Saturday, March 22, 2014

Things My Students Will Do

  • Teach each other. I will never be the only Educator in the room, every single student needs to be aware of and responsible for not only their own learning but also for their classmates'. They are all experts on something, probably several things, and how could they not be eager to learn if they get to pick the subject? What better way to learn more/deeper than by researching, studying, and teaching something they enjoy? 
  • Be confused. Perplexed. Stymied. Frustrated. Resilient. My sons cannot tell you how many times they've heard the phrases "Look it up" or "Figure it out" as my answer to their questions. This connects to classroom management (sharp pencils, what page are we on, how to spell...) and learning to think through difficult work and persevere toward an solution. Real world problems, project based learning, choices on how to demonstrate learning, high standards and expectations. There's word going around education idea circles that fits right into this and students definitely need more: grit
  • Always be doing something. Not that independent reading isn't awesome, but when finished with the assignment is that all there is to do? And won't those students eagerly pulling a book out get their reading time in anyway? But no, you will not see stacks of worksheets in my classroom... The Must Do/May Do list will have lots of producing, collaborating, evidence finding, problem solving, creating choices.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

I Want To Be Subversive

What do you want your students to be able to do, not by the end of the year, but in 2026?

I love this woman. I want to be this teacher.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Middle School: Heaven or Hell?

Teaching middle schoolers. 6th to 8th grade. 11-14 year olds. For me the question was really
Hell, or a deeper level of Hell?

When I got into teaching I always saw myself as a 3rd to 5th grade teacher, I was not interested at all in middle or high school. Two of my sons have hit those grade levels while I've gone through credentialing and subbing, but they weren't what made me shudder at the thought of 30+ 7th graders 6 times a day, it was their classmates. Kids will be kids, teenage boys will be teenage boys, but I wanted no part of trying to teach them. Add in teenage girls? No. Thank. You.

Which makes me laugh every time I sub in one of our middle school classes and come to the end of the day thinking  It would be so cool to teach this subject/grade/kids! It probably has a lot to do with knowing these students, some were in my first real class ever and all the 6th graders I had last year for P.E., and being able to treat them as young people, not just bodies in the way of a smooth day. Part of it has to do with a feeling, almost a mantra, I've had since seeing poor teachers in my children's lives: I can do better. Maybe it comes from a background in the cutthroat worlds of both sports and retail, but I usually feel I can teach these students more and teach them better. Athletics and retail management require constant adjustment and improvement, the seeking of better methods, better practice, better results, and the harsh reality that those results must be more efficient and effective than others' or you lose ("others" in education being Hollywood, hormones, Snapchat, e-cigs, etc.). At my school it's less I can do better and mostly I want to be a part of this as I see first hand in their classrooms, in their conversations, and in their students how these teachers are constantly trying to find what works and what will work better.

So middle school wouldn't be too bad after all.

Dear Principal...

I have at least been blogging a little, telling Principals how wonderful I am, but would like to get back to reflecting and planning more, digging a little deeper once in a while. I blame Netflix (since I cannot possibly blame The Wife) for my dearth of writing as well as my expanded waistline -- can't snack while typing, can I?

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Not such a good idea?

Six weeks, five school districts, dozens of resumes and letters of introduction, four interviews, and zero contract offers... [insert deep sigh here]

It’s hard to be rejected. For 20+ years I never once heard “No thanks” for any job or position I interviewed for, and while I knew I wasn’t simply going to walk out of my last credential class and into a classroom, I also didn’t think the education business was going to go so far down the toilet I’d be competing against over 400 people for every rare opening.

But like any good educator I'm being reflective, reviewing all the interviews, going over what I said and did, trying to learn from my mistakes and get better. While meeting a Principal and his/her staff for an interview certainly can be nerve-racking,  I needed to do something to set myself apart from the other candidates. In hindsight though, I’m thinking just there are a few things that maybe I should not have done --

...maybe I shouldn't have passed out mojitos to "loosen things up a bit" ?
...maybe I shouldn't have handed out envelopes from "a friend in Vegas" ?
...maybe I shouldn't have done the last one in Dothraki?
...maybe I shouldn't have brought along my mom?
...maybe I shouldn't have asked: "Who's your fave, One Direction or Big Time Rush?
...maybe I shouldn't have done last one in bathrobe and slippers?
...maybe I shouldn't have prayed so long? Or spoke in tongues?
...maybe I shouldn't have described my classroom management style as ‘Draconian’?
...maybe I shouldn't have worn my "Michelle Rhee is Superwoman" tee?
...maybe I shouldn't have bragged so much about my extensive ‘Hello Kitty’ collection?

