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Week 2 of Distance Teaching

It’s Monday, just past 6am, and I’ve been awake, off and on, since 3.

I finally threw off the illusion of sleeping and gave up at 5.

Foremost on my mind has been school.

Today marks the beginning of Week 2 of distance teaching.

Unlike last Monday, when nerves were on edge because of the unknown, this morning feels a little different.

Although I don’t exactly have a daily routine in place, I do have a better feel for what my weekdays will encompass.

There will be phone calls to check up on students I haven’t “seen” online.

There will be the usual flurry of emails – mostly from administrators reminding us of all of the behind-the-scenes minutia that must be done. There’s a lot more of that these days since everything we are doing is “behind the scenes” now.

In fact, even as I sit here composing this post, I can hear the sound of my email notification going off on my phone.

I dare not check . . . just yet.

There will be the inputting of grades – lots of them in my case because the online program my English 4 students are using has a lot of activities.

There will be exactly 5,794 Remind101 messages exchanged back and forth – my primary means of communicating with my students and answering their panicked requests for assistance.

I’ve always wanted to teach from home, but last week taught me a few things.

Lesson #1: It’s a little harder to unplug when your office happens to be the place where you live.

The overachiever in me has a hard time looking at my makeshift desk next to the TV and not thinking about the to-do list written in the notebook that sits beside my laptop.

That list is a siren beckoning me to do more.

And I did . . . do more . . on Sunday . . . because my face had makeup on it (I “dressed up” for online church), and I wanted to go ahead and make my weekly videos for my students while I was looking my best.

Lesson #2: Last week taught me that parents also have a hard time unplugging. They, like us, seem to be struggling with separating out school hours from home hours, as evidenced by the emails I received Friday night after 9pm and Sunday evening.

I chat frequently with my friend, Megan (I’ve mentioned her a time or two or a hundred on this here blog). We teach together, and she literally saves my brain from the stresses of the job because of the way we talk things out.

I love something she told me last week. She said that the sheer magnitude of dealing with craptons of messages didn’t allow her to instantly respond to her kids’ requests for help and, guess what?

The kids started figuring things out on their own.

Y’all, that’s not to say that we aren’t supposed to help, but why jump immediately?

I’m the kind of gal who likes to deal with things instantly. I do not have 500 unread texts and emails.

I just cannot live that way.

BUT, and that’s a huge BUT, I learned, like Megan, that because I cannot jump immediately due to being on long phone calls with parents, the kids DO figure things out.

Heck, four of my classes are reading classes. The kids are learning to read directions – to take advantage of the resources I’ve included with their assignments (lots of instructions and homemade videos) – to navigate real websites.

My kids are finally starting to take ownership of their learning. It’s hard for them – figuring out how to pace themselves in seven classes – but they are beginning to do it (not very well, in some cases, but the attempt is applauded).

Last week taught me some other things.

I have always been known as a teacher who calls home. A lot. These phone calls have usually been about behavior issues because when you teach the preps I do, less-than-stellar behaviors accompany the children.

But you guys, I’ve been making at least twenty phone calls a day just to connect with parents – to check that phone numbers work (most do not) and to grab good email addresses.

I’ve added more parents to my Remind101 rosters than I’ve ever had in the ten years I’ve been teaching, and the parents are loving it!

Last week taught me to go the extra mile for my ELL parents – those precious people whose first language isn’t English.

I remember getting a hold of one mom who, I quickly discerned, spoke NO English.

Talk about an awkward conversation!

Because I finally had her on the phone, my mind raced with what to do.

I tried using Google Translate’s audio feature to play my translation over my computer where the mom could hear.

That didn’t work.

She hung up on me.

Ha!

Then, I noticed a handy feature in Google Voice, which I’ve been using so I don’t give out my cell phone number. There was a text option.

So, I plugged in what I wanted to say in Google Translate, copied and pasted the text from Translate to Google Voice’s texting option, and voila!

The mom TEXTED ME BACK!!

Google Voice translated her words to English for me.

It was absolutely the most incredible thing ever!

That moment right there humbled me.

These sweet ELL parents love their children as much as everyone else, but they are stymied by many things – primarily language barriers.

In that moment of connecting with this mom, I had to ask myself how hard had I really tried, for all of these years, to reach ALL of my parents?

I was able to reach out to several of my ELL parents in this manner, and let me tell you that the feeling of amazement was incredible each and every time.

I know this post is long, and if you’ve read all the way through it, you have my thanks.

This pandemic, as awful as it is, truly does have some blessings.

One of them is the opportunity to grow as a person as I continue to hone my craft.

Please continue to pray for teachers as we start to settle in. Please pray for wisdom as we address ongoing technical issues. One of my students emailed me last night because she has been going to a friend’s house to try to get online since the at-home wifi connection the school provided hasn’t been working very well (how many of our students are having the same issues?).

Most of all, pray for our world and that this virus will be eradicated sooner rather than later.

