Homecoming, and going…

This post is a bit more reflective than my usual content. It is Homecoming week at my school, and that means the days are filled with silliness and fun. In the middle of it all, we are trying to do some “school”. Our theme is Disney – The Happiest Homecoming on Earth. So our dress days and decor are all related to the Kingdom of the Mouse. It’s been a great deal of fun thus far and has kept the kids involved.

One of the things we do each year is link our Homecoming to some sort of service project that all the students can become involved with. This year, our STUCO selected the “Make a Wish” foundation and we are striving to send a little 4-year old girl to Disney World. It’s her “big wish” to spend some time visiting the happiest place on earth with her family as together they help her cope with a very serious heart ailment. Our kids hope to be the ones to grant this wish by their efforts in fund-raising for her.

This week is all about people coming home, but we started the week with the sobering experience of people being attacked in Las Vegas many of whom will never be going to their homes again. As a Christian, I find myself with mixed feelings about all this Home-coming and going. We tell ourselves this life is NOT our home… that we were made for something far better and for an eternity in our real home. Steven Covey said it best, “We are not human beings on a spiritual journey. We are spiritual beings on a human journey.”

My students (and most adults I know as well) live as if they are going to live forever. Not in a heavenly sense, but rather in an earthly sense.  Scenes such as we saw this past week remind us that the reality is very very different. This week has reminded us all that we are all in transit… and while we think we are going places, we are all really traveling home. Joyful travels, friends!IMG_0645

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Yes, It happened AGAIN or “How will we know when we have arrived?”

Every time I think I am getting into the groove of this reflective thing using a blog, it happens. It is almost as inevitable as sunrise. Life happens, papers to grade happen, fatigue happens, the questions happen. What if I am writing to no one? What does it matter what a old veteran teacher thinks about? Am I really invested in reflection on what I do every day? So here I am, a few weeks further into the semester and a huge gap in my blog is staring me down. So I have decided to OWN that gap.

What has happened in the space of that time. Well, a lot, actually! I have gotten to know my 65 students a LOT better. I have even invested an entire day talking to their parents about them. (Parent/teacher conferences were last Thursday.) I have learned who likes to read and who likes to write……. and who likes to sleep. (Not too many, thankfully!) Every student has completed at least 2 essays by now and they have some pretty solid skills. I have learned which ones are baseball fans, sadly disappointed in their St. Louis Cardinals right now, and which ones are the “quiet watchers” in the room. It’s been delightful and always challenging to think about how I can get to know them better as the days and weeks go by.

In my gap I have also attended a lot of faculty “functions” including some PLC’s with colleagues. I have wrestled with some new tech tools including a new gradebook, new ways of using our Learning Management System (Love my EBackpack!) and which things work easiest with my students. I am even helping to teach a few new tricks to colleagues starting next week; that is always a pleasure to do. AND- I am surviving the upgrade to iOS-11 on the iPad platform that we work with daily in our 1:1 setting! (The kids make me smile as they grouse about “hating change”. I tell them they sound older than I am and we laugh about it!

So today George Couros had this question on his blog which I enjoy reading. It was, “How will teachers know when they have “arrived?” The short answer was really simple… we won’t because we won’t EVER arrive! Depressing? Not in the least. Just challenging because so often in life and in any career it is much more comfortable to “rest on one’s laurels (insert the word “backside” here) and think you actually have things down pat and coast a bit. Our students do it, and we do too! The comfort zone is called that for a reason… it’s nice to be comfortable. It’s nice to say, “I am stopping right here”. It’s okay to stop occasionally and look about at the place you have arrived at. But the kicker is, you have to then get up and get going again… and do it over and over. Teaching is becoming (or perhaps it always has been) a profession of constant stretching of one’s skills and adding new ones to the repertoire. It never stops. If anything, the rate of new ideas seems to me to be accelerating.

It makes me wonder how we all keep up much less question if we ever actually arrive. Teachers already function in one of the jobs with the most amount of overtime attached to it according to a recent article that crossed my radar last week. According to the research the average teacher puts in somewhere between 12.5 and 12.9 extra hours per week. I would bet in the private sector (those who work without the benefit of a union contract) it may run even higher.) This is not a post that is here to complain about that, but it does explain a bit where my blogging time may have gone.

