Teachers are People people.

Coworkers, students, support staff, administrators, facility staff… Every piece of the puzzle is integral.

Without making this entry too braggy I’d just like to say how lucky in love I am with my coworkers and all the characters in my school. As a new teacher it could be easy to feel ostracized or ignored but I’ve never felt this way at my school. I have felt overwhelmed and frustrated but I’ve never placed blame for that. Actually I’ve blamed myself …but I now see that that’s not fair me.

In a perfect world I would have a mentor who is local, present, and invested. Hopefully this mentor is also knowledgable in my content area and experienced… Well that’s a work in progress so I’m gonna leave it there for now.

I’ve decided to pick my own mentors. I’ve picked everyone. The special educator with a year of experience. The science teacher with 10+ years of experience (and helped write the amazing curriculum I use). The semi-retired former OB/GYN. My fellow first-years. The ornery physical educator. Any and all. I’m looking at different great (or influential) parts of every personality.

Dedication
Experience
Passion
Empathy
Understanding
Self-advocacy
Naïveté
Enthusiasm
Faith
Humor
Skepticism
Resilience
Flexibility
Denial
Anger
Acceptance
Hope
Vision
Wonder

We are teachers. We are successful in so many different ways that I don’t see how what we can do can be bottled and bartered. We are caring and devoted to the learning of our students. Why (how) else could someone enter (stay in) the profession if they weren’t?

The qualities my coworkers use with students are as diverse as they could be. I’m trying to find myself, my teaching “brand” that I can use forever. I think my personality is pretty straightforward in the classroom. I’m an unapologetic nerd who likes to smile. I always knew that “don’t smile until Christmas” and “stay one chapter ahead” were never going to work for me.

My original inspiration for this post was the support I received from my fellow teachers and staff at school. I kind of wear my heart on my sleeve so when I’m having a hard time its a bit obvious. Tears in the staff room are also a dead giveaway. Anyway Tuesday was just the pits. Not only did people encourage me, but they also kindly gave suggestions on how to be successful. There were a few pieces of chocolate passed around. A couple of hugs here and there. I doubt I could have pulled through without them.

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Myra Blackmon on the Corporate Takeover of American Education

I can’t say I disagree.

Diane Ravitch's blog

Myra Blackmon, who writes regularly for the Athens Banner-Herald in Georgia, returned from the Network for Public Education conference in Austin ready to write about what she learned and how it applied to Georgia.

She realized that the Common Core is just a symptom of a larger problem.

She writes:

My “a-ha moment” came when I realized CCSS and testing aren’t the real problems. They’re symptoms of a bigger problem. The real problem is a systemic, far-reaching one that can be stopped only by a revolt among parents and educators. The real problem is that a very few, very wealthy individuals override the voices of thousands upon thousands of experienced educators and parents.

The real problem is that Bill Gates, who has put more than $200 million into the CCSS, has more influence than his millions of customers. The Walton family has more influence than the 1.4 million Americans…

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Bloom’s Taxonomy of Torture

My cheerfulness was certainly challenged this week. I think this past school week was the worst one (for me) to date. I was feeling overwhelmed and insecure following an observation from the principal. He suggested we co-plan a lesson this week to develop my higher order questioning skills. At first I thought OMG what did I get myself into? In fact that was my inner mantra until Friday 6th period when he joined me in the classroom. The lesson was fun, challenging, and rewarding. The students are my heroes. I completely love them because I felt like they were doing their absolute best on my account. I could tell my principal was having a great time too. I was nervous as hell.

Our lesson was based on a Snakes and Ladders style board game. The students on a team of 4 were playing using cards with questions on them, numbered from 1-28. One student, a non-player in the 4, is the Question Master and has a master list of questions and answers, as well as the number of moves each correct answer is worth. Level I moves 1, Level III moves 2, Level V moves 3 spaces. All players must pass the finish line to win against other teams of 4. The Question Master may help the other students on the team by asking some of those low level questions to build their understanding. They may pass the question to a teammate, too.

There is a lot that can be said for having a principal who likes (and tries) to be in the classroom, teaching alongside teachers. He is a unique person with a history all his own. Just like most teachers his passion drives his goals. I can tell that this school is his vision for education. He cares about what goes on inside classrooms. Anyway this isn’t what my mom would call “slavish devotion” because I had plenty of skepticism for the motivation behind this lesson. Also I couldn’t tell how higher order thinking skills fit into this week… After all science is content, big test in June, pacing guide, PANIC! I guess one lesson like this where we slow down the instructional pace and allow thinking and review is worth it.

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The hardest questions to create are those at the top of Bloom’s Taxonomy. They challenge students to create, evaluate, and extend what they already know. As challenging as it is for students I would venture that it is harder for teachers. We have to anticipate their responses and that they will be able to build up to the big question by first responding to lower ordered questions on their own. There are certain understandings a student must have before they can evaluate, synthesize, and analyze. Some scientific content must be present BEFORE these big questions can be tackled. That was my main concern for this lesson. In fact I found that I was scaffolding with lower order questions at each table during the board game.