Learning new things is fine; however, the context in which we are being forced to do so isn’t okay.

Have a great week, y’all!

Worn Out Wednesday

It is Wednesday, and I am tired.

I am sitting at four days until the first day of the school year, and I am completely worn out already.

There have been days upon days of meetings.

There have been hours upon hours of lesson planning.

There have been pages upon pages of course descriptions, data tracking sheets, and lesson plan materials copied.

The only time I am a list person is the week before school.

Truth be told, I could probably teach tomorrow if I had to.

No, things wouldn’t be up to my standards, but I could do it.

But I’m not because my schedule may be changing, last-minute, so there may be many tweaks that need to be done . . . lesson plans to be adjusted, class folder buckets to be relabeled, binders to reorganize, and rosters to reprint . . . to name a few.

There isn’t an Easy Button when it comes to teaching.

Heaven help this over-planning, overachieving girl.

That was last night’s photo. I’m currently up to 59 pages in my Smartboard file.

Please say a prayer for all of us education folks.

The excitement of a new school year is there, for sure, but it comes with a price – lost sleep, sore muscles from moving rearranging furniture fifty times, and headaches from looking at our computers too long each day.

Four days, y’all.

I’ve got this!

How to Properly Alienate a Teacher

Before I begin my rant, I would like to add a disclaimer.

We teachers are in this profession for the children.  We don’t go into it looking for a large paycheck.  We’re also usually unwilling to accept accolades.  We see needy children and try to fill in the gap wherever we can.

With that said, I have a bone to pick with the State of Florida.  My current state of ire involves my state’s “Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarships” $44 million dollar program that was put into the budget for this year.

To qualify for the $10,000 “scholarship,” teachers have to submit ACT or SAT scores that were in the 80th percentile when they took the test, AND those same teachers must be Highly Effective on their evaluation from this past school year.

I take issue with this crap piece of legislation for many reasons.

Let’s look at my situation.  I seriously doubt that I’ll be Highly Effective because of the VAM score that the state erroneously assigned to me from the previous year, during which my student achievement was marked as “Needs Improvement” (most of my kids had learning gains, so how this happened, nobody can explain) and, thus, my overall evaluation went down to simply Effective.  Because VAM scores are affected by three years of evaluations, I’m probably screwed even worse this year.

Thus, I won’t qualify for the $10k, nor will any other teacher who works daily in the trenches.  We love working there, mind you, but most of our children have learning disabilities that won’t allow them to make the kind of learning gains that result in the Student Achievement portion of our VAM scores being very high.  They make progress, just not enough for the powers-that-be to consider a teacher worthy.

Now, what about those teachers who sucked at school when they were younger, blew off the standardized tests, but have turned into fantastic teachers?  They’re screwed over too.

Oh wait…the powers-that-be made sure to include a clause that allows teachers to retake the ACT/SAT, but the catch is that scores are not guaranteed to be returned in time for the October 1 deadline that we have to submit them…and we’re expected to pay for the test, should we choose to retake it.

Sucks for us.

Let’s look at some other things that make this unfair.

New teachers…those who have only stepped into a classroom to complete student teaching requirements or even those who have never even done that but are going the Alternate Certification route…get to apply and ONLY have to provide an ACT/SAT score that ranks in the 80th percentile to get the $10k…WITHOUT having a Highly Effective performance rating (because they’re new hires).

This reeks of a signing bonus, does it not?

You should read this article, this article, and this article (my favorite) to find out more about the “smart” person who decided to introduce this legislation.

I guess it’s okay that this person has never worked in a classroom before and has absolutely NO idea what it’s like…that high achievement test scores mean NADA as far as being a good teacher goes.

How about compassion?

How about empathy?

How about passion?

How about having the ability to make personal connections to the section of society (in my case, teenagers) that many write off as being rude and unteachable?

What the state is doing is basically saying, “We don’t give a rat’s a@@ about the teachers we currently employ.  We know they love the kids and don’t want to leave because of them, so let’s just use that to our advantage while drawing in the younger generation…cream of the crop.”

Let me once again stress that we teachers do not go in to work each day simply desiring a paycheck.  I don’t know if you’ve ever watched a child have an aha moment or mastered something they struggled with for weeks.  We teachers get the privilege of watching this happen on a daily basis, and we get a rush from it.  These moments are like drugs…they are addicting…they draw us back to our classrooms even after days when we want to throw in the towel because we’re stressed with behavior issues, countless meetings, or unnecessary documentation.

But…when your “employer” devalues you by passing inane legislation that favors some of its underlings over others, then there’s a serious problem.

Is it any wonder that teachers are leaving the profession in droves?  Why work for a company that doesn’t bother to stand in your shoes and walk your walk.

The people sitting in Tallahassee’s ivory towers have NO idea what me and my fellow teaching peeps do each day.  One representative who came and talked to my school admitted this (he was a very nice guy, by the way).

I don’t know what the answer is, but I can tell you that it’s not this inappropriately-named “scholarship” program that is both fiscally and emotionally wasteful.

