Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Just Because You Went to School Doesn't Make You an Education Expert

I didn't plan on using this blog to rant, but you need to just give me one moment tonight to get this off my chest.

All of a sudden (six weeks before elections??) discussions about education are popping up everywhere. Movies purporting to explain all the ills of education are going to be screened across the United States. It's the teachers' faults. Damn teachers. They already get paid too much. If they got paid to do their jobs based on what they accomplish (read teachers get paid based on students' test scores), like people in the business sector, we wouldn't have these problems in education. Look at China. They know how to do it there, and we're falling behind!

This. Makes. Me. Sick.

I wish all of these people on all of these panels, state and national boards of education, television panels and charity boards could spend one week in school with me. Go ahead, pay me based on merit. But here's the catch... I want to get the same quality materials people in the business sector have. I'm fairly certain that people who build Fords, Harleys and Apple computers only used the highest quality parts. Defective parts? Simply throw them away. I'm fairly certain that the programs that didn't meet Microsoft's high standards never made it to production. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure that the Super Walmart does not sell food that is out of date, rotten fruit or rancid meat. Even China - guess who goes to school in China? Only the highest kids who will actually succeed.

What's my point?

I teach what I get. I get kids whose step-moms and step-dads tell them they hate them. I get kids who aren't sure where their parents are. I get kids who come to school with their once-a-week showers and clothing that isn't washed because they don't have hot water. I get the kids being raised by their grandparents because their parents are drug addicts or just don't care. I have kids who are bright kids, but for whatever reason a learning disability keeps them from performing to their actual ability. I have kids who don't have a house, barely have a house, don't have food, barely have food, wonder if there is food, aren't sure where they are living, who actually have more of an education than there parents, and... and.... and...... I could go on, but I think you get the point.

Businesses get and use only the best materials to make their products; many of my materials are damaged goods, and it's those damaged ones that I love the most. Because who else will? In addition to meeting the rigorous state standards and trying to help my school achieve AYP, I make sure their lunch is covered and make sure they know that somebody cares about them.

Seeing these people talk about education like they know what our kids are going through makes me sick and listening to all of the things my kids have to see, hear and live through makes me cry.

So all of you experts, please, come spend a week or two with me. Better yet, go home and live the lives of some of my kids. Then we'll see what kind of "experts" you are.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Daily 5 ~ My Style

As I mentioned in my last post, it seemed as though fate made me read the book The Daily 5. We have been given the opportunity to "take back" our kids and use guided reading groups so I was trying to figure out what guided reading was going to look like in my intermediate classroom. I have seen guided reading groups done by the Primary Friends (yep, they're allllllll primary teachers, with the exception of one brave soul I encouraged to defect and join me in the intermediate ranks!) and have always wanted to make it happen, but I just wasn't sure how.

My natural instinct was to look for centers. Honestly, though, the thought of having to create centers and then check all that busy work was not appealing to me. It was during these searches that I kept bumping into the Daily 5 and why I decided to get the book. Thank you, Universe, for sending me the message. It makes complete and total sense to limit my whole group instruction time, but I just wasn't sure how to do it. I knew that working in guided reading groups on my students' level was what to do, but what about all the "non-negotiables" I had to teach? At some point I realized that just because the lessons are non-negotiable doesn't mean the same thing for the worksheets. To be quite blunt, the practice pages that go along with our anthology lessons suck. Most of them don't even reinforce the skill I'm supposed to be teaching. So the banishment of the worksheets has begun. I sorta asked permission... if necessary I will beg for forgiveness later.

No more worksheets,
Lots of books!
No more teacher's dirty looks!!

Technically I'm not going to be doing the Daily 5. I'm going to pretty much be doing the Daily 3, maybe the Daily 4 one day if I'm lucky. No matter the numbers the premise is the same. When my kids are not working with me in a guided reading or skill group, they are going to be reading, writing and working with words. The kids are going to be involved in setting their personal goals, and their parents (whether they like it or not) are going to have some assignments to work on at home to help my 13 below level readers meet their grade level benchmarks. There will be no worksheets and no busy work just real reading and writing.

