Thursday, January 31, 2008

Carnival of Education 01/29/08

The 156th edition of The Carnival of Education (hosted this week by Creating Lifelong Learners) is now open. Come and read some interesting articles. There is even one there by me.

Resolving Conflicts with Colleagues

This is a biggie no matter what line of work anyone is in. I tried to make it a practice of never talking behind someone’s back and it really helped me in all of the jobs that I have held. School are small communities or societies, and if you want to survive, you need to have some basic groundrules for yourself that you will live by. This was a main one that I followed and it helped me develop some great relationships with my colleagues because they trusted me. I also made it very clear to my friends and colleagues that I worked with (including the janitor) that I would not talk behind their backs and I hope they would do the same for me.

If I had a problem with a colleague, I would talk to them privately without anyone else around at a time when I could talk calmly about the situation. I tried to use all those techniques you learn in college about not making them defensive. I started to talk about how I was having a problem because this always makes the other person more receptive. I would state the whole situation very matter of fact, as objective as I could be. I would use phrases like “I felt… I perceived…it made me” I then made sure that the other person saw that I understood this was my problem (it really was since I was the one that was upset and not them) and asked for their help in resolving my problem. By approaching it this way, it opened up the lines of communication and they were able to share things from their perspective. I had to constantly remind myself not to get defensive and talk calmly because I might learn something that I hadn’t thought of. I didn’t always come away satisfied that the problem was fixed but I gained a better respect for my colleague and I hope they felt that way about me.

This worked really well one day when my trash can was not emptied for 3 days. I actually talked to the person who cleaned my room and asked if there was any problem that I could help them with. By doing this, I found out that her daughter had a serious health problem and she had to leave early those 3 days. She was under the impression that someone had been taking over her duties and didn’t realize no one had been. Instead of complaining about her behind her back, I first wanted to talk to her and confront the problem. This kept a lot of bad feelings from happening and helped our relationship.

I have also had an April Fool’s joke pulled on me by my students. One student who was pregnant pretended to be in labor and the whole class went along with it. Apparently another teacher had thought it was funny and encouraged them to do this. Of course I freaked out and called the nurse, who called her mother, and other officials. My students then freaked out about the magnitude of the situation and no one announced that it was all a joke. I found out the next class period when the girl’s sister asked me if I enjoyed the joke! Then I had to go call everyone off to tell them it was a joke played on me. After getting in touch with everyone, I marched down to the other teacher’s room to tell her that I was furious with her. When she found out what had happened she told me she was sorry, and that there was nothing she could do to change what happened, and she hoped that I would get over being mad at her because she didn’t mean for it to ruin our friendship. It took me a couple of days but I got over it and we are still friends almost 30 years later.

I’m not saying that the outcome will always be positive but I feel that I am seen more as a professional if I stay away from saying something about someone without telling them to their face. I have even been known to tell someone after the fact that they came up in a topic of conversation and what I had said. This way, in case someone else brings it to their attention, they can respond that they already know about it. Sometimes we don’t always come to an agreement about the subject but at least the other person knows that I’m honest and then we can agree to disagree. I really believe the key to a successful relationship with colleagues is open communication.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Knowing Your Subject Like the Back of Your Hand

Recently, I received an email asking me “Do teachers automatically know the subject that he or she teaches like the back of his/her hand? Or is this a seasoned and practiced knowledge that a teacher develops over time?”

As I look back onto my first years of teaching, I remember that I felt like I knew nothing about my subject that I had to teach. This was totally overwhelming and really not addressed on the college level before I got my first job. I remember feeling excited about teaching but also knowing that I didn’t know everything and feeling panic because how could I teach if I didn’t know! It hit me that even though I had gone through student teaching, the supervising teacher was the one who knew what she was doing and new the subject, not me. As a teacher, there was no safety net and I was the one expected to know what I was doing and know the subject. Now in my later years, I realized that teaching really means lifelong learning and that you will never know all there is to teach about any given subject. Sure, you will know a lot and may even become what is known as an expert in your field, but that will take time, experience and you still will not know everything.

College gave me a foundation for teaching. I took courses in teaching strategies and techniques as well as learning about my subject area. Even if the professors told me that I would learn as I taught, it didn’t really hit me until I found myself in the real situation. All subject areas have different topics that can be focused on in the school and may be taught during different grades. Until I got my job, I didn’t know what my topic may be or what levels I would teach so there is no way that college could prepare me for one specific area. All they can do is to give me as much information as necessary to keep me from falling on my face.

At first I was overwhelmed with the procedures and policies of my new school. I asked for a copy of these as soon as I was hired so I could get comfortable with them before I started teaching. Once I got over the panic, I soon realized most of the rules are pretty common sense. Then I asked to meet with the department chair to get an overall view of what I would be teaching. This person was able to guide me in the right direction and saved me a lot of time. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel when you first start teaching unless you have to. You will have time to try new innovative ideas once you get acclimated. If the department chair is unavailable or unable to help you, ask to speak with another teacher in your department. See if this person would give you a sample syllabus or overview of how they teach. Getting a sample syllabus saved my sanity! This brought everything into focus for me and gave me a starting point.

