Forgetting Everything is All Right

I’ve been sitting staring at this blank post for over four hours thinking about how I would approach my next blog topic.  This week’s various Twitter topics (as well as a post by fellow blogger @mssackstein) have all lead me to contemplate one recurring theme:  FEAR.  I have a masochistic relationship with Fear.  When risk is involved, I happily let fear hold the reigns of self-doubt.  I’m not much of a risk taker, never have been.  My brain has a habit of checking off all the reasons why something is not possible or why failure is imminent (Failure Expected And Received).   The actual act of delving into an unknown is physically stressful for me.  I spend every waking moment in Finding Excuses And Reasons.  My brain literally throbs from deconstructing all available routes, attempting to calculate the most successful path to a destination as if it could ever be a personal GPS.   However, I do not avoid risk at all costs, especially when it comes to my students.  I have constantly put myself out there and changed my teaching practices in efforts to better serve my students.  I feel this is a good thing, but I often run the gamut of perpetual stages of worry.  Am I doing the right thing?  Are my students truly learning?  Should I even be a teacher?  This panic (False Emotions Appearing Real) that I am desperately clinging to on a daily basis is what keeps me from becoming a truly effective teacher and advancing in my career.  There is a serious need for me to get out of my relationship with fear.

A side effect of my constant Frantic Effort to Avoid Reality is a negative reflection of the self.  So instead of spending this post harping on the multitude of flaws that seem to continuously re-purpose themselves in my mind, I believe I need to share some of the positive things that I do in my classroom.  It is time for me to be OK with occasional bragging. So, without further ado, here are some projects that I’ve had success with in my classes.

Nickel and Dimed Webquest: after reading a few excerpts from the book Nickel and Dimed, students were thrown into the world of the minimum wage worker.  They had to complete tasks such as: finding a job they were currently qualified to do (assuming the role of recent HS grads), finding an apartment, keeping a budget, figuring out transportation, paying bills, buying groceries, etc.  They also had to keep a daily journal of each activity including: describing what a day at work looks like, describing their living arrangements, sharing quick/frugal recipes, etc.  They also had to write a resume and cover letter, and fill out mock job applications.  I plan to do this webquest again this year after spring break and will have students BLOG rather than keep handwritten journals.  I would also like to add “SMH” cards that throw a wrench in daily living (such as getting sick, getting wallet stolen, car breaks down, etc.) and having them write about how they would overcome these issues.

Multi-Genre Writing Project: (idea taken from Tom Romano’s Multi-Genre Research Project) Student choose a novel from a list of traditional literature although students could do the project with any self-selected text.  They are to read the novel independently and create a folio of multi-genre writing that illustrates the themes in the novel as well as provides readers with an opportunity to experience the novel without actually reading it.  The goal was that their final product would be something that could be left in the library as a way to encourage readers to check out the book.  Their final product should contain: a letter to the reader (giving a short book talk or a 1 page introduction to the contents of the project), an author bio, additional entries that demonstrates at least 7 different genres (poem, interview, game directions, menu, news article, etc.), a bibliography and notes page.  I even create a multi-genre project along with my students.  You can view the Alice in Wonderland project I did several years ago (yes it’s all my own writing and I enjoyed writing along side my students for this project!).

Class Magazine Project:  I mentioned this in a previous post.  I do this project absolutely every year for senior spring final project.  They love it, I love it, and the whole school looks forward to the annual editions.  Students run the whole show, writing all of the content, designing the layout and even creating their own advertisements.  The project begins with applying for editor positions.  Editors become the leaders and run pitch meetings where the rest of the class pitches their ideas for content.  Students are sent out around campus wearing press badges and collecting stories.  They write content and submit drafts to copy-editors who make any edits.  Final drafts are sent to layout editors who fit them into the magazine.  After content is written, students work in groups to create advertisements that compliment the articles they wrote.  My husband, a professional photographer, is “hired” to do the shoot.  He treats students exactly like he would a real client and students must have story board idea of the advertisement before showing up to the shoot.  Students also must supply all props and the product for the shoot.  Husband does shoot with some post-production, then images are sent back to groups for the final advertisement layout.  Students must create every aspect of the magazine from the cover,  masthead and index right down to the little details such as folio and cutlines.

NANOWRIMO: for those of you who haven’t tried this with your students, give it a try.  It’s one month (November) and it will really get the writing juices flowing for both you and your students.  This was a BIG deal for my students who constantly complain about having to write 500 words or more.  My students were not able to do the full 50,000 words but getting them to do 2,500 word stories was worth all the pre-planning.  Students worked so hard and were very creative with their stories.  Even if I didn’t join the program, I’d do something like this again with my students.

