Give Them Purpose

While perusing the internet this morning, I came across this really neat video.  It is about a father who started a Car Wash.  What’s significant is 35 out of 43 employees are on the Autism Spectrum.  Please take a second to hear about this business below.  This father, who has a son with Autism, has given a real purpose to his employees.  It gives them a chance to truly earn a living and be productive members of society.  It also brings together people who are like-minded to build friendships among adults who may find that difficult on their own due to Autism.

 

 

Here is another video from Conscious Discipline that shares how a teacher was able to transform a student’s life by giving him purpose.  He transformed from a gang leader who did not expect to live past 21 to a productive member of society who is now able to travel the US sharing his story and the power of Conscious Discipline.  (Side Note: I was about to see both DJ and his teacher at a professional development session and their story is pretty incredible).

 

 

The overarching theme here is that we HAVE to make it matter that people are present (especially those who may easily be overlooked).  In the classroom, this is the same way.  Make sure each day students know that you SEE them that it MATTERS that they are there.  I start each day by having a 5-10 minute Morning Meeting.  The very first thing we always do is a greeting.  I choose a different language to say hello in each week (we did about 30 languages!) and the Attendance Helper chooses a greeting (handshake, high five, fist pump, elbow tap, etc.).  Students must greet eachother with the hello and the person’s name.  If nothing else goes well during the day, at least within the first 30 minutes of the day I know this student has been recognized for being present.  If we’re lucky, this can be some pretty powerful stuff.

Summer Reading

A rested mind, clean apartment, and a face full of freckles are what I have to show for my first official week of summer.

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This first week has been great.  This is really my first true summer as a teacher where I don’t have to worry about moving or applying for jobs.  I am working part time in retail, but have left the summer pretty open.  I know, I know, everyone dislikes teachers in the summer.  I understand but I work hard all year, so I’m going to enjoy this gift of summer I’ve been given.

After a week’s rest without thinking about school at all, I was ready to ease my way back into it. (See it’s true, teachers really can’t stay away from school and work during the summer.)  I decided to reread some of the books I kept from college classes.  I started with Comprehension from the Ground Up by Sharon Taberski.  Perhaps I am a dork, but I was getting so into this book and it got me thinking about my kiddos past, present, and future.

In the first two chapter Sharon Taberski wrote a lot about her philosophy behind literacy instruction and how to be most effective.  There were two major themes.  First, reading is not an isolated skills, nor can it be broken down into isolated parts, thus it should be taught this way.  Second, less is more.  These children (K-3) are truly babies in the grand scheme of things and we need to respect and cherish where they are at in their lives.

Some stand out quotes…

-We need to start where the children are if we have any hope of moving them farther along.

-The feeling of failure is unfortunate because it is ultimately our successes, not our failure that inspire each of us to do more and be better – whether it’s teaching or learning  This is especially true for our younger, most impressionable students. 

-Children need us teachers on so many levels.  Let’s not forget to be warm and funny and model our own enthusiasm for reading, writing, and thinking.  Sure, we can be rigorous, but that doesn’t mean rigorous in our service to external test scores.  It means rigorous in our service to children, to using our expertise to know where each of them is as a reader, a writer, and a thinker and where to take them next.

 

Teachers know that we are just force feeding as much as we can into these little bodies.  I am thinking of myself here.  I read this book in college and I liked it enough to keep but I doubt it went far beyond that.  Now that I’ve had a chance to relax, digest the year, and be on my own terms, I am captivated by the book.  A part is because now I have context to apply it to.  I’ve had 50 students sitting in front of me.  Children need this too.  They need time to read for enjoyment or in their down time because they want to, not because they have to.  Children also need time to take all of the independent skills we teach them and apply them on their own terms, in books of their own choosing.  Perhaps then they too could be captivated and get lost in the pages of a book.

