Tag Archives: teacher reflection

What Teachers Need

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Love this meme Mike teased the students with!

I’m thinking of Taylor Mali’s “What Teachers Make” this morning, but I’m thinking about what teachers need.  I know I need something right now, because this job has me in the winter of some serious discontent, as Shakespeare says.

After this year, I am leaving the high school classroom.  I am starting to get very nervous about it.  Perhaps part of my anxiety comes from the fact that I’m seven months pregnant, but I think the majority has to do with the fact that a big part of my identity is teacher…and when I’m no longer one, who am I?

Next year holds lots of promise for me–motherhood, PhD work, teaching some Education courses, presentations, and more time for writing.  But I know that I’ll miss working with the teens in my classroom.

Right now I’m struggling with finding things to sustain me, because I have an excellent student teacher.  He’s teaching all six of my classes, doing all of the grading, and generally thriving on his own.

I get to plan with him, but then I sit in the back of the room and observe.  There’s always something that needs to be taken care of, whether it’s editing pages in the yearbook, running copies, or filling out paperwork.  But I am still so bored.

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Running into two of my students at the gas station was the highlight of my day yesterday.

I miss conferring with kids–our daily meetings at the bookshelf to talk about what to read next, or poring over their notebooks together, or sharing an exciting mentor text.  I miss the active work of discovering texts that I want to share with my students and urge them to reproduce.  I miss doing booktalks every day.  I miss conducting the symphony of rustling notebook pages, shuffled piles of books, or scribbling around poems.

A former student teacher observed that my typical day only consists of about 50% teaching.  The other 50% is made up of grading, making copies, lesson planning, running errands, going to meetings, and all of the not-so-fun tasks of our jobs.  They’re all essential to being prepared for the big show–the lesson–but I’m learning that I really hate those parts of my job when they don’t lead up to the ultimate experience of teaching.  It seems that they are mindless and pointless, and it makes me wonder about how teachers who have mandatory curricula, or who choose to teach straight out of a textbook, sustain themselves in this profession for decades.  I worry about their health!

I am craving the autonomy I’m accustomed to in my teaching.  Choice, independence, and purpose are just as important for teachers as they are for our students.  They sustain us in our quests to create lifelong readers and writers.  Without them, we’re just going through the motions of any job that doesn’t require creativity and energy and dynamism.

authenticityWe teachers need everything our students need:  timely, specific feedback (a great deal of it positive); the resources to do our work well; someone to listen to us and thus validate us; choice in what we teach and how we teach it; an identity as a teacher who is part of an authentic community of educational professionals.

It’s not every educational community that offers those conditions.  We often must go beyond our own school walls to fulfill those needs.  I’m thinking of Meenoo Rami and her excellent work to connect and sustain educators through Teacher2Teacher, and her important championing of the needs of teachers in Thrive and through #engchat.

I am depending upon Meenoo’s wisdom to get me through this winter–a winter both literal and figurative–and upon the wisdom and inspiration I find in my friends on Three Teachers Talk, Twitter, and more.  If you find yourself struggling, too, remember what teachers need–and do whatever you can to get it!

How do you sustain yourself in the winter of your teaching?  PLEASE share in the comments–I, for one, am dying to know!

Choice Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Personal Connection: A reflection for a do-over

 

I have started this post four times, and I cannot think of a pithy way to begin. You know, some clever opening, some hook to get the reader’s attention — some startling statement.

My creativity got swallowed by analysis. Well, kind of.

I figure I must be doing something wrong because my students cannot analyze to save their lives. They can talk around a text and say absolutely nothing quiet well though.

So all afternoon and into the evening I’ve thought about thinking. I’ve thought about my students’ thinking.

And I’ve determined the problem: Many of my students are not doing it.

They sit and wait, looking around the room, waiting for someone else to speak up and do the thinking for them. It’s like a Mexican standoff, and something’s gotta give.

