Sunday, March 23, 2014

What They Don't Teach Teachers in College: You Can't Always Go When You Need to Go

They won't teach you this in college. In all likelihood, your supervising teacher during student teacher will not mention this. I haven't found this nugget in any teacher training text book, but this is something you need to know.  Training your bladder and bowels is of utmost importance. When you are responsible for a room of middle schoolers (or elementary or whatever you teach), you simply cannot just run to the restroom whenever you please. For me, that means, I can only go to the little boys room every 50 minutes, and then I only have 4 minutes to do what I have to do and return. Once my bladder and bowels get on this schedule, I have to very cautious not to anything that could upset the equilibrium.

Of course, it never fails, that once I have gotten everything trained for the school year, a well-meaning parent will stock the teachers lounge with goodies that I cannot resist, and suddenly I will have an unwelcome need of a bowel movement in the middle of third period. And nothing is more uncomfortable than needing to go and knowing you have 40 more minutes until the end of the period. And for those teachers who are preparing for standardized testing- those long test sessions do not always coincide with our perfectly trained bowels and bladders. Talk about living in discomfort!

I am actually a little apprehensive of the upcoming week. It's Teachers Appreciation Week at my school. Now normally, that's a great thing- it is! But I also know there's going to be treats and nice lunches. Well-meaning parents and students will bring breakfast and I will probably have that cup of coffee that I do not normally have- and somewhere during a lesson on the Fall of Rome, I will be feeling as if my entire intestinal empire is about to come crumbling down.

So, teachers everywhere. Before you partake in that nice looking muffin in the lounge. Think! Think hard!

You cannot always go when you need to go!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Dare to Teach Differently #1: Letting Students Figure It Out

Being a teacher is challenging. One of the biggest challenges for me is letting go. We as teachers often enter the classroom as if we hold the keys to the content. And then our job is to dispense that knowledge to our students. This is somewhat true, but there's more to it than that.

I've tried to change the way I teach recently. One of the ways is that I try to find different ways for my students to explore, collaborate, learn, and create. I look at what we are trying to learn and try to find new ways to do that. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. I want my students to never know what to expect when they enter my room.

Last semester, my world geography students were studying Canada. In addition to "memorizing" Canada's geographically features, we were exploring where Canada's metropolitan areas existed and discovering why. I needed my students to realize this in a fun and unique way.

What did I do? I came into the room and told each class they had 20 minutes to come up with a way to show, demonstrate, create a map of Canada. I gave them no other instructions or requirements. I just stepped back and watched it happen.

Both classes decided to use their own bodies to create the map. One group involved the desks, the other didn't. One class used signs to label themselves, the other didn't. Either way, they all had to figure out what was important to show and what wasn't, they had to determine who would do what, and then they had to put it into practice.

Why do this? First, my bodily-kinesthetic learners loved it. Secondly,  they had a personal and active interaction with the learning. Finally, I got to see how they handled group dynamics of a task with very little boundaries. They had to work together because everyone had to be involved.

Teaching like this is risky. (Later I will do a post on how to prepare students for this type of learning.) It also will not work with every group of students. Students, as well as teachers, have to be willing to get out of their comfort zone to make things like this work.

But giving students an open ended task and letting them figure it out can be an exciting way to see how much they understand, a means of seeing how well they can critically think through a task,  and a challenge to them to figure out knew ways of learning.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Commencement Address I'll Never Be Asked to Give

I've always wanted to give a commencement address at a high school or college. I have no real belief that I ever will, it's just a dream of mine. Partially because I believe I have so much words of wisdom to offer those embarking on life at that point of time.

If I did give a commencement address, it would probably be a combination of my own wit and plagiarized elements I've "stolen"from somewhere.

It might look a bit like this-

As you go on to live your life, I'd like to share some things that might be of importance to you.

First, time is nature's way of making sure that everything doesn't happen at once. Imagine the chaos if everything happened at one time. It wouldn't work well, so we have to have time to help us there. Just don't waste it.

Secondly, don't be irreplaceable. if you can't be replaced, you can't be promoted. You need to think about that one a bit.

