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.

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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.

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The Tip of the Flip…

Ok, so here goes my first post. It will most likely be long, simply because I have so much to say!  This is my first teacher reflection blog.  I’ve decided that I needed to share what I was doing in the classroom.  I became super frustrated trying to find others in deaf education that were flipping their classrooms.  Not many people are out there sharing what they do.  Even if I’m not successful in my attempt, at least someone else out there can learn from my mistakes.  Another reason is that reflection is an important part of lesson planning.  Teachers who reflect on what they did in the classroom will more likely create better instruction throughout the year because they are constantly reviewing what worked and what didn’t.  Now this particular post is more about the WHY I’m flipping my classroom rather than the WHAT I have done so far.  I promise to post where I am in the process, what we are doing, and how I am doing it.

So, why am I flipping my classroom?  In deaf education, especially in the Language Arts classroom, teachers are met with very reluctant learners.  Deaf students struggle with English and often times by High School, they may have completely given up on trying to read/write better.  They are dual language learners who have often had very little exposure to either language (ASL or English) before entering school, so they automatically come into their education 5 year behind their hearing peers.  Even my students who grew up with ASL as their first language since birth, still find learning English difficult, because English is an auditory/oral language.  Much of the nuances surrounding English are based on how things “sound”.  So for many of my students, completing assignments at home becomes a chore. Where do they get extra help? Especially if their parents are not able to sign very well?  Or if dorm staff are not able to assist.  Students often end up not doing the homework at all or copying from each other.  Information is absorbed and wrung out on a slew of worksheets, journals, assessments, etc.  Not much of that information actually stays with them.  Are they actually learning anything?  I’ve begun wonder.  I want to do better.  I want my students to do better.

I’m tired of the 4th grade plateau that deaf have been pigeonholed into. This has followed me ever since I was a kid in school.  As a deaf child, I constantly had to fight to prove I could do just as well as my hearing peers, if not better.  I am proof that we are quite capable of breaking through this glass ceiling but the pedagogy surrounding the HOW has left educators with more arguments than solutions.  I want students to be able to think critically.  I want them to take ownership of their learning.  I want them to make choices that lead them to continuing their education beyond the classroom.  I want them to think of literacy as a journey of exploration rather than a means to an end.   I don’t want to teach anymore.

Over the years, I’ve found that my students do better with me as a tutor than with me as a classroom instructor.  Why? They get individualized attention, I get to use inquiry more frequently when working 1:1 with students, and they get to work at their own pace.  How can I transfer this to whole class instruction?  The flipped classroom model attempts to put the instruction and teaching directly into the hands of the students and create teachers who are not so much instructors, but instead coaches or facilitators.  Having a truly flipped classroom allows for different pacing (differentiation), and giving students a wider variety of options for demonstrating mastery. The downside is that it requires a lot of pre-planning and preparation.

I’ve always been fascinated by the flipped classroom model but have never been able to put it into good solid practice.  I’ve dabbled in putting worksheets and notes online for students to access.  I’ve created the occasional “mini-lesson on film” for students to watch at home and return ready to work in class.  However, these things didn’t really FLIP the classroom.  I still felt like I was doing a lot of lecturing or teaching but none of the information was being owned by the students.  They sat their mindlessly paying attention just hoping to pass the class and graduate.  This year I am determined to get students to take some ownership of their learning.

My first step was to sign up for Edmodo and attend the Edmodocon webinars over the summer.  I learned so much!  Second, I happened upon Cheryl Morris’s blog.  She’s a HS English teacher in California.  She has been collaborating with another teacher in North Carolina.  They actually Co-teach their classes using the flipped model.  As I read about their endeavors I realized that was what I needed to do with my classes.

To make a long story short, this is the year that I FLIP.

So, for the past 2 weeks I have been introducing my students to the technology they will be using in class, at home and in the dorms.  They are extremely overwhelmed, but when I asked if they would rather go back to the old model of my lecturing and sending home worksheets, they all gave an emphatic NO.  The freshmen are struggling a lot more than the seniors but that is to be expected.  Even though I’m getting a lot of grumbles related to the technology aspect, the work they are turning in these past two weeks is wonderful and full of effort.  They are writing their own blog posts, participating in discussions on current events, and helping each other with new concepts.  One of their first video lessons was on creating leveled questions (based on Costa’s Levels of Questioning).  They struggled with the concept but as they were watching the videos, they stopped and discussed the information with each other.  They would work and use me as a “tutor” to help scaffold their learning.  I walked around the room to help as needed. I’ve also seen an increase in students coming to see me after school or during their advisory period because they “really want to GET the assignment.”  I’m able to document discussions online and demonstrate their mastery of a wide variety of ways.  I’m not looking forward to the daunting task of redoing my lessons in video or online demo format but I think the benefits will far out weight whatever challenges I face.

If any of you are interested in taking a look at what we are doing, send me a message!