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Last week I listened to Dr. Margaret Hill talk about the importance of connections and how standards must include opportunities for students to make both efferent connections and aesthetic ones. The only way to truly learn is to make personal connections, Peg reminded me, citing Louis Rosenblatt’s Transactional Theory.

How can I provide more opportunities for students to connect to the learning?

Yesterday I read an article about mindfulness and how when it’s practiced in schools it is helping children’s well-being. Some experts say the practice of mindfulness is even an essential —  a way to reduce depression, extend focus, truly learn.

How can I help students get and stay in the present?

This morning I watched the TED Talk by Shonda Rhimes “The Year I Said Yes to Everything,” and how playing again has helped her find “the hum,” the thrill and joy in her life and in her life’s work.

How can I introduce more play into my classroom?

Today in class most of my students crashed into a brick wall of higher-thinking they could not go through, over, or around. Many didn’t even try. I came home from school worn out and weary.

Then I read this post by Tricia Ebarvia, and I stalked her blog until I read the post “Steps toward an Inquiry-based Classroom,” and a missing piece walked right into my puzzle.

Tricia made me think about the on-going need for curiosity and student-generated questions. The ongoing need for purposeful and personal inquiry. She shared the chart below, citing the work of Christenbury and Kelly, NCTE, and Jeff Wilhem. And I got it.

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My students do not care enough about the books they’ve chosen to read. They do not care enough about the topics they’ve chosen to write about. I haven’t been paying enough attention, or I would have realized this sooner:  Choice does not necessarily mean personal connection.

I am glad I have time this year for do-overs.

It’s time to back up a few steps, so we can step into better opportunities for engagement, growth, and learning.

Maybe we’ll mediate.

Maybe we’ll play.

But we will certainly play with developing effective questions.

Writing My Wrongs: How I’m Learning From My Mistakes

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A student caught sneaking his independent reading book into his lit circle novel…this is a first.

Every year I arrive at the second quarter with a new approach, idea, or plan.  This will be the solution! I think.  This will sustain momentum.  This will help us make it through the slump.  This will be the difference between dreading quarter two and praying for quarter three, but year after year, I am wrong.  For the past three years I’ve convinced myself it is the book—Lord of the Flies is too boring; they can’t appreciate Bradbury’s language in Fahrenheit 451.

The problem isn’t with my students though—it’s with me.  I am doing it wrong, and while I am ashamed to admit the honest truth, I realize now the error of my ways.

I “gave up” traditional teaching three years ago, when I transitioned to a workshop model of education.  I carved out time for reading, instated notebooks, poured over workshop guides, and asked countless questions of my mentors and colleagues.  The bare bones were in place, and I was convinced that I had the structure necessary to shift from a teacher-centered classroom to a student-centered classroom built on choice.  In many cases I did; every start of the school year began smoothly with excited readers and passionate writers.  We told stories, read poetry, shared quick writes, and analyzed craft, but I dreaded quarter two, the quarter when together, we would read our first of three required whole class novels.

Quarter two was when I lost their voices, their attention, and their passion.  With whole class novels, our focus shifted from “who are you and what are you thinking?” to “who is your author and what is he thinking?” 

Under the weight of scaffolding, curriculum standards, core competencies, and competency based rubrics, my mini-lessons focused on literary terminology instead of literary exploration.  To me, reading mini-lessons meant teaching the same terms I’d grown up with: symbolism, Freytag’s pyramid, direct and indirect characterization, round and flat characters, etc.  This meant my lessons shifted from writing-centered lessons that started with the question, “What do you notice about the author’s craft?” to terminology-centered lessons, that started with, “Apply your understanding of (fill in the blank) to the book.”  The latter produced significantly less empowering results.

So, I asked and probed my students.  I peppered them with questions during study halls and extra help; I snuck in questions with the straggling Writer’s Club members after meetings, gave out surveys, and chatted at lunch with colleagues.  And while I was convinced that it was because I was “forcing” them to read unrelatable classics, I couldn’t shake the fact that I was missing something bigger.

