Saturday, December 28, 2013

Why I Freaking Love My Job....

Sometimes my students ask me why I became a teacher, or if I like teaching, but few of them tell me they aspire to the profession (and it is a profession). Sometimes I see negative articles against teachers, and I can understand why my students may not consider it an option they wish to explore. Even more often I see lists of 'why it is tough being a teacher', or '37 reasons we have it hard'. These lists are often posted by my colleagues. I know these lists are in jest, and of course offer a good (and often much needed laugh) but I thought that since this is a time of year where we feel the need to share why we are  thankful with others, I would take a minute to compose a list of why I love my job. So here it goes:

I freaking unequivocally love my job because:

1. I love my students. All of them. Even the challenging ones, even the ones that don't love me. I'm going to say the thing you're not supposed to say as an educator- I  didn't get into it for the kids. I didn't have a higher calling to work with children, to spend my day educating, mentoring, and growing with them. No, I didn't "get into it for the kids" but let me be pretty damn clear- I have stayed in teaching, I have fallen in love with teaching, I have begun a never ending quest to continually revise my practice to be the best possible version- for the kids. They continue to inspire me, to push me, and to both zap and renew my energy day in and day out. I now relish the learning, growing, and mentoring. We all have identifiers- sister, brother, father, mother, husband, etc. For many an additional identifier is 'teacher'. Without my students, that identifier would not exist.

2. I get to start over. All of the time. I am given the awesome responsibility every year of getting to know 100 amazing, unique, and talented students. It is a challenge and a blessing. Regardless of whatever else happens in my life and in the world, there they are every September. Few people in life get the chance to hone their craft and revise it  over and over again. Few people in life are guaranteed to meet 100 new awesome strangers every year. I do, and though they be in miniature middle school form, these strangers offer new perspective and teach me far more than I teach them. I don't get to have them in my charge for very long, and I only get a glimpse of the path they are going to embark on after leaving my class- but it is humbling and awesome to be a part of another human's journey.

3. I appreciate the beautiful quiet in being completely alone. Because we are interacting all day long, those times we are alone become more important. Though we are not the only profession that wakes up early, the life of a teacher most often includes early start times. Yes there are days I wish I could amble into the office at 9am after a morning run and an actual breakfast  but then I would miss this: Those few fleeting moments before the sun comes up where you breathe in the energy of the morning. By the time the bell rings you won't be able to recall anything specific about those pre-dawn minutes, but that quiet, traffic free commute to work allows time for reflection, a few moments of being completely alone in a world (and a profession) where we spend all day long communicating and interacting with others. There is something about those few moments of communicating with one's self in the  morning that make me feel completely human and completely connected.

4.I have gotten a glimpse into different cultures, family lives, religions, politics, and economic experiences via my students. Only traveling offers such insight into the human condition. Teaching allows us the insight, but even better it allows us to attempt to better the human condition. Enough said.

5. I get summer vacation. I know that sounds trivial, and I realize most of us work through the summer as well, but I still get the excited feeling of euphoria that kids have in June, and the nervous butterflies that come with the fall. I get to spend hot humid days meandering places of interest- learning, growing and experiencing. Adults often complain that they would love to travel more, to read more, to explore their passions more, to learn more. Too often though the 'real world' gets in the way and these pursuits are left behind in childhood. For a few weeks each year, I get to pursue those passions. I get to get lost in a book, visit places of interest and feel like a kid again. Adults spend tens of hundreds of dollars on creams, make ups, clothes, and fitness  routines trying to feel young again. These things may help, but nothing makes you feel as young as a cool ice cream on a hot August night of 'Summer Vacation.'

6. I work with energetic amazing people. I'm not just referring to people in my immediate building. I have met great educators (and lets face it great human beings) within my district and on the inter webs. There are so many teachers in my district that inspire me and drive me to be a better person. As a profession we are sharers. We share of our time, our talents, and our materials. I know of no other profession where people are so willing to spend hours of their own time developing something, and then readily share it with their colleagues. I have seen colleagues give their lunch to students that were hungry, buy coats for students that were cold, and share hugs with those that needed them. These are not hyperbolic actions, but rather quiet acts that occur in classrooms every day. I have also met an amazing group of educators through virtual modes- through Twitter an Blogging I have come to know an additional crew of selfless individuals ready to help, share, and build a better education system for our country. If that doesn't speak to the beauty of the job I don't know what does.