I’m not planning on leaving this profession any time soon, but I can’t fault those who do.  They’re leaving because they’ve been alienated to the point of no return, and that, in my book, is yet another example of why Florida ranks down in the bottom as far as education goes.

What a shame.

How They Want to be Remembered – Part 3

Nancy is such a faithful reader.  I connected with her years ago through KnittingHelp and then discovered that she had spent her life immersed in her teaching career.  Thus, her comments are so kind and full of encouragement that is much needed when teaching finds me in the weeds.

She commented on yesterday’s blog post and mentioned that this writing prompt gave my students a voice and that my room was a safe place to express themselves.

Interestingly enough, my sixth period class and I had just that kind of discussion after their presentations.  I asked them if they felt that they would have shared so deeply had I assigned this writing to them at the beginning of the year.

K, a sweet child you’ll get to read more about later, said that although the kids had shared personal things (two truths and a lie) on the first day of school, they had not shared like they did when they read their essays.

I asked why, and students said that they didn’t know each other well enough to get into their feelings.

I’ve been so hard on myself regarding the peer respect…or lack thereof…in my classes this year.  Perhaps I was too harsh, for this particular class, despite being my most difficult throughout the year (they twerked for a sub, played with the baking soda in my small refrigerator when I had a sub, and yelled up and down the hallways between class sessions), we grew the most, and they had endeared themselves to my heart by year’s end.

So, with all of that said, I think it’s time I get back to sharing their writing.

My students’ essays reminded me that although I do develop good relationships with my students, there are still so many things they don’t tell me…things that affect their ability to function in school…unspoken things that teachers need to be aware exist and are the cause for kids not doing their work or being distracted in class.

R is one such child.  Take a look at what she had to deal with all year (and she always came in smiling, so I had no clue!!)…

I want to be remembered as the girl who’s dad had a heart transplant. My family was very pleased that my dad got a new heart. So I don’t get to see my mom and dad for three months, not like you who gets to see them everyday.When my dad gets home in August I will be happy and also sad. He will be able to do a lot more things with me and my brother now. Hopefully my family will be a lot happier.

Now, let me introduce you to J.  This girl.  God placed this girl in my class to teach me patience.  She was loud, except when she was sick.  When she wasn’t sick, she talked.  Non-stop.  She lived most of her life in my classroom on one of my “islands.”  She still talked.  Her picture should be in the following meme…

I chuckled when I read the following in her essay…

I want to be remembered by the girl that can make anyone laugh,not by the girl with the bad attitude and talks back. I mean yes I’m rude at times and always talk back,but hey,everybody has a bad day.

Something interesting happened during the year, though.  I found out she worked after school at the mall.  In fact, one day, work called her while she was IN MY CLASS.  I was not happy, but it was an indication that she was a valued employee.

I would like to be remembered by the girl that gets stuff she earns. Not the spoiled rotten brat that only see it her way.

I saw glimpses into her heart, and her laugh, though it will probably haunt my dreams for a long time, was infectious.  I really, really liked what she wrote in the following part of her essay because it went beyond the fun outer exterior…

Another thing I wanted to be remembered by is a child that loves her grandparents. I don’t want to be remembered as the child that only calls that grandparents when they want something. I want to be remembered by being the best big sister , not the bully of the house.I want to be the leader of my siblings, so they don’t turn out like my parents.I want to be remembered as a girl who’s know as a social butterfly , not the hibernating shy girl.

Social butterfly…yes.  That she was and will continue to be.

Now, let’s turn more serious for a few minutes.

Let’s get back to that trust thing…that safe feeling.

S came into my class about halfway into the year.  He was quiet and always complied.  He was eager to please.

What he wrote in his essay completely blew me away.  I think you’ll find your heart touched as well.

I want to be remembered by my personality, and always doing my work, and being on time to class. I don’t want to be remembered as the guy who everyone asks if I’m gay. I want to be remembered for more than something ridiculous like that. I would rather be remembered for much better things than the “gay guy” or being talked about behind my back because the way my voice sounds, and the way I act. It may not seem that I’m straight but to a point it gets hard to put up with but it makes me a stronger person. When I go to school and get asked almost every day if I’m gay I just do my work and try to block out the negative things that everyone is saying.

Oh word.  This poor kiddo.

Read on.

Every school year since I have been in school, I have to deal with people asking me if I am gay. I am tired of people thinking that I am gay, and I want them to think of more than that I want them to think about how I get to class every day on time I actually do my work and try my hardest I am not the kind of person who tries to impress other people but I am the kind of person who tries to do the extra things and help people out if I can. People’s personalities don’t always show you who they really are like me I don’t show my personality unless I want to try to get to know you.

“People’s personalities don’t always show you who they really are.”

Such insightful words.

Don’t we cover up who we are by loud exteriors or, in my case, shy ones?

We do this to protect ourselves.

S has got it figured out.

