secretary,
for the bulletin boards I do, or the art projects I design for our reward time,
or for all the research I do at night and on weekends to find ways to benefit
our kids. I don’t know if teachers “should” have to do duty or not, but if they — who
know the kids best — don’t do it, who are we going to pay to do it?                 Jan

Not all duty is created equal. Some is air-conditioned, while others bake in the hot Texas sun. Some call for you to see 10-15 students, while others have you watching an entire gym or cafeteria of children. If I made one suggestion about duty to administrators, it would be to rotate duties. Five long, long years of watching kids pick the crust off their bread, mix milk with their orange juice and slurp cereal is more than ample for me. I’d gladly trade this AC’ed job for one outdoors.

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You know that old adage that just when you think you have it bad, you look at someone else’s situation and realize you have it pretty good? This blog was one of those cases for me. I loathe duty. I hate getting there earlier than normal. I hate that afternoon duty crosses over into my gym time. I begrudge that fact that I have to give up time to plan, clean and grade to watch young adults who should be able to control themselves. Or at least I did.

Now that I have seen that, as they say, the grass isn’t always greener, it’s not as difficult for me to give 1 hour each week (30 minutes each duty). I have a free lunch period of 30 minutes and no recess duty. Granted, we don’t get paid extra, but as Jan pointed out above, quite a few jobs come with extras that aren’t compensated.

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The truth of the matter is, we are there to make sure the kids are safe. We want them to have food, shelter, enjoy a bully free environment, and have time to see us for tutoring, questions or just to talk. We don’t want them to be hit by a bus or a car, and if someone choked on a chicken nugget, we want to make sure they cough it up and breath.

So, no. Duty is not fun. Sometimes is not enjoyable. It is, however, necessary.

Do you Duty?

I wanted to talk about another teacher hot button topic: duty.

Before I do so, however, I am taking a poll to get a general feel of how everyone else functions. For those non-teachers, duty can be extra work around the school either before or after normal contract hours, and/or, during the day in place of an off period or a break. Generally, in my neck of the woods, it is not optional and receives no extra compensation.

Feel free to comment below and let me know your thoughts on the subject, how your school applies the process, if it works/doesn’t, etc. I’m withholding my thoughts for the moment so I can hear some of yours.

Please take the poll and look out for my new blog on this topic coming soon! Thanks!

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http://poll.fm/f/4dty7

Things Every New Teacher Should Know

Looking back at my first day of teaching, I have to think, oh, little naïve one, so full of ideas and hopes. How dashed you will be when you realize that teaching isn’t always the makings of a movie script. I pat my own head in my mind.

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If I were to offer new teacher any advice, it would be as follows:

1) Running your own classroom is nothing like what you see in the movies. Students are not going to file in your room, stand upon their desks and utter ‘Oh Captain, My Captain!’ ala ‘Dead Poet’s Society’ style.  After a month, they are not going to play your Opus, Mr. Holland. You might be lucky if you get a ‘To Sir, With Love’ mug at the end of the year. These movies and all those about teaching such as ‘Dangerous Minds’ and ‘Stand and Deliver’ are fantastic and uplifting. They show what CAN happen in some classrooms with the right teachers and the students who respond. However, they are not the status quo and you shouldn’t beat yourself up if you feel a day isn’t notable.  You will have some amazing days, where you go home and feel that you made a difference and all is right with the world. Just be prepared that some days, you’d like to crawl under a rock instead.

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2. Be prepared for anything, like a Boy Scout. We joke where I work that the only consistency we have is inconsistency.  Don’t invest so much emotional time into an activity that you can’t change or move it at a moment’s notice.  For example, I was the dance team sponsor for a while and we were to have a Pep Rally on Thursday.  The day of the planned rally, it was cancelled and rescheduled for the following week.  Annoying? Yes.  Was I mad? You betcha, but that’s just what happens sometimes. Same thing for tests. You can plan a test and have review sheets distributed and then, on the day of the test, you have a fire drill or an evacuation. You have to be able to pick back up where you left off without thinking that ‘everything is ruined now!’ Sob!

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3. Sometimes your best laid plans, don’t work, at all. Ask for help.  When I started teaching, I used a poker chip system to reward behavior. Good behavior = chip, bad behavior = I take a chip. Problem? The kids stole the chips. They wrote on them. They brought some from home to try to fool me.  I had to change my approach after a few trials, admit that this idea stunk, and find something new.  You will find what works for you through trial and error.  Ask other teachers what they do for bathroom passes, behavior issues, homework, etc. and they will be happy to tell you what’s worked for them. Don’t use something that clearly isn’t effective because you don’t want to ask for help. Also, don’t use my chip idea. Pain in the butt.