Another important thing to remember is before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you criticize them, you're a mile away and you have their shoes. It's always important to be far enough away from someone that they can't pummel you into the ground when you criticize them. And if you have their shoes, they might not be able to run as far and if they're mad at you for criticizing them, that might be a good thing.
A fourth thing I'd want everyone to know is if at first you don't succeed, skydiving is not for you. Failure is good in some endeavors, but at others, sometimes you might want to make sure you know what you're doing before you try. Trying again after failing to get your grandmother's spaghetti recipe just right is probably ok, but if you decide to be an airplane pilot or a heart surgeon, especially if it's my heart surgeon, you better have a little bit of certainty in your competency before making the first cut.

And in closing, always, always, always remember you're unique. Just like everyone else. So don't waste the you you are, but also remember that everyone else is just as unique and special as you are- treat them as such. Too many people in this world believe they are unique and special and then act like an asshole and treat everyone else like a mass of nothing. You are unique, which means you can do things no one else can- and there are others who are unique too. Remember that.

Finally, it is easier to get forgiveness than permission. Just like I didn't ask if it was appropriate to use "asshole" in a commencement address. I'm guessing I will just get forgiveness late, because if I asked I certainly wouldn't have gotten permission and no word could accurately express what I wanted to say there. There will be times in life that you will have to follow convictions and beliefs. Waiting for permission to do that is too slow or cumbersome. It's your life, live it. God is always forgiving. If people aren't, well who cares!

And there you have, my preliminary "Commencement Address." So if you need a speaker for your graduation, I am happy to do it.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Pink Shoes

My grandfather was a veteran of WWII. He never talked much about what it was like over there, and as I've gotten older, I wish I had asked him more about it. I know he made sacrifices and one of my favorite pictures of him is my grandparents' wedding picture in which he's wearing his service uniform.

My mother was born in November 1945 while my grandfather was still overseas in Belgium. Before she died in November of 2012, she shared with me a few special mementos, including this telegraph my grandfather received letting him know of her birth.
It was folded in the exact shape of a pocket on a shirt. I do not know for certain, but knowing the man my grandfather was, I can only imagine he kept it there, maybe even until he was able to get home and hold her for the first time.

Along with the telegraph was a stack of letters all addressed "Dearest Edna and Carol," (Edna was my grandmother and Carol my mother) except for one which was addressed
 "Dearest Edna and Daughter."   This letter pictured to the right told of how my grandfather felt upon learning about the birth of my mother. His tender words melt my heart and leave for me a legacy of how to love my wife and children. There are more letters like this one and I cherish them.

 A final item left to me by my mother is a box of pink deer skin baby shoes. In the letter, my grandfather mentions these, the first baby gift for my mother. After reading the letter, holding the telegram, and finding the shoes- a poem was born. I wanted to share this poem as it helps commemorate my mother's life and discusses the love two men have for her- my grandfather as he looks ahead to a life of being her father and me, as I look back to her as her son.

Two men, from very different generations, both shared an immense love for the same woman.

Pink Shoes
It’s Belgium, 1945
An American soldier far away from home
Reads again from a telegram bearing news of his newborn daughter
He walks away seeking solitude
To cry- tears of joy for this baby girl he longs to hold.
Oceans away his heart longs to be with wife and child
Anticipation of birthdays, bicycles, balloons brings hope
Begins with a gift
Not much to buy there, but then he sees it-
Folded telegram pressed in front pocket by his heart
Tears again as he holds the box
A pair of pink shoes

It’s a bedroom, not too long ago
A middle-aged man in his childhood home
Looks again at photos chronicling the life of his deceased mother.
He walks away seeking solitude
To cry- tears of sorrow for the woman he wants to hold him one more time.
Worlds away his heart longs to be with momma
Memories of birthdays, bicycles, and balloons bring hurt
Continues with a chest
Too much to sort there, but then he sees it-
Faded photos pressed in hands by his heart
Tears again as he holds the box
A pair of pink shoes

Monday, March 3, 2014

My Advice to New or Yet-to-Be Teachers

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked about teaching by a pre-service teacher who had come with other yet-to-be teachers to judge for our social studies fair. I was pre-occupied with making sure the social studies fair was in order and, frankly, I was unprepared for his question. (Also- people should never ask teachers what we think of teaching in mid-February. We are too far away from either the beginning or the end of school not to answer without at least a touch of cynicism.)

After he left, I thought about his question. More so, I thought about the answers I wished I had given him. Though, I am certain he will never read this, to all new teachers, yet-to-be teachers, or anyone thinking about being a teacher- here are a few words of advice.

