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.

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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!

 


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.

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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?


Teachers Struggle Too

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(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.


“I Quit”

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.

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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:

“I quit!”
“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.


Tech or No Tech

Yesterday we had a staff meeting and to be very honest, I felt it was our most productive staff meeting we have had thus far. I am blessed with some pretty remarkable colleagues. For the past two months there has been some major issues with the technology in our building. A majority of the complaining was justified, especially when teachers couldn’t access their grade books to input grades or show students reports. My principal, who is an amazing administrator, advocates repeatedly for us, and has our backs. Today our school counselor sat us down and discussed with us how we need to stop being so dependent upon technology. She referred to a bit that was on Nightly News with Brian Williams broadcasted Wednesday, November 30th. It discussed a school that thrives on Not using technology in the classroom and throughout the whole school. Now, this was a hard pill for me to swallow because I love using technology. Another colleague and myself were just given the green light to look at smart boards and I am excited. On the other hand, as I watched this video clip and listened to what my counselor had to say, I decided I needed to make some immediate changes in my classroom and how I was instructing my students and what I was truly using technology for in my classroom. Our counselor gave us a message, and that was to remember we are the experts in our classroom, not the computers we are so desperately wanting to work. She talked about how technology should be an extension of our teaching, not let the technology do our job. Yes, this makes sense to me, I am not going to argue the point she is trying to make. I am guilty of whining and trying to spend 20 minutes getting my computer to work (now I have one that is pretty close to brand new). In addition to her discussing how technology needs to be extension of our learning, she also talked about how if we focus too much on trying to rely on technology, we lose touch with our students and the valuable relationships that need to be built with our students. Again, it makes sense, I hear the message loud and clear.

Now, the message may be loud and clear, but I love using the online tools that are available and I am not an educator that “relies” on technology to make my lesson plans, but I want my students to get with the 21st century. It is hard to believe, but I do have students who don’t have a computer or the internet at home. Is it not going to be essential for my students to be able to work with computers? Ummm, of course it is, a lot of jobs are revolving more and more around computers. I also know my students have a great deal of difficulty with problem solving skills. Could their lack of problem solving skills be due to the fact they have a lot of information right at their fingertips? Nevertheless, I won’t completely change my philosophy on using technology in the classroom, but I know I want to do a better job of reaching out to students who are hungry for an adult to have a relationship. I need to spend more time having in depth conversations and giving my students the necessary skills they need that a computer or any other piece of technology can’t give them. So, I encourage all of my fellow teacher friends to use technology to enhance your learning and not replace it. Furthermore, try and reach out to your students and build a valuable relationship with them and let them know they have someone they can trust.

Cheers!