Over this summer and the upcoming years, I am going to continue to do my research on the true, best practices in education.  I will follow the blogs and posts of inspiring, change-making teachers.  I will earn my Master’s Degree.  Most importantly, I will continue to put kindling on the fire that is burning.  I am going into my third (third?!?!?) year of teaching and have much to learn.  I also have boxes to operate within, lines I cannot yet cross.  However it is so important to keep questioning and not just blindly following the crowd.  Then one day, ONE DAY, I will work to be part of the solution and this low fire can truly burn and spread.

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A closing quote from Sharon Taberski…

-At some point we’re going to have to take a stand and truly stand up for children.  We know that many of the things we’re being asked to do in the name of “raising the scores” is neither in our children’s best interests nor good for them.  Therefore, we must acquire knowledge of effective and sensible teaching practices and make our voices heart.

The Cost of a Day

If there’s one thing I wish I could help all parents understand, it is that student attendance is absolutely imperative.  Allowing school to be a choice is unacceptable.  The only way I can help you child learn is by having them sitting in front of me.

In order to make this meaningful to parents, let’s relate it to a job.  After all, at 8 years old, a child’s one and only job is being a student.

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School Day (aka. workday) = 7 hours

          8:30-3:30

School Year = 180 days

Minimum Wage in Pa = $7.25

A Day’s Work = 7 hrs. x $7.25 = $50.75

 

For a child who misses 4 days a year (one per marking period, a reasonable amount), he/she misses out on $203.

For a child who misses a day every other week (1/10 days) or 18 days, he/she misses out on $913.50.

For the child who misses one day a week or 36 days, he/she misses out on $1827!!

 

Would you be willing to give up $1000 of your paycheck each year?  Don’t let your child do the same.

An Ode to Coworkers

I have been to many teaching interviews over the past few years.  Above all else, one moment stands out.  I was in the second round of an interview.  The tables had turned and it was my turn to ask the questions.  I asked, what is the best part about teaching in your school district?  It’s funny because I asked this at all of my interview and sometimes people would stop and seem surprised and then say I guess I’d have to say the kids.  However, this particular teacher spoke of something else.  She said, “Teaching at ___ feels like coming home.”  Chills shivered down my back.  I hadn’t known it, but as a young woman in my 20’s trying to find my place in this big world this was exactly what I was looking for.  Yes I wanted a career but I wanted something more too.  I wanted to build a life.

 

The irony of this post is that I didn’t get that position, perhaps that was a blessing in disguise for I am now 95% of the way through my school year and I can truly say that working in my school feels like coming home.

 

I was worried it wouldn’t come to this point.  At new teacher orientation, I was the only person from my school.  One teacher is 3 years older than me, but she’s married and working towards making a family.  Two teachers are about 30.  The rest or over thirty with families of their own.  Their weekends weren’t going to be free to hang out with the new girl trying to make friends.  This did not exactly set me up to make friends with people beyond a professional, working relationship.

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I quickly learned that there was nobody else at orientation because once people come to our school, they don’t want to leave.  I’ve never seen ALL of the teachers in one school getting along so well.  There is a feeling of warmth, trust, and acceptance.  There have been multiple happy hours, weekend parties, and impromptu ice cream trips after school with these wonderful folks.  Everyone is invited and most people show up.  Doors are always open after school and people linger in the halls to catch up.  We can lean on one another on the hard days and celebrate together on the good.  My tears have been dried and my spirits lifted on many occasions.

 

I’m still figuring out this whole teaching thing.  I’m still working on finding my place in this big world.  I’m not sure where I’ll be 10 years down the road.  What I do know is that coworkers like mine are one in a million and I will continue to be incredibly grateful and fortunate to work with them each day that I am given. 

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#Iwishmyteacherknew becomes #I WISH MY LAWMAKER KNEW

Since the #Iwishmyteacherknew story hit big, I have had  a wide range of emotions about it.  Touched that a teacher cared so much.  Heartbroken for kids with such difficult lives.  Angry that it made it seem that it is rare for a teacher to care and know his/her students so well.

help wanted

But I want to take all of those emotions and channel them into something else.  Something that could be big and powerful. But I need YOUR help.  As teachers, especially those who serve students from a low-income background, we know our students.  I cannot pretend to know every detail of my students life.  In my opinion, that is not my place.  Sometimes I have an idea of exactly what their home life may be and other times I can only take a shot into a very big, overwhelming darkness.  I have never lived in poverty.  I have never even had divorced parents.

