Writing not publishing

I”ve been writing, but for a number of reasons not hitting the publish button.

I used to know how to fix education, now I don’t so I stopped telling everyone how to teach.

I used to have deep thoughts on what was coming next. Now I don’t.

I’m not sure what I want and I’m not sure what you want, so consequently I don’t have anything.

I have some great ideas, but usually when out walking. This is bad for two reasons. I don’t get out and walk enough; I don’t write them down when I get home.

I have noticed a big thing abut my teaching. It isn’t nearly as good as I want it to be.

When I left the classroom I got into blogging and twitter which taught me so much about the classroom and what it could be, that I longed to get back and try it out. That really didn’t happen for about 7 years. I spent a lot of time in the classroom, but not as the writer of lessons and not as the teacher of lessons.

I’ve been back for 3 years now and I”ve learned a few things.

  1. Teaching without a textbook is not fun.
  2. Writing curriculum while teaching is almost impossible
  3. Focusing on teaching is wrong.
  4. Worrying about the future doesn’t help

The first two are related. I’m using a quasi textbook right now (engageny) and I’m finding that when I’m not spending an hour or more each day trying to create a lesson from scratch that Ijust have so much more time for the students.

Having a curriculum written out means I spend more time critically thinking about that curriculum and making positive changes for my students. Sure next year I might toss 90% of the lessons, but having that starting point is what makes it possible.

Right I can’t make changes to my students, so I have to focus on changes in my behavior. The changes in my behavior are not limited to adjusting the method of teaching. In reality that is just wrong. What I really need to do is focus on building relationships with my students. Then they will adjust to me and I will also start making changes that are more personalized towards them.

I worry constantly about the future. Mostly, “will my students get a good enough education from me?” I might be that one teacher they think about 20 years from now, but most likely not. I’ll just be another math teacher and that means I have to focus on bringing the math alive.

I’m back in the classroom now and relearning how to teach. LIfe has changed, but in many respects life is still the same. Lessons are still a hook, a body, and a summary, but more people are thinking about the overall flow and that is improving teaching. INdividual comments are still king even when people talk about standardized grading or PARCC testing. Students don’t learn until they do and they wont do until they want. My job is to make them want to do math, then give them the opportunity.

I’m starting the next chapter, relearning how to teach. My journey towards National Board certification starts now.

Week 2 Hump Day

Yeah, Wednesday. Kids go home early and we stick around an hour for PD. The week is halfway over and the school year has just started and I’m more busy than ever. I can’t even keep up with grading the work I give out.

My system for grading needs some work. In elementary school we would give all the kids numbers based on alphabetical order. It seems like such a silly thing, especially since you are cheating kids of the chance to alphabetize, but in reality taking an extra 10 minutes every time you want students to hand in work is too much.

Most teachers would do well to observe the systems built in elementary classrooms. From lining up to handing in work, all of it is designed to make it easier on the teacher. Sure she is probably pretty good at wrangling cats and putting kids and their work into organized groups, but why would you want to stress yourself out like that 6 times a day. Create a system for every routine and teach it to the kids. When your papers come to you in alphabetical order and grouped by class it can save you hours of time entering grades.

Monday I had a sub. I went south to see the eclipse (totally worth it). She collected work alright, one big pile of work. Ninety students with no rhyme or reason to the collection. Build your system so the kids can do it then let them run things. This way subs won’t ruin thing for you.

Day 3 week one in the books

As the AP said as we were walking back in, no fights first week of school. While not the highest measure of success it is a success.

Actually I think we have been doing pretty good. I haven’t written anyone up, though I am keeping an eye on a few it isn’t with the intent to catch them, but rather to make sure we get them the extra help they need.

If a kid has trouble following the rules it isn’t because they are bad, it’s because they just don’t know how to do it consistently. An individualized behavioral plan, something where he or she checks in with a friendly face on a regular basis, or has a safe place to go when they are frustrated this can mean the difference in missing a few hours of instruction and multiple suspensions.

We still haven’t taught math yet, though we have had some math practice. This is not a bad thing. We are intentionally creating an orderly environment. One where the students and the teachers all know what to do and what to expect. From there we can move on with solid instruction.

Poster with lots of motivational sayings

Too much in one little space

The day before the first day of school I was talking to a new teacher about room decorations. I gave her a bit of advice, “walk though your room as if you were a student and see if there is a reconizable system in place”. It was so good I went back to my room and did it myself. All in all though I think we did a good job of becoming student centered. Maybe instead of giving too much choice to 7th graders the trick is to attempt to see the world through their eyes.

Day two it could have been better

Ah day two, the sophomore slump.