1. If you think you can do anything else, do it! Yes, I know that sounds full of cynicism and negativity, but I do not mean it that way. Teaching is hard. Whether you are teaching elementary, high school, or the abyss of middle grades, teaching is hard. Do not go into teaching for summers off (They are far too short), getting off at 3:00 (You will find, that while you may be able to leave work at 3, you will bring mounds of work home with you.), or because you think "How hard can it be?" (VERY!). If you teach long enough, you will at some point question your sanity. Furthermore, teaching is a career that nobody is all that great at his or her first year. (I'm sorry to all those early students that I muddled my way with as I figured this out.) Our students deserve teachers who stick with it and are willing to grow in the craft. So, make sure it is your calling!

2. Don't Worry if the Students Like You. This was the hard one for me. My first years of teaching, I wanted to be the favorite. I wanted my students to love me and celebrate me. (Honestly, part of me still wants this.) There's nothing wrong with letting the students like you. There's nothing wrong with being a likeable teacher. (I never bought into the no smile til November. I like smiling too much!) But, being liked cannot be something you aim for, it has to happen on its own. When you care too much about it, it will make you ineffective. Kids are like sharks with blood in the water; if they smell fear, insecurity, uncertainty- they will feast on you! Set your expectations for the students. Establish your boundaries. Teach and expect them to learn. They will see that you care and some may like you, and some may not, but don't worry about it.

3. Learn from Experienced Teachers. You may have more energy than the older teachers in your building. You may bring more knowledge of the "newest" techniques and ideas. Do not let that make you think you know more than those who have been there and done it. Let them share their ideas with you and share your energy with them. Teaching is about collaboration. If they tell you something probably won't work, you might want to hear them out. They were where you are once.

4. Love the students more than you love your content. Especially secondary teachers- many of us got into teaching because we love history, biology, mathematics (who does that?!!?), art, literature, whatever! That is great. Let your students see your love for what you teach, and many times that will be contagious. However, you must love them more than you love what you teach. Be interested in what interests them. (And yes, I've had to feign interest in One Direction- I teach middle school.) Be willing to cry with them, vent with them, pray with them, and laugh with them. When you love your students more than you love your content, you will want to see them achieve great things. Rita Pierson says "Every child needs a champion." Be that for your students. Not all of them need you to, but you may never know which one does.

5. Ignore the Myth of the Super Teacher. Do not try to be the next Mr. Keating from Dead Poets Society, you will not conduct the next Mr. Holland's Opus, you won't coach like Coach Carter, and your students probably won't be the next Freedom Writers. Chances are you won't transform a class like Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds. And that's ok. Those stories are made for movies- based on a true story, but with clean plot lines that do not always play out in real life. Teaching is hard. You probably won't be a super teacher- I know for certain , I'm not- but, you can make a difference in the lives of the children you teach. . Teaching is the most amazing, frustrating, satisfying, heartbreaking, rewarding, disappointing, exhilerating, and exhausting profession- and often you will feel all of those in the same day- but, I cannot right now imagine doing anything else.

So, if you are a new teacher, or thinking about it, or training for it- these are only some of the words I would say.

And to that young man who asked the question- I'm sorry I didn't have all this to say when you asked- but thank-you for asking.

I'm back

It's been 18 months since I last made a post. I started ambitiously enough in the Fall of 2012 but life got in the way.

So, what all has happened since then?

1. My mother lost her battle with cancer. This happened in November 2012. The sting of the grief has gone away, but not a day goes by that there isn't something I want to tell her, a question I wish I could ask, or a joy I would like to share. Her illness and passing probably played a big reason in why I forgot to update here. And once I was out of the habit, this experiment in blogging fell by the wayside.

2. I left the school system I taught at for 12 years and moved to teaching a new subject in a private school. This move has been exciting and exhausting and exhillerating all at the same time. I have been able to incorporate some great things with my new students. While number one above is what likely led me away from blogging, it is this one that has probably brought me back. I want to share the cool things that are going on.
(In addition, the blog title is probably not appropriate any longer. I'm no longer in Room 213, but right now, I can't think of a better title, so I will leave it. Changing it can be a project for the future.)

3. My children keep getting older. I guess this goes without saying, but growing children can often take us away from other interests- like writing thoughts to people who may never read them.

That being said, I'm making a renewed commitment to update here. I hope I can cultivate a group of readers who at least will enjoy the sporadic ramblings of my mind. Furthermore, I'm out of school this week- so maybe I can post more than a few times this week.

As always- feel free to share ideas, thoughts, whatever in the comments!