Friday, February 26, 2010

Progressive Survey #37

37. Describe a time you stood your ground.

The most recent head-to-head occurred at the end of the semester regarding the purchase of a novel. Since I had honors/advanced honors students, I could request that they purchase a novel for class. I had warned them about it at the beginning of the year via writing (syllabus), verbally (class announcements), and perpetually (website announcement). Approximately 2 weeks before the final grading period began, I advised classes once a week that I would be checking the book for a grade, so they must have it before Christmas break.

One incredibly disorganized student was squeaking by the third six weeks with a D. If he brought in the book, he could probably get his grade to a just barely C, but he never got his act together. Within the last week of school from the semester, his mother emailed me and tried to pull excuses out of her hat: Disorganized Student told them on Monday he needed the book by Friday, and she can't get to the store this week to purchase it; she goes to school full time and her husband works, so it's not fair this should hurt his grade, etc [cue Charlie Brown WahWah here].

I calmly but firmly stated that this book was on the syllabus, which illuminated its need to be purchased. And, oh yes, I have her signature on file stating that she read the syllabus. In case that's not enough, I had a memo & link on my website all semester long; I reminded students before the six weeks started; and I stressed the assignment to students every week since. Just to add insult to injury, Disorganized Student actually needed this book LAST Monday, so he's a week late telling you, anyway. All that said, it's only fair the grade stands as is.

I never heard back. [cue smirk of victory]

On a personal note: we are (finally) moving into our first house this weekend!! As a result, I'll be off Teh Internets for a little while.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Progressive Survey #36

36. Do you support cross-curricular learning? Do you practice what you preach?

I definitely support it, though I don't know how well I do it. I do okay with easy connections like English and the fine arts or History & English. I need to do better about incorporating science or math, however. I try do that through various research projects to accompany a certain novel, but again, I just don't weave those in often or cohesively enough. One of my goals this year - and I'm sure for several more to come - will be to incorporate more non-fiction readings.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Progressive Survey #35

35. Describe a favorite memory of any student(s).

Oh, gosh. I know I have tons of these, so it will be hard to pick just one. I could go on with some warm & tender moments where they made me go, "Awww." Here's one from my first year: I was having one of those rough-first-year days and was on the verge of tears in the hallway. Denise, a girl from my fifth period saw me and stopped. "Aw, Mrs. P, do you need a hug?" Before my dazed brain could respond (No! No touchie!), she threw her arms around me. I almost lost it for sure right then and there.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Progressive Survey #34

34. If you could add any unit to your curriculum, what would you love to cover?

For sophomores, I would love to add a just-for-fun YA book, like Hunger Games. Something that we can all read together for the pure enjoyment of it. It would actually work really well to incorporate with Fahrenheit 451 or other dystopian novels. If not those, I would love to do some kind of journalism unit, where we look at questioning and communicating with the world around us.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Progressive Survey #33

33. Describe your ideal classroom, physically

It would be large enough to fit 30 students comfortably in large, even-plane desks with separate chairs. It would have color on at least one wall -- a comfortable green or deep, calming blue -- and some windows. Not too many to be distracting, but enough for natural light to illuminate the room as well as or better than the fluorescent lights. It would have an LCD projector installed in the ceiling; DVD/VCR combo; ELMO; whiteboards; and a portable projector screen, for when I want to change the room orientation. It would have 5-7 computers, an always-functional student printer, and a teacher computer with ability to cross the school firewall. I would have thermostat control, 1 filing cabinet, 2-3 bookcases, shelves on all walls, and one large cabinet for other storage needs.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Progressive Survey #32

32. If you had $100 to spend on your classroom, how would you spend it?

I'd knock out a wall and give us about 15 more square feet, repaint the walls, order an ELMO, fix all the desks...oh wait. That number is missing some zeros. ONLY $100?! Hm...

I would stock up on more mini dry-erase boards and purchase a class set of a fun YA novel for class, like Hunger Games. With anything leftover, I would probably purchase something organization-related...maybe shelves or better storage for journals/composition notebooks.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Progressivey Survey #31

31. Are you a teacher snob?

Yes, I am a teacher snob. Yes, I give the coaches sideways looks and assume they do little except show videos. Yes, I think I'm doing a good job, and no, I do not assume that of everyone. I am a teacher snob.