Once I knew what I was teaching, I started to study the subject myself. I listed the goals that I wanted to teach my students that year and came up with a plan of action on how I would do that. Once I broke down my plan into something tangible, I could see what areas I would need to brush up on. When the administration asks for your “long term plans” this is not just for evaluating you but making sure that you have a plan for your year and can actually be a great tool for you to use. If I had the chance, I would mention this in my department meeting and other teachers would offer great ideas and suggestions. I didn’t mind them doing this and took notes because I knew I was learning a lot from their experience. They may also be able to point out the flaws in my plan and help me be more realistic in my expectations.

The main thing I remember doing was making myself to stop thinking in panic mode. I had to remember that I was prepared to teach and this was an opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life. I needed to understand that I might make mistakes but I would also gain so much so it would be worth it. I have said this in previous posts but I think it is worth mentioning again. As teachers, we are constantly growing, learning, and developing and that is what it takes to be successful in the classroom.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Contents of My Teacher Portfolio

I was talking to a new teacher recently who will need to have a teacher portfolio ready for evaluation purposes next year and she wanted to know what I had in my portfolio. Of course there are the required documents that the district asks for but I tried to make my portfolio something that I could use or refer back to if needed (especially for the next year if I wanted to make changes, I had originals in the portfolio to refer to).

Required stuff include my syllabus, class rules, seating chart, class roll, grading procedures and copy of gradebook, and daily procedures. I also added substitute lesson plans because even though I might change the assignment, I kept the format for the plans.

I liked to put in a sample lesson plan, photos of my class engaged in a lesson, photos of speakers who came to my class, and examples of student’s work. I also asked people to take a photo of me while I was teaching. These are great to show potential employers if you are going to a new school.

I also included emails to/from parents and to/from colleagues. This shows that you can collaborate with other people using technology. A phone log is also included to show that I communicated with parents by phone also. The log showed the dates, the name of the student, and a brief comment about what the phone conversation was about. This was also handy if there was a conflict with a student and I needed to have a conference. I could refer back to our conversations.

I also added items that I created like worksheets, overheads, PowerPoint presentations, photos of hands on visuals or anything that showed how creative I could be. If I used the Smart Board, I would take a photo of the lesson done on that also. I also wanted to show that I was able to use a variety of techniques and strategies to reach students who were on different levels and had different styles of learning.

Awards and certificates were included also. I was able to show that I was constantly trying to develop professionally and staying current in my field. I feel this is very important to be able to know what new ideas are out there so that I could try some of them. This is what helped me be a successful teacher. Being a teacher means you are always learning and growing because teaching is not a stagnant career.

I felt like my portfolio should show what kind of teacher I was and the things that I was proud of doing in my classroom. I could show it to any parent, colleague, or administrator as a way of showing that learning was taking place in my classroom. Keep in mind that my portfolio was always changing, and developing. Old things were replaced with current items and I was able to see how I was changing and developing too as a teacher.

Monday, January 28, 2008

What does Administrative Support mean?

What does administrative support mean? In discussing this with others, I have found out the definition changes according to the position the person holds. This variety of views can cause a lot of misunderstanding in the workplace and cause a lot of miscommunication. Seeing this from a lot of different perspectives enlightened me more about the difficult job our administrators have.

As a department chair, I was the liaison between my administration and the teachers in my department. In a school with over 100 teachers, it was difficult for the administration to make every teacher happy and meet all of their needs. Many times I had to request things from my department that I felt were unrealistic but I requested it because they asked me to do so. Unfortunately they were not always happy with the answer they got and sometimes felt that I did not represent them well. Being in on meetings with other department chairs and the administration let me see things in a different light where I saw more of the “big picture.” As a department we were more egocentric because we wanted the best for our department, which is not a bad thing. Sometimes the principal would have to do things for the good of the school instead of just the department and I guess sometimes we need to remember that our department isn’t the only one in the school.

I also saw that administrative support from the administrators was very different from what teachers expected and I think there should be a lot of conversation about this at the beginning of the year between both groups. Sometimes I felt that we were talking two different languages and when it got to the point where it was needed, feelings were hurt and people reacted instead of just acted.
As a teacher, I felt that administrative support means that:

