I’ve never felt more like I live in a petri dish than this school year. With all sorts of news articles swirling around the nation about the Flu epidemic and people dying because of the Flu, I stood firm on my long held belief that the Flu shot was worthless…either I was going to get it or not.
I had this belief because the majority of my life I’ve never had the flu, and I also can’t remember getting a flu shot before I had kids (dang my fatherly guilt). I went through the motions when my kids were little out of family solidarity and because it was “free” through my insurance. I almost mocked others that seemed to get the flu every year because I never did. Then I got the flu.
I won’t say it was terrible, the two cases of pneumonia I’ve had were far worse, but there is something about being quarantined off in both your personal and professional life that is somehow shocking. I didn’t see my kids for almost three days and that was more difficult than I had imagined. I used my time at home to catch up on some less-than-important media consumption and purging the illness from everything I touched with bleach and lysol.
When I came back to school, the kids were so happy to see me (for the most part). Subs are necessary, but stressful to both teacher and student. After that small euphoria was over, I then had to pick up the pieces of a classroom that had lost my expectations of both work and behavior. Neither side was pleased with the return of the teacher once the welcome back was over.
My hubris and defying the flu is over. My class’ joy to have me back is over. Now learning can begin again.
One could say that my job is nothing but presentations, and that might be the case. That being said, I got asked by my curriculum higher-ups to present at a conference right at the beginning of the summer. I decided to partner with a co-worker and we decided right off the bat to make our presentation all that it could be.
Here are a list of qualifications we wanted for our presentation:
- We want our presentation to be practical. We both agreed that there is nothing worse at a conference than not leaving with something you can use in the classroom. We want our presentation to be chalk full of things people can use tomorrow in the classroom. This is a bit of a challenge because we are predicting that we will be presenting to mostly administrators. Our plan is to offer them a variety of usable practices so that they can introduce something that their faculty can use.
- We want our presentation to appeal to a wide audience. Neither of us want to give ideas that can’t be used by multiple grades and all kinds of different classrooms. We want to offer some non-tech options, some slight tech options, and some ideas for technology professionals. We understand that not everyone in education is tech-savvy or even tech-proficient, so we want to offer a ton of possibilities.
- We want to model technology use in the classroom. We want to show people how easy it is to use technology and do it in a meaningful way. I hope to communicate that technology doesn’t have to be scary…even if you fail sometimes or it fails sometimes.
- We want to give people who come to our session time to work. At least part of our presentation will be time for the attendees to work and brainstorm ways to use what they’ve learned immediately. We all know the feeling of getting a bunch of great information and not using it immediately. Often when this happens, I completely forget how I’m going to use it…if I remember it at all.
This is clearly not a comprehensive list, but it’s what we came up with to use for this summer. I’m excited to add this presentation to my list of accomplishments. I’m sure you’ll see this being talked about here again soon.
Coming back to school after winter break is a time that can’t be explained to people not in education. Everyone is tired, there are new clothes a-plenty, and we all feel (somewhat) rested and rejuvenated. I’m also making some little changes in my classroom to see what happens.
- I’m structuring my classroom to minimize negative interactions. After some reflection I noticed that I was having an increasing number of negative interactions with my students. Most of this was because there was ambiguity of what the students were supposed to be doing and any given time. To remedy this, I’m making sure that my expectations for my students are presented clearly before we get into anything. I’m also making sure that I’m reinforcing positive behavior and putting kids in a place that they can succeed where they are. Changing seating charts and changing my delivery of lessons slightly are part of this plan of mine. I’ve only had two days worth of school so far, but so far it’s working well.
- I’ve decided to have fun no matter what. An old principal of mine used to always say “choose your attitude.” I found that at the end of last semester I was not choosing the best attitude I could have. I’m going to do the best I can to choose my attitude daily and laugh a lot more this semester than I did last semester (which was quite a bit).
- I want to help people more than look out for myself. I’ve been known, at times, to hunker down and concentrate solely on what I need and what matters to me. This next semester I want to make sure that I’m helping out others as much as I can. Even if that is changing my reactions to things, changing the way I speak to people, or rolling up my shirt sleeves and helping people get things done.
The bottom line is that I want to be a better person than I am today. I don’t think that I’m a bad person, but I want to make sure that I’m always pushing myself to be better in new more difficult ways.
There are three main tech-related companies that school districts tend to lean on: Microsoft, Google, and Apple. Depending on your personal preference, you may prefer one over the other. I personally am an “Apple-guy” followed by a “Google-guy”. I use Microsoft for certain things, but that’s mostly a district level mandate than a personal preference. Each of these companies also has an educator wing that hopes to train teaches and district personnel about how to implement their software/hardware in the classroom. I’m knee deep in evaluating these programs and I’m not sure how much further I’ll continue.
A little background on me first, I’m an Eagle Scout and I love checking tasks off of lists. When my district offered digital “badges” for using certain technologies I tried to get them all. When I hear that technology companies want me to get a badge/certificate from them, I automatically have an impulse to get these them done whether I need to or not.