I love the way he ended his essay…

As the year progresses, students are moving, and the new students who start to go to my school that I happen to try to talk to, and get to know ask me if I’m gay, most of the time it bothers me, and the other part of the time I just act like I was never even asked. For that it makes me a much better person, and helps me get stronger to get through life it also helps me see what the other people are like, and shows me who I want to talk to, and who I don’t want to associate with. I want to be remembered by my personality, and always doing my work, and being on time to class that’s how I want to be remembered.

S knows that this stuff he’s going through is making him stronger for life.

He’ll come out on the winning side because of this self-awareness.  It bespeaks a maturity level far beyond his age.

Stay turned for more snippets in the next installment of my little series.

How They Want to be Remembered – Part 2

Yesterday, I started a series of posts in which I’ll be providing snippets from a writing prompt I assigned my students.

Their responses were very revealing and deeply touching.

Today, I present Part 2 of this series.

T is a young man who is heavily involved in sports.  He plays football, runs track, and lifts weights.

How I first wanna be remember is for my kind heart and brains those are my two main things that I feel that every athlete is supposed to obtain.When you’re known as kind hearted you can get better support and more respect as a leader. When you’re a nice to your person and adults you will get a lot further in life. If you start now being kind to people will remember how you treated them , like a first impression. When you make a first impression you want people to have good thoughts about you.

G is another young man who definitely had some struggles this year.  I really, really appreciated his honesty in the following paragraph he wrote.  I also love his sense of humor in the last sentence.

I have ADHD but I can focus without it, it really is not a disorder but some teachers like to rub it in my face which really aggravates me. People that know like to joke but I don’t really take it in a serious way. The other day two girls told me that a guy they know has ADHD, they also said that he is mentally retarded and that people which have this is stupid because they can’t control their own body. I’m listening to all this, and I walk up to them and say not every one that has ADHD is retarded and stupid. I told them I have ADHD, I also told them I can control what I do. If I couldn’t then I would slap both of them up side the head for calling me idiotic and reckless.

L is a young lady who also had challenges to overcome this year.

I know the feeling when you need someone to talk to, and there’s no one there. It feels awful. I’ve had lots of struggles at home and outside of school, but some how they all affected me throughout the school year. I see the struggle in others when I look into their eyes. Observe their actions. Sometimes they even hide it. People always tell me I’m such a happy person. That I have the perfect outlook. That’s what I want them to see. Two and a half years ago, my siblings and I were removed from my mother. I had no clue what to think or who to tell. I was scared, I felt alone. That was the hardest time of my life. I started disrespecting everyone, only because I didn’t know how to deal with anything. My siblings and I got separated. I lived in a group home [original text removed right here] with thirteen other girls and boys. Older and younger. It was horrible. It all made me stronger. I won’t let that define who I am. “The girl who lived in the foster home?”

L went on to say…

I want to be remembered by the girl who overcame all her troubles. The girl who helped others when they wanted to overcome their troubles.

A quickly became a favorite of mine this year.  Hush your mouth.  I can hear you now tsking me for claiming to have a favorite, but we humans naturally gravitate toward kindred spirits, and this young lady certainly was one and earned my respect early on.

The way girls carry themselves, I want to show them that boys aren’t the only ones that can make them feel special, but to get where you want to be can make you feel special; being someone that can help make a difference in someone else’s life.

I see girls today carrying themselves in all kinds of way; to find a girl that has high expectation is very rare because most girls are too focused on getting attention from boys. I want to be that one girl that is known to show girls that they don’t need boys to keep their expectations up.

A went on to share information that helped explain her conservative nature.

I’m that one girl that struggled to fit in because of how I am. I speak a different language, I’m from somewhere poor, but we have money. Yes, we do have most of the things America has, but not all the things. I’m that one girl that gets picked on and I don’t want to be remembered by that. I don’t want to be a bully because of how I’m treated I want to help; I want to show that I care for all the kids that are different, like I am.

As she read her essay to the class, we started getting weepy-eyed when she shared the following…

I want to show that the appearance of the way I dress, my high pitch, loud voice, or even the way I look, where I’m from does not just complete me but also shapes me into who I am. My personality is much more than how I look and how I act because deep down is a hidden smile that will never be released. I  close all doors that show the real me because my hidden smile is more than it appears to be; it’s not just a smile but it’s a part of me that will never be shown. That’s what I don’t want to be remembered as the girl that hides her real personality.

And then the next part…oh my…she started crying, and I went to her, standing beside her until she finished with her presentation…

Besides me I’m the one that’s left out. I get less attention because i’m the middle child and the fact that i’m in America and he [her father] is in Jamaica makes everything even worse. I was really close to my dad but now I have no idea where I stand with him, I wish I had my dad.

I think I’ll end this post right here.  As when A presented, a hush fell over the room, and we had to collect ourselves.

I’ll write Part 3 tomorrow (or soon thereafter).