Interview Delirium has led to feeble attempts at humor. The old laugh to keep from crying routine? Actually no, I've gotten good feedback from several principals and still have confidence something nice will work out soon for this year. Or next year. Or sometime after that...

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Here We Go Again...

If a pitcher is throwing a no-hitter, no one in the dugout talks about it. The radio announcers don't even mention it for fear of jinxing him. Which is why I don't want to tell anybody, or even type the words second interview... Oops, guess I just did.

Now watch, the phone will ring tomorrow morning and a secretary will say "Sorry, we need to cancel your visit, the school burned down" or "We looked at our budget and decided to buy new playground equipment instead" or "Trick! You really never had a chance, tee hee, to get a job. You should, haha, see your face!"

Hmm, maybe I need a more positive attitude...

Knock on wood!

Since it's now out in the bloggerverse, I guess I'd better get ready for it. I don't believe in jinxes! I believe in being prepared, in demonstrating my abilities, in presenting myself with confidence, and I believe in wearing my lucky tie. I'm spending the day studying Common Core, checking out 3rd grade lessons, planning classroom management, learning about the school where I hope to get hired.

Anything else?

Rubbing the lucky tie with a rabbit's foot?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

When Bad Interviews Happen To Good Teachers

Well, at least you can say I'm consistent. Year after year, when that summer break comes-- relaxation time for most teachers, resume update and scour EdJoin time for me-- I have played my part faithfully, never breaking from tradition. And this summer, like the four summers before, followed the familiar formula: letter of introduction, interview prep, tie and sock choice, nervous babbling, thanks for inviting me handshake, phone call wait, the sigh of resignation....

Now to be fair to myself (aka "rationalizing") it wasn't the best fit. I'm sure the first interviewer caught the look on my face when she said "Sixth grade Math and Science"-- I'm sure the same face I made when my new bride first made dinner, a well-intentioned yet feeble attempt to convey, despite facial contortions saying otherwise, my inner "joy" at what was placed before me and the anticipation of getting to enjoy it for the next 50 years* -- but I recovered quickly, and while admitting my passion was readin' and writin' I talked about the thrill of discovery and importance of problem solving as keys to both wonderful disciplines, math and science being the backbone of any successful society.

And maybe that last paragraph is evidence of my Failure As Interviewee. A bit rambling, I'd say. Incoherent in most places, you may say. It's not like I opened with a joke ("How many Principals does it take...") or replied in monotonous grunts, but for some reason I must not come across as intelligent, or at least worthy to get paid for teaching children, when I am interviewed. There is a fine line between answering how I really want to and how I think they want me to answer, all while trying to surreptitiously read upside down to see what they're writing about me as I talk. I want to say Yes, my classroom will have/do this... but how do I know if the school allows that? Maybe the Principal wouldn't know a Tweet if it bit her but I want to connect with my students using Twitter?

Part of me wants to jump up on the next conference table and give voice to the Sorkin-style proclamation within: I can teach! Give me a room, give me students! Let me coax them, cajole them, encourage them to let the learning spark in them burst! Quit blaming faulty technology and get students into the 21st century, stop moaning about class size and get to know what every student needs to learn, cancel the parties and movies and demand hard work, proof of learning, and excellent results! I AM Superman! And then again part of me, mainly the student loan repaying part, wants to say Please, I need a job, tell me what to teach and how to teach it and I'll be there for every after school function and I'll spend all weekend grading and planning but please just give me a chance...

