Review Blues

Education

It’s that time of year again. We have come to the end of our history content and now we are knee deep in the process of reviewing everything all over again. What about this time of year fills me with such dread? Why is it that I enjoy my job all year to get to the end and feel so differently?

The first thing is that the end is near and everyone is looking ahead. Summer is so much fun. Students and teachers alike are ready to be done and free to do anything but be in school. I wish I could say that this doesn’t apply to me, but it does. My patience is running thin for particular students and I am ready for an extended break to recharge my batteries. I wouldn’t necessarily call this an excuse, but more a reality at the end of the school year. I wouldn’t call it human nature, I would call it a part of the life cycle of the school year. The question is, could this be different next year? I’m not sure.

The second thing is that there is state testing involved in the stress of the season. I do not talk about the test, and I don’t want my students to be stressed about a test. Does that mean there is zero stress? No. I am a duck riding on the surface of the water…everything looks calm, but the duck’s feet are kicking wildly under the water. My caffeine intake tends to skyrocket, I’m shorter with students than I need to be, and I feel like I’m always tired. Could this be different? Sure.

I’m trying to be proactive this year. I’ve started taking evening walks now that the weather is cooperating. I’m reminding myself of a mantra a previous principle had “Choose your attitude.” I cannot control the students in my class, but I can control how I act and how I respond to the students in my classroom. No matter what, I need to be a positive influence on the students in my classroom and continue to push them to the finish line.

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Teacher Culture

Education

I am now in month two of my third school of my teaching career.  The thing that I am noticing the most when it comes to changing schools is that there is a lot of culture at school.  There are teacher cultures, student cultures, administration cultures, parent cultures, etc.  It boggles my mind how many cultural shifts I have had to deal with in this early part of the school year.

During teacher inservice days, I was almost overcome with all the teacher cultural differences in my new school.  Many of the faculty at my new school had been there for a decade or more and new the culture inside and out.  They new the families that were coming, the types of kids by neighborhood, and could predict how certain students would interact before the school year started.  In a way, I was envious of them and I wished I could rush the acculturation I am now beginning to experience.  As I have reflected on this phenomenon, I have realized that I do not need to completely adopt the new culture of the school, but use my own culture to add a new flavor to the already established culture of my school.  I do not need to be a clone of the person before me or my teaching partner on the other team.  I was hired to be me.

The culture that is normally talked about in teacher circles is the student culture.  I know a lot of teachers pining to work at any of a number of certain schools because the kids act a certain way.  What I have found is that the issues that are found with middle school kids transcend what school they go to.  Meaning that the problems that we find with middle school kids are the same no matter what school they go to.  The difference is how they are manifested and how the students are dealing with it.  Understanding the school’s response to these issues is fascinating to me.

As I have taught my sixth graders (when I have taught sixth grade), is that culture is something that is difficult to explain until you are outside of it.  Once I leave the great state of Texas it is plain to see I am in a completely different culture.  Same with changing school.  I never knew how plugged into the culture of my last school I was until I left.

Marvel vs. History

Education

I’m a history kind of guy.  I enjoy the stories and the characters unfolding.  I like cause and effect relationships.  I especially love tactics and battle plans.  I believe that the majority of the kids sitting in my class are less enthusiastic about these parts of history than I am.  In the same way, I am in for any Marvel movie they make.  I’m easily entertained by comic book movies and I love seeing the bigger story come together into movies like Infinity War.  As I reflected on this movie breaking all kinds of records, I think there are some lessons to be learned for history teachers.

  1. Every detail does not matter.  If Marvel gave us every detail in the Infinity War movies, they would be twice as long or more.  Most people do not have the attention span to hear about everything…like where are certain characters, why did they make every choice they did, how did certain scenes come together.  In the same way, maybe my love of history doesn’t need to be evident when I teach on a topic.  Give the main ideas and important details, but leave out how the dress of the Texas soldiers may have helped lead to a victory.
  2. Characters can be more important than their story.  Thanos is a character that is very important to Infinity War.  His daughter Gamora is in a handful of other movies, but her character is not someone I root for.  There is a very tense scene between the two of them and because Thanos is more compelling of a character I rooted for him in that scene.  Same thing in history applies.  There are compelling reasons for each side of a story, so use that to your advantage.  Maybe use an analogy that helps us understand the struggle of Stephen F. Austin to agree to a revolution.  Pull on some heart strings occasionally and help students understand a character’s motivation.
  3. Give people a reason to care.  The bigger issue in the Marvel movies is the build to Thanos gaining all of the infinity stones, so I care about all of the little things that happen along the way.  I’m going to try and give the bigger picture up front next year in the hopes that my students will be able to put the magnitude of what is going on in context.  Maybe if we talk about the dream of Texas’ independence up front the kids will better understand why certain battles matter so much.

Education Speak

Education

The vocabulary you have and fluency that you speak with in large part determine how educated you come off to others around you.  In any industry there is a particular vocabulary that you need to be understood by your peers.  Education is notorious for having a steep learning curve to understand the vernacular.

It almost seems like we’re trying to manufacture educational lingo to make ourselves feel smarter.  It’s a good thing that I really learned the skill of context clues growing up because otherwise I would have no idea what more learned educators are talking about.  I’m all for making sure that people understand what you’re saying by using vocabulary to your advantage, but let’s not get silly.

At the same time there seems to be a weird merging of business vocabulary and educational lingo.  As if it weren’t difficult enough to parse through the acronyms in the education world, now I have to start learning the hybrid business-education dialect as well.

Two Out of Three

Education

In my last post, I promised that I would be using three new technologies in class.  I got two of them done and the third will come the week after Spring Break.  Let’s take a look at what I used:

  • GoFormative – This is a platform to quickly take formative assessment data during a lesson.  I liked this more than Google Forms in certain scenarios because it will allow the kids to draw instead of just type and it collects the data in a way that it is easily usable.  This is really helpful with things like my touchscreen Chromebooks in my classroom.
  • Exploros – I liked Exploros to a point.  It was easy to set up to use my Google Classroom and there are a variety of topics that are aligned to our state standards.  The problem is that it is still very much a read and answer curriculum.  This wouldn’t be bad for days when there is a sub in the classroom, but it really is mostly reading.  It’s got a lot of resources though, so if you’re short for information on a part of History it’s worth taking a look at.

After Spring Break I’m going to give Flocabulary a try, so I’ll have a write up for that when we’re back in the rhythm of the school year.

In My Own Head

Education

This time of year is always the time where I start to get nervous.  Not because of a test coming up or because of a specific unit.  I get nervous that I’m doing things wrong.  As I reflect on this, it’s funny because I know I’m going out of my way to do the right thing and teach my students the correct way.

I think some of this is because I feel like I’m becoming stagnant in the technology I’m utilizing in the classroom.  I want to be on the forefront of technology on my campus, but that is tough to do.  I’m going to rework my lesson plans in the next few weeks to take some risks using technologies.  Some that I’ve heard of, but haven’t utilized are Exploros and GoFormative.  I’m also going to spend some time looking into other things I can use and try them out.

I think I’m also letting good be the enemy of perfect.  Our district has moved to listing learning targets in very specific ways.  I’m still adapting to this new way of communicating the point of the lesson to my students and it’s a learning process.  Hopefully through trial and error I’ll be able to learn how to do this better as a teacher.

Next week my goal is to post how I utilized at least three new technologies in the classroom and my experience with them.  Stay tuned for more on this.

Sickness As An Educator

Education

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.

The Little Things

Education

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.

Certified Educator Here

Education

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.

GCE_Badges_02

How Much History

Education

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.