(Picture compliments of Chris Potter on Flckr.)
This past school year presented its challenges, which is not unlike most years in the teaching profession. Every teacher struggles with lessons that don’t work out, an unruly class or student, and the every day ins and outs of teaching. When we do have the time to catch our breath, we have our own personal lives to manage. Bottom line it isn’t easy, but for the most part we manage.
For the 2014-2015 school year I was presented with the biggest challenge in my life, not just my career. October not only brought about the leaves changing color and Halloween, but a separation from my wife and eventually divorce. Needless to say I was devastated and my personal world came crashing down.
Quite often, I am not one to share too much of my personal life with my students. Don’t get me wrong, my students know a lot about me, but there are numerous things I keep secure in the ole’ brain. My divorce was no different. I didn’t share any details with my students about how my marriage failed. My principal and colleagues knew, but that was as far as my comfort zone was going. It was already stretched.
I wasn’t willing to share with my students because I was afraid to share my failure. I was a wreck and I am confident my students saw it on my face every day. As the school year progressed and my divorced was finalized, I started to realize that I may have failed at my marriage, but I didn’t fail at teaching or life. Even if I did, I needed to pick myself up and move on. After all, my ex-wife and I got along just fine and we had our own children to take care of and think about. So, instead of feeling defeated, I started to pick up the pieces. In all honesty, it was my principal who provided the spark that made me see that I am a better person and professional than what I was displaying. I needed to get my spark back!
Besides accepting the challenges that my principal set before me, I also recalled there are many students who come from split families in my district and I started to understand that I now could relate to those students a bit more and perhaps sympathize more with their situation. Furthermore, I think my students need to have more insight into my own personal life so they might have a better understanding of where I am coming from and what I am all about. They need to see that I am human, a change that I am ready to make for the 2015-2016 school year.
Failure does not mean we are less of a person. Out of failure comes success as mentioned in a video highlighting Michael Jordan and many other great individuals. I have picked up the pieces this Summer because despite my failures, I have had many successful things happen in my life. Besides, my own kids need their dad to be the best that he can be every single day and my students need me to show them that, despite the failure in their own lives, they too can succeed.
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!
First, I want to say thanks for all of my new followers here on my blog. I am trying hard to write more this school year. It is hard to believe my third week of school is over already.
This year as a staff we decided we wanted to follow a universal format for our students to write summaries. I presented the idea last year to our staff and it was accepted with open arms by everyone. To me, this was another proving point for me that as language arts teachers we need to be willing to reach across the isle and help other colleagues who aren’t so comfortable teaching students reading and writing skills. We decided to follow a format called TDPP, which comes from Get It Done! Writing and Analyzing Informational Texts to Make Things Happen by Jeff Wilhelm, Michael Smith, and Jim Fredricksen.
T – Cite the Topic
D – What are the key Details
P – How are the details are Patterned
P – What is the Point made about the topic of those patterned details
The social studies teacher and I have been working closely together to help students become better readers and writers over the past year by doing article of the week, working on a Civil War Research paper together and just making sure we are on the same page when it comes to teaching our students reading strategies. Working together has been phenomenal and because of our collaboration, our students are learning more and becoming better readers and writers.
This year as the TDPP process was being reintroduced to our 8th graders, who have already seen it for a year, the Social Studies teacher had a great conversation with the students about how to make the process easier and the students gave some remarkable feedback that was shared with me. As we discussed our students feedback on the process, it occurred to us that we needed to make some changes in the process and our approach to teaching it to help our students be more successful when writing summaries. Below are the changes that we made.
T – Cite the Topic
M – Describe the Main Ideas that support the topic (3 main idea sentences for 8th grade, advance 7th graders as the year progresses)
P – Explain what Point is being made by the main ideas
P – Wrap-uP sentence
We made the changes because the 8th graders vocalized that they were getting confused with the Details part of the TDPP process as well as the last two P’s because they almost felt they were the same. Now, we didn’t want students copying down specific details from the articles they are reading so we changed the D to an M. When discussing this with students it was helpful to talk about a grocery list and how we write down what we want, which are main ideas, but we don’t write down specific brands, which are details. It helped the students make the difference between the two.
To us, we felt the students were taking charge of their learning and we were moved by the fact they were asking questions, engaged, and willing to take an active role in their education. This reflection and feedback not only allowed our students to perform better on a concept that can at times be difficult for even college students to write, but it gave us insight into how we were teaching the students and it made us better teachers.
Personally, I am really excited how much the 8th graders have grown and retained from last year. I am excited to see where the year takes us!
The first week of the new school year is in the books. Overall, I feel we are off to a good start and moving forward nicely.
This year I am really focusing on building relationships with the students during the first two weeks of school. The first day I only discussed one rule with my 7th graders; respect me and I will respect you. Then, we spent time in a circle sharing something about ourselves. I learned a few things about my students and they were excited it wasn’t going to be another class filled with rules.
As the week progressed, students read a short story, a memoir, and did some smaller writing assignments. Yesterday I did the Marshmallow Challenge with my 7th graders. If you have never done this with your students, I highly recommend this activity to witness your students problem solving skills and it is an activity that helps them develop their collaboration skills. The gist of the challenge is participants have 1 marshmallow, 20 pieces of spaghetti, 1 yard of string, and 1 yard of masking tape. They must create a free standing structure in 18 minutes with the last thing on top being the marshmallow. Tallest structure wins. I usually give the winning group suckers.
I am always super excited about having my students participate in this activity…until yesterday. Needless to say I was very disappointed with not only how most of the students performed, but the number of times I heard:
“This is hard.”
“I give up!”
“This is impossible.”
By the time my third section of 7th graders left my room for the day, I couldn’t help but shake my head and begin to worry about how my 7th grade students are going to perform this year. I was pleased with a number of the groups and the structures they built, but at times my coaching voice kept trying to creep to the surface of my throat and I had to keep pushing it back down. I would reply to the students by telling them that quitting and giving up in middle school is not an option.
I really worry about the work ethic and the perseverance that our students are lacking and it seems to be getting worse. I truly do believe in having compassion for students, but I also believe there are times they are going to have man up or woman up to the challenges that face them. I refuse to hold the hands of middle schoolers unless absolutely necessary. Middle school is a huge transition from elementary school and I will continue to encourage them to do their best and I will not accept mediocrity from my students.
As a society, we need to challenge our children to problem solve and not always lend a helping hand. After all, some of the greatest success’ does come from failure.
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!
An interesting read!
It’s 4 a.m. I’ve struggled for the last hour to go to sleep. But, I can’t. Yet again, I am tossing and turning, unable to shut down my brain. Why? Because I am stressed about my students. Really stressed. I’m so stressed that I can only think to write down what I really want to say — the real truth I’ve been needing to say — and vow to myself that I will let my students hear what I really think tomorrow.
This is what students really need to hear:
First, you need to know right now that I care about you. In fact, I care about you more than you may care about yourself. And I care not just about your grades or your test scores, but about you as a person. And, because I care, I need to be honest with you. Do I have permission to be…
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