How They Want to be Remembered

A couple of months ago, my friend, Barb, sent me the link to a blog post titled How I Want to be Remembered – My Students Tell the World.  Barb thought it would make a good class project, and I concurred.

I tucked the assignment in the back of my mind, starred the email (so it would remain at the top of my list of emails), and as May drew to a close, incorporated the assignment into my lesson plans.

I used this as a writing assignment and graded it according to a narrative writing rubric.  I required students to type the assignment in Google Drive and share them with me so I could provide feedback/assistance along the way.

At first, my kids looked at me like this…

You see, there were a few things wrong with the assignment:

1)  It was the end of the year.  In their opinion, they weren’t supposed to be working still.  (insert evil teacher laugh)

2)  This was going to be a test grade, so they knew if they didn’t do the assignment, their averages would be affected.

3)  Their final exam assignment was going to be linked to this writing prompt.  Double whammy.

4)  They were going to have to get in their “feels.”  Don’t know what this means?  Visit Urban Dictionary (or use context clues).  🙂

This assignment touched on something very personal to all of us.  We had lost a classmate right after Christmas.  I worried that the kids would be too emotional to handle an assignment that hit so close to home.  The kids wound up proving me wrong, growing beyond a level of maturity that I’d expected.

I had written my own response to the prompt and read it to them so they would get an idea of what the assignment entailed.

I read a few excerpts from the blog post.

I think I saw some light bulbs go on, but I still saw some hesitant looks.

The first day was spent mostly setting up the document online.

We used my Google Chrome Books plus a few I’d borrowed from other teachers, but I still ran around like a mad woman trying to get students to READ the instructions I’d typed and copied for them.

Following instructions…one of the biggest woes of a teacher’s life.

Anyhoo…

Let me tell you what I observed.

Around the second day allotted, students finally started typing in earnest.

Some students asked me to read their work, which I did from my own Google account (and provided comments through Google Docs and face-to-face feedback…which they loved).

Then, my sixth period did a beautiful thing.

They started sharing their essays with their peers who, in turn, started providing feedback.

The teaching angels sang.

The kids started working on their assignments after finishing work in other classes.

They were typing their essays on their phones.

And what they produced touched me to the core.

As the writer of the original blog post (linked above) experienced, my own students opened their hearts in ways I had not expected.

There were humorous moments but more moments of levity.

I had spent ninety minutes five days a week with these kiddos, but still, I learned things about them that they had covered up or not been given the chance to share.

My final exam was that students orally present their essays.

Yep.

They didn’t like that much, and I sometimes wonder if it prevented some of them from digging as deep as they would have had they not had to do a presentation.  Somehow, I doubt it affected many in this way as you’ll see.

For the next few posts, I am going to share snippets from their essays, with their permission of course (and their identities protected).

Keep in mind the demographics of my kids.  They come from very low income homes where they are lucky to be under the care of one parent.  Many live with grandparents or aunties. Quite a few have jobs.  Many have housing issues and camp out with extended family or friends.

These are their stories.

K is a young lady who stole my heart the first day she walked into my classroom.  She wrote these words…words that truly, when I look back on the year, epitomize the way she conducted herself with her peers…

I want to be remembered as the girl who could brighten your day by making you smile. When people look at me, I do not want them to see a letter or a GPA. I want them to see or remember when they were once down, and I made them smile or laugh and it changed their mood instantly.

V is another sweet girl who echoed some of K’s thoughts…

I want to be remembered as the girl who always smiled. Every day my objective is to make someone smile. You never know if that very same person you may be talking to was about to kill themselves, haven’t ate in two days or just got out of a bad relationship.

V went on to say…

As the year continued, I always prayed before I came in this class.   I know your like is she serious, but I really am. I prayed that you would accept me for who I am, and that I become closer to everyone in this class. Which I did by having a conversation with you , laughing at your jokes when they weren’t funny , helping you with your work or just saying hello when I walked in the classroom. I learned that some of you have problems at home, learning disabilities, don’t have a mom or dad at home, never like to get personal, some of you don’t go to church but you really want to, I learned about your boo`s , bae`s , and etc.

Did you just wipe a few tears from your cheeks?  I know I did.  To watch this girl live out the words truly was a privilege.

A is a super-sweet girl.  When I read the following words, I found myself scratching my head.  This young lady could be counted on as a team player.  She never, ever complained.  I depended on her to keep a group focused during team projects.  Her insight gave me pause to think.

Some of you may think I am shy and all, you may be right, because I really don’t socialize as much. I personally like to work by myself and think on my own.

I also had to pull out one other line she wrote…something that I saw give her confidence in the middle of the year…

I want to be remembered going in weightlifting and discovering my strength.

She had strength, that’s for sure, and she walked to the beat of her own drummer.  I respected her for that.

I’ll end this first post with the majority of T’s essay (it’s not long).  He really struggled socially, and I gave him the space he needed…when he needed it.  For him to write these words AND share them while standing in front of the class spoke volumes about the trust we had created in our class.

