Hi, my name is Jo…

Here I am with more struggles and admissions of guilt :).  I read a really interesting post here.  The author gives a very candid look at teacher development/improvement and reflects on why many of us don’t really improve our teaching, but instead do what I would call “Extreme Makeover The Hell Out of” our practices.  We try new things, add new technology, beef up our professional development attendance, get a Twitter account, blog, join a Facebook or Twitter group for the good-humored abuse of hashtags all in the name of collaboration.  BUT while we are busy dressing the bulldog in haute couture, how often do we stop to recognize that it is still a bulldog in haute couture?!  That’s my year so far–a big fat ugly bulldog dressed in dazzling silver sequins and patent-leather cherry red Jimmy Choos (there is just something about red patent-leather that grabs my attention).

The author encourages teachers to take a good, hard look at their practices and do more honest reflection about the what, why and how of teaching.  He says that improvement requires HARD work.  Not the #omgthisfrickin’makesmewannawriteanincrediblylonghashtag kind of hard, but the kind of HARD that makes you feel like that awkward first year teacher who combs through every crossed t and dotted i in a lesson plan, wets her pants at the sight of an administrator or master teacher entering her classroom, goes home and cries into her pillow with a bucket of fried chicken and declares that she is absolutely the worst teacher in the world, and yet goes in 2 hours before school starts to set up her classroom, create handcrafted materials, and double check those crossed t’s and dotted i’s and braces herself for another day of struggles.

Lately, I’ve been remembering my first 3-5 years of teaching and I agree with Mr. Pershan.  I can honestly say that I was a better teacher during those first 5 years than I am currently (working on year 7).

I recently sat with a colleague and expressed to her my dismay at being unable to pinpoint WHY I’m struggling to the point of drowning this year.  I was given an extra prep this year to help with planning for a heavy load (I’m teaching English at every grade level 9-12th with a wide variety of ability levels 2nd grade-post secondary), I passed off my position as ELA chair to someone more experienced, and I’m at school for nearly 10-12 hours a day most days and yet I still can’t “Get things done.”  I’m not creating phenomenal lesson plans, I’ve hardly touched my iPads this year, I’m barely getting my gradebook up to date, and I frequently have days where I just sit in my car and cry.


I’d like to introduce myself.  Hi, my name is Jo, I got a husband and kid and I work in a “Button factory” one day, my Boss comes to me and says, “Jo, are ya busy?”  “I say no!” “Then push the button with your right hand”…hi, my name is Jo….

Remember that song?  It goes on for as many body parts as Joe-Schmo can manage to use to push all these endless and sometimes pointless buttons.  That’s my year.  Pushing buttons is not hard.  Pushing hundreds of buttons with body parts that rarely see the light of day is #omgthisfrickin’makesmewannawritealonghashtag hard BUT it is not going to make me a better teacher.  It will not make Joe a better employee.  In fact, it makes him a schmuck.

We as teachers need to learn to take the “simple things” and learn to do them WELL.  Learn to do them so well that people start to realize that these “simple things” really aren’t that simple; that they take quite a bit of skill and expertise.  It’s not about how MUCH you do, but how WELL you do it.  Think about the teachers that you looked up to when you were an intern.  My observing teacher was fantastic at connecting with students.  I don’t remember ever lauding over her lesson plans, or her use of technology in the classroom.  I do remember being awestruck to see her strip off her shoes and race her students barefoot to the cafeteria, hellbent on beating them. It’s a skill that I still have not managed to master (BOTH connecting with students and stripping off my shoes to run barefoot to the cafeteria)  but may be the one simple thing that I need to perfect in order to improve my teaching.  By establishing a personal connection with each student, she was able to get these kids to idolize her and cooperate even on their toughest days.  You could see that she personally cared about each and every one of her students and that each student KNEW that she cared.  They trusted her and loved her.

Now, that does not mean I need to attend a plethora of professional development workshops on the “back to basic” skills of teaching, nor do I need to find a twitter group to vent all my frustrations to in a fury of hashtag bombs.  What I need, want, and miss most of all is a mentor to share resources, provide feedback, and help me evaluate what works and what doesn’t.  I need a mentor I trust and look up to within my profession–not an administrator giving feedback for evaluation purposes.  But first, I need to take the damn Jimmy Choos off the dog and admit that it’s SO not working!

So, I may be Jo Schmuck this year, but I’m going to at least admit it and attempt to work harder on perfecting simplicity.

Finding the Silver Lining

ImageI’m in a rough place this year as a teacher, a parent, and a fallible human.  I’m at my breaking point and starting to think that perhaps teaching is not the field for me.  I hate when I get into this mentality, especially since I know that I am (or can BE) a GREAT teacher.  This year all of my worlds have collided HARD and I’ve been reduced to tears more often than my first year as a teacher.  But with a goal of doing solid reflection, I’m trying to find that silver lining.

One of the toughest things we must do as teachers, is strike a balance.  It is a pivotal point in not only our instruction, but in our lives.  We find it difficult to find a balance between give and take with our students.  We wonder, how much should we allow our students to attempt on their own?  How often should we intercede?  When should we assess; how should we assess and how much?  Do we need more hands on or more whole class instruction?

