Writing my way through the school year!

Archive for May, 2011

This PLC Thing…

I have to say, this PLC thing  (Professional Learning Community)has really been working.  I went to Arizona in February to a PLC Summit, thought it was just a free trip to Phoenix. But it wasn’t, it was so much more. Very productive seminars, and I learned so much! 

 Fast forward to May, and I have to admit, I enjoy using what I’ve learned from  it. Now, as a school, we’re not quite there yet, but we are a lot farther than where we were when we started.  More people have ” got on the bus”, and it has really helped our students improve. Personally, I love what it has done for my team, we are collaborating and making decisions that are good for our kids.

 For example, we looked at our student scores on a common  math assessment, and decided to have Math workshops that focused on the skills they were weak in.  Each teacher chose the focus skill he or she was strong in, and taught based on the level of the group we saw. Can you say “differentiated instruction”?  Of course, I was the “tech” component of our workshop. 🙂  We each created an “Exit ticket”  that the students completed at the end of class, and we reviewed the results of the ticket at our next PLC meeting. 

The students LOVED it! They traveled with their friends outside their class, they got away from us for about an hour, they spent time with another teacher, and the skills were either reinforced, or enriched.  The results were amazing, and the students learned a lot, which was our objective.

When the new school year begins, our district is having all the participants in the summit meet once a month to share ideas. We already had one meeting last month, and one of  the teachers shared things that were so simple,  yet so helpful. I now get a chance to take that back, and share it with my colleagues.  I am part of a number of communities, Twitter, Edmodo, Technology Integration in Education, and so many more,  so I understand the importance of collaboration.

You don’t hear too much grumbling about “PLC” anymore, it’s just something that we do now, and I’m loving it! Please Let’s Collaborate!

“How to Create a Professional Learning Community”

Tony Danza,Teacher! Puh-leeze!

Tony Danza Has a New Teaching Job, Cries 'a Lot' in Front of His StudentsIt’s a holiday weekend, and I have a little more time on my hands than usual.  I wanted to get away, but that didn’t quite work out. So, I decided to spend a little more time on the computer than I normally do, and I came across this article about Tony Danza, teacher. Now I use the word “teacher” lightly, very, very, lightly. This article was posted in September 2010,  but I think it’s relevant to what people think of teachers.

The network decided  to do a reality series called, “Teach”.  They think and they think, and someone says, “I know who we could get!?” “Tony Danza!”   Seriously?   Not one of the Teacher of the Year candidates?   They didn’t think of me?  Or any of the millions of hard-working, talented, teachers that work diligently every day of their lives?

 “Even though Tony describes teaching as his “dream job,” he only did it for the year that he was paid to be on A&E — which … well, you can draw your own conclusions here.” Hmmm… What conclusion can we draw? What a farce!  He “taught” so that he could get paid to be on television. Is this a person you would want teaching your kids for a year? What a waste of a school year! I would love to know how he was held accountable.

“Tony talks about not wanting to fail his students, which is often what made him want to tear up. “It just gets to you … You look over and see a kid bored, a kid with their head down, you go crazy, it breaks your heart. I cried a lot; they made me cry — because I loved them, I guess.” I want to throw up!  I’m crying now Tony, thinking about all those high school kids who probably dropped out because they had you as a “teacher” for a whole year.  If he was so heartbroken, why isn’t he still “teaching?”

“After originally being rejected by the New York school system, Danza eventually convinced the folks in Pennsylvania to let him teach. However, he never actually managed to get certified as a real teacher. So he had to have a second “co-teacher” in his classroom, who would observe and monitor him. In addition, because of his lack of certification, Tony only taught two classes a day. (Actual high school teachers have to teach between  four and seven classes a day.)” This sums it up. This is what people think of our profession, we are just warm bodies in the room. Why did I bother to go to school and get my BS and my MS? I should have become an actor, have someone offer me a reality show, and pretend to teach for a year. I wold have made enough money so that I could quit teaching and go back to my acting career.