But I still want people to accept me for who I am. I think people would remember me as: aggressive, mean, snappy, and even rude. And even I consider my self with these traits.

The reason I was like this was because that I am a perfectionist. I always want everything to be exact, first time, every time. But I should know there will be mistakes in time, we can count on it. Nobody can be perfect, everyone will have a disadvantage at something. And I, am far  from perfect; reading is my disadvantage.

I also consider this class from perfect as well. However, we all do connect in some way. I know I can be gruff sometimes, but that’s how I am.I  hope one day you can forgive me for my nonsense I also hope I can call you a friend one day; and you could do the same with me. But I believe we are one-of-a-kind family.

I connected with his words about being a perfectionist, and I need to take his lessons about making mistakes to heart.

I also loved what he wrote about being connected.  I work so hard on making connections with my students…with helping them make connections to each other and to reading.  This young man certainly learned those lessons.

Stay tuned for my next post.  I’ll be sharing more of my students’ hearts.

Advice…Student-to-Student

On Monday, when my students entered my class, they were greeted with the following assignment:

Write a letter to Mrs. Auburnchick’s future students advising them of things they should know to be successful in the class.

Students were warned not to use the letter as a gripe session.  They were to be sensitive to my feelings because I would be reading and grading the letters.  🙂

I wanted to share a few excerpts…some made me chuckle…others made me tear up.

Please click on the photos to make them bigger.

The following student really knows how to make the kids feel good about getting placed in my class.  Maybe they should invest in some band aids?

The next student explains that all of my degrees on the wall are all the justification I need to not have to tolerate the use of cell phones.  😀

The next student obviously understood the figurative language unit I taught (love the owl simile).  She warns against the use of foul language…especially the word “thot.”  Don’t know what it means?  Visit Urban Dictionary.  Please note that the student wouldn’t even spell it out.  Ask me how many points I deducted from the class because someone used this word.

The next student reiterates what the previous student said.  Please note that students did not compare notes or copy each other as they wrote.  It was one of the quietest times that my classes had all year…they took this assignment quite seriously.

For the record, I didn’t write up students for cursing.  If I did that, I wouldn’t have many students left to teach.  I only consider cursing a write-up if a student uses the colorful language directly to my face, in a “I’m-going-to-give-you-another-name” kind of way.  🙂

The next student’s words made my nerdy teacher heart sing with joy.

The first day of school, most of my kids walk into my classroom 1) resentful that they are in Intensive Reading and 2) adamant that they don’t like to and won’t read.

99.9% of them walk out the final day of school with changed hearts as far as books go.  This student’s words confirm this.

This last student’s words make me smile in more ways than one.

Just this afternoon, as we were watching our class movie, made from the hundreds of photos I’d taken of the kids all year, she told me that she had told her mom about the vegan cupcakes I’d baked for them and how delicious they had been.

This girl sounds like Minnie Mouse…such an endearing voice with a precious laugh and sweet spirit.  She’s promised to come visit me next school year.  Her words back up her feelings.

The last week of school is filled with so many bittersweet moments.  They make it difficult to say goodbye.

No Ordinary Supply Closet

I present to you a photo of the supply closet in my classroom.

As is typical of most teachers, I have different colored file folders, hanging folders, paper, educational games, and cleaning supplies.

Take a closer look though…

Nestled among the “office” supplies is a small stash of food.

It’s fairly common to hear students say they’re hungry.  Especially right before lunch when their tummies have been conditioned to growl…loudly.

What is more common but not often mentioned aloud is the fact that many students are not eating meals on a regular basis.

I recently became aware of a particular situation that needed to be remedied, in some small way.

I contacted a local charity and was provided with a large box and bag of food, which I began discreetly doling out.

My church recently had a small group that paid for a very large delivery of food that the public was invited to take home…no questions asked.  I was able to secure more food for my closet.

Please do not think that I’m special.

I’m not.

Nearly every teacher I know does his/her best to fill in the gap when students’ needs come to light.

I’ve seen quite a few of my co-workers dig into their own pocketbooks to buy lunch for kids.

I know of many who purchase clothes for the teens they teach.

While our closets and cabinets are filled with textbooks and other educational material, stuffed into the crevices are items most necessary for day-to-day survival.

I count it an honor to work in a profession where such generosity exists, and I praise God for the blessing of being a part of a network of individuals dedicated to impacting children’s lives in such tangible ways.

Indulging my Inner Techie

On Saturday, I did what all teachers do.

I slept in.

Oh wait.  I’m LYING!

That’s what I usually do.

This past Saturday, I got up at the same time I do during the week and drove myself to one of our local colleges.  My school district was hosting a technology expo.

Carl Hooker was the keynote speaker, and he was FABULOUS!

Borrowed (I hope he doesn’t mind) from his website.

He’s been involved in education for quite a few years and is very knowledgeable about helping implement technology into classrooms.

He was funny.  His stories were inspiring.