So now I (hopefully) go back to teaching elementary P.E., a job I absolutely love at a school I absolutely love with students I absolutely love, by the way, and spend the next 11 months learning as much as I can in order to try again next summer. I'll finish my GATE Certification, complete my P.E. Credential, keep working through the Stanford Math MOOC, discuss students and teaching during lunch break, slip $20 a week under the Principal's keyboard, and work towards another chance at interviewing for my own classroom next year.  I'll firm up my handshake, practice my interview answers, study successful educators and their best practices. I'll find a way to impress the entire room on my next interview, I'll have them presenting the staff restroom key and offering to drive me down to HR and sign that contract before my sweat has even dried.

Truthfully? I think it was the wrong tie.

*Yes, 17 years later, she is a fine cook these days. Delicious pastas, awesome tacos. Otherwise we wouldn't still be married, now would we?**


Sunday, July 7, 2013

Whiteboard Word Wall

Just an idea...

Word Wall, pref on a whiteboard but that large paper sheet would work too -- students add words, can add definitions, syn/ant, illustrations, draw arrows/bridges to connect to other words, list examples of use/quotes from text -- fic or nonfic. Can even add word/def in native lang for ELs.
When board/paper/space is full take a pic and add to a slide show (accessible thru Google docs?) for viewing/study/reference.

Hmmm... I think my sons need to work up an example of this. They love summer projects!

Reading for my GATE Cert. class sometimes leads to too many ideas/distractions, but I guess I'd rather be distracted by ideas than be bored and finish quickly.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

"Guys Lunch"

Definitely going to do this next year, thank you @TechNinjaTodd at nesoloneyflipped.blogspot --

"Guys Lunch" Just me and the fellas, having lunch together away from all the girls and their drama (definitely leaving that to better teachers/humans than I) and getting the chance to talk about what it means to be a friend, a brother, a teammate, a young man.

My current school has very few sports minded students, very few athletes, which as a youth sports coach and PE teacher dismays me to no end. But the ones that have played sports, the few football players especially, definitely come from a different cultural background than 99% of their classmates. Most obviously they're African-American not Filipino-American, so unfortunately it's very easy to lump them all together (and I mean very easy: I could thunk each one with a different digit and still have fingers left over), especially when there's trouble on the basketball court or ball wall. But where others see "those black kids" I see "my athletes" and know the problem probably has everything to do with competition, skills, and the priorities their families have taught them.

It's funny how in one conversation we as teachers bemoan our American lack of fitness, the utter slothfulness of children today, but in another complain about the energy ("wildness") and drive ("disruptive") of certain students. These are the kids who, unlike their parent-coddled Playstation-addicted peers, are up and active after school. Yes, a lot of that is unsupervised, absent parent, directionless, but that's the point -- they're looking for something to do, usually out in the neighborhood.  Yes, some of that involves trouble, getting into it or trying to avoid it. These are children who are not brought things but told to go get it yourself. These are boys (and one girl) raised on watching sports from Dad's lap and signed up for a team as soon as possible, often within the context of This is the only way to make it out.

So lunch is with* me, boys. We'll talk about what bugs you, what you want from school and life, what you want to fix or change and how you can do it, what kind of friend/father/man you want to be. And we'll probably also find some time to discuss the real important issues, such as can the Heat 3-peat and will the Chargers ever, ever win the Super Bowl?

* Not "on" I'm only a poor teacher...

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Party Time!

"You're either part of the solution or you're part of the problem." - Eldridge Cleaver

As you may have guessed, I have an aversion to school day parties. My first class nearly revolted and left me tied up in the supply room when I said No, my dear 5th graders, you may not bring cupcakes for _____'s birthday. For the 7th time. So quit asking!

Then I was a-thinkin'... How about one of those Guess Who I Am? parties where the students can each be assigned a person, place, maybe even a concept that was studied during the past year? They could know who they are ahead of time and research/prepare clues and answers to questions other students ask to figure out who or what they are, or they could not know and have to ask the questions of others. Maybe one visual clue, although costumes may give away some characters too easily. Students could be fiction, Charlotte or Poseidon or Katniss, they could be historical or current events figures, maybe even lava or pi depending on the student. Easily differentiated to many levels.