Some of it is because you can't help hearing things the kids say; some of it is because you KNOW things you shouldn't know; and some of it is unfair judgment. Just because I don't like you or don't get along with you as a person doesn't necessarily mean you're a bad teacher. That is the biggest issue I have to get over: my own personal perception of you should not be a direct correlation to my professional opinion of you. But hey, at least I'm aware of it. That's the first step to recovery, right?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Progressive Survey #30

#30. How could you use cell phones effectively in your classroom?

Gosh, this is the new thing, huh? How can we use the cell phones so that they aren't some taboo item that students will still use, to the headaches of all.

Here's one idea: secret pal texting. Have students write down the phone numbers, then draw out of a hat (or otherwise randomly assign). At an appointed time, instead of pair-sharing or one-on-one discussion, tell them to whip out the phones and text some thoughts to their partner. Give 'em a minute or two to discuss/ask/process, then stop and ask students to share something from their discussion with the partner. ((idea: You could make this a really fun thing where they pledge to not find out who their partner is (if they already have the #, so be it, just play along!), and then promise to have some kind of fun reveal event.))

Is there some way the teacher could poll students via text messaging? Sans some kind of special software to process the responses, this might take some time. Teacher asks students to send him/her poll results, sets students to new task while s/he processes the text responses, puts poll results on board, then brings students back to discuss.

What about using texts as flashcards? Students could text terms & definitions back & forth.

Can we use their picture capabilities? The main possibilities that come to mind aren't instantaneous assessments but part of a project: taking pictures of classmates or objects in relation to skill/reading and creating some kind of presentation. In our standards, analysis of visual media is a requirement, so I'm sure you could incorporate explanation/analysis of their pictures. Oh! I just remembered: we studied how to "read" cinema, and students could use cell phones to stage little scenes and use camera phone to capture angles that establish mood/tone/theme.

Of course, the problem with technology is that it costs money. If you are fortunate enough to teach in an affluent area, you probably don't even have to think twice about whether all your students have access to the technology. But the reality is most of us don't. So, though I would love to actually have students use their cell phones in a productive way in class, how can I incorporate technology when not everyone is going to have access to it? Even if they have access to a phone, will they have texting (probably) and internet (maybe not)? But let's deal with that demon another day.

In the meantime...what ideas for using cell phones come to mind? If you've got 'em, tell me! If you need more ideas yourself, try Pontydysgu

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Progressive Survey #29

29. Should we expect every student to go to college?

No. I believe that there should not be one accepted graduation path, but rather several that cater to students' interests and strengths. At the moment, we commonly identified them as tech & college, but I think that the "tech" route still forces students into classes they only struggle in. The main issue for schools in creating those two paths is that we have to treat both as equals. Not everyone is "fit" for college, and that is okay (if, later down the road, a student took a tech route and wants to attend a traditional 4 year university, let the university figure out what their acceptance & requirements would be). We basically need to get off our high horses and not only say "It is okay for not everyone to go to college." and mean it.

We need to return to the original question of Why are we offering public education in the first place? We offer public education because our country is a democratic republic, built on the idea that every citizen has a voice or ability to make a change. Because we don't want our country run by naive or ignorant yuks, we need to educate them! Our goal in public education is to make them productive, thoughtful citizens, and that qualification can be met in every single occupation and career choice. We have to answer that call as teachers: our SUBJECT matter may not be the most important -- we have to USE the subject matter as a tool to teach problem-solving and critical thinking.

So we don't unintentionally widen the gap between economic class distinctions, we maintain a base liberal arts core curriculum- language arts, history, science, math- for either path. But then we need to question, what do the students on the tech path need to know that college may not and vice versa? So perhaps we maintain that core, but do some trimming for the tech path (like foreign language/fine arts), swapping them with classes that would be universal to the tech/career curriculum, like Owning a Small Business or I/O Psychology-Human Resources. Perhaps we could look at other countries in Europe and see what kind of classes & distinctions they offer for the wide variety of career & future options for The World After High School.

But that's just my opinion...what do you think?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Progressive Survey #28

28. Describe what the graduation requirements should be for a high school student in the 21st century?

With an ever-expanding field of technology and history classes growing longer every day, I imagine it's difficult to narrow down the answers to what do students TRULY need to know? And then you throw in the possible college or career/tech path, and you've got a whole 'nother barrel of fish to deal with. Putting all that aside for now, I would love to see these classes added as mandatory graduation requirements - for ALL pathways, career, college, otherwise:

1. Keyboarding & Basic Computer Programs - It's kind of ridiculous how many students don't know their way around Word. Or who type at a pick&peck pace. They need to know how to manipulate and explore programs outside of a cell phone or twitter.

