Not my usual blog thing

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While I don’t blog as often as I probably should, I began this site wanting a focus on the Education & Teaching titles of my life.

Today I’m going to deviate from that a bit. Because today is a day that didn’t need to be. Because the suicide of a good person isn’t easy to deal with, even years later.

So why write about this here, on the blog I created for my “education” stuff? Because two years ago an amazing person left us & I spent the week before school started helping his family pick up the pieces. Because today was the 2nd annual “Celebrating Steve” BBQ for this longtime friend in our hometown & the 2015-16 school year starts in a week. Because the start of school is now a time of mixed emotions for me.

I think about Steve quite a bit while wearing my “teacher hat”. After all, he was a pretty common fixture in my own public school experience. But also because he’s recently become the reason why I watch a little closer & listen a bit more with my students. 

I share a bit of Steve’s story with my students. Particularly my own grieving process (oh the anger! If I could throttle that man for the hurt he has caused…but I’d probably hug him senseless given half a chance). Oddly enough, it seems my crazy-confusion-anger seems to make me more “human” with the kids. Certainly has led to a few opening up & I think may have made a difference with one who graduated this past May.

I know it has made me more conscious of what really matters & less focused on the trivial things both professionally & personally. 

Five months after we lost Steve, Luke and I packed up our family & moved 350 miles to gain more time together.  More important than the actual move, we now consciously savor the little stuff. 

Like taking the kids to the STL Zoo on Saturday to meet Kali the polar bear (& caving on their requests for a little polar bear stuffed animal).

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Because of the what if.  If “what if” did happen, we both want those who know us to remember the moments we consistently gave the equivalent of that stuffed bear when it mattered. We want our family, friends, coworkers, students/chefs to feel we valued them as individuals & stood up for those who needed support.

We agreed to stop worrying about “image” & “professional” and to focus on people…and it’s bittersweet. We’re probably more content in our life & ourselves than ever before, but we’d gladly give it all up to bring back our friend.

I guess in the end this blog post is more of a ramble & a self reminder to take those opportunities to tell someone they matter.

I know many who sneer at the phrase “building relationships” and see this as a cop out approach to setting strict boundaries.

 Me? I see it as a way to make the connections that may have saved a friend known as “Buddy”.

  

  A picture of Steve from early 2014

Why, oh WHY do you think becoming a teacher is a good idea?!?

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I get it. You watched “Dead Poets Society” and that infamous Oh Captain, My Captain scene and you wanted that moment. 

You’re passionate about a particular subject and the thought of getting paid to continue your studies with a bunch of junior versions of yourself sitting in perfect rows, so rapt with attention that they miss the bell at first; and then still linger to learn MORE…oh, it just warms those cold recess of your soul! Gimme some of that!!!

Or, maybe it’s the idea of being your own Pied Piper in a room. Guiding eager young minds in the quest of the infinite. Expanding horizons, developing their passions, & sending them out into a world of discovery. It’ll be like having Your own set of Minions being groomed to take over the Tri State Area!

Are you NUTS?!?

Sugar, let’s look at the reality: that movie moment? Yeah, those were actors paid to pay attention. The reality is that keeping 30+ kids in line is an art form that many never fully develop & suffer mental anguish at the lack. That stuff you want to research? About that…odds are good that you won’t get more than one curricular day to talk about it (if even that). And as far as having the last say in your classroom? Oh, honey! Every bureaucrat, district leader, building leader, parent, student (heck, even the bagger at the grocery store & the cashier at McDonalds) is going to *know* better than you what you should be doing; and Heaven help you if you think you can just politely ignore their demands. They all watch the news for the release of those test scores from that amazing test that can magically measure your ability as a professional by asking your student a series of multiple choice questions written by non-educators. After all, those who can do & those who can’t teach. Am I right? *nudge, nudge*

In today’s world of education, you are a tool. Both in the traditional & coloquial sence. You are the implement those in power will wield to enforce some new (& totally created by others containing less experience with both kids and education) idea. You are also the “tool”, that rediculous idiot, that all the above will blame for thing both completely out of your control & the few things that might be. Like being the poster child for the professionally ignored? Become a teacher!

You will be held accountable. Even when no one knows  what the heck is going on (which set of standards are we following today? Well, I don’t care if Bobby hasn’t had enough to eat this past month or that Kiera’s family had a devistating event last week. YOU should have prepared them for this!). Your job security will be in the hands of people who have never been in your position, or have purposely left that position because they didn’t like the environment. Encouraging, huh?

Please, PLEASE, do not go into education!

You will get your heart broken a bit every year. These kids will become your kids. You will wipe tears away, hug away hurts, cheer for their accomplishments big and small…and then they will leave without thanking you. By the way, You won’t care about that. You’ll be too busy with your own box of tissues at graduation.