I originally started the quest for educator cadges with Google. Google Certified Educator is a title I’ve held for the past few years. Basically it means you have a good working knowledge of the Google Suite (Docs, Sheets, Slides, etc.) and have a good working knowledge of using them in the classroom. I’ve gone through both iterations of this process and if technology is your thing as a teacher there’s no reason you shouldn’t do this. It will cost you $30 total to become a Level 1 & 2 certified educator and about 10 hours total. This is all assuming you have a decent knowledge of all these products (your mileage may vary).
I’m not preparing to take the Google Certified Trainer course to take this to the next level. It’s another $15 and some more training courses. I’m already doing a lot of district level training for the social studies department, so this seems natural to me. There’s another level that seems more nebulous to me (Google Certified Innovator) that I might look into some time, but not right now.
I’ve always been aware of the Apple Certified Educator program, but the process seemed too daunting when I used Apple products in the classroom, so I passed on it. I’m going to look it up soon. Yesterday, I looked at the Microsoft Program and I’m intrigued and frustrated at the same time. It’s a badge based system (which I like), but it seems to just drop you into the program without much help (which I don’t like). I’ll mess around with it some more, but if I can’t figure it out after a few sittings I’ll probably pass.
Training is one of those things in life that you either love or hate. I have always found that I’d rather be over-trained compared to under-trained, but that’s just me. The question I’ve run up against a few times is whether I’d rather travel for outside training or be trained in house and I think I have an answer.
Inside training is easy for a number of logistical reasons. They are usually closer to you and you might know other people getting trained. There is a chance that the person conducting the training knows your specific circumstance and more about the kids you’re teaching on a day-to-day basis. The downside is that I rarely come away with as many “aha” moments when I attend a local training. I feel like I see people utilizing things in a slightly different way or teaching something in a slightly different way.
Outside training is difficult from a travel perspective (usually). For instance, when I taught US History, very little content from before the Civil War happens anywhere near Texas so I had to travel at least a little bit to see actual historical sites for training. The thing that outside training offer is the potential for world class teachers who have spent years on their particular topic and hands on experiences. I got the opportunity to live and be trained on the grounds at Mount Vernon (the home of George Washington) and the hands on experience was invaluable to a beginning US History teacher. I also got to listen to a number of scholars with huge experience when it comes to US History, Mount Vernon, and George Washington.
Again, I’m pro-training in any form. That being said, take a look at some training outside of your locale and see if you can figure out the logistics to get you there. You’ll be glad you did.
History is a subject that is often either loved or hated. If you were to poll the kids sitting in my classroom, they would either tell you they loved it or they hated it without much in between. My goal is to light the historical fire in their soul. This got me to think about how little people remember from their history classes.
I don’t know about you, but a lot of those dates really slip my mind. Now, as a history teacher, I have relearned a lot of them. So much so that I was listening to a lecture the other day and out of nowhere the speaker made a reference to the Magna Carta and I had to keep myself from yelling with excitement. No one else in the room really knew what that was, and that depressed the government part of my heart. I’m not saying that you need to know the Law of April 6, 1830 by heart or what date the Battle of Vicksburg happened on, but you should know the big ones by heart.
I could get on my high horse and start complaining about civic duty and why no one remembers why they are so important, but I’ll try and limit myself. I don’t like jury duty any more than anyone else, but I’ll happily participate to make sure there is justice in our country is carried out. I also don’t like keeping up with what/whom I can vote for on the few times a year I’m asked to vote, but I do so I can place an informed vote. Most of us like the idea of civic duty, but when push comes to shove not many of us (as a nation) do a good job of living up to the expectations of our country.
My wife sometimes wonders why I choose to read the things I do. For instance, we’re going on a trip over Thanksgiving and I’ve downloaded three history books to listen to. Two Texas history books and one English history book. Maybe it’s because I’m historically inclined, but I think it’s important to know what’s happened and why it’s important that I remember it.
So that leads me back to my initial thought, how much history do we remember? Would this city/state/country/world be better off if we remembered (maybe even put a little emphasis) on a little more history? I don’t know the answers for sure…but I bet you can tell which way I lean.
I enjoy presenting. I consider myself a decent presenter, so I started thinking about what makes a “good” presentation. In my mind, a presentation I want to be a part of has three main components to it:
- They tell me why I should care. I can’t tell you how many presentations I’ve been to that halfway through I have no idea why this is important. Usually when I’m able to sit in a presentation I’ve invested travel time and dollars to be in the room with them. Please tell me why I should care about what you have to say early on. That gives me time to switch presentations if what you care about is far from what I care about. I’m not saying that there isn’t a place for theoretical presentations, but at least let me know that. My goal when I’m a viewer is to take away one practical application to my life, and if your goal isn’t to provide that I can find something else.