2. American Government/Contemporary Issues - I think this goes without saying: students need to know how the gov't works, their role in it, AND get informed about the world around them.

3. Personal Finance - with our economy limping along and millions of Americans in debt, students need to know how to wisely manage a budget, with-and-without a computer. They need to know the ins-and-outs of the money world on AT LEAST a basic level, so that they aren't naive about their money and where it is going.

4. DIY/Independent Living - (okay, maybe this could just be an elective or even a college-level elective). But I would LOVE to see a class that shows people how to check fluids in their cars, change their own oil, fix a leaky pipe/toilet, install a light fixture/garbage disposal, etc. It would be a class designed to promote confidence and independence in taking care of their home & possessions on their own, like our parents & grandparents used to do.

We could probably always add more, but these are classes that I feel prepare students for The World After High School, regardless of career choice. What would you add to your students' graduation requirements?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Progressive Survey #27

#27. What are 3 professional strengths you have?
This one is hard - it's easy for us to find our own flaws, but not always so to our strengths.

1. Enthusiasm - I have a true love for my subject, and I try to infuse every lesson with that.

2. Organization - I work really hard to establish an organizational system in my classroom, so that I can say with confidence that if I don't have an assignment, it was NOT turned in. Or if a parent questions something, I can find it easily & quickly.

3. Tech-Savvy - OK, it's not like I speak C++ or anything, but I am interested in computers a bit and feel fairly comfortable playing around with different software. I taught a few fellow teachers how to use Dreamweaver/set up their webpages and how to access some features of the gradebook. Technology is becoming more and more important in the classroom, as we get Promethean Boards, WritePads, teacher websites, electronic grade- and attendance-books, ELMOs...and the list goes on!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Progressive Survey #26

#26. If you weren't a teacher, what would you do for a living?

I like to think I could be a veterinarian, but maybe a vet tech would be more likely. I would love to be able to work with animals for a living. Or maybe work at some publishing company as an editor. Hm...

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Progressive Survey #25

Consider this post on snow-delay.

#25. Parent correspondence: how often do YOU initiate it?

Confession: I don't do as much as I want to.

At the beginning of the year, I send a letter home introducing myself and providing my (school) email address. Students return the bottom of the letter signed by parents, whose signature agrees that they have seen both my syllabus and the letter. I also include the web address to my frequently-updated website in that letter. That way, at the very beginning of the year, I give them the power to contact me. And they do. I haven't had too many negative interactions with parents, honestly. I like to think that it's because from the very start, I am upfront about ways to contact me and making myself available. So, I guess you could describe my approach as slightly passive-aggressive.

After that initial contact of "ball's in your court," I usually don't initiate unless I'm really concerned about a kid: multiple instances of acting out (rare), poor grades (often), poor assignment/make-up work return rate (often), or attendance concerns (very frequent fall 2009). One of my goals on my never-ending list of To Be A Better Teacher I Will... is to write a positive note or make a positive call home at the end of every day for at least ONE student. That way, I can end MY day with positive vibes, and also eventually "get" those middle-of-the-road kids who get left out- not struggling, but also not super-stars.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Progressive Survey #24

24. What is best thing you learned your first year of teaching?

Hm. This is a bit reminiscent of #5. And, as I think we can all attest, the first year is full of learning experiences. But for this I'll say...ask for help. Don't be afraid to admit when you don't know something, need help with a lesson, or need to run into someone's room in tears and say:
"OMG HOW THE HELL DO YOU DO THIS EVERY DAY?!"

I had a few moments when I just couldn't keep it together and I found myself getting misty despite all my best efforts. I had a mentor who was on the other side of the school and caught up in her own changes (she switched classes mid-year), so I felt uncomfortable going to her. But I had two young, approachable teachers on either side of me. I can recall knocking on the door of one, looking for someone else, but the askee could tell something was wrong. She ushered me to my room, encouraging me to spill as I got all ridiculously weepy. I was, and still am, so grateful for that ear and counsel.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Progressive Survey #23

23. Are you involved in extracurriculars?

I had wanted to be involved in the marching band, but wanted to wait until I had my first year of teaching under my belt. After the first year, I'd heard enough about the band program that told me I'd be happier staying away. My main objective year 1 was to keep my head down.