By the time I sat down with my living mentor Linda Rief at a coffee shop in Exeter, I realized I was doing it wrong in quarter two.  The pieces gradually added up—I knew the three reading options I had given them for literature circles weren’t choices at all.  I was hoping they would read the books in their entirety, but I knew that this year would lend itself to additional groans, frustration, and abandonment.  At the end of the day, I was a workshop teacher defaulting to a traditional methodology or worse, was I a traditional teacher pretending to run a workshop?

The two greatest pieces of advice came first via my special educator mother, who asked, “Why not just teach them good writing?  Isn’t that what classics are?” And second through Linda Rief, who pointblank asked me why I needed to teach plot triangles anyways.

Were there successes in my literature circle unit? Most definitely.  Sure, the vast majority didn’t fall in love with Golding, and it breaks my heart that they couldn’t revel in the beauty of Bradbury’s language, but in final surveys, nearly every student appreciated the time they had to discuss the novels in small groups.  They enjoyed talking about the stories with peers, and while not all of them loved the books, many pointed out that this was the first time they engaged in authentic conversations about literature without a teacher moderating the discussions.  They learned; they just didn’t learn the way I had hoped.

Part of me feels like I lost four weeks that we could have spent more effectively growing together as readers and writers while looking at the beauty of craft in book clubs centered on young adult lit of their choosing.  The other part of me feels like I failed my students in providing this idealized version of what I hoped our class would be and then slamming them back to reality with the same sort of stock analysis I question.

I am impatient when it comes to growth, particularly when it comes to my teaching.  While I understand my students’ needs as developing readers and writers, I am quick to judge my own struggles.  Even as an intern, one of my personal goals was “to be at the level of a second year teacher.”  I repeated this mantra knowing full well that the only way to be at the level of a second year teacher was to be a second year teacher.

All I can promise my students is that I will continue to reflect, move forward, and become the teacher they deserve.  But alas, growth takes time, trial, and error.  It requires me to unravel years of traditional education, analyze what works, what doesn’t, what I should carry with me, and what I can discard.  It will take time for me to unwind my own brain just as I ask my students to unwind theirs.  I am still learning to be a writer, a reader, a student, a teacher, and that takes time, time that sometimes feels all too precious when I only have one year with my kids.  Fortunately, teaching is like writing.  Every day, I begin the process of drafting a new story, and every year, I get the chance to revise my work.

Are you noticing what matters?

I learned a valuable lesson when my children were young. I do not remember the speaker who said it, nor do I remember much of anything else he said. I do know that two words changed me as a parent.

Notice them.

Notice your child when he enters a room. Acknowledge him with a hello, a question, a compliment. Non-threatening. Kind. Seems rather simple, doesn’t it? I remember thinking: “Sure, I can do that. no big deal.”

Oh, but it is — a very big deal. It’s a big deal to the child who grows in confidence, knowing we are intently aware of him as a person — an individual who matters when he walks in the room.

While i’ve been thinking and writing about conferring with students, I’ve done a lot of thinking about what it means to notice, really notice, the students in my charge. Do I take the time to speak to every student individually? What about my body language — am I open and approachable? How about eye contact — am I making it?

Last week I collected my students’ writer’s notebooks. Marked with a sticky note for me to read and scrawled on the back of one student’s writing territories was an entry that gave me pause and broke my heart. It said something like: “I remember asking my grandma about why my mother left. All she would say was that my mom said she could always have other children.”

Just that morning I’d been short with this student for not completing yet another assignment. I bit out a plea to get the work done without once considering why she’d not done it. I made it about the assignment instead of about my learner. Sadly, I do this often and have to continually remind myself of what matters.

Noticing the girl with the dark brooding eyes matters.

And once again I vow to be better than I’ve been.

from BrainPickings.org

 

[student writing used with permission]

©Amy Rasmussen, 2011 – 2015

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