1. The administration will back me up in conflicts with students and/or parents. (If there is a problem, talk to me in private and not in front of the student and parent)
2. The administration will be consistent in student discipline. (All students will receive the same punishment for the same crimes. I have heard the students ask to go to one asst. principal because he didn’t get detentions etc.)
3. I will get the materials that I need to teach effectively.(Books and equipment will be provided in time for me to teach my lessons.)
4. I will have time to plan my lessons regularly. (Many times I was asked to cover a class for a teacher during my planning period. I don’t mind doing this once in a while but not all of the time because other teachers refused to take their turn.)
5. I will be given time to collaborate with my colleagues. (Even if it is once a month during faculty meetings.)
6. I will not be asked to attend meetings that aren’t relevant to my teaching. (I have had to go to so many meetings just to show that I went to a meeting and had professional development. If I have to go, provide professional development that is relevant to my field.)
7. I will not be asked to serve on too many committees. (It seems like the same teachers are always asked to serve on committees. Administrators should share the “wealth” among all of the teachers.)
8. I will be given duties around the school no more and no less than any other teacher. (Someone shouldn’t get out of duties because they are the principal’s “pet”)
9. I will be evaluated fairly (I am expected to turn in the same things as my colleagues, not less and not more and not according to which administrator is my evaluator.)
10. I can go to my administrator with a problem. (Sometimes to vent, and sometimes for help solving a problem)
11. Teachers are treated professionally and not like students. (Teachers should be able to leave for lunch or planning periods when necessary).

Some administrators that I have spoken to feel that to show administrative support means to:

1. Allow teachers to discipline their students because the administration trusts the teachers. (There is a fine line where they don’t want to undermine the teacher’s authority.)
2. Allow teachers to deal with students and parents so that administrators can concentrate on the school as a whole. (There isn’t enough time in the day to deal with each and every problem as soon as the teacher wants it to be dealt with.)
3. Allow teachers to request the materials they need when they need it. (They can’t know what every department must have so they wait for the request rather than offer materials that might not be appropriate or even needed.)
4. Make sure that the school is run properly so that teachers can teach. (There are many different departments that are necessary to run a school and all of them need to be considered when making decisions.)
5. Make sure that all departments have what they need, as much as the budget will allow. (This means that some teachers may have to “float” because there are not enough rooms in the building.)
6. Make the best decisions that will affect the most people in a positive way (which means that some people will not get what they want).
7. Plan a school schedule that will affect the most people in a positive way (some teachers may not have planning periods the same time as their friends or they might not teach the course/grade they want).
8. Expect teachers to act professionally and not like students (I have seen teachers who were late to work, late to class, left during planning periods and were late returning, leaving early, letting students leave class early and squabbling with other teachers. All of the teachers were penalized because of these few since the administration was trying to be “fair.”)

I think if there was a lot more communication about this, teachers would be able to handle the decisions better even if it didn’t come out in their favor. Teachers can’t expect the school to be a perfect workplace and we need to remember that administrators are human. Just like in our classrooms, and families, sometimes there are individual situations that need to be taken into account. By keeping the lines of communication open with administrators will help make teachers more successful in the classroom.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Useful Information for In and Out of the Classroom 01/25/08

Here are some interesting sites that I’ve found interesting this week. As a teacher, I feel we have to keep up to date concerning research in our field and current issues in the education system. I hope some of these inspire you, inform you, and even have you asking questions. Thank you for coming by and visiting!

Algebra Fun with Calendars

Worksheets Generator – Worksheets that are already done for you

Teachers First – teacher resource for lessons, units, and web resources

Teacher's Net'sEffective Teaching by Harry and Rosemary Wong give a “new collection of classroom strategies and approaches designed to help teachers.”

Songs for Teaching: using music to promote learning

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Memorization is Good for the Brain

I have heard some fellow teachers argue that rote memorization doesn’t teach our students anything but I disagree. I think it is an important part of our learning process and should be encouraged every year. We learned to memorize the alphabet, the spelling of our name, our address and lots of other useful information that is important to us. I have to memorize things all of the time but as I get older I notice that it is harder for me to remember things. I feel that by practicing memorization, we are actually exercising our brain and keeping certain paths or connections open for more information. I tell my students that exercising our brain is just like exercising our muscles in our arms and legs. If we don’t use it, we will lose it. I was even told that I couldn’t expect much from my special education students because they are disabled and can’t memorize things. That is totally condescending and insulting to my students. It is the self fulfilling prophesy and if you tell these kids they can’t enough times, they never will try. I have had my students practice multiplication tables and we do drills with them. I had my students memorize the national anthem, our school’s alma mater, and even the poem “Trees” by Joyce Kilmer (all of this was not done in one year though). Some of my students were able to memorize all of the things and others were not, but at least they tried. I could not do 100 pushups like some of my students but I could try. That is the whole object of this lesson.

I’m not saying that the only learning they should have is memorization but it is as important as other parts of learning. Sure, they will need to learn how to think critically and analyze and all of that other stuff but I hope teachers aren’t discounting how important memorization is as a step for other learning to happen. I think it is important from early childhood to the college level.

How do you feel about this? Do you agree or disagree?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

155th Carnival of Education is on the Midway!

The 155th Carnival of Education is up on the midway hosted by The Median Sib! Drop by to read some interesting stuff! It's a great way to see what issues are flying around the blogosphere.