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4. Make friends with the custodians. These folks know all, see all, hear all. They know where extra desks are located, where paint can be found to fix the door chips, and they have the carts and buggies to haul around your heavy stuff.  Search out the one in your building, introduce yourself, and always be nice. Your floors might end up a little shinier.

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5. Stay away from the front office. Some people may disagree with me on this one, stating that the people there are willing to help you and that they’re there for you! Not that front office folk can’t be friendly, but they have their own things to do. They probably don’t have time to hear your concerns on the bathrooms, or how little Johnny won’t stop talking.  Many of them are busy fielding parent requests, completing invoices, making phone calls about absentees, dealing with a kid that brought drugs to school, etc. It’s not that your concerns aren’t important. The thing is, if you can talk them over with someone else, like a department head, that would probably be a better idea than becoming a fixture next to the Assistant Principal’s office.

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6. If at all possible, get yourself a classroom refrigerator to store your food if your District allows it. Lunch at my school was once pretty good. Then, with recent government changes in nutrition requirements, I would rather eat a stale biscuit half gnawed on by vicious garden gnome.  Some schools have catering (not that I’m all that jealous…well, maybe a little…okay a lot) and I hear the teacher meals are decent. Ask other teachers and see what the consensus is. We used to celebrate Fish Stick Fridays with Facebook invites because we so looked forward to the Mac & Cheese and Broccoli salad. Those days are gone and this past year, because I’d not yet bought a refrigerator, I ate Nutella straight out of the jar for a week for lunch.  A little Nutella goes a long way. (My friends would say I just uttered blasphemy).

737926p7.  Have back ups of your back ups. Always keep your lessons and lesson plans backed up. You never know when your District will get a virus. I’ve had one twice in 6 years and had I not had a copy of everything on my home computer, I would have been hiding in the closet, crying and mumbling incoherently.  Invest in one or two memory sticks and always try at least once a month to back up any files you worked on. Better safe than sorry. memory-card68. Don’t allow other teachers to overwhelm you. They mean well, but sometimes they might try and share everything they’ve collected in 25 years with you in 1 day. Take the information, put it to the side, and look through it when you have time. Remember, you will find your own groove and way of doing things. Not one teacher is the same and therefore, not one teacher teaches exactly the same.  Take a deep breath, perhaps drink some wine like my coworkers do (one said she drank straight out of the box in the bathroom at home and cried after a hard day), and remember, every day is a new day and you can make it if you take baby steps.

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9. Some of your students will never like you. Accept it. Do you like every single person you’ve ever met? Then why expect every single students to like you and your class? You could have done nothing wrong, have always been friendly and they still won’t like you. They may have come in with preconceptions about you based on a person they know who knows a person who knows a person who went to school with you, etc.  They may not care for your discipline, call your class dumb, or just not be interested in your subject area. This doesn’t make you a bad teacher. You have to think of all the students who DO like you, who DO like coming to your class and who ARE involved in the learning. It’s hard to accept sometimes, but occasionally, those kids who you thought never liked you will see you in town years later, and tell you how much they enjoyed your class. Weird.

Mischievous student

10. When you have a chance to go to a state or national conference, GO! You will get some great ideas, meet other people in your field, be able to discuss concerns with testing, etc. and earn credits for your license at the same time. I once went to the National Convention for Science in New Orleans, and my coworker, who loved Bill Nye, found out he was the guest speaker and kept chasing him around yelling ‘Bill Nye! Bill Nye!’. Good times.

Bill-Nye

11. Every time you see a sale on school supplies, it never hurts to throw a couple of extra things in your basket. Yes, we don’t get paid a lot to teach. Yes, we have our own families to care for. The kids you will teach, however, will also become an extended part of your life, and you will think of them as ‘my kids’. As you know, some kids can’t afford an extra box of crayons, or a zipper bag when theirs breaks.  Sure, they have some access to supplies at the beginning of the year through some school programs, but once those are gone, should they be left with nothing? The first time you have to watch a kid color with map pencils that are so short they can no longer be sharpened, and you know from having them in class that they have no money and are on free lunches, will be the last time you second guess yourself about throwing a box of map pencils for $.99 in your buggy. You don’t do it for the money, and if you have a little to use in this way, it will bless someone, and bless you in return.