7. I get to go to coach middle school field hockey, I get to go to high school football games, I get to wear silly T-shirts with school colors and participate in goofy staff acts in the talent show. Of course middle school  and high school had their rough spots, but I get to relive the best of middle school and high school. I get to do it every day (and with significantly better hair thanks to the invention of hair straighteners).

8. I get to spend my days talking about history, and reading about history, and learning about history, and getting others talking, reading and learning about history. I get to spend my days immersed in the subject I love. Pretty. Freaking. Sweet.

9. I get notes telling me what students have learned and how they have grown over the year. I get to stop a parent in the grocery store and tell them about a random act of kindness that their child did. I get to see the best of humanity. I get to see the worst of it too, but I get to see both ends of the spectrum, and there is a renewing energy in that. I get talk to students that come back to visit, and see the contributions they are making to society- I get to see the product of my work- and I get to say that I am incredibly proud of the work that I do.

10. Sometimes, that tough student, the one that you thought didn't care, the one you thought you couldn't reach- sometimes they surprise you- and its awesome and incredible and moving and humbling. I get to experience that too.

11. I've gone to school my whole life. There are so many in the world (women in particular) that will never get that opportunity. How humbling that I get to return every year.

I could go on, there are so many great aspects to what I do. I hope that some of my students do go on to become teachers. I hope that they continue to learn every day. I hope that they get to see the best of humanity, not just the worst. I hope they get a chance to improve the human condition. I hope they get quiet moments to themselves. Most of all I hope they also find a profession that energizes them, that provides enough compensation to feed their families, but one that also feeds their soul. Mostly, I hope that they freakin love their job! Because I do.

Monday, February 18, 2013

A week in the life...

One of the big questions a lot of teachers have when trying to implement a flipped class or flipped learning model is what to do with all the wonderful time they now have available in class. Here is an example of some of the many ways that we spend our time:

Monday, February 11, 2013

What if School Days Were More Like Snow Days?

The smell of cinnamon rolls wafting up the stairs, even as an adult, I still expect snow days to begin like this. As a kid, there is nothing more exciting and magical than waking up to find out that school has been canceled. I'll admit, as a teacher, I often experience the same excitement. I recently read an article that discussed snow days. The article itself provided no new information; how superintendents make their decisions, how it impacts parents, teachers, and of course students. What did surprise me were many of the comments that were made in response to the article. Some I expected to see- working parents noting how difficult snow days are for them, which is very understandable. Surprisingly though there were quite a few comments citing how a snow days took away from education and what a shame it was. Those comments made me reflect back to my own years in school. I will admit, as I went through my memories there weren't too many that I had where I was sitting in a desk absorbing facts being thrown at me. There were however a lot of memories of working with neighborhood kids to build snow forts, which required not just team work, but some engineering to ensure that the ice tunnels could with stand the weight of a snowball attack. I remembered watching Gone With the Wind with my mom and first understanding that the Civil War had more than one perspective to it. I also remember curling up with a good book, the American Girl series when I was little, and as time went on everything from Johnny Tremain to Les Miserables was enjoyed with a cup of hot cocoa by the fire on a snowy gray New England Day. To say that snow days are a wasted opportunity for learning is to assume that learning takes place solely in the classroom. 

As I went through my own snow day today, I realized now only was today not a wasted opportunity, but a great opportunity for learning. Though I'm a teacher and do my best to make my classroom a hands on experience, I'll be the first to admit that real true learning takes place outside the classroom al the time, and it should! I'm going to throw out a crazy suggestion, not only do I think snow days are a great opportunity for learning, but I wish school could be more like snow days...let me explain.