Retelling Shakespeare: My students know me as the Shakespeare Queen.  I LOVE Shakespeare and work very hard to pass the love onto my students.  We get all up into Shakespeare from learning about his background to doing reader’s theater with his plays.  I often have students read adaptions of the play and watch movie adaptions as well.  After seeing many different ways that Shakespeare has been interpreted, I ask students to create their own interpretation of a single scene from the play.  They create their own movie adaptions and it is so much fun to see what they have come up with.  One year I had students adapt Macbeth using characters from Harry Potter (talk about text to text connections!)

These are the projects that help me remember that I AM a good teacher and can be when I let go of FEAR.  So when you’re faced with a difficult year and feel undeserving of any accolades, take a look back at some of you favorite activities with your students.  Take time to reflect on the things you do well.  Everyone has flaws but indeed we all also have strengths.  Building on your strengths and don’t Forget, Everything is All Right.

Give Twitter a Chance

fear of twitterI have to admit, when I first heard of Twitter I thought it was just a place for people to gossip. When I first logged in, I felt like I got a dose of TMI facebook status messages on steroids. There was too much information that I DIDN’T want to read and hard to sift through all the mess to find things I DID want to read. Then I switched my Twitter account to “private” hoping that meant it would be easier to filter out what I didn’t want to read. Eventually, I stopped using Twitter, and stuck with my Facebook account where I could block nonsense and friend people who really mattered to me. What I didn’t understand was that Twitter and Facebook are two very different entities.

I love Facebook. It has brought me closer to friends and family members that I never had much of a chance to get to know growing up. Being deaf, I always felt as if I was missing out on much of the world–my whole life was a big “nevermind” when people couldn’t find the patience to communicate with me. Facebook has allowed me to share my world with those closest to me and for me to catch a glimpse of worlds I missed out on.

I have been begging a fellow tech-savvy colleague of mine to join me on Twitter. She doesn’t “get” the hullabaloo. What’s the big deal about Twitter? In looking for a good way to explain it to her, I developed this analogy: Facebook is like attending a reunion, Twitter is like attending a conference. Facebook is you, inside, letting as much or as little of the world into your neck of the woods. Twitter is you getting out of the house and joining the party. You don’t go to a party just to shut yourself in a room with a few select people trading Pinterest recipes and talking about the crappy instagram pictures you all took of your kids. Hence, making a private Twitter account is worthless. If you want privacy or intimacy, stick with Facebook.

Now that I’ve been on Twitter a bit more, I understand that I can choose which parties to attend (hashtags), zoom in on people who are making waves (@mentions) and strike up conversations “near” those people in a way that grabs their attention (RTs or multi-@mentions). You just have to find the right people to follow and the right hashtags to use. I’m developing a digital footprint that puts me on the map. I’m starting to make a contribution to my profession. Most importantly, I’m developing a network of professionals that continually feed my growth as an educator. This past fall I was ready to turn in my letter of resignation and don the blue Walmart apron. I was sinking fast and becoming burnt out. I also felt very frustrated and alone. Through Twitter, I have found myself and a new love for teaching.

On Twitter I found @ajoycetb and @naomishema who have invited me and my students to become global friends.  I found @guster4lovers and @thomasson_engl who make the world of teaching English through #coflip model seem highly attainable. I found @johntspencer and his blog always willing to openly and candidly discuss the more difficult aspects of the teaching profession. I found @techsavvyed who has simplified my use of technology by demonstrating true integration.   Cheryl, Andrew, Ben, and John have also ignited my inner writer (hence this blog) by being so open in their reflection of their teaching practices; they have reminded me why personal and professional reflection is important. There are so many wonderful teachers sharing on Twitter. There are also plenty of administrators giving us their side of the coin. I’m coming out of my shell and I no longer feel alone.

I recommend to all Twitter newbies that you start off by attending a “chat”. Some of my favorite chats are #engchat, #rechat, #flipclass and #txed. You can go to a site like tweetchat.com, type in your hash tag and simply follow along with the conversation. If you feel up to it, join in. Hash tag chats are a great way to find people to follow. If you want more people to follow you, then you’ve got to offer them something. Share links, swap quotes, retweet content.

I think teachers who are not yet connected are really missing out. I’ve gotten a lot of great ideas from my Twitter PLN (professional learning network). People post so much valuable information and share plenty of innovative ideas. Finding my way around Twitter has lead to the best professional development I have ever experienced. It has allowed me to embrace the failures and share my experiences with the world. So, give Twitter a chance; you might just find that coming to the party is a lot more fun than swapping Pinterest recipes!