Then there is trying to find the balance with TIME.  I don’t think people realize (and this includes administration) exactly how much teachers do or how much time it takes to do them WELL.  I often find myself leaving my house at 5:30am and sitting in my classroom at 5pm.  Someone will walk by and balk, “you’re still here?!  Go home and relax!”  But I can’t relax.  Grades are due, progress reports need to be updated, parent emails need to be responded to, REEDS need to be written, behavior reports need to be filled out, sample projects need to be made, papers need to be graded, essays/written assignments need constructive feedback, lesson plans need to be updated, students need tutoring, technology survey is due, DWAs need scoring, tech mentor duties to fulfill, student work to file, a routine for IP GOBs monitoring to establish, and the list goes on and on.  Some of you teachers will laugh and agree, it becomes damn near impossible to even find time to go to the bathroom!  I don’t know about you, but I don’t like bringing work home.  It eats into my time with my family, and yet it is impossible to get that list of things done with the time I’m given throughout the day.  Some of these OTHER duties make it very hard to continue to provide my students with quality instruction; it also makes it very hard for me to be a present wife and parent.  If I don’t get some of these things done, will the administration, parents, students, etc  understand that I couldn’t finish my duties because my daughter desperately wanted me to sing a song with her and play “restaurant” or my husband wanted to catch up after returning from a long business trip?

How do we find the balance?  How do we prioritize?  How do we let go?  At present my life is in the middle of its own BIG BANG.  Everything has collided into one massive explosion that is greatly affecting my teaching, my parenting, and my sanity.  It has become so hard to find anything positive about my job as a teacher that I have been contemplating taking a break and finding something else.   I’m hoping that, just like the Big Bang (theory), my mess will fan out into a beautifully structured cosmos, I’ll center my teaching chakra again and all will be right with the world.

Feeling a bit of Flow

I’m on week three of my first flipped year.  I’m feeling a bit better about what I’m doing and looking forward to seeing some results.  There are a lot of things that one should consider before using a flipped method with a classroom of deaf students.  Here are some interesting things I have found:

1. Students are not quite “Trained” to view ASL in 2D format.

Several of my students struggled watching my videos.  It wasn’t the content they were complaining about, but watching signing on video was difficult for them.  When planning your own flipped classroom, you may want to include mini-lessons on how to view ASL in 2D.  My remedial level classes were struggling with finding good places to pause, take notes, rewind, and review as needed.  They had a habit of watching the video once and then exclaiming “I don’t understand!”  It never occurred to me that they may need to be taught  HOW to view a video.

Also it is important that you record yourself on video separate from any content you do.  If you try using something like Screencast-o-matic.com, the recording is streamed making the final video a bit difficult to view as signs look blurry.

2. Take the time to teach students specifically how to access sites you will be using.

I sometimes take for granted that my students are tech saavy and I often assume that showing them something will be enough for them to get it.  However, a lot of my students needed a lot of practice with the sites I used: Edmodo and Kidblog.  I had to specifically teach them HOW to turn in an assignment or how to find their drafted posts in Kidblog.  These mini-lessons have taken up the bulk of my first 3 weeks of class but I’m hoping the benefits will be HUGE.

3.  Not all students love technology or even want to use it

Every year I assume that students will be excited to use the iPads or thrilled to play with a new website on their laptops.  Truth is, many of them do not enjoy technology because it adds to their frustration.  In addition to whatever academic issues they have to overcome (reading and writing especially) they are now expected to have some sort of media literacy.  It’s a lot for them to take in.  SO, if you are going to do a flipped classroom, keep it simple and small.  Don’t have a bunch of websites that they have to continuously log in to.  Keep the student log ins to a maximum of 3 and give them time to explore without worrying about grades.


So, these are three things I learned in my first 3 weeks.  I’m also learning that mastery grading might be a worthy tool for me.  Mastery grading is a pass/fail sort of mentality to grading student work.  Students continue to work at their pace until they master the content.  You don’t give them the grade until they prove they have mastered the skill.  I haven’t quite begun mastery grading, but definitely something I might try down the road.  I’m also getting used to the idea of letting go of trying to get all students caught up on the same activities.  The whole point of flipping in the first place was to bring differentiation to my classroom.  I have to be able to allow students to work on skills long enough to master them. It might take some students a day, others a week.  I have to rotate activities so that all students are participating and actively involved in their learning.

I have to say preparation was a lot less than I thought.  If you have a good clear plan of what you would like to do or teach, then posting assignments to Edmodo takes a lot less time than heading to the copy machine to print out worksheets.  I find that while they are working on their warm-ups I can quickly post a class assignment or attach a worksheet.  I highly recommend Edmodo.

The rewarding part of everything, even with all of my trial and error, is to see every single student engaged throughout the entire class period.  It’s also wonderful to see them asking questions and stopping by outside of class to seek additional help.  This has got to be the first year out of my entire 7 years that students have willingly come to me for tutoring.  It shows that in this short amount of time, they are already taking responsibility for their learning.  That makes my bungles a lot easier to swallow.

I’ve got a long way to go before this feels comfortable and successful but I’m a step in the right direction.