Reflection Can Improve Your Teaching

Joel of So You Can Teach? talks about how blogging helps him become a better teacher and his number one reason is for self reflection. I feel that self reflection should be a major tool in our teaching toolbox. When I was working towards my National Board Certification, this played a big part of the process and I realized this helped me become a much better teacher. Reflection made me thing about what I was doing and why was I doing it. By linking it to a standard or having a concrete reason for asking students to do something made me be more accountable. It made me really focus on having a strong reason for my actions and my students’ actions. If I couldn’t come up with a valid reason (backed up by research or data), then I shouldn’t be wasting anyone’s time doing whatever I was doing. I needed to make sure my instruction was valid and relevant. I liked to think that I was a good teacher and didn’t just do things that were considered busy work but this made me more aware of my actions. Once I got into the habit of this reflection, I noticed that it became more natural when planning my lessons. My reflection also helped me catch glitches or problems before I actually taught the lesson which again helped me become a better teacher. By being a better teacher, my students were more successful.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Obey the law – Should this be taught in schools?

In a recent discussion with a friend, he felt that we should be telling our students to “obey the law and not rob banks, or commit assaults…” He felt so strongly about this but it made me feel uncomfortable that a parent thought it was my job to do this. Even some legislators feel that teachers should be doing this by requiring that we teach character education in the classroom. I feel that teachers have enough to do and that it is the parents’ responsibility to teach ethics and morals including character education. I feel that my values and morals may be somewhat different from a parent and may step on someone’s toes if I tried to instill my values on a student. By impressing my morals on a student, it may also seem judgmental towards parents. I believe that we all feel that committing crimes are wrong but I feel that this should not be taught in the schools. My friend felt that this is not being taught at home so it is our responsibility to teach this in school. But where do we draw the line? What I may feel is wrong, a parent might not view it as wrong. Then this could lead into the debate of abortion vs. the right to life, drinking alcohol vs. alcohol abstinence, safe sex and sexual abstinence and lots of other issues that I honestly don’t think teachers have time for in the classroom. I think also that we have so many more issues that need to be taught in the classroom and teachers are already overwhelmed with requirements and restrictions. I believe ethics and morals are very important and that students need to be taught them but they need to be taught at home. Parents should be teaching that lying is wrong, stealing is wrong, and honesty and integrity is important. We are already being bombarded with standards and testing so shouldn’t parents take some responsibility for their children at home? Am I the only one that feels this way?

Friday, January 18, 2008

Useful Information for In and Out of the Classroom 01/18/08

Here are some interesting sites that I’ve found interesting this week. As a teacher, I feel we have to keep up to date concerning research in our field and current issues in the education system. I hope some of these inspire you, inform you, and even have you asking questions. Thank you for coming by and visiting!

Roadside America - most of our kids (and some of us) are not aware of what is around our country. This is a great way to explore!

Instructional Strategies Online - great explanation and clarification of strategies that teachers use

There’s No Practice Like Best Practice: Making Sense of the Research, Recommendations,and Rhetoric of Professional Teaching - How many times have we asked ourselves what "best practice" means?

8 Essential Strategies to Saying “No” - I don't know about you, but I am really bad about overcommitting myself to everything!

Learning & The Brain: interview with Robert Sylwester

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The 154th Carnival of Education

The 154th Carnival of Education is now on the midway hosted by Eduwonkette. The red carpet is out and lots of wonderful education articles are up for awards! Come by and join the fun!

Use Listening to Music as a Story Prompt

When I was a student (many many years ago!) we were encouraged to write while listening to different types of music. By doing that, my teacher instilled in me a love of writing and a love of music. I was taught to feel the mood of the music and to write about the action going on and tell about the scene. I would describe the setting and the characters. Then I tell the story that showed the characters interacting and all of this was brought out by the music. It was a wonderful time in my life!

I decided to try that with my students and it was so successful! I encouraged them to use their imagination and that there were no limits to what could happen during this time. At first, they were apprehensive and wanted to know how long it should be, and how picky would I be about grammar and spelling. I told them that they would be graded on participation only. If I saw them not working while the music was playing, they would lose 5 points every time I saw them not working. It was totally amazing the work they turned in! I even asked some of them if they would share their story with the class but if they didn’t want to, they didn’t have to.

When I looked over the work, I looked for the mistakes they made in writing and made a list. During the next class we talked about the mistakes that the majority of students made and worked on those skills. The next time we wrote, I asked them to focus on one of the skills and really try hard not to make those mistakes with that one skill. When they focused on this and didn’t feel a lot of pressure from me, they did much better. While reading the stories, if I couldn’t read a word, I had the student tell me the word and I correctly spelled it for them. I asked them to use this paper as a reference next time to spell the words correctly. This helped them improve in spelling.

By doing this once a week, their writing improved and the creativity was encouraged. Since I taught a special education class, writing was definitely not one of their strengths but this was a great way to get them writing. While their writing improved, their reading actually improved also. I believe that writing and reading goes hand in hand and this was a great way for the class to do both.