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I could go on and on about advice I would give, and might even have to make this a two-part post. Remember, it’s about you finding your mojo and using your special gifts to inspire and teach the leaders of tomorrow. Smile and be happy this week!

Get On The Bus…

The dark side

I hadn’t planned on writing another blog quite so soon, but the response to my use of humor to share teacher misery was overwhelming!

99% of you understood that it was meant to be funny. <1% (well, actually 5 of you out of over 66,000 hits) were actually looking for ideas to make In-service better, and the last <1%, (2 of you), well, I’ll save them for later on.

To start, let me tell you that I’m required to attend 8 days of In-service and 2 work days. Quite a bit of these days are not led by Administrators but people hired to teach a seminar.  I have the greatest of respect for good Administration who are there to do a job many of us would rather not do. We call it “the dark side”, but really, they get to see some of the worst of the worst as far as situations, student behavior, etc.  Many of them DO have their hands tied and can’t do anything different for In-Service, or they are afraid to do something different because ‘this is how it’s always been done’. Every now and then you get an Admin who is open to new things and that’s when we, as teachers, need to jump at the chance to share our ideas.  So as we commiserate, we can remember that they are probably just as un-thrilled as we are about what’s going on. Now, people who are hired and get paid to do this for a living…that’s another thing!

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One fella we had brought cotton balls and gave them to us as a ‘reward’ for ‘participation’.  I teach Junior High, so we think like them from time to time, and we brought cotton balls in our purse, and the guy couldn’t understand how the bowls had become so full.  THAT’S the kind of In-Service I’m talking about….

People had some great ideas about what teachers really want and need in an In-service, so to help people out who were looking for this, I compiled the suggestions.

1. Have a separate training day for new teachers. They can get all of their paperwork finished, learn about campus and district policies, and receive all of their supplies and assignments. (I always wanted them to wear beanies for a week, but that’s probably teacher hazing).

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2. Have the whole staff attend a 30 min – hour meeting where new teachers are introduced, any finished/ongoing changes to the campus/district are discussed, and teachers receive a folder of all paperwork that needs to be completed by the end of the day (contact forms, etc.).

paperwork

3. The rest of the day is spent with Departments creating lesson plans for at least the first grading period. While they are together, the Principal can stop by and let them know test results and what the department needs to focus on for the upcoming year.

classroom

4. Technology can come and meet with teachers by building and make sure all technology is working/installed/updated. (Did you know that if you put in a tech request and they fix the problems quickly, they close out the request by typing P.I.C.N.I.C which means ‘Problem in chair, not in computer’? It’s true…)

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5. All extra-curricular teachers and sponsors can meet and work out their calendars for the year. Hopefully this will help and little Johnny won’t be expected to be in band, in choir and on a Student Council trip at the same time.

extra-curricular

6. Teachers can join one of several different teacher led campus committees, such as PTA Reps, Secret Pals, Special Events, Sports Support, Grants for Teachers, Pets in the Classroom, etc. and plan how to involve teachers throughout the year and how to use activities to not only help students, but that also build teacher morale.

6296_fundforteachers7. As an In-service activity, teachers can be grouped with different departments and they can discuss what works, what doesn’t work, ideas for classroom management, etc. They create notecards full of ideas that work, and all teachers receive a copy to give them new ideas.

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8. Anyone who needs a specific course in bullying, harassment, discipline, management, etc. can use this time to take an online course. Many are offered through region training centers and can be taken at school. Results are printed and filed in the front office to make sure they have credit.

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9. And last, but certainly not least, teachers are able to make copies, clean and decorate, and get ready for the new batch of students.

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Now, as for the <1% who obviously didn’t understand that my previous blog was to be humorous, my advice: don’t read my blogs. It’s that simple. I am truthful and I try to present truth in a way that makes people laugh. I believe I was called a ‘whiner’ and told that my classroom scores must not be good, and that I needed to ‘get on the bus’.

Bus

I got news for you. All teachers are ON the bus. We LIVE on the bus. We eat there, cry there, celebrate there, and fall in love with our kids and career every year there.  One In-service activity last year actually had us get on a bus and tour the neighborhoods we served so we had a better idea about the kids and their home life. Some people threw up from motion sickness, some got heat exhaustion from the AC not working, and others just stared in awe at the ‘homes’ that these children lived in. But we were ALL there, and we stay there long past the day we retire.

What people who don’t teach don’t understand is that we don’t do this for the money, certainly not the insurance or the retirement. We do it for the kids, and if we have to use humor now and then to commiserate, then so be it. Like it or no, the truth is funny.