I’m a Try Hard

Tshirt design

Last Friday, several of my colleagues were partaking in our normal Friday ritual after 2:00 where we gather in the hallway and discuss our week and what our weekends had in store for us.

My math colleague proceeded to tell all of us how he overheard some students what seemed to be criticizing others for being a”try hard”. They were referring to students who worked hard at school and on their assignments. One student even was quoted saying, “I don’t want to be a called a “try hard”. As our math teacher was sharing this story, I began to feel quite melancholy at first. Then, my emotions switched from being down to being furious.

Why has it come to a point where students will belittle one another for working hard and wanting to go somewhere in life? As a former varsity basketball coach, I know there is a lack of work ethic and putting time in order to be successful. It’s always the coaches fault or some other outside factor instead of the things that can be controlled. However, I find it disturbing that students might actually be encouraging it.

To see if this might be happening elsewhere, I consulted my 8th-grade niece. I asked her if a “try hard” or other words are uttered in the hallways and classrooms of her school. She didn’t even hesitate to utter the words, “No” as I discussed the scenario at my school.So, as I continued to think and reflect about the situation over the weekend, I wondered if it was the demographics of my school that would cause students to denounce working hard.

Are students really seeing benefits to not working hard? In some small way, I wonder if younger generations are seeing or hearing that it is acceptable to not work hard? I’m not convinced individuals don’t play the system so they can take advantage of not working while they still get what they haven’t worked for.

I am open to suggestion on how to combat such negative association with work ethic. I actually think this would be a great Twitter chat at some point.

Needless to say, I am saddened by what seems to be a form of bullying on students who have solid work ethic and actually give a damn about school. Also, because it appears that students could take things far enough for it to be bullying, it will need to be addressed on a wider scale. As a staff, we decided we were going to buy t-shirts similar to the one at the beginning of my post and wear them on Fridays.

As a staff, we are currently deciding if we were going to buy t-shirts similar to the one at the beginning of my post and wear them on Fridays.

Cheers!


Reading Love Loss

Ever since I was little, I have enjoyed Christmas break. When I was growing up, I lived across the street from my elementary school and break meant hours of playing in the mountains of snow that were piled up from the plows clearing the snow. Often when my friends and I got done, hot chocolate was waiting for us to warm our chilled bones.

Christmas break also brought about hours of independent reading for me. I was very fortunate that I had both a mother and father who read. My mother read more frequently when it came to novels. I can remember many nights hearing her book hit the floor when she fell asleep while reading. It wasn’t easy being a full time mom, working and trying to squeeze in some time to read.

Often times, one of my best friends and I would buy each other books for Christmas. Most of the time it was about ghosts, werewolves, vampires, or other creatures of the night. No matter what I received though, I had it read by the time Christmas break was over.

bench-1853961_1280

Now that I am a father, I do my diligence to demonstrate to my own children that reading is a good thing. Wait, scratch that…it is a GREAT thing! I love reading to my pre-school child and I always drop what I am doing when he comes to me with a book. My daughter doesn’t need any prompting. She is a 2nd grader reading at a 5th grade level and she loves it! When it comes to my 4th grader though, it is a different story.

When my 4th grader was younger, he couldn’t read enough. His mom and I were very proud parents of someone who would read for hours and this continued from pre-school through 1st grade. Second grade seemed to be going well until about four weeks into school when his teacher sent home what resembled a reading log. Every night my child was required to not only read for 20 minutes, but to write a summary every time he was done reading. Needless to say, the love of reading was quickly going down hill.

I quickly got a hold of the teacher about his approach to having students read and within a week, a note was sent home about different ways to help students understand what they were reading. Unfortunately, that quickly went away and we were back write a summary after every time we read. My child despised doing those summaries. He even asked several time if there was something else that he could do.

Fast forward to 4th grade and some of his love for reading has come back. His mom and I try hard to have him read. With efforts from his 3rd grade teacher and this year’s 4th grade teacher, he seems to be liking it again, but not to the extent he was prior to the start of 2nd grade. Just recently we have started to visit our local library and he is the proud owner of his first library card (He feels very responsible!). His love loss is real and he isn’t the only one.

At some point there becomes a disconnect for kids for their love of reading and no it isn’t because of electronics or technology either. My son isn’t the only one that has had a reading log sent home and has been required to write multiple summaries about the reading. Though I am guilty of having my students record their reading times at home, I don’t recall a time I have made them write about what they read. I have just wanted them READ, no matter what it they picked up.

The question isn’t about the fact that reading love loss is happening or that it happens. It happens! The real reason for me writing this is to find out strategies on how we can get our students to fall in love with reading once that love is gone.

Please feel free to comment.

Cheers!

 


Deal Me In

Once again I have been given the opportunity to be part of something that is much greater than myself. I am at the annual meeting for the National Writing Projoct (NWP) and as always, I am filling my brain to the brim with new ideas to take back to my students, colleagues, and school. My brain will overflowith.