Students also learned different types of music and I told them they didn’t have to like all of them but if they weren’t exposed to different ones, how they would know. I used classical, bluegrass, jazz, and Celtic music but I admit that I didn’t play hard rock or rap because I felt like my students were exposed to that enough. I also noticed that certain music tended to calm some of my ADD students and my emotionally disabled students, so I was extremely pleased with doing this lesson often. After the initial resistance to hearing music they weren’t used to and writing stories, which they also weren’t used to, my students really got into this lesson and looked forward to it.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Vermiculture – the art of worm composting

A few years ago I hiked up to the Len Foote Hike Inn where they practice vermiculture. You see, the only way to this inn is to hike 5 miles up a mountain and since they are so far in the woods, they can’t just set out the trash like we do. Instead they recycle their organic waste back into the soil using worms. I thought this was such a great idea that I wanted to share it with my students.

First I read the book Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof, which gives instructions on setting up a worm composting system. Then I talked my parents into helping me build some wooden worm bins which, like good parents, they did even though they thought I was crazy. I also had to talk my husband into getting $100 worth of worms to go in the bins. I didn’t want to get my class to do this before I was sure I could do it and it worked. This was so easy to set up and do that I can’t believe I hadn’t done it sooner. Once I saw this would be a great project for my students, I presented them with the project.

At first, my students were a little apprehensive about dealing with worms but I assured them (and their parents) that they would wear rubber gloves. Some of the students didn’t want to touch the worms until some of the other students went first and really got into the lessons. By the end of the year, all of my students were comfortable handling the worms and their poop. Another concern was the smell of a compost bin in the classroom. If there is the proper aeration, there will be absolutely no smell. Nobody ever knew about our bin unless we specifically pointed it out to them. Instead of building wooden bins though, we used plastic tubs that were on sale at WalMart. This was on a much smaller scale than the one I had at home but it was perfect for my class. In fact, the book Worms Eat My Garbage was so great, I used it as my science textbook in my class ( level: grade 5 to adult). There is also another book by Mary Appelhof that I used with my lessons called Worms Eat Our Garbage: Classroom Activities for a Better Environment (level: grade 4-8). My students were so excited that they were bringing in scraps of food after lunch for our compost bin.

By the time spring began, we had enough compost to spread around the school in the flower pots and flower beds. We had thought about bagging the compost and selling it as a fundraiser but our system was not big enough to sustain a business.

My students enjoyed this year long project and it was extremely successful. I suggest that if you want to start one for next year, you need to begin thinking about it now. Here are some websites that may be good resources: (Mary Appelhof’s website)
Earthworm Digest
How to talks about worm composting

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Class Size – Learning to Live With It

There has been a lot of discussion over the blogosphere about class size lately. The majority agrees that small class size is the best but there are debates about what size is effective and how to go about getting it. I’m not here to debate about it because I feel that I can be most effective if my class size is small. But what if I didn’t have a small class? As a teacher, I learned quickly that I didn’t have any control over my class size. I could yell, scream, complain, and whine but ultimately it wasn’t my decision.

On the first day of classes at my new school, due to a schedule mix up, I ended up with 30 students in one high school English class. Now, some of you might say that this wasn’t as bad as some could be. The problem was that this was a self contained special education class with students from 9th to 12th grade with all different disabilities (learning disabled, emotionally disabled, mentally disabled, and autistic). I also shared a paraprofessional with another teacher, but it was not my turn to have her. Of course I knew that we would have to fix schedules which would take time, but I had to deal with the situation that I had. I was told that it could possibly take up to a week or two to fix the schedules. I didn’t think that was fair or right for my students but there was nothing I could do except make the best of a bad situation. I have always heard that when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. So that is what I tried to do.

First of all, I asked students to get in groups of 5, which helped me with management. I asked that one person in each group become the leader. Each leader knew the names of each person in their group and let me know who was missing each day so I could take attendance. Many of the students enjoyed this position of leadership. This leader was also responsible for getting handouts for every person in their group and collecting papers from the members of their group. I would have a special place for handouts so that when it was time, leaders knew where to pick them up for their groups. I was amazed how much this freed up some of my time. This leader was also responsible in reporting at fire drills which students were missing. This helped me take attendance in class and at drills much quicker.

After I taught a group lesson, the students worked on their assignment. I let them get in groups to help each other. I also explained that this did not mean copying each other’s work, because if it became a problem, we would not work in groups. When I explained things like this to the students ahead of time, instead of after a problem, they tended to respect the rules better. If necessary, I changed students’ groups but only as a last resort. As the students worked, I was able to walk around and go to each group in order to answer questions. When the students helped each other, they also did not get bored waiting for me to come around to help them.

I also had to be better organized than if I had a smaller class. I had to have routines and procedures set up so there would be less confusion. As students entered the class, I would have an opening assignment every day that they needed to start on as soon as they got to class. This was collected 5 minutes after the bell rang. During this time, I was able to check with the leaders to take attendance and handle any procedural paperwork (absentee notes etc.) required by the school for each class. My opening assignment usually consisted of copying a motivational quote and then writing a paragraph in their journals. At the end of each quarter, students were allowed to take their journals home to keep. This assignment worked well for students on different levels.