It does not take living in a child’s exact situation to be able to teach them and to do your best to understand.  Students’ stories these days are heartbreaking.  I am not so naive to say by trying to understand their stories I can feel exactly what my students go through.  I can’t.  But I try to do my best every day.

-It does not take a student telling me they’ve lived through a trauma to see it in their every behavior.

-It does not take a kid telling me they don’t have food at home to know that they must first be fed before any learning can take place.

-It does not take a student telling me they are home alone all the time to know that they come to school first to be loved, the learning is a secondary less immediate need.

WE TEACHERS KNOW OUR STUDENTS.  I teach in a high-poverty school.  I’ve been professionally developed all about poverty.  BUT AT THE END OF THE DAY, MY STUDENTS IN POVERTY WHO MAY BE HUNGRY, HOMELESS, HAVE NEVER HELD A BOOK PRIOR TO KINDERGARTEN ARE HELD TO THE EXACT SAME STANDARD AS A STUDENT WHO HAS NEVER KNOWN A WANT FOR ANYTHING.

Here’s my proposal.  We work off of #Iwishmyteacherknew and it becomes #I wish my lawmaker knew.

Examples:

#IWishMyLawermakerKnew My students come to school first to be loved, only then can they learn.

#IWishMyLawermakerKnew Success can not be measured in bubbles.

#IWishMyLawermakerKnew Parents and teachers are a team and must BOTH be held accountable for a child’s education.

#IWishMyLawermakerKnew Just because my student didn’t pass your test doesn’t mean they haven’t made a year’s growth.  It doesn’t mean they don’t also deserve to be celebrated.

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Can you think of more?  I bet you can.

Do you know twitter?  I hope so.  I don’t and I need your help. 

If nothing else, comment here with what you wish your lawmaker knew.


Jail Time.

Sentencing came through recently for the Atlantic Public School teachers that were involved in a big cheating scandal on standajailrdized tests.  If you’re like me, you remember hearing about this in the news.  A quick google search got me to an NBC newscast about the sentencing.  Feel free to watch (warning: it got me a bit worked up).  End result: 3 of the teachers/administrators were sentenced to 7 years of jail time.

http://www.nbcnews.com/news/crime-courts/one-educator-accepts-plea-deal-atlanta-cheating-case-n341256

 

7 YEARS OF JAIL TIME!!!  I am shocked and appalled.  7 years is a terribly long amount of time.  Just as a point of reference, a local high school English teacher had a sexual relationship with an 18 year old, junior male and was going to get at most 7 years.  This was in recent years.  I know she currently is out of jail and have heard she is volunteering in her son’s elementary classroom.  A teacher from my own high school had a sexual relationship with a 17 year old girl.  This broke less than 5 years ago and I do believe he is free.  I do not have much knowledge and chose not to research, but I would bet money that there are many people who committed robbery, drug dealing, embezzlement who are sentenced to less than 7 years of time.

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Let us just quick recap.  These teachers cheated on a test (for hundreds of students, yes), but they cheated on a test.  These other teachers were involved in child pornography, sex with a minor, etc.  The newslink above said it was not a victimless crime.  Maybe not completely but did any kid suffer as a result of the changing of test answers ? My moral compass may not always point due north but I surely believe sex with a minor, drug offenses, and other crimes are a lot less victimless.

Take their teaching license.  Fire them from their job.  Jail time, 7 years jail time, is ridiculous.  These people are not a menace to society.  If nothing else, let’s look at the cost of housing these three people in jail for 7 years.  I have heard studies comparing how much it costs to keep a person in jail as opposed to getting a students through one year of schooling.  Let’s just say the one you want to be a lot higher, may not be.  Here’s an idea!  How about instead of spending thousands of dollars to house these teachers in a jail for 7 years so they don’t harm any more of society with their erasers and #2 pencils, let’s put that money towards the Atlantic Public School system.  I do not know for sure, but, again I would bet that it is a Title 1 school that is failing and not the wealthiest of districts.