If you ever get the chance to hear him speak, run, don’t walk.  I don’t typically sit and attain well.  The hour during which he spoke flew by.

After his speech, conference attendees had a menu of 45-minute sessions to attend.  We simply picked what we wanted and went to the assigned rooms.  There were five different session groupings with lunch scheduled for halfway through the day (no vegan options though, so I didn’t eat).

I, along with three other reading teachers from my school, presented during the second session.  We demonstrated how we use Google applications (Docs and Forms) in the classroom.  One of the teachers talked about how she uses Chrome Books to access IXL for grammar practice and Vocaroo for fluency practice.

We received a lot of positive responses, which made this experience quite the adrenaline rush.

Most of the sessions were conducted by teachers and other district staff.  I loved this, because we weren’t listening to sales pitches.  We got to hear how our peers are using various applications in the classroom.

My favorite session was the one about TouchCast.  It is a FREE app with which you can create news-types of videos.

Did I mention that it is FREE?  I had taken my iPad to the expo and downloaded the app during the presentation.  Oh word, but I will totally be playing with this when I have time during the summer.  I’ve already decided that I’ll probably use it to create an introduction of myself for the first day of school in August.

One of the neat things about this app is that you can imbed pictures, files, and links that are CLICKABLE and accessible to those who have access to the videos.

Borrowed from a Google search…totally NOT me or my hand pointing in the picture! 🙂

 

Cool, eh?

I attended a session about using Twitter in an educational environment.  I learned about TweetDeck.  I don’t know if this is available on mobile devices, but it is available on a regular laptop/desktop type of computer.  It allows you to manage multiple user accounts, which I think would help me should I decide to create a classroom Twitter account.  I despise having to log in and out of separate accounts.

The last hour of the expo was spent with District technology personnel sitting as a panel on a stage presenting some of their favorite and most useful apps.

I was downloading like crazy, let me tell you, and by the time this session was over, my phone looked like this…

Plickers is a free app that allows for very fast and fun formative assessments.  You print their FREE cards, laminate, if you want, for longevity, and assign them to students (the same students get the same cards so you’ll know who’s card belongs to whose).  They hold the cards a certain way to answer questions, and you use your device’s camera to scan the cards while they are holding them up.  It’s a very fast process, and you can display the results on a screen for all to see.

I’d heard of this before and read about it, but it looked like too much work to set up.  I’m willing to invest the time after seeing the app in action.  I know my students will LOVE it!

One last app that I found incredibly fun was Kahoot.

It is an interactive response app/site that allows students (or anyone) to answer questions, once they’ve linked to the game via a QR code or the website.  There’s only an Android version of the app right now, but all mobile devices can access the games.  I have an iPhone, and I didn’t have any problems participating.

I could see myself using this for so many things in my classroom…bellwork…vocabulary review…an exit ticket.  The possibilities are endless!

By the time I got home that afternoon, I was whooped and had to take a short nap before dinner…

Learning new things can be exhausting!

Day 88 – Speaking Up

Day 88 of Year 5 of teaching started out with me looking like this…

Please remember that I must maintain “Basic” status by taking daily selfies.

😀

About an hour and a half later, I looked like this…

I really wish I could do the pretty cry, but I cannot.

It’s a good thing we were in the middle of exams, and my planning period was extra long.

Why the sad face, you ask?

I’ll tell you the long non-sordid tale.

I’d run into my fabulous principal shortly after arriving to school, and because he is generally a very busy man, I pulled him aside to ask him a couple of questions.  One, in particular, had to do with an option that most teachers are being offered in lieu of enduring long, cumbersome observation requirements.

I had missed a faculty meeting during which the particulars of said option had been discussed.  I’d had a parent conference that morning.

So, when I asked Mr. Principal about it today, he said that I didn’t meet the requirements for the option.

To which I think I gave him this look…

We walked to his office, and he read from the official principal handbook (I’m kind of making this up…I don’t know if there is such a thing, but he did read something from a piece of paper).

I’d thought that because my overall VAM (Value Added Measure…the thing used to ultimately “grade” me as a teacher) had been Effective, that I would be allowed to take advantage of the option.

Unfortunately, teachers have to be Highly Effective/Effective in ALL areas of their VAM…including the Student Growth section.

Despite 92% of my Level 1 and nearly 70% of my Level 2 students scoring learning gains last year, the Student Growth portion came back as Needs Improvement…and this with three years of data being factored into the following formula…

My previous years of data were never below effective.

When my principal told me this, I started crying again…out of frustration.

Once again, my VAM score is screwing me over.

Pardon my Redneck.

While I’d normally have a simple walk-thru by my principal, now I have to do a lot of extra paperwork, we have to meet twice, and I have to spend many nerve-wracked hours prepping for something to “prove” that I am a decent teacher.

To his credit, Mr. Principal told me not to worry.  He values my work and knows the quality lesson plans my students work through.