Then I read  the comments.  They praised Tony for his committment to these students. Here’s an example of a comment from one of his fans.  “A teacher that really cares if his students learn. NOT his paycheck. NOT who is president. NOT his three months off. NOT “How soon is the next “teachers’ day?” NOT if he will get a raise, better medical benefits, longer paid vacation, more time off with more pay.”  I couldn’t have written a better definition of a good teacher myself. (Sarcasm intended)

“Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition” Jaques Barzun

Tony Danza Has a New Teaching Job (article)

As A Teacher, Isn’t It Wonderful When?…

students worry whether you’ll still come in, after you take off  from work in the morning?

the way they  greet you excitedly when you finally arrive?

students come back and visit, or send an email saying, “Thank you!”?

they don’t pretend they don’t see you at the mall?

tell you that you’re their  favorite teacher?

bring you cake from their birthday party?

say “We missed you”, and mean it, when you’ve been out?

make a card, that they all sign,  for your sick __________?( In my case my Dad.)

try to teach you how to do the dougie at the school dance? ( I still can’t do it)

draw you pictures? (Make sure you hang them where they can see it)

give you a moment to cry when you get sad news?

let you know that  your hair is messed up after a windy Recess?

give you a hug, just because? (Elementary kids)

they catch you dancing to “Unwritten”, and laugh with you, not at you!?

As a teacher, isn’t it wonderful to be able to have students who can brighten your day, change your outlook, and make you smile?

The School Year Will End on June ____, 2011! The School Year Will End on June ____, 2011!

It has begun. The comments.

 “I hate teachers, you guys get the entire summer off.” 

“I wish I could sit home for three months and do nothing.”

“Do you get paid when you’re off?”

And the one that really ticks me off, “You all have it easy.” HA!

What people don’t realize is that after spending 177 days, (doesn’t seem like much does it), with other people’s children, you are ready to take a year off, not just two to three months. We are drained, physically and emotionally. When you are all things to 25-30+ students, day in and day out, you are wiped out.  If teachers did not get this break, we might go ” teachal”.  Doesn’t quite have the same ring as “postal” does it?   But, you get what I mean. And I would be remiss if I did not mention the  parents, administrators, district policies, standardized testing, every single day, a new day of challenges. I am ready.

I am down to the last two weeks of teaching this group, it’s been an experience. Is it more difficult because I am getting older?  Is it  the difference in the students, many parents’ inablility or refusal to “raise” their children, micromanaging of teachers in the classroom, standardized testing, and the latest trend, teacher bashing, that has me longing for this break more than I ever have before? I don’t know. But,  I am ready.

During the summer, I will enjoy my break. I will sit on the deck and enjoy a good book. I will vacation with my family. I will work on my novel, which will make me famous. 🙂   But I will also do what so many teachers do, continue to teach and/or continue to learn. I will stay in touch with my PLNs. Catching up on all the blogs and newsletters I subscribe to, but rarely get a chance to read,  will also be one of my tasks.   I will take classes on and offline, continuing my goal to be a lifelong learner. Most of all, I will allow myself a chance to exhale, so that I can start again.

Feeling Burned Out? Read This and Be Rejuvenated!:)

This morning I walked into my classroom feeling exhausted. Done!  After days of standardized testing, my mind was fried!  At this point of the year, (forgetting that I still have a mortgage), I wonder if I can keep doing this.  I have taught for 26 years and everything’s changed, the parents, kids, my workload, the list is endless.

But then I get a reminder of why I teach. This is my third one this year, so it must be a sign.:) Don’t give up! It was in my Inbox this morning.: 

This is Kara S.,

You taught both me, and my brother collin way back in 2005/2003

Im on a mission to hunt down all the teacher in my life that have made a big impact on me

Im so glad i found you, and thank you so much for teaching me!

there are certain teachers in life that are hard to forget, and id like to let you know that your job is important.

Ill be going to college next year and its all because of the wonderful people who helped me get here

Thanks for every thing!:D

~kara

I’ll be back next year.

Reading Aloud! They’re Never Too Old!

I used to read to my students every day for five minutes. We would set the timer, and I would begin five minutes of uninterrupted reading.  Sometimes, the students would be “Guest Readers”, and they would get a chance to read the book to their peers. They loved it, and so did I.  Then I stopped. I don’t know why, but I did.

Last year, I became a volunteer for Read Aloud DE. Every Tuesday, I head to the day care across the street, and I read for an hour to 3 and 4 year olds. There is nothing like the feeling of being the Reading Lady, and having toddlers bum rush you as you walk in the door, or outside on the playground, screaming, “Read to me, read to me!”

Well, this motivated me to read to my 5th graders again.  I chose “The Bad Beginning” by Lemony Snickett. I have to admit I had never read one of his books. We set the timer, and I read, uninterrupted, for five minutes practically every day.  What an enjoyable experience for myself, and my students!

“The Bad Beginning” began to spring up on desks around the classroom, from low readers to higher level readers.   Some finished the first book, and moved on to the rest of the series. Some stayed with me, sharing each moment. I loved the reactions that were elicited from my students as I read. The gasps, the moans, the “Ugh, she’s only 14.”  The last day, when the five minutes were up, they begged me to finish, there were only 13 pages left.  I looked at the clock, thought about what I was supposed to be doing at 10:45 a.m., and kept reading! The applause at the end of the book was thunderous!