Throw in some apple slices and crackers and *voila!* we have a par-tay!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Summer Reading Club

Just read a real good book* I could swear I saw one of our students reading, or at least carrying, the other day -- The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z by Kate Messner -- but when I asked about it this morning, she denied everything. Maybe I got the girl wrong, there were several of them at the same table, all Filipinas with straight black hair, but I don't think so.  And it's not like I walked up to the Pink Ladies and mentioning the word "book" wiped out all her street cred in front of the cool kids, these are all good students and most are in a book club. I do know I got the title slightly wrong, I couldn't quite remember the "brilliant" or the "Gianna" parts, but it's not like I accused her of reading Mein Kampf....

Which got me wondering if I could set up a Book Club Blog** to get some 4th-6th grade students reading, discussing, and sharing books they read. I might not even be at that school next year, or might only be the PE Teacher again, but it might be a way to keep some reading going over the summer. And if I did get a classroom next year we could keep it going and use it for digital citizenship and internet writing lessons.  Even at a different school it would be a way to connect students/readers from around the county.  Hmmm...

* as opposed to a fake good book?
** obviously a catchy, cool name is needed. Any ideas?

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Final Days...

Yeah, yeah, I know most teachers are out for the summer break. I've read your "beach-bound!" tweets, seen your "feet up!" photos, hid your "margaritas at 11am!" status updates. Whatever.

But some of us are still working. We still have 4 weeks to go, 18 teaching days. Last year at this time I was passing fellow teachers in the halls and wondering what these seemingly secret but special numbers they whispered 13, 12, 11.... I was stressing over finishing the Math book and panicking over my first report cards while they had a semi-delirious smile 9, 8, 7... I was wondering how in the world I could get my students ready for 6th grade/middle school/college valedictorian/Nobel acceptance speeches in just two weeks-- ah, that's what the magic numbers were: The Countdown. The Final Days. How many days left until "Julyteenth" and the freedom of summer break!   4, 3, 2...

Needless to say, I was not ready for summer break.  I did not want summer break.  I was not ready to let go of this life-altering wonderful experience called "Finally, My Own Classroom." Not only was I not ready to give up the keys to the classroom, I wasn't ready to let my first batch of students get on with their (academic) lives without me. But there was no stemming the tide of calendar pages gleefully ripped off and tossed to the ground, the end of the school year was going to happen whether I was ready or not. *sigh*

This year, however, I am looking forward to summer. Except for the part where I must update resume, search for jobs, cross fingers I get called in to sweat and stammer through an interview for a job I won't get, of course, but the rest of summer I am totally ready for.  I love, love love, being a P.E. Teacher but there are only so many days one can stand in the sun and wind on the blacktop or dirt field and not feel that one's lungs, skin, and arches will soon rebel. I need some beach time, some reading time, some hang with my sons time. Since I don't know where I'll be next year I'm sad I may be leaving these awesome students and this awesome school, but I still get a smile looking forward to a break.

But anywho... circling back to what I intended to write: Some of us are still working. School is not out, not yet. But since it's close I'm hearing those words that have bothered me: What's left to teach? I finished the text! Movie Day! Nothin' going on today. Stopping by our party? And that's just from the teachers... It killed me most years to send my sons to school the last week since it seemed all they did was watch movies and eat cupcakes. It's funny how teachers will bemoan how students do not read outside of school, they get no music or art outside of school, some would never go to the zoo or even the beach (yes, even living 10 mins away) if not for a field trip, yet do they think children don't eat pizza and waste time? I know my students rarely get outside and play games at home and very, very few play any organized sports, so why would I do anything except try to keep them moving every possible minute I can?

Similar and interesting conversation on Twitter related to report cards being completed weeks before school's end and passed out before last day (Thanks, @bloggucation) -- why send your student to school except for the free babysitting? Maybe I'm too new a teacher to understand the intricacies of dealing with a classroom 20-40 children for 9 months, but isn't the purpose of school to educate students? Yes they need a break once in awhile, we can't push.push every minute, but I think we're teaching students to "check out" too often. Every Friday play time for turning in your homework? The reward for doing your work isn't the learning, it doesn't lead to curiosity, the drive to excel or learn more, to better communication/understanding, it leads to getting to stop doing school work and have more recess! No wonder the recent news reports show 70% of Americans are not engaged in their work/careers, that's what we're teaching them in school.

Am I just on an uninformed rant here? Is there a way, or even a need, to balance free time and learning time at school? Am I just an anti-birthday party Scrooge? Hmmm...