Every year there is a plenary where members of NWP get to listen about the state of the writing project and where we have been and where we are going in the future. This year our director Elyse Eidman-Aadahl discussed where we should “double down” as teachers in certain areas and the importance of taking a stand for what we believe in. After all, it is through the narratives we write that gives us power and makes our story known.

As I thought about the gambling term “double down”, I began to think that most educators  do double down, don’t we? We do it because we care about our students and want them to succeed. Yes, there are educators who don’t go “all in” when it comes to their job or doing what is best for student. Let’s face it, we know at least one. Needless to say though, most of our hearts and minds have a passion for our career and our students.

This year has been odd for me, other than the new teaching assignment. I have struggled at times this year to the point where the environment that I was working in was having such a negative impact on me that I just wanted to stay home. Other days were fine, but for almost three weeks, I rode the struggle bus. As I began to reflect on my 1/2 hour drive home one afternoon, I knew I couldn’t give up on my students. My relationship with them was becoming very positive from where I was at with them last year as 7th graders. They drove me nuts. I knew that I had to be there for them and continue to walk with them in their journey through school and life.

I had a hard time leaving my students to come to this conference. We laugh, we learn, we get frustrated with each other. We are a family. As one of my writing project colleagues has said, ” The learning is in the struggle”.  A statement that couldn’t be more true for me right now, but I am starting to better understand what I need to do and it became more clear today while attending the conference.

So, being “all in” and thinking about the power of narrative reminds me our writing is what gives us a voice. On the other hand, I know I have to keep fighting for my students and not let a negative school culture give way for them having a negative teacher where they don’t want to go to class or have hope.

I will continue to use my voice in writing to help me be more positive for my students so they too can see there is hope with the right attitude and the right tools. I want to model for them that they too have a voice and can make a difference. Even when it is with their pen.
It’s time to stay positive!

It’s time to go to work!

It’s time to write!


Communication = ________

Second blog in a week! I almost forgot the power behind blogging. Trying to rock it out again this week.

Communication has been vital for hundreds of years. The way people communicate has changed drastically. From sending notes through the Pony Express to a note on a pigeon’s leg. Now, we have email, text messaging, and other forms of online communication that can essentially let us hide from having more intimate conversations with individuals.

Even though we have easier ways to communicate, face-to-face conversation seems to be quickly losing popularity or perhaps it already has been cast aside. Just recently I was astonished at my 8th grader’s reaction when I told them they couldn’t have cell phones on their upcoming bus trip to the fish hatchery for our Salmon in the Classroom project. It was as if I just told them I was going to cut off their arm or leg.

As I have pondered their reaction, I began to think about the communication that takes place in education and more specifically among teachers, administrators, parents, and community members.

I am all for the use of technology in responsible ways and it has made our world easier to access the individuals that we need to get in touch with. In fact, we can’t blame technology for how our students learn today. The downfall to all the ways we can access people has caused a serious decline in building effective relationships with others. This just doesn’t fall on the teachers or the students either, it falls on everyone’s shoulder to get better.

When it comes to building positive relationships between administrators and teachers, it is easier for principals and superintendents to put out emails and videos. Videos can be created for staff meetings instead of trying to work around everyone’s schedule when it comes to coaching and other after school activities. However, unless there are face-to-face conversations taking place, those positive relationships are not being built. I am thankful that my principal not only has an open door policy but has the leadership to engage in conversations with the teachers in the hall and in their classrooms. He doesn’t just send emails to the teachers hoping they will read it and claim he is communicating with us.

In addition to administrators reaching out and building relationships with staff members, I feel we are at a critical time in education where school board members need to be having face-to-face conversations with not only teachers but with the community as well. Currently, what I am seeing, is little interaction between board members and community members. It seems to me that there is not a working relationship to make schools better between these entities. I know that this isn’t the case for all school districts and I don’t mean to offend those that have solid relationships. However, I am currently seeing it with my own eyes and not only has it had a negative impact on relationship building, there is a lack of respect among board members, teachers, and community members. So much, that people are starting not to care which has negative consequences on the students in the end.

clasped-hands-541849_1280

It is true that communication has changed drastically over the past 100 years. I feel it is more important than ever to talk with people and build relationships with them through everyday conversation, not useless emails, newsletters, or text messages. If we can do this as adults, we can definitely help our kids understand the importance of effective communication not only make them better citizens but help our schools become better places to learn.

What does communication mean to you?


Ever have the thought?

Monday I had a meeting with my principal and I told him I have had thoughts about taking everything I do in my classroom and throwing it out the window and starting from scratch. This is where I envision books, student assignments, computers, tablets, pens, pencils, etc being on my desk and clearing it all off in a raging fit with one swing of my monstrous long arms.