Each week, I would incorporate Edmodo, Twiducate Chat, Kidblog, something to make the students think, and write, about what I had read. I had them draw a picture of their favorite scene. Many of my students volunteered to bring in the movie. I’m going to use the movie as a vehicle to compare and contrast the book vs. the movie. Let them decide which is better, and explain. (I can create a poll on Edmodo before and after they view the movie). They will also create a Glog “book report” of the story.

It still amazes me what I was able to do with 25 minutes of Read Aloud a week.  I was able to incorporate many of the Language Arts Standards, and it inspired my non-readers to read.  The next book we read, I will incorporate Guest Readers again, and I will also ask their parents to volunteer to read. Five minutes a day created something that, I hope, will last a lifetime, a love of reading!

Education World: Reading Aloud, Is It Worth It?

Open Letter to Pres. Obama: This is What Standardized Testing “Looks” Like!

Dear President Obama,

Today was the first day of Round 3 of standardized testing in the state of Delaware. The test is administered online, and the students get their scores immediately. It covers everything we learned in the 5th grade, even though we have not finished the school year.

Let me begin with my morning. I attended a union meeting where I am told the state of Delaware has decided that they will decide whether I am a good teacher according to how well my students do on this test! It’s bad enough, that my school is judged by test scores, but now my ability to teach is questioned because of test scores? Does this seem as ridiculous to you as it does to me? Does anyone realize how many other factors control how our children perform in school?

I have prepared my students to the best of my ability for this test. As much as I despise it, I do not want them to fail. Aren’t we supposed to be creating critical thinkers? How can I do that, when instead of doing projects, or collaborating with our pen pals, we are filling in bubbles!!!!

The test. They worked hard, they really did, and all of them showed growth. In fact, most of them passed, except one. Have you ever been in a room full of children taking a standardized test? Have you ever watched student’s knees and hands shake as they go to press the “Submit Test” button, and wait anxiously for their scores? And no, it’s not because of horror stories I have told them, it’s the pressure of it all. The release of air when they have met their goal is audible. Except if they “fail.” He cried. This student that worked so hard, cried. I held back tears and congratulated him for working so hard and for showing growth, and then sent him to the bathroom to collect himself. He cried, no test should make a child cry!

At the end of the day, I told all of them to clap for themselves for working so diligently, he didn’t clap. I pointed at him, my voice cracked, and I said, “You worked so hard, you showed improvement, you get to clap!” Imagine this, we still have two more days of testing.

This is not right, Mr. President, you said so yourself : “One thing I never want to see happen is schools that are just teaching the test because then you’re not learning about the world, you’re not learning about different cultures, you’re not learning about science, you’re not learning about math,” the president said. “All you’re learning about is how to fill out a little bubble on an exam and little tricks that you need to do in order to take a test and that’s not going to make education interesting.”

I am not against assessments or evaluations, but there has to be a better way. Don’t you agree?

A Heartbroken, Stressed-out, Teacher

Can We Bring Back Manners?

Has anyone seen,  “please”, “thank you”, “excuse me,”, etc…?    I’ve  put out a Missing Persons for, “I’m sorry” because I think  “My bad” put out a hit on it!

At the beginning of  every school year, I have to teach my students to say “Good Morning” when they walk into the room. If I’m at the door, I have to teach them not to wave or grunt at me, but to actually say, “Good Morning.”  The sad part is that it is not just the students who seem to be lacking in this department, but a number of adults as well.

I believe I have enough on my plate that I shouldn’t have to teach manners, yet, and still, I do. Throughout the day, behavior I view as common courtesy has to be reinforced, over and over.  When you want something, ask.  If someone is speaking, say excuse me. If you do something accidentally, tell them you’re sorry.  Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze.  If you sneeze into the air, you are not, “sneezing on the ground.”  You can’t interrupt others because you think what you have to say is so much more important.  The list is endless. 

 I’m not blaming  all parents for  this one,  I’m sure there are many parents who have taught their kids manners, but once they leave the house, they shed them like a snake’s skin, content to go through the school day wrapped in layers of  “it’s all about me.”  I believe that is where it stems.  We have become a society so enthralled with ourselves, that courtesy is a throw-a-way.  How many times do you watch a television show where the characters are courteous and treat each other with respect? (And don’t get me started on what some of my 5th graders are watching!)

As I was about to write this post, a friend of mine posted this link on Facebook,   “25 Manners Every Kid Should Know By Age 9”   She must have been reading my mind! 🙂 Here’s another article, “Social Skills Kids Need to Succeed.”