Your bank account will never be anything to brag about (savings??? What is this magic thing others speak of?). There will never be a big enough budget to cover your classroom needs, so you’ll have to dip into your already laughable paycheck to make sure there are crayons, colorful posters, maybe some of those plastic drawer things for kids to use. Oh, did I mention that to skimp on these will directly & negatively impact that evaluation mentioned above? Great, right?!?

No one will respect you. You with your double-major, post graduate degree & certifications in multiple areas who converses regularly with nationally renowned experts in your field will be constantly harassed by people with less education and no experience (but plenty of money) telling you that you have no clue how to do the job you spent years training (and continuing to train) to do.

…but we need you…

You. That glorious, crazy, passionate, loving, high energy, don’t-back-down-from-a-challenge you is exactly what education needs. Education needs those oddballs that say there’s value in imagination, and play, and all those “soft” skills that cannot be measured by some pricey test. Nerf gun fight in the quad? Eggggggselent!

Your “never say die” Goonies self is exactly what those kids need – as a model, a mentor, a coach, a clansman, and a never-give-up-on-your-dreams example that there is nobility in following a calling (you do know that the money sucks, right?) & that finding satisfaction in your work isn’t necessarily about dollar signs.

I hope you get your Captain moment, but I have to admit: those rumors about training your bladder are true. 

Still, it’s worth it. All the abuse from the media, the political maneuvering, the efforts you make in the face of opposition when you know it likely won’t find success; it’s all worth it for the kids. 

THEY matter most.

…and I hope you get the room down the hall. I’ll show you where the secret stash of extra paper is 😊

Talkin’ Content Challenge – History Edition

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A week back, @BlueCerealEduc sent out a new challenge for #oklaed (& beyond): skip the pedagogy & talk your favorite content.

So HARD!!! How in the world do you narrow your passions down to “that one”?!? …so I’ve had that challenge in the back of my mind for a week now. Yeah, still no closer :/

So, I’ll share one or two of my student favorites based on comments on their end of the year survey.

Drumroll…

Exhibit A: That Time We…

This one is a hodge-pudge of all those times we went outside and other classes looked out windows and thought we were nuts. 

There was the Nerf gun fight where they puzzled out for themselves the value of the Spartan phalanx style grouping (bonus fun for those classes who decided to attack the teacher once they got the formation, lol). 

 

Or when we blared trench warfare sound bites while simulating with paper wads. We drew many a face to out window that day! (To the class that got inventive creating backpack “tanks” and planted “spies” – you shall go far my minions, mwahahahaha!).  

 

Yes, that student really was doing a body-roll-sneak-attack to steal enemy “ammo”. 

And who could forget the fun of “WWF – Explorer Edition”? Do you realize how rediculous it sounds when you explain the reasoning behind your students’ clear grasp of “who did what” is due to wrestler masks & theme songs?!? But whatever works, right? 

 

Exhibit B: “Presley, you are evil”

I have a confession to admit to here – I love doing DBQs with the students & I then want to kick my own tail for doing another one when they are a foot deep on my desk for grading. But I just love the doing part! It’s that separating those who play well at school from those who can think. And when they reach that point when they see them as “doable” or (gasp!) preferabl, oh I get all tingly (excuse me a moment…)

..and I guess I am guilty. I just realized my “Content post” is actually one on pedagogy – whoops! At the end of the day, I just LOVE seeing the students ENJOY history. However bizzarre it may look (and you probably understand my aversion to heels, pencil skirts, really anything that doesn’t move a bit more now too).

Chicken Little Out

Here I go again…in a good way :)

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Half a year into a new position & I’m getting a pre-intern. In “OK Education Speak”, this means that I’ve been paired with a college student for 50 hours of observations & a single-taught lesson prior to their student teaching. If the pairing works out, the student stays with me for their internship (student teaching).

I’m pumped.

Really, really pumped.

You know that commercial with Ickey Woods doing a celebratory dance at the deli counter? Yep, but I’m the 5’6″ skinny 30-something white girl version. “Woo-hoo! I’ve got an intern!” (Yeah, somehow not as cool as Ickey).

I love watching someone grow and master all those little (non-testable) pieces that go into being an educator. Like a version of Victor Frankenstein, I love helping piece together the best parts of what makes someone go into my field and building a fire under them so they are arriving each day with a bounce in their step ready to shout “let’s do this!”

Can you imagine a building full of teachers, principals, counselors, & support staff that agree with that (and if you are in one, my Twitter handle is @STLinOK – hit me up!)???

It drives me absolutely bat-shite crazy when I hear things that suggest I am still passionate about my career because I haven’t been teaching long enough or that I just haven’t met the right kids yet.

…you read that right. I’m apparently still passionate because I haven’t met the right kid to ruin that passion. (?!?!) This is usually the point where I just smile brightly, chuckle, & quickly beat feet away from the cancerous Debbie Downer. ‘Cause honey, I’ve got one decade down, I plan to sink a couple more before I walk away, & I dream of the madness growing with each passing year.