It wasn’t so bad, but started kind of rough. Someone decided to teach the kids a new slang word, but he didn’t teach them what it meant. So when I heard a kid saying it today I confronted him, but got into a argument instead. (Note to self confrontation bad).

Birds fighting

Not love birds that’s for sure

Ok except for that life went well. I taught tomorrows lesson today so I have to do today’s lesson tomorrow, but not bad I can’t handle that. I’m looking forward to actually teaching math, but time spent getting to know kids and teaching expectations is good as well. And we are creating a unified expectation, at least for the areas where it will work best so I”m happy for that.

Million Dollar Idea

I was jogging, I know shocking. My music went to commercial and the volume went up, then down. Suddenly I thought, that would be a cool innovation for ear buds. Just let them regulate the sound. These annoying commercials that blast your eardrums can be stopped.

The ear buds don’t just play at a certain level, but the put everything to the right level. They could even reduce the outside noise with ambient sound.

Then I went further and thought, in the classroom this would be awesome. everyone could have ear buds and I could talk in my normal voice and they could regulate the volume, cutting out the outside noise and student would hear me. This would be especially awesome for SPED kids would tend to get excited from too much distraction.

Then I went further and thought, wow I could have these ear buds block outside noise with a white noise, then block phones and music for students unless I let them listen, and I could shut off all noise except me when I wanted to talk to them. The control would be the bomb.

Then I realized where I was going on this. This isn’t about making the classroom better, this is giving me more control. Still a cool idea for jogging though.

 

Writing Curriculum

I’ve been off for two weeks. By off I mean I’ve been at home writing curriculum for third quarter. Except this week I’ve been spending 4-6 hours a day in the classroom.

Man I love these long winter breaks we teachers get. I get so much done.

I’ve come to realize I suck at writing curriculum. I don’t like it, it is no fun and in the end it often looks too much like a textbook.

angle grinder and work glove

I wish my day were this easy

If you read my earlier post this year I had grand plans on going PBL. Then reality hit. I have middle school students, they don’t want to actually work.

Well that is a copout they want to work, they just don’t want to work on the things I want them to work on. I’ve never seen so many kids work so hard to avoid work in my life.

Then there is all the work they put in towards hiding their phones and sneaking in games on the computer when my back is turned. Oh and throwing  pencils. That was a thing this year. 300 golf pencils this year wasted.

students texting

What I’m using the calculator

We’ve had more trouble than you can shake a stick at in the building this year. a new principal, messed up scheduling, toooooo much drama even for middle school, and life in general.

total drama all stars

I’m head the Technology Committee, which has kind of drifted for the past few months so I have to get that back on track. I’m also on the Building Leadership Team, which has been working hard to right the ship which is the school. I’m was also part of the Scheduling Committee.

I never knew you could spend so much time on a schedule, but it was really enlightening. Who knew a scheduling expert was needed, but I’m glad we hired him. Lots of opportunity to make the school equitable for all.

Anyway, long story short we have reset the school. I’m reenergized and ready to teach 3rd quarter. I wasn’t so sure I’d be ready at the beginning of break, I was pretty low, but I’ve got a new plan for engaging students. It may not be PBL, but it will include student choice and hopefully some students will choose the projects.

 

Are you one of the good guys

I’ve been kind of elevated to team leader in 7th grade. I am the teacher with the most experience, though I would argue not the best teacher. However, my experience and my experiences as a connected educator do give me some insights that I think my colleagues appreciate.

The Matrix of Leadership

The Matrix of Leadership

As a consequence of my new power rush, when I’m walking the halls I feel the need to act like what most of us think an administrator should act like. You know what I mean. “Hey you where’s your pass?” “Stop running.” “No, shouting!” (Yes, the last one is usually yelled and I do see the irony).

man shouting I have a problem with authority

Last year these kids were like herding cats. Always going to the bathroom and hanging out during class, sneaking from one bathroom to the other when security came around, then to the nurse’s office, etc…. I didn’t really like subbing for the admin in the 6th grade hall last year. It was exhausting.

I noticed  when accosting these students in the hall that they immediately got defensive and turned away. Then I realized that it was my actions that were causing this behavior.

I was assuming they were not supposed to be in the halls. I was assuming they were in the wrong. But it was my own suggestion that created this.

See, I don’t believe in limiting bathroom passes. I believe in making the classroom a place that students want to be. I believe in reducing the amount of teacher lecture so that if they have to step out for a minute or two they aren’t missing a lesson, they are shortening the amount of time they have to do the work of learning. All of the teachers in my hall treat students the same way.

Right now through the 4 periods I teach I have about 20 kids going to the bathroom and most of those in just two periods. Way too many, but what is the root cause? Is it teenage restlessness or boredom, or taking advantage of me? Could be a combination of all three. The thing is, they aren’t breaking the bathroom and as long as I am not fighting the stream (pun intended) of people going to the bathroom, it will soon stop.