- They use their time wisely. I’m not a rambler…which could be taken as odd for a history teacher. I like for people to get to the point quickly so that I can begin to contextualize what they’re saying for my particular situation. Sometimes there are good reasons for people to meander through steam of consciousness stories, but often those are filler. Anyone who has sat through more than a few presentations knows what is filler to kill time versus what is useful to a presentation.
- They leave time at the end. I believe that a little time at the end of any presentation is beneficial to everyone involved. Time to chat with the people around me can help me crystallize what was said in the presentation. A Q&A session at the end allows people to get clarification on points that were made. Even leaving time to try something that you’ve presented on is helpful. The constant complaint of teachers is “we don’t have enough time for planning,” so why not let them have a little time to do so?
Anyhow, just some thoughts on presenting. I’ve probably broken some or all of these at some point during a presentation, but I try not to.
I go through this cycle every couple of years.
I start the cycle by loving where I’m at in my career. I’m enjoying where I’m at in life, everything is going well, and there is not a care in the world.
At this point, I’m minding my own business, and someone starts talking about academia. I think back to my time in college and graduate school. I think how much I learned and how great it was to learn about subjects I’m interested in and the wheels of my mind start spinning out of control.
Next in my cycle is I start thinking about what kind of degree I would go after, if I were to decide to go get one. I think about a history masters degree, but I don’t do languages well, so that is out. I look at religion degrees, but the universities in my area don’t have religion programs I would be interested in being a part of. I settle on education degrees and narrow them down into some I would be interested in and others I would not.
Finally, I start researching programs in my area and the cost of attending, details, etc. I then present my findings to my family who agree this would be a great idea, but the timing isn’t quite right. I’ve always known this in my head, but hearing them vocalize this snaps me back to reality…oops, there goes gravity… (bad Eight Mile reference there).
Added to these realities right now is the fact that I’m not sure what I want my next step in education to be. Do I want to be an administrator? Do I want to move into educational technology? Do I want to move into counseling? Who knows.
The best practices of the teaching world are rarely ground-breaking. Usually, I find that the simple things that get overlooked are the most revolutionary in my classroom. The most recent example of this was when the history department was prepping for our state testing review unit.
In general, I’m always looking for the “best way to teach everything”. I think we all are as educators. I was convicted of my hubris when setting my plans for review when my curriculum director asked me why I was reviewing the same way I taught it in the first place. She gently reminded me that if I had met the student’s needs completely the first time, there wouldn’t be any need to spend time reviewing it. I really took time to reflect on that and it has pushed me to drastically think outside the box with the way I’m going to review.
The most important question for me when I began rethinking my history review was, “is there a way my students can touch (or at least see) the concepts that we’ve talked about in class before.” To this end, I’m making it a point to use as many new visuals and ways of looking at things that I can. What I’ve found as I begin to plan this unit out is the more creative I get with my visuals, the more opportunity I have to spiral the materials into other things in history. By allowing for this kinds of discussions during review, I’m hoping to see my kids make more connections than they would have in the past.
An example of this is how I’m trying to visually represent each battle of the American Revolution. I’m trying to not use any words so the students have to process through what battle it might be, and then give them a new perspective on what might have been going on during the war. Regardless of whether they have all the battles memorized, I’m hoping the will walk away with a good general review of the Revolution and be able to make connections with the flow of wars and how the Continental Army used it’s meager advantages to force a surrender of the greatest army and navy in the world at that time.
I haven’t completely planned out every lesson, but this basic reset (that you need to try and teach in a new way if it didn’t work the first time) has radically changed my thinking. It’s almost like even slightly older teachers can still learn new tricks.
As a history teacher, sometimes I get caught up in the big picture rather than the details. I like the meta-concept more than I do the details. This is especially true when I look at grades or trends in my classroom. Sometimes I’ll look at an assessment and rather than drill down into the data I’ll opt to say things like “The students must not have understood this as well as last unit.” This week I got the opportunity to have the first US History data day and it was very useful for me as we come down the home stretch of the school year.
We began the day looking at the overall data for our school on our cumulative assessment. This was helpful to me because it helped us identify areas in the curriculum that the US History teachers do well and where I can improve and learn from my teammates. It is true that we’ve done this on our own at times, but to see everything in black and white as well as having the time to talk through the curriculum together was oddly therapeutic.
After staying at the macro level, we began to dig into our sub-pops to see what their weaknesses are as we finish up our curriculum. It was interesting to break down all the ways we could spiral information from the beginning of the year into the end of the year. Since this is only my second year teaching this content, I’m still learning where there is overlap between the units.
We finished the day looking at specific areas to review before our state tests later this semester. Last year we thought we had a good plan, but after looking at all of our data we were able to pinpoint specific areas of weakness as well as match up common weaknesses. We also divided up the work between all the history teachers to ensure we were all pulling our weight and getting experience developing the materials we’ll need.
While it wasn’t anything earth shattering, it was great to get another set of eyes at our students and new insight coming to the party. It was a great experience and it helps remind me that we have a good support network for our school and our department.