Let us also briefly consider the implications that led to these teachers feeling it necessary to get into this whole cheating scandal.  Standardized testing has gotten out of control.  The way schools and teachers are evaluated based on a single test is not valid.  After the 8th hour of testing in three days, you’d be pretty tired to and start filling in random bubbles too.  Ever heard of a teacher cheating to help students pass their own tests??  Probably not.  Do kids still fail these tests?  Of course, they do.  But we know they are valid assessments, they drive our instruction, they are fair.

What’s education and society come to when teachers are so pressured that they put their career/life on the line to assure good test scores and when we as society find it so vile and dangerous that teachers must be locked up away from society for 7 years?

 

It’s disgraceful, utterly disgraceful.

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Give Pride, Not Prizes

One of the more recent debates in elementary classroom management is about behavior charts and rewarding students.  Is it appropriate to publicly chart students behavior and have them clip up and clip down for good and bad behavior?  What are students working for?  Will they behave for nothing?

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This year my school jumped on the Class Dojo bandwagon.  As the new teacher in the building, I was willing to hear out what others had to say about Dojo.  For those who are not familiar, this is an online, interactive classroom management site.  Each student is represented with a character and gains/loses points for different behaviors throughout the day.  Families are able to communicate with you through the website and track their student’s behavior in real time.

Pros for Dojo: Students are made aware of their choices.

It is an easy way to informally communicate with parents on a regular basis. (Something I felt like I didn’t have last year)

The program is designed to be motivating for kids right down to the silly characters that represent each child.

Cons for Dojo: I personally do not love the idea of a visual, public behavior tracker.

I am not a fan of extrinsic rewards.

 

I voiced my concerns with my mentor who loved the idea of Class Dojo.  I told her that I didn’t want to give extrinsic rewards (stickers, candy, free choice activity, etc.).  I wanted my students to do well because that’s what you’re supposed to do in life.  She said that was great and what all teachers want, but the kids are going to ask, “So, what do I get?”

I took a risk.  I drank the Dojo Kool-Aid but did not go in 100%.  A brief overview of how Classroom Dojo works in my room.  Students are told when the earn and lose points throughout the day (sometimes for everyone to hear and sometimes one-on-one).  My computer makes a sound effect whenever points are changed, which is a perk that keeps kids on their toes.  At the end of the day, students come up to me while they are packing up to get their points and color their calendar according to how many points they’ve earned.  Ideally parents are looking at this calendar or online daily.  And what do the kids gets for earning positive points???  Nothing. Zilch. Nada.

Ok.  I am being a bit dramatic.  Students are getting a lot more than nothing, but what they are earning can’t be kept in the prize box.  When my students have a “blue day” (4 or more Dojo points), they get a high five and verbal praise.  When they have a red day (-2 or more Dojo points), they get a consequence that ties into our school-wide behavior plan.  And the greatest thing is, IT WORKS!  We are officially three-quarters of the way through the year and not a single student has asked what they earned for getting points.  Most frequently kids will tell me, “You’re forgetting something!” as they hold their hand up in front of me.  What have I forgotten?  The high five students earn from having a blue day.  Another gain is students thinking about their own behavior.  One of my students with the most challenging behavior now tells me how many points she thinks she has each day showing me that she’s reflecting on her behavior for the day.

My class is good, real good, but they are far from perfect.  I work in a Title 1 school that has a representation for being that school in the district.  (Flip back to that post about substitutes, of which our school has run off many.)  These kids want (and need) love and positive attention.  They do not need petty prizes for doing what 95% of students would do on their own.  In fact, by constantly offering prizes for meeting expectations, I believe we are teaching kids that they are behaving to earn a prize not to be respectful, responsible learners.  This is not a perfect system and won’t work for every child, but TAKE THE RISK.  The amount of pride you will see on your students’ faces at the end of the day makes it worth the risk.

 

Give pride, not prizes.