This fabulous lesson was his idea, we worked together on about 50% of it and he has another one ready for me next week… I am still exhausted from last week.

Oh boy, let me tell you I don’t know if my health will hold up until tomorrow. My teacher immune system has finally taken a break. If I could plan a hugely student centered  lesson (read: voiceless teacher) then I might be in business.

Environmental (& Classroom) Justice

This topic is very near and dear to my heart. This is a topic which I discovered in name as an undergraduate, though I was familiar with this idea my whole life. As a kid in the city reaching nature would have been difficult if it had not been for the very fortunate location of my childhood home. Situated directly on a saltwater canal, all I had to do was look outside.

It is without surprise that most children in cities see local playgrounds and the occasional street tree as the only outdoor areas within reach. It has been shown that people who live in areas with little or no green space (including street trees) are at higher risk of developing respiratory diseases such as asthma. Here in the city we’ve gotten used to seeing kids use nebulizer treatments, steroids, and other inhaled medicines.

Anyway enough with the negatives. What are we doing to combat these side effects of urban life? For starters we are planting more street trees and creating more green spaces. Every little bit counts, right? But are these efforts equally distributed in terms of socioeconomic status? Well that’s what opponents of environmental racism want to know.

I’ve decided to give the power to my students. My vision is to initiate these discussions, encourage questioning, and help young citizens grow. Well that’s the goal of my environmental science elective… My other classes have a goal already established: get them to pass the test. Now between me, you, and the internet: I’m not big fan of big-scary-important-determinant tests. Just boo in general. :end of rant:

By the grace of my amazing school I’ve been tasked with this beautiful course. It’s mine to build, break, mold, adapt and play with. I should say this is round 2. As a semester long class this is my second go. I hated last semester. I wasn’t happy with my curriculum or my classroom management. There were Three (and later Four) Musketeers who I predict will be breaking laws and committing heinous acts all their lives. (That was uncalled for, I’m sorry). My point is I get a second chance to make this the class where I change lives and incite activist citizens.

The truth is I would give those Four Musketeers a hundred chances to be great. I would just make more phone calls home…

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PS- Have you seen the Lego Movie? Seriously, go do yourself a favor.

You think you know…

According to this article I’m working harder than a first year lawyer. Also I’m making 1/5 of their salary, but that’s a topic for another post. They aren’t given the full responsibilities that practiced lawyers are expected to succeed with. Then why is the expectation that brand new teacher can do as well as veterans? I’m obviously up for the challenge…

It seems as though the policy makers have less than a basic understanding of a teacher’s true responsibilities. Based on the comments in the article as well, the general public has little respect for the work we do. My point and the point of the article’s author is that just because you were a student, ever, doesn’t truly give you insight into teaching.

I always appreciate when someone sticks up for the profession, or at least hesitates to write it off. Maybe it’s because I’m new and seek positive reinforcement…

Check out this insightful article by Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post:

You think you know what teachers do. Right? Wrong.

Citizen Science: a tool for education and outreach

As a new teacher one of my many goals is to introduce my students to different projects in citizen science. In terms of educating scientifically literate citizens and creating access for city kids, I can’t think of a better way. Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!

Ramin Skibba

I’ll write about a different kind of topic today. “Citizen science” is a relatively new term though the activity itself is not so new. One definition of citizen science is “the systematic collection and analysis of data; development of technology; testing of natural phenomena; and the dissemination of these activities by researchers on a primarily avocational basis.” It involves public participation and engagement in scientific research in a way that educates the participants, makes the research more democratic, and makes it possible to perform tasks that a small number of researchers could not accomplish alone. Volunteers simply need access to a computer (or smartphone) and an internet connection to become involved and assist scientific research.

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Citizen science was popularized a few years ago by Galaxy Zoo, which involved visually classifying hundreds of thousands of galaxies into spirals, ellipticals, mergers, and finer classifications. (I am a member of…

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Alan Alda’s challenge to scientists: let students be the judges. (Slate article)

Be sure to read the Slate article! I love what Alan Alda is doing.

SciChats @ Salk

“Alda was about to go speak at the annual conference for the American Association for the Advancement of Science. I asked what he would be saying to all the scientists gathered there. He says it’s not about shortcuts or tricks for talking to regular people. “The thing is, scientists really want to do better at this. I see it in graduate students and senior scientists who are stars in their field. They understand what’s at stake,” he says. “When I talk about it, and when we do workshops, it’s not to impart a few tips… I actually think we have to habituate ourselves to a different way of expressing ourselves. And it’s not about expressing ourselves so much as it is about really making contact with the people we are talking to.” He adds: “We give a lot of thought to how to say things, when in fact…

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