I’m not saying that life got easy because of what I did but it made it easier to bear. I have also been in situations where my class size was 22 for a self contained class so I’ve used these ideas in most of my big classes. As I said before, I feel a small class size is most effective, but sometimes you have to deal with what you have.

Do you have any other suggestions for dealing with large class sizes? If so, feel free to leave a comment so we can learn about it.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Date Violence-is not a rare event!

While on a hike with a group of friends, I had mentioned that I was concerned about the violence among dating teens today. One man made the statement that smart women do not get abused, which totally astounded me. I was extremely proud of a friend who took exception to this remark and confronted this man about his statement. I admired the courage to admit that she had been a victim of abuse and that his point of view was outrageously wrong because I’m not always good at leaving my comfort zone. Well, talking about and/or experiencing violence of any kind is not a comfortable zone to be in and shouldn’t be. This whole conversation actually made me wonder how many other people have this erroneous point of view and actually pass this view on to our young people. I believe we need to do better job in educating teens that there is no excuse for abuse and it should not be tolerated as well as educating the general public that “abuse affects people of every gender, race, class, sexual orientation and nationality” according to The Alabama Coalition Against Domestic Violence(ACADV)and Palo Alto Medical Foundation.

I feel that informing students about dating violence is important but I was alarmed at how often dating violence is happening. states that, “Violent behavior that takes place in a context of dating or courtship is not a rare event.” “Statistics show that one in three teenagers has experienced violence in a dating relationship,” according to The Alabama Coalition Against Domestic Violence(ACADV. “Almost none of these teens tell their parents, and most teens in abusive relationships don't know where to seek help. (Palo Alto Medical Foundation)”

I plan to stress that getting abused has nothing to do with how smart or intelligent the victim may be. I plan to make more people aware of the alarming statistics and try to brainstorm ways to help educate students on what to do and where to seek help. Students will probably be able to give some great input to this also. The biggest obstacle with combating dating violence is not the intelligence of the victim but the ignorance of most people about the growing problem. Maybe if we can break the cycle with teenagers, we can change the statistics. We just need to start somewhere.

Do you have any suggestions for this? Feel free to leave your suggestions in your comments so others may get some good ideas. Thanks!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Useful Information for In and Out of the Classroom 01/11/08

Here are some interesting sites that I’ve found interesting this week. As a teacher, I feel we have to keep up to date concerning research in our field and current issues in the education system. I hope some of these inspire you, inform you, and even have you asking questions. Thank you for coming by and visiting!

Joel of So You Want To Teach? posted some really interesting videos on teaching styles using Power Teaching. There were examples of Power Teaching being taught at different levels from first grade to the college level.

TED: Ideas worth spreading

Qtoro: What did you learn today?- This is a kind of trivia game

Going to the Mat discusses Senator Kennedy on NCLB Reauthorization. Very interesting points are made in this!

Principled Discovery has a great post that shows “some interesting statistics from USA Today’s analysis of Department of Education statistics.” A great point was made about the most significant change was in attitudes and expectations.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Writing Grants to Make Your Dreams Come True

I have written many grants over the years and was given funding for ideas that I hoped really helped my students. I have received grants to teach landscaping around the school building and enabled my class to plant 30 huge pear trees, put in azalea beds, and surround a softball field with holly bushes. The money bought equipment, material and plants. One time I received a grant that enabled me to teach my students how to mat and frame pictures. Another time the money bought Dr. Seuss books and food so my class could learn to read to the elementary school students and then serve refreshments. Last year I got a grant to buy a class set of books and invite the speaker to come talk to our school which turned out to be a great success. I know it takes times and energy to do this but it is well worth the chance. It involves organization and planning ahead of time so I had to start early. How could I encourage my students to work hard and risk being turned down if I wasn’t willing to show them how to try? Sure, I didn’t always get the grant but I know I couldn’t have gotten it if I didn’t even bother to apply. Here are some websites that might motivate, inspire and even help you write a grant. Now is the time to think about this for next year.

Beginning Grant Writing

Educator’s Grant Information

GrantsAlert - helps you find grant opportunities and also give resources to help write a grant

Education Grants

Education World Grants Center - learn about current education grants, discover additional grant sources, and find grant writing tips and resources.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

It’s Okay to Make Mistakes

When I first started teaching, I wanted the students to think I knew everything. I didn’t want to tell them I didn’t know or I was wrong about something. This was definitely the wrong thing to think. Students respect you more if you are willing to admit that you don’t know everything and will help them find the answers. I think this also helps their self concept because they don’t feel like they are stupid for not knowing everything. This is a good way for students to see that everyone is human and that no one can know everything there is to know. The most important thing is for them to learn how to search for the answers. I tell my students that this is the key to everything.