We rehashed the unfairness of it, and then he made a suggestion that I speak at a legislative delegation meeting that was, coincidentally God-incidentally going to be held tonight.

The Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, Don Gaetz, newly elected Jay Trumbull, and Brad Drake would be in attendance to listen to comments, compliments, and concerns.

I asked my principal if he thought it would make a difference…if people in Tallahassee would make new laws about education because of me speaking out.

He told me that my VAM story needed to be told, so I said I’d pray about it.

When I got home from school, I typed out what I wanted to say.

I tend to ramble.

Not that you would know anything about that.

:::insert rolled eyes:::

Then, I drove myself to the meeting.

I called Super Sis on the way and asked her to pray…to pray that God would be glorified…that I would not speak out of anger (I’ve had a nasty attitude the last few months)…that my words would not get jumbled.

She said she would pray as soon as we hung up.

I nervously signed in and filled out the card to be added to the agenda.

Then, I waited.

Don Gaetz facilitated the meeting, and he began by explaining the rules of order.

I was intimidated.  It was all so formal.

I sat in the back, read over my notes, and listened as others were called up to speak.

Twenty-four of us had requested an audience.

People were allowed to take a lot more than the originally allotted time of 2.5 minutes.

At one point, a teacher friend I’d worked with a few years got up to speak, touching on the subject of teacher evaluations but did not completely delve into it like I’d planned on doing.

Finally, my name was called.

I took a deep breath and walked to the podium.

My legs felt like jello.

I explained, in the microphone where my quivering voice was magnified, that I was nervous.

The representative laughed and said, “You’re a teacher!”

To which I responded that I was used to speaking to 9th and 10th graders…not adults!

I then began to share my story.

I admitted that prior to becoming a teacher, I’d lived in a bubble for a long time…raised children in the school system…children who always passed FCAT easily.  I’d always thought that kids should pass the FCAT by the 12th grade…especially after having three years to do so.

I had also agreed that teachers should be judged based on student performance.

I said my bubble burst when I started teaching…Intensive Reading to kids who struggled with learning disabilities, homelessness, and hunger.

I told those representatives that I’d always heard of these issues but never seen them up close.  Every single day of my four years of teaching reading has had me working with kids facing such issues.  The issues were suddenly real for me.

I shared a story of a student who told me that I needed to find food for her classmate…one I’d just been working with…because she had not eaten in two days because her mom had to give the only lunch money she had to her younger brother instead.

I broke down when I told that story then explained that if I cried, it was because I was so passionate.

God was so good as I spoke and helped me recover quickly, and I returned to my carefully prepared notes.

I told them that despite the challenges, my students had made learning gains, and I shared my stats.

Then, I told how I’d felt sucker-punched and betrayed when this year’s VAM came back, and Student Growth showed Needs Improvement when my kids had clearly improved.

I told them that God had called me to teach…that I absolutely adore my students…but that there were times that I questioned if I should stay in a profession where an impossible-to-understand formula determined my worth to the State.

I said that I was grateful for a principal who validated me…a wonderful staff I worked with…and amazing students.  I explained that I loved my school…that I was still wearing my shirt with the logo from my day at work…a day that had not begun with plans to speak at the meeting.

I asked the representatives to think of my story when they returned to Tallahassee to hash out education legislation.  I told them that my story was one among countless others, and I asked them to change a broken system before more teachers left.

I ended by sharing a line from an email I’d received from a student just before entering the meeting…”You are one of my main motivations for finishing school and going to college.”  This was written by a student I taught last year.  She’s at a different school this year and has had to overcome tremendous obstacles to stay in school.  Her words were so inspiring.

To their credit, the representatives did not stop me when I’m sure time ran out.  They allowed me to finish, only interrupting when they had comments to insert.

When I finished, the entire room erupted in applause.

I was thanked for my words.  Other things were said before I returned to my seat, but in all honesty, I can’t remember!!  All I know is that I breathed a huge sign of relief, to the laughter of a few in the audience, got a thumbs up from a School Board member sitting in the back, and gratefully sat down.

I shed a few silent tears, so thankful that God had given me strength to speak…so overcome with a mixture of emotions.

When the meeting ended, I had the opportunity to thank Jay Trumbull for listening.  I really did feel like he and the other representatives listened to me.

I met a number of teachers who’d sat in the audience.  They thanked me for being so genuine.

I saw one of my mentors…gave her a hug and thanked her for her influence in my life.

When I left, I called Super Sis and thanked her for praying.  I gave her the scoop on the meeting, and I could hear her smile in her response.

She told me that as she’d prayed, beautiful words came from her heart…words so eloquent that she knew God was in this…that I would be okay…that this was the right thing to do.

I give ALL of the glory for this experience to God alone.

He was in this.  He spoke through me.  He calmed my nerves.  He gave me a conviction that was not full of anger but of truth and justice.

Time will tell if my words will have any permanent impact.

Regardless, I stepped outside of my comfort zone tonight and spoke up.  I’ll leave the rest up to God.

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