My days will generally look like this:

1. Grammar Lesson
2. Daily 5 block - this is where I'll be meeting with Tier 2 kids from our team and my aide will be working with my solid on level or advanced readers
3. Reading Skill or Strategy Lesson
4. Daily 5 block - I'll meet with one of my two groups of below level readers and either check in with my on level or advanced readers or have individual conferences
5. Writing / Phonics / Structural Analysis Lesson
6. Daily 5 block - I'll meet with my other below level group and then have individual writing conferences with students
Fridays will be my day for progress monitoring and goal setting with the kids.

That's how my vision boils down on paper. This week we'll see, sorta, how it works. I'll be spending most of my time doing my individual goal setting conferences, and then next week I'll really be working more with the guided reading groups. Once I have this tweaked I'll need to start thinking about how technology and collaboration fits into this plan. But let's just take one step at a time...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

My Brain Might Explode

I have so many things I want to talk about here, and I'm not even sure where to start.

Last year was a tough year. I switched grade levels, a few kids managed to spoil the mix, and it just wasn't my best year. Sure I used more technology and tried some new things, but because of this, that and the other thing, I really didn't feel like I did right by all of my kids. I was determined to do just that after a relaxing respite this summer. Unfortunately my relaxing respite turned into a hands-on nursing experience that started the Saturday morning after the kids finished and ended the Friday morning before I started school on the 30th.

Even though I didn't get the summer vacation I was expecting, I did have a lot of free time to think about how I wanted to change things this year. It took a while to come up with some answers and a little "loosening of the noose" from my district, but with that and the Daily 5 I am very excited about the beginning of this year. All teachers seem to have the beginning of the year jitters / happiness / excitement, but we're three weeks in and I'm STILL feeling that way. In the next few days I'll talk more about what I've done to make things work so well. Next week will be the real test so I'm excited to reflect on that, too.

In addition to switching things up in the classroom, my two faculties (one this year, one next year) participated in three amazing team building days. Just being part of these three days motivated me for the year and reinforced my belief in how important a positive attitude can be. My goal for the year is to do everything in a manner that helps my team. Not shooting for easy here, I'm looking forward to pushing back at some people and having some hard conversations, and I'm also looking forward to pushing myself to do more for my kids in the classroom.

The final piece that has my brain ready to explode tonight is my day today. I had the opportunity to meet and work with the amazing Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Will Richardson and a fantastic group of educators during the first day of my PLP cohort. Just like the team building energized me because it's what I believe is right by my kids, today was extremely energizing because it's what I KNOW is right by my kids. I wonder how this will go over in my area.... very conservative, very old fashioned, very "But school worked for me. If it worked for me, then it'll work for my kids." It's so bad I even had to specifically touch upon the fact that my students will not be bringing home as many worksheets each week tonight at Parent Night. But what we talked about today - being connected, using the web, teaching KIDS not facts - these are the things that I believe in, and these are the things that our kids desperately need.

My blog is Teach 'n' Life because I am a teacher, but I need to take care of myself and do what's right by me and have a life outside of school. So the beginning of the year, balancing all of these new practices in my classroom, community building, taking on a new perspective, and being good to myself: these are all the things that have my brain ready to explode. But it's not a bad explosion; I'm excited, and I'm invigorated, and I'm ready to see where this journey takes me.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Here We Go

Since I had a lot of time this summer I started to read a lot of teacher blogs, and lots of things kept running through my head"
- Why don't I do this? I have lots of good ideas.
- People might be able to learn something from me.
- Wow! That's an awesome idea.
- Oh myyyyy, I'm glad it's not just my school / class / coworkers / administration.

So here I am. I'm going to share things about school and about life because it's often pretty hard to separate the two. But hopefully somewhere in the mix somebody might read something and say, "Hey! That's a really great idea! I need to try that." It won't be tonight. I still have 8 more activities to finish before my inservice tomorrow, and it's already 11:30 PM. I need to get my rear in gear.

Clearly that's lesson #1 - I'm a horrible procrastinator and do my best work under pressure.