It is also alright to tell them that you were wrong about something. A long time ago I read somewhere (but I can’t remember where) that “An error is not a terror.” and I use this saying a lot in my classroom. My teachers used to tell me that is why they put erasers on pencils. The important thing to do is to correct your mistakes and learn from them. It doesn’t do any good to keep making the same mistakes over and over. That is why when I check student’s work I make them correct the errors before I will give them a grade on the work. This doesn’t change the grade but it does help them learn from their errors. At first this really annoys them because they think by correcting the work they should get a higher grade but I stand by my rule and eventually they see that I won’t back down and correct the work. I have student refuse to correct it and I refuse to give them a grade so I do not let them go on to any new work until the corrections have been made. When they see their classmates moving forward, they usually figure out that they better do what is necessary to move forward too. If that doesn’t work, I usually call home to explain my procedures and the reasons why I do this and that takes care of the problem. It doesn’t do any good to grade some work wrong, give it back to the student who glances at the grade and then shoves it in a book bag or in the trash without ever looking at it again. They will continue to make the same mistakes over and over again. Hopefully this will increase the success they have in other lessons because the foundation of learning will be set.

Carnival of Education 01/09/08

Check out the 153rd edition of the Carnival of Education. There are lots of interesting articles to read (including one of mine about the Teacher's Lounge). Have fun!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Teaching the Election Process Now!

With the spotlight on Presidential candidates, the time to teach the election process is now. Every year it seems like fewer people are registering to vote and even though they register, they don’t get out to vote. How many times have you heard “my vote won’t matter!” As educators, I think we need to teach our students, the future leaders of our country, that their vote will count. Maybe by the time they are adults, it is too late to change their mindset, but as children, maybe we can make an impact. If we can teach the students how to learn about the candidates so that they can make an informed decision, they may feel more comfortable with voting. I know that the person in charge of our county election commission will come to the school to talk about election process.

I usually focus on the President and Vice President offices unless it is a nonpresidential year, when I might focus on the Governor and Lieutenant Governor. I want to pick the high profile offices because there is usually a lot of information on them. Then we list the candidates for each office and I ask students to pick a candidate to follow. I have them cut out articles from the paper or off the internet to discuss. They can also take notes from debates and TV ads. If possible, I try to tape the debates so we can watch them in class. We also list major topics that we want to like education, environment, taxes, etc and find out how the candidate feels about each one. Once a week, I let students share with the class the information that they have gathered. I encourage questions about the candidate’s platform and if they can’t answer them, I encourage them to find out the answers. This also leads to discussions at home, which I think are wonderful. Sometimes students will start pulling for one candidate over enough but I explain to them to wait until they feel comfortable with all the information they need to make an informed decision. At no time do I try to sway my students to support one candidate over another though and I usually tell them I’m undecided until election time because I’m gathering information. Otherwise, some students want to pick whichever one I like (thinking it will help their grade) or parents may feel like I’m campaigning for a certain candidate (which I don’t want to do in the classroom).

I think this process can be taught in elementary school and up. I remember when I was in elementary school and standing at the bus stop, we debated whether Jimmy Carter would be a good president (oops! Am I showing my age now?). Children are talking about the process because the media is flooded with this information! I think it is important to teach them how to sift through the information for fact and fiction in order to be better informed. This will improve reading skills and teach them how to analyze information. This was very successful in my class and hopefully it will be in yours too.

Monday, January 7, 2008

It Pays To Be Nice

Man leaves $50,000, car to waitress

This article made me think of how I am always telling my students that “You get more flies with honey than vinegar!” Some people may call it butt-kissing or brown nosing but it doesn’t matter what you call it, it pays off. I always told my students that they never know when they will see someone again so it always pays off to be nice to people, even if you don’t feel like they deserve it. This news article is proof that what I have taught exists. I know this waitress could have been mean or said something nasty to this man but she kept control of herself and did her job. As teachers, we have to do that almost every day when we are working with students, their parents, administrators, or even other colleagues. I wonder if someday I will end up working for a former student. I always laugh when former teachers come before my husband, who is a judge, and they are scared to death. Apparently these teachers and my husband did not get along for the most part and they had written him off as worthless and would never amount to much. He was the square peg that didn’t fit into the round hole (but that is a whole other story). Here they are, with him deciding their fate, praying that he doesn’t remember what they said about him or how they treated him. Luckily for them, he has grown up to be fair and admits that he probably deserved a lot of that. To be honest, he usually doesn’t remember them (maybe it was a traumatic time in his life) and wouldn’t remember them if they didn’t come up to introduce themselves after court. They are always amazed at his success and compliment him on his accomplishment. I never forget this when I’m teaching because that could be me someday, whether in court, or a doctor’s office, or who knows where.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Useful Information for In and Out of the Classroom 01/04/08

Here are some interesting sites that I’ve found interesting this week. As a teacher, I feel we have to keep up to date concerning research in our field and current issues in the education system. I hope some of these inspire you, inform you, and even have you asking questions. Thank you for coming by and visiting!