Now as for accosting students in the hall. I’ve stopped. Instead of a curt, “Where is your pass?” I try a more friendly hello. Students respond better, and the couple of extra seconds allows me time to see that most of the time they are actually carrying a pass. Those that aren’t, they usually run and I let security chase them.

I can write a referral if they are doing anything seriously wrong. It’s a lot easier on me and better in the long run, because there is more of a paper trail, the life’s blood of the school discipline system.

School Funding

Public schools are supposed to provide a free and appropriate public education. (ed.gov, My previous post). I suppose technically this only applies to students with disabilities, but don’t we all expect public school to be free?

It isn’t of course.We pay taxes. I also spend a bit over $100 for each of my kids to go to school and several hundred more so they can participate in the arts, band and choir, etc… I do kind of resent this extra expense, but not too much. As you see if you read my earlier post, the government doesn’t actually believe they have to provide the best education possible, just an appropriate education.

A couple of hundred dollars in fees doesn’t seem too unreasonable, especially when many of these fees are waived if you are eligible for free or reduced lunch programs. What gets me is the other sources of non-governmental funding.

In the district I live in we have a PTO that raised over $50,000 for the district. We also have an educational foundation that raises on average about $10,000 a year. We are smaller and solidly middle class district. I wonder how much the wealthier districts raise for their schools?

I’m not going to do all the research, I’m not a journalist, but a quick google search shows more than one foundation raising money in one of the wealthiest districts in the state. Think about that for a second. If my little district is raising more money than I earn in a year in donations, how much do two foundations and a PTO raise in a larger and wealthier district?

The state of Illinois funds schools through property taxes, which is unequal because the districts with the bigger houses and less dense populations pay more property taxes per student. The state and federal government attempts to even things out a bit by giving more aid to poorer districts. Even then we have some districts spending less than $9,000 per student while others spend upwards of $20,000 per student. But that is just the public money, I don’t think they are counting these private donations.

My question isn’t about the inequity of it all. My question is why? Why are we raising and donating huge sums of money for a public good that should be fully funded by our government? Isn’t it good for the country as a whole to have well educated children, ready to change the world? Why are we leaving it to chance?

We shouldn’t hope to get enough donations to fund our schools properly, we should guarantee it. Or maybe I’m wrong, let me know.

School Supplies

I hate school supplies. What happened to, ‘bring pencils, folders, and notebooks for each class’? Sure a trapper keeper or 5 subject notebooks might be nice for some kids, but is it required? Is it required that every single student in your class get exactly the same thing?

What about student choice?

I get the idea we want all students ready for school with the supplies necessary to succeed. And there are definitely better and worse ways to get organized. Do we have to do it for the kids?

 

There might also be some inequity as Bobby shows off the gold-plated trapper keeper thingie, and Carl has nothing. Do we fix it by making everyone buy the exact same thing?

At the school my sons go to there is an exact list and we definitely felt some pressure to fill it all out before the start of school. With parents encouraged to visit school for the “Drop and Run”. I thought it was a great way to meet teachers informally, but my wife felt the shame of not having bought all the right things as we went from class to class. And why does everyone have to bring in two boxes of plastic bags?

Then at the school I work at, there is a school supply list somewhere, that I had no input on. So far one student brought in three boxes of Kleenex and the nonprofit that works with our school gave me a bag with a scrub brush, a box of Kleenex, some staples, and a roll of paper towels. What message did that send to me?

Setting Goals

One of the big keys to success to this year is to teach students how to set their own goals. If they can set a strong specific daily goal then they should be able to direct their own learning.

Yesterday I did an overview of the class and the student and teacher roles. I tried to emphasize that basically our roles are now reversed. They will set a goal each day and I will conference with students at least once a week. So traditionally the student role (which they wrote down) is to listen and learn from the teacher. while the teacher determine what is being taught. However, in this class the student tell me what they are learning and I listen carefully so that I can give them the support they need to be successful.

Each day my students will have to come in the classroom and write a goal on a post it. then at the end of class what they did to reach that goal.

We practiced today. The goals were very broad. Things like learn something new, or be a better student. Not bad goals in themselves, but the lack of specificity will make the goals meaningless.

We practices by setting a goal for the year. At first it was still, be a better student, listen to the teacher, but as I went around the room and spoke to each student or table we started to get more specific.

Now we have goals like: straight A’s or come to school with a positive attitude. Further we have specific actions we can take to reach those goals. Do homework everyday for 30 minutes. Read one book a week, smile at 10 people.

I think we are almost ready to set daily goals. For now here is my goal.

Personal Education Dedication Statement