I know it’s not my job, but I do it. My students say thank you to the bus driver when departing from the bus after a field trip.  They say excuse me, when they need to get in front of someone on the line.  They answer, “Yes”, and not “What?” when spoken to. And most of all, they say, “I’m sorry”, and most of the time they mean it. I witness evidence of my handiwork everyday, and I just hope it ventures beyond my classroom doors.  Manners, so simple, but they make the environment a better place to be for 6 1/2 hours.

I think this was made by a student! We need to remind him calling  people knuckleheads is rude, but otherwise , it works!:)

Rap as a Learning Tool? Rappin’ in School? (Elementary School Style)

I tried to rhyme.:) As you can see, rapping is definitely not my thing, but it is something my students enjoy!  And no, I don’t mean Eminem, JZ , and the like, I teach in an elementary school.  I use the videos that are  available on Youtube, Teachertube, etc… It’s a fun, interactive way to learn, it engages and gets them moving!

Last year, I was teaching Polygons, and I decided to use a rap called Polygon Rap with my students. Not only did we learn the rap, we created props, made a video of them performing the rap, and uploaded the Polygon Rap video to TeacherTube.  Every single one of my students knew the different polygons. Educational and fun!

Recently, I discovered a site called WatchKnow, which allows me to watch educational videos at school. The great part is that we can watch videos from sites that are usually blocked.  Therefore, I can get YouTube, Teachertube, Schooltube, all in one place, secure, and most of all, unblocked.  This discovery has led me to look for raps that deal with whatever subject I am teaching, because the students enjoy it so much. For example,  I was teaching the Bill of Rights, and we sang the Bill of Rights rap every day.  I posted it on Edmodo, and my students shared it with their parents at home.  Guess whose students know the Bill of Rights?

 When I was teaching area and perimeter, Mrs.Burk, my all time favorite on Teachertube, helped my students grasp the skill.  I would begin the lesson rapping along with  Mrs.Burk’s Perimeter Rap.  We would rap loudly, mimicking her moves, no matter how corny we looked! It  makes me laugh just to think about it! But as much fun as we had, my students internalized area and perimeter because they knew the rap.

Today, I was reading posts in the Language Arts  Edmodo community, when I came across this link in a teacher’s reply. This Week in Rap, current events in rap form. Amazing! I let my 17-year-old watch it. He watched the entire video. He liked it, I could tell, although his only comment was, “He can’t rap better than me.” I’m debating whether to show my 5th graders, I guess I will determine that by its content, but if I were in middle or high school, I wouldn’t hesitate.  I would even let them create their own version of ” rap current events.”

Anyway, to “wrap” this all up, (pun intended) , “I believe rap in the classroom is a great asset!  Let’s give those boring textbooks a rest!  These videos are a help when it comes to takin’ tests! Word!” 🙂

We DO Make a Difference!(No Matter What You’ve Heard)

Just before Spring Break,  I asked my 5th graders if any of them wanted to enter the contest, “Why My Teacher is Great!”.  Only two students completed the letter.  One was an Honor Roll student and the other was a girl I had trouble with from Day 1!  I have to say, within the last two months, she has been a different child. I want to share her letter.

My teacher is great because she keeps us on track about getting into 6th grade. She never lets us say we can’t do it.  She only tells us we can do it.  Whenever we get mad, she always knows what to say.  She is the best teacher in the whole wide world.  She is great, whatever she does. When it comes to tests, she always makes us feel better about the test. She knows how to say no. She seldom yells at us students she always talks to us in a nice tone of voice.  Whenever we need help, she will try not to give us the answer, but try to help us out with it. She always tells us, “I can’t help you, unless you help yourself.” And now we help ourselves, as well as she helps us. My teacher is the best of the best. She keeps us in order like four by four.

There are some rules as well. 1st rule is treat others the way you wanted to be treated.  2nd, be a leader not a follower.  And 3rd, always use kind words. She also says, “Your actions, your responsibility.” And we always listen to those words.

 She always knows what to say when we are having problems with a student. My teacher is a great influence to kids. I really look up to her. And one day I am going to be just like her. And she also told me, “Never settle for less than your best”, and I will always keep that in my heart. I will tell my students that when I become a teacher. Oh there’s another saying by my great and fabulous teacher. She says, “Choose not to fail!”   She says that almost every day.

My teacher is my hero. (At this point I was crying)

Teachers, don’t give up! Don’t let the teacher-bashing discourage you! Even when we think they don’t care, they do! We DO Make a Difference!

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