The reality is that those very kids are the ones that are the most rewarding. Let me repeat that: THE ONES THAT ARE HARDEST TO REACH ARE THE MOST REWARDING. I don’t teach AP. Mostly because I know that the parts of “me” that reach kids are most often the aspects that AP kiddos can function just fine without & that other populations do respond to. So I actively avoid those discussions about me and AP or virtual teaching; I feel I’m most effective with the “goofballs”, the “trouble makers”, the “strugglers” & your plain old “average” kiddos. Besides, I’m still confused about how what you teach says about how well you teach in general, but that’s a discussion for another day…

After two days together, I think this pre-intern is going to be awesomesause. She is what my husband, a profession chef, would call “hungry”. She’s excited, wants to learn, & most importantly, she wants this to go well. She has this rocking mindset that gets me excited. Two days in and we’re co-planning a unit for next month & I’m excited to use her lesson ideas.

She reminds me of the perfect response to the following statement one coworker said just today: “You can’t show up every day dressed as a pirate.”

… Wanna bet? 😉

Chicken Little Out

What qualifies ME as an educator? A rambling.

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I just got back from taking the OGET (Oklahoma General Education Test). One of the two tests the Department of Education in my new states says I need to pass to fully transfer my 99 year certificate from MO to OK.
I’ll be honest, I find the whole scenario a bit amusing. Really? You gave me credit for half a dozen secondary content-specific certification areas, recognized both my undergraduate degree areas for secondary education and history, & a master’s degree with a focus on curriculum development…but I have to take a test that is the equivalent of the 6th grade MAP (Missouri Assessment Plan)??? Why?
I get it, it’s a way for the state to get $250 more in fees for transferring my certificate (and really, most people with a high school diploma should pass the test just fine).

…but what if I didn’t?

After all, it has been almost a dozen years since I’ve had a reason to use the formula for figuring out the area of a cylinder (sorry to my Math teacher friends, I don’t have that formula down by heart. Pythagorean? All good there, but cylinders? Nope.). I realized about halfway through the test that The VAST majority of what it was “testing” was my ability to retain/retrieve info that I had learned almost 20 years ago as a middle school student or perhaps my early years of high school.

Here I am, a Master Teacher with a decade of teaching under my belt, stellar evaluations from some of the toughest evaluators in the districts I’ve worked for, involved in professional learning groups that span nation-wide…and it all hinges on recalling info from 20 years ago?!?

Only in Education, right?

What happens if I was a bit rustier that I thought? Certainly, I’ll spend another couple hundred bucks and retake the darn thing. Yet, I still wonder why it would matter. How does THIS test show my measure as an educator? How does it measure the way I keep 100+ adolescents engaged and interacting with a document 1100 years older than they are? How does it show my ability to decode curriculums written by National panels & put it into language that allows my students to tract their own mastery of content & skills? How does this test show my skill at building a climate of trust with some of my school’s most defiant and untrustworthy kids so that they succeed?
Shouldn’t evidence of these things matter to the state? Shouldn’t my fitness be measured on how capable I am for the job I’ll be doing?
No offence to my best friend who teaches math (you know I love you Lori), but if my job is to teach teenagers about the effects of the Hellenistic Era or how the ideas of the Enlightenment both continued and shifted throughout the Age of Revolution…is my inability to cold recall the formula for the area of a cylinder a necessary piece of information? Or can we accept the fact that maybe in the era of Google that there are better measures out there?

I certainly don’t expect my best friend to be able to cold recall which portions of the Magna Carta can be found in both the English Bill of Rights & the American Constitution. In fact most of our professional conversations revolve around how to measure mastery, theories on brain research, & many more things that are much more complex that rote memorization.

Then the better part of my nature rears its head and reminds me that to complain without offering a solution is useless. So I’ll end with a suggestion:

A “lifetime” (or equivalent) certificate from another state should be enough to skip the testing for transfers (honestly I think the tests are bad for everyone, but Baby Steps, right?). Keep the two year probationary period & use the observation evaluations already in place. These documents are already in the state system & accessible. Certainly they should offer a more accurate view on the qualifications of the candidate.

Readers, what are your thoughts or experiences?

#BAconnected 11/3/14: Communication

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Hello everyone & welcome to this month’s #BAconnected!  Take a minute to introduce yourself & what you do.

We’ll be using Q1/A1 format tonight.  Be sure to add our hashtag #BAconnected to your responses so all can see and respond.

Q1: Parental communication and support is vital to the success of our kids.  What is your preferred method for parental communication & why?

Q2: Have you used a method other than phone/e-mail?  How was that received?

Q3: What is your “system” for keeping track of parental contacts?

Q4: How do you handle the “helicopter” parent?  The “uninterested” parent?

Q5: What are some creative ways we can encourage parent-teacher communication so that we are more proactive than reactive with communication?