On a snow day most students will sleep in, contrary to waking up in the dark and rushing off to school, snow days allow for waking with the natural rhythm of the body. This morning I awakened refreshed, a whole hour after my usual rising time, and that glorious glorious hour gave me such energy that I've forgotten how over worked and under-slept we as a human race really are. As I woke up and eased into my day I had time to create a "To Do" list for the day, things I had to accomplish. Wouldn't it be nice if our students could get that little bit of extra sleep they need and create their own "agenda' for the day, really contemplating what they need to get done, rather than it being dictated to them?

After waking up I made myself a hardy breakfast, the kind that I would never have time for on a regular school day. I remember this being one of my favorite things about snow days when I was little- sitting at the table eating breakfast- instead of grabbing a piece of toast as I ran out the door. The majority of my students do not eat breakfast before school, I can't blame them, I too don't like to eat that early in the morning. I usually have something during my prep period while I correct. My students don't have that luxury, as a result by the time mid-morning rolls around they are so hungry that any attempt to disseminate information prior to the feeding frenzy that is seventh grade lunch is lost. Wouldn't it be nice if students could actually sit down and enjoy their breakfast, thus coming to school with energy to face whatever tasks lay ahead?

As I ate breakfast I turned on the news and caught up on the world around me.  For twenty minutes as I ate I became engrossed in all the information that I had missed out on over the weekend. While I make sure we watch the news in my classroom, many of my students have little knowledge of the world around them. I used to think it was apathy on their part, or their parents lack of willingness to discuss current events. I've come to realize its about timing and priority. My students are so over scheduled. They barely have time to sleep, so expecting them to sit down and catch up on world events seems unfair given their demanding schedules. Wouldn't it be nice for them to have time to become lost in world affairs, if only for 20 minutes?

After breakfast I set out on my to do list. For me it was mundane household tasks that I had been putting off for quite some time. The snow day gave me the found time to get all of them done. As I checked each task off of my list I felt accomplished. While I gave myself a set time that I wanted to have everything done by, I did not dictate how much time I could allot to each task, therefor I just worked at each thing until it was done, giving myself time to make sure that I did a good job, and did not stress about the workload. Each day my students rush from class to class, attempting to finish all of their tasks for each one in the allotted forty minutes. Its no wonder they are so stressed, there's no regard to the fact that some tasks, and subject areas are going to be more challenging for some students, and therefore require more time. Yet we expect everyone to work at the same pace and comprehend subjects in the same amount of time. Wouldn't it be nice if students could be focused on getting tasks done in a way that provides them with understanding and a sense of accomplishment, instead of always rushing to beat the clock and keep up with their peers in meeting deadlines?

Finally once all my "to do" list tasks were done for the day I was free to take advantage of the off time to pursue a few items of pure interest for me. I caught up on some blog reading that I had been putting off, watched an episode of History Detectives that has been sitting in my DVR for a while, started "The President's Club" a book that I have been carrying around for weeks with no chance to jump into, and finally looked up a new recipe and spent some time working at it and perfecting it. I googled several conversions, researched the best wine to use and even looked up a new way to mince garlic, all because it was something I was invested in. Wouldn't it be nice if once their "necessary" tasks were out of the way, students had the chance to explore what they were interested in, reading about what their passions are, teaching themselves something new? 

I realize that not all of this is possible, and furthermore I realize that more of this has been possible within my classroom because of my flipped class set up, but I can't help but think as a whole there's more to be done. Snow days just have a different pace to them, they're relaxed, lazy in a way that doesn't make you feel guilty, they are honestly totally self absorbing. I think some times we need to tell our students to chill out, to be a little lazy, to jump of the point grubbing, overscheduled conveyer-belt and enjoy the beauty of an unstructured day. 

While snow days may not have their "magical" feeling that they did when I was younger, they certainly still have a sense of wonder to them- an entire day, a blank slate ahead, to be filled with whatever I choose, whatever I need to get done, and whatever I want to learn. Snow days allow us to peacefully explore, quietly learn, and calmly accomplish. Wouldn't it be nice, if in school, students felt the same?