Apparently you can't keep your light hidden no matter how you try. The next year I was tapped to be the class of 2011 sponsor, as well as a co-sponsor of Beta Club (two little items I found out about during the first teacher day of school via a handy little list passed around to faculty. see #18). Beta was a bit of a mess last year, but a good friend was the main sponsor, and she did a LOT of work this year to clean it up; I wasn't much help because I allowed myself to get talked into a book club. Two former students decided they wanted to start a book club with me, and so they badgered enough friends or strangers into it. I actually miss the book club kids quite a bit. Mostly comprised of eclectic kids and far from organized, the book club is one extracurricular that I would willingly sign up for again.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Progressive Survey #22

22. Pedagogy texts: Use 'em or lose 'em?

There are a few that I've liked, but in truth I didn't actually read them front-to-back (have only ever read excerpts from Wong's First Days of School). Two that I liked that were lessons-based: Mechanically Inclined and Writer's Workshop(Ralph Fletcher). If it's a book full of cool or fun resources, yes; if it's a book about politics or classroom management or learner-types, no. I know, I know... I'm a big fat phony. Other bloggers talk about a certain pedagogy text they just picked up or want to read, and I admire that gumption. But personally, the idea of picking up one of those texts in my spare "me" time just sounds painful.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Progressive Survey #21

21. Tell a story about a field trip

Now, unfortunately, I have no field trip story to share. High schoolers rarely go on field trips (unfortunately), I was too chicken to attempt to schedule/coordinate a field trip during my first two years, and I had also been warned that our administration did not favor field trips (you could usually only get it approved for a club or for advanced honors classes). But mostly I was just too chicken to attempt the undertaking.

But you...surely you've got a story to tell.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Progressive Survey #20

20. Describe a time when you had to completely "wing it" with a lesson.

I know we've all had a moment like this. You're so looking forward to your day; you are on top of your game: a rockin' lesson in hand, learning to incite. It's a kicking butt and taking names kind of day. And then...
the unexpected code red
the computer explodes
that kid in the back seizes

You get the idea. Whatever it is, you've got a hot lesson on hand but no time or resources to complete it. It happens too often - perhaps even too often for you to remember a specific time.

The incident that comes to mind for me is from my first year. I had taken some work home to finish up some planning for the week. I had my very first observation the next day; I was a little nervous but felt prepared. I pulled into the parking lot and realized: I left my resources at home. I had planned to have students create movie posters w/ taglines based on the short story we'd just read (working on our "main idea" and media communication skillz). Like a good teacher, I knew my students would need models, so I had found four great examples of movie posters and printed them, all fancy-like, on a transparency . But, fear not! Good teachers are resourceful. After a short period of panicking resource assessment, I realized, "Hey! I can still show the movie posters! I'll use the TV/internet browser instead. They won't see the taglines as well, but I can read that to them, no problem! I'm awesomely ingenious!" So, I did. It was imperfect, but hey, they got the idea. We had fun.

And my evaluation? It went pretty well. Recommended Area to Strengthen: Use of Technology.

Oh, Administration. You kidders, you.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Progressive Survey #19

So, for those of you in the southern US, how are you liking that snow? I'm loving it. :) Had to drive home in it today, but main roads were just mostly wet/slushy and not so much icy.

#19. Do you "believe" in homework?

I do, but a moderate amount. I try to recognize that they have other classes of varying degrees of difficulty, but I do think homework is important for a couple reasons. One is that we are just plain ol' limited in class time. We can make our time more productive in class if we can talk about what they read or refer back to the text in reference to skills-building. If we have to spend all of class reading it, well...that's just not making the most of class time. The other reason is to provide extra practice; I tell my students I don't assign homework to make them miserable ("Remember, I have to grade it all!") but because it's a skill I want to make sure they get adequate practice on. We may not have enough time in class to practice it adequately and the only way I know whether or not they know it is...to practice! The last virtue that homework develops is a sense of independent discipline. Completing work outside of class forces students to figure out a problem on their own (or learn how to ask for help) - OMG problem-solving skillz! - and also budget time to do it - OMG time management skillz!.