Anyways, I want to reinvent, reimagine my classroom and what I am doing. It is not to say that everything I do does not have an impact on students, but I feel like I need to change some things. There are days I feel, I am not reaching my students.

My principal suggested that I start reflecting on each day and writing down what works and what doesn’t work. I thought that would be a great idea and I am definitely going to start doing that next week. It is time to reflect on what it is I am doing in my classroom and changing what is isn’t working anymore.

Has anyone else ever had these thoughts or something similar?

Cheers

 

 


#Englishchat – 1/12/15

As more and more students bring mobile devices to school, we have more opportunities (and challenges) to teach reading and writing, speaking and listening. For next week’s #engchat conversation (1/12/15 at 7:00 PM EST), join co-authors Jeremy Hyler (@Jeremybballer) and Troy Hicks (@hicsktro) as they share some strategies from their book, Create, Compose, Connect! Reading, Writing and Learning with Digital Tools (Routledge/Eye on Education, 2014).

 

More importantly, we invite you to share your ideas about how best to engage students in authentic literacy activities with smartphones and tablets. Some questions we may pursue during the chat include:

 

  • What is your school’s policy for mobile technologies? If your school has a BYOD or 1:1 program, how did it begin? If not, what do you want to know in order to start one?
  • What are the literacy skills that mobile technology enable? How are you working with students to develop their skills as readers and writers, listeners and speakers?
  • What lesson ideas do you have for mobile tech — daily, weekly, or just once in awhile — what works for you and your students?

 

We look forward to creating, composing, and connecting with #engchat colleagues soon!


Reflections of a Middle School Teacher

Ahhh! Yup, school is out for the Summer. At the start of every year I tell my students that we need to treat each other as if we are family. AND… just like family we will get sick of each other and bicker, pick, and get tired of each other’s habits. Well, I can honestly say we were at the edge. It was time for us to part ways and have a break. My students were ready and I was ready too.

It was an exciting year for me professionally. The book Create, Compose, and Connect Troy Hicks and I wrote was published, another book I contributed to is coming out very soon, and I am working on a book with some really great educators from all levels right now. In addition, I had the opportunity to present at some excellent conferences here in Michigan. I also felt I did a better job as a reading teacher, but I still have a long ways to go to consider myself stellar.

Looking back on this past school year has left me with mixed feelings. On one hand I feel as if the students completed a lot of writing and dug pretty deep into some reading throughout the year. On the other hand, I struggled with students retaining information as we made connections later on in the school year. My colleagues struggled with this as well and at times it was very exhausting to get students to make connections from earlier lessons.

As a middle school staff, I feel that we grew more this year and we are continuing to keep the students at the center. We are striving everyday to do what is best for them. In particular I worked more closely with our S.S. teacher on doing article of week, a historical research paper, and we worked on a written report for our Salmon in the Classroom Project. You can see where we were featured on Michigan-Out-of-Doors. You can see us around the 20:00 minute mark.

 

The Social Studies teacher and I  are starting to mutually appreciate each other’s strengths and I know our professional relationship will continue to grow. This year I really tried to be patient with all staff members and recognize their strengths when I could.

Besides trying to build more positive relationships with all of my colleagues, we will have a schedule change for next year, which is positive. We will now have about 60 minutes per class to teach. I am very excited about this because when our S.S. teacher figured it out, we are actually getting one extra class period per week when all of the extra minutes are added together. Prior to this we only had about 52 minutes per class.  I feel that my class discussions around different text we are reading or the different genres we are writing will be deeper and the students will have the opportunity to do more critical thinking. Feeling rushed to get through material could potentially fall to the wayside if all goes well (snow days could hinder this).

In addition to having more time with students, our principal made a push to put a more solid curriculum in place. Our monthly early release meetings can at times be a joke. In the department I co-chair we work hard to keep moving forward and we have done some tremendous work with the CCSS Anchor Standards, but from what I have heard from other departments, participants were using the time to shoot the bull and grade papers. At times when we have met as a whole district, it has irked me to see fellow teachers also grading papers.

This past year, it was proposed that there is a more solid focus on developing curriculum maps, pacing guides, and establishing what is important in concerns with the anchor standards. Though this was received well at our district improvement meeting, time wore on, and there were some complaints about what we needed to accomplish within our departments. My big question is why? Why are questioning what should be in place already.  We can’t just adopt the CCSS and say that is our curriculum. Personally, I am glad we are being asked to do this. Yes, I am willing to take time over my Summer break to make my teaching better and do what is best for students.

Overall, I am glad this year has come to a close. There are many aspects of my teaching that I am going to change. I am also spending the Summer reading some professional texts on how to become a better reading teacher. Summer is not a time to be lazy, it is time to think about our instructional practices and what we are going to do to help our students succeed. However, a few beverages are nice too!

Cheers!