Gosh Beav, How Do I Maintain Discipline? – I saw this in NYC educator’s blog and loved the video. It is a black and white video from many (and I do mean many) years ago that demonstrates classroom discipline. The funny thing is that the points still apply to today’s classroom.

The Newseum – an interactive news museum. I visited the actual Newseum when it was in Arlington, VA. I can’t wait until the new one opens in Washington DC some time in 2008. Until this, this site has some fun things to explore.

The future of education (Part 1 and Part 2) is discussed in the DeHavilland Blog. Interesting statistics were given about education that really makes you think about where education is today.

Classtools: make your own free flashgames for educators. I haven’t used this yet but I will keep it in my “toolbox” for future use.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Teaching Social Skills #2

I want to thank Tom Hanson for sharing his post with me from Open Education: To Increase Student Achievement Should We Focus on Social Skills? after reading my post on Teaching Social Skills.

I was so glad to see that someone else was in agreement with me. I have taught this way for years even knowing that I was like salmon swimming upstream. Yet teachers came to me and asked me why my students learned so much better in my class. Parents even noticed the difference and wanted students in my class. I see education as a whole mind and body experience not just an academic/brain issue.

Years ago I gave students in two different self contained special education classes a self concept test and an achievement test at the beginning of the year. The results showed that both classes of special education students had very low self concepts and low achievement scores. During the year I spent a lot of additional time on teaching social skills to my class in addition to the academic skills required for both classes. The other teacher only taught the academic requirements without any extra social skills instruction (in fact she spent a lot of the year rolling her eyes at me and shaking her head thinking I was wasting my time). During that year, my students became more accepted by their peers as they began interacting more appropriately, which in turn increased their self concept. My students seemed to have fewer conflicts with their peers and their other teachers, which meant more time spent in the classroom rather than an administrator’s office. These students were also getting more positive attention from peers, teachers, and even their parents. At the end of the year I gave the self concept test and achievement test again to compare scores. I was not in the least surprised when both scores of my entire class had increased greatly and the other class (who had no special instruction in social skills) only showed small improvement in achievement and very little change in self concept. I also interviewed my students after reviewing the test results with them. Some of my students felt like teachers helped them more now rather than before they learned these social skills. Even if that was not true, the students perceived it to be true which hopefully would motivate them to continue this behavior. I also feel that as their self concept improved, the students became more relaxed and able to retain more information from the lesson, which improved their overall achievement scores

I wish there was a way to convince administrators and other teachers that this is a great way to help our students be more successful.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Using Comics to Teach Reading in the Classroom

Imagine having a class of 15-19 year olds who really want to learn to read or read better but not in a baby sort of way. What could I do? I hunted for low reading level but high interest material for them! I actually found a set of comic classics in the dumpster of my district office (I don’t recommend that for everyone but years ago I was desperate). Now there is an instructional library for teachers that has material like this available so you might want to check with your district on this. The two best hits were The Scarlet Letter and the Tale of Two Cities. My students loved the idea that they were reading novels just like higher level students. My students were able to discuss and answer questions on a higher level but they just couldn’t read or write on a higher level and this made them extremely frustrated. I gave them comprehension questions that asked for the main ideas, details, sequencing, drawing conclusions, analysis of the literature just like other students were given but just in a different way. Some of these assignments were given orally to students, or they had peer tutors to read the questions on a tape recorder. Responses could be given on another tape recorder or artwork could be turned in to answer the questions. Students were really motivated to learn the new vocabulary because they were enthralled with being able to learn a novel like students without reading and writing problems. It was magical to watch them learn! The more excited they became about reading and learning, the more excited I became.

Before reading the classics, I encouraged students to bring in a comic book to read in class. I also brought extras for those who didn’t have any or forgot to bring them. I gave some class time to read the comics and then we discussed the common things that each comic book had that made them so appealing. This was a great way to introduce the lesson of reading a comic classic.

After reading comic classics, I encouraged the class to write their own comic story which took about a week. Students would first write their story for a foundation and then draw the comic book pages to go with the story. The story was proofread and corrected before the illustrations were made. Then we made book covers using cardboard and actually bound them with yarn. I allowed my lowest level students to pair up with higher level students because they each had their own strengths and this was actually discussed before the pairing was allowed. I asked each of the students to think about their strengths and try to pair up with someone who complemented their weakness. I was amazed at how well the students paired themselves up this way. I gave them an actual timeline of tasks they needed to complete each class period which helped them stay on task.

After all the books were completed, I had the students exchange the books to read. Then each group had to write 5 things they like about the book they read, the main idea of the story, and then propose a different ending. The students loved this also.

From their responses, I felt using comics in my class was a great success.

Here is a great New York Times article: Superman Finds New Fans Among Reading Instructors

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Happy New Year!

I want to wish everyone a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year! I'm excited about what this year will bring and hope you are too. Stay safe!