Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Read This Now

Let's all just forget that a lot of teachers have been questioning the utility of our country's current testing culture for quite some time, and celebrate this article from The Atlantic. Then get ready to talk about meaningful, educator-designed assessments designed to inform instruction rather than punish students, teachers, and schools while making profits for testing companies.  Because that's what's going to happen, people. I feel it in my bones.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Be a Teacher

So many of my friends are graduating, transitioning, and thinking about what's next. In the past weeks, I've seen friends who are smart, capable, and ambitious take big steps on their searches for jobs to help them feel fulfilled and fulfilling. I have some advice for people like that: be a teacher.

If you are looking for a job that feeds the body, mind, and soul, be a teacher. If you want a job that serves our country, be a teacher. If you want a job that is challenging, meaningful, and (probably) uses your undergraduate major, be a teacher. If you want a job that is results-oriented, be a teacher. If you want a job where you can make up all sorts of glorious spreadsheets to track progress and places to improve, be a teacher.

If you want a job that causes you to question, learn, and grow every day, be a teacher.

I have really frustrating days where I feel like I'm at war with cell phones, social media, and the culture of instant gratification. I have days when I am tired, stressed, or worried about money. But the pace and the mission both mean I sleep well at night. My heart breaks for those teachers who counsel others against joining our profession. This is an exciting time to be a teacher.

The standardized test culture frustrates me and damages my students' creativity. Sometimes those who ascribe to a certain type of reform make me really angry at their inability to think about a bigger picture when it comes to school's purpose.  But how can you change those parts that frustrate you if you don't get involved? And how can you stay away when the rewards are so very rich and so very real?

Friday, April 19, 2013

There is So Much Grading

Today is Friday. On Friday, I collect journals from about half of my students. In addition to the formative assignments I have tried to review over the week to inform instruction, I will take these journals home with me. I also have some essays students have polished and turned in for a re-grade. We will talk about the philosophy of the last part later, but I find all of these assignments resting in my bag to be pedagogically useful.

But goodness there are a lot of them. I have roughly 190 pages to read this weekend. I also will chaperone prom and spend some time sprucing up my classroom and creating writing prompts and notes on semicolons for the week to come.

Then there are the non-school things I'd like to do this weekend. I hope to perfect my recipe for gluten-free, vegan pizza. I'd like to go wine tasting with some friends and celebrate another friend's successful dissertation defense. I have to get my car inspected. Atticus wants to spend some time in the woods, and so do I. These activities feel important to rejuvenate and refresh myself so I can be a good teacher to my students (well, maybe not the car inspection). But there are only so many hours in a day.

Honestly, sometimes I feel so overwhelmed by all of the grading that I dream of becoming a guidance counselor because I'd still get to help students grow academically and personally, but I wouldn't have to read as many essays. I love working with my students so much, but I am definitely lacking a system for dealing with student work efficiently. Teacher friends, how do you manage your grading load? What tips do you have for those of us still trying to figure it all out? 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Dear Ms. T. (again)

As I mentioned in my previous post, one of my students refused to write to the editor of our student newspaper. Well, she asked nicely if she could write to me instead. I decided that I am an authentic audience, and she'd still reach our objectives of letter formatting and thoughtful communication, so this is what I received:

Dear Ms. T.,

It has been a wonderful year. At the beginning of the year, I thought it was going to be an awful and long year. I thought it was going to be the worst class ever. I guess I was wrong.

I have had so much fun with you and this class. The beginning was hard for all of us: new teacher, new students, new things to get used to. I'm so happy that you're my teacher in my senior year. You've made this year awesome. You're a great person and a wonderful teacher. It's awesome to think about those moments when we all laugh and work together: great memories.

This class had good and bad times, and I think that we are here to learn how to change things about us. And we are still working on them. I think that next quarter could be better. You could make work more fun, more enjoyable but with the same rules. Maybe more strict. I want to get things done faster but in a fun way. If you could, give us more options, but you have good expectations. I know you can come up with great ideas. Love you!

Student L

I think that's one for the bad day file.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Dear Editors

Hello everyone! I am still here, still teaching, and trying to still blog. The weeks after winter break proved to be some of the longest in my nascent teaching career. There's been much to do to prepare students for their standardized tests they should have passed last year. We fight a daily battle against senioritis. And, frankly, I've been enjoying the company of my students so much, I didn't have as many questions or lessons to share.

But I think this blog is probably a good thing in my teaching practice. I've missed hearing from teacher friends (and allies) all over the world. I need your ideas, support, and affirmations, so here we go again!

When the most recent edition of our student newspaper came out, the advisor asked us to encourage students to write letters to the editor. I thought this would create a great authentic audience for writing as well as prevent the monthly battle I do with the newspaper. I assigned students to read the newspaper, select an article that piqued their interest, and write to the editor about it. Some students asked if they had to do the assignment. All but one of my eighty-seven darlings went right ahead and wrote to the editor when I said yes.

Here is my favorite in response to a graphic that displayed teachers answering that question what they would do if they weren't teachers (and it's edited for privacy):

Dear Editors,

     I am a sophomore and your article about teachers was very interesting to me. It made me appreciate my teachers more than I ever did. The people that teach us now could have been anything they wanted to be. But they chose to educate us and help our knowledge grow by teaching us new information every day. I wish that the students that say they don't like their teachers will realize and appreciate that fact. Thanks to you two for taking the time to do this.

Student S