Therefore, I am recommitting to posting, as it will make me stop, look around, and reflect on what I am doing. Hope you have had time to do so as well, dear readers, whomever you may be.

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Coming up for Air

Back at school and into our second week…. and I am really enjoying getting back into the academic flow. However, my energy levels don’t leave much left for blogging these days. Between prepping, teaching, and grading I am kept pretty steadily busy.

The five questions for the start of the year have been a huge hit with my students! I have learned a great deal about them in the process and they have shared very openly the things they are wondering and hoping for out of this year. Their passions and interests run the gamut. I have two students who are extremely high level competitive barrel racers in my classes, another who runs an Instagram page focused on Nissan cars that has over 1800 followers, and yet another who is a V-logger with nearly 20,000 followers on YouTube!! These kids are connected!

The question about what success will look like to them at the end of the year found most of them focusing on grades and the “almighty GPA”. I am hoping to move some of them to see their school year in broader terms, but am realistic enough to know that these are kids whose parents hold extremely high expectations for them. They are “expected” to do well and that means “A’s” and getting into good colleges. The endless pursuit of the grade is something I am trying to avoid…. want them to learn because learning is fun, challenging, and part of being alive and growing. Idealistic…. I know, but there it is.

Even better were the answers they gave to what makes a good teacher. I was pleased to see references to being able to laugh with them, knowing my content, and being prepared to lead them into new ideas. They also expressed that a teacher is best when he is available to help when needed. They expressed frustration with teachers who seem to just crank out lessons on “auto-pilot” and hope for creativity in their lessons.

It’s going to be a great year… and I am excited to share it with my very interesting students!

 

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Q4: Playing to your Strengths

The fourth question for the upcoming year is: What are your strengths and how can we utilize them? This question excites me! I can’t wait to hear what my kids will tell me about this one because it will be a clue to what they are passionate about in their lives.  I am hoping that by knowing some of these things, I can tap into their interests and abilities and link opportunities to writing and sharing those strengths with the class. We will all learn so much more that way.

As far as answering this myself goes, my first thought was well this is awkward! (I wonder if my students will feel this way too!) Well, okay, here goes. My most obvious strength is my ability to teach. It’s who I am, how I define myself, and something I have viewed myself as since I was about 8 years old. My mother tells me I played school as a youngster making everything from stuffed animals to the family dog be my “students”. I started teaching Sunday school classes when I was 12 and never looked back. I love the artistry and dynamic of teaching. Being very “people person” myself, I enjoy the human connections involved in teaching and that no two lessons are ever the same. People fascinate me!

My second strength is my ability to use technology and to acquire skills in this area.  A strength related to that is my inventive nature. I love making new connections and seeing new uses for tech. Show me an app or tool and I will start coming up with half a dozen ways I can use it my classes. My kids tell me that my fearless willingness to try new things makes them feel brave too. That’s what I hope it does for them. I want my students to believe they can learn how to do almost ANYTHING they set their minds to; and that includes technology.

Finally, one of my strengths is my ability to see the humor in life. I love to laugh. I love to to share stories with my students and friends. I think humor can turn a negative experience into a positive one. Being able to laugh helps me move forward in my life and to “roll with the punches”.

So those are the three things that came to mind today. Tomorrow I will think of two or three other things I should have mentioned instead.  Hope that I can use these to make my classroom a great place to be this year. What are your strengths?

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Question 3: One Big Question

The third question for this fall’s students is; What is One BIG Question you have for this year? My initial reaction as a teacher was, “just one?!” I am constantly asking questions and almost as constantly answering them as a teacher. However, most of the questions that I ask are ones for which I have a basic idea of what the answer should or might be.

My students’ questions are another matter altogether! They sometimes ask me the funniest things. I probably should have written them all down over the years but the days of teacher fly by pretty fast, so that is one thing that I have let slide away into memory. My funniest question was perhaps asked back when I was teaching middle school and one of the 6th graders was trying to use the school pay phone (yes, it was THAT long ago), and he was unsure about how to dial it. So he stood there staring at the phone with it’s traditional numeric dial – like the phone your great granny had long ago. I saw him puzzling at it and offered to assist. He said, “But where are the buttons? What do I do with this wheel?” So I showed him and his reaction was “Wow! That’s neat!” I later had this same student as a high schooler and he and I would still chuckle over the way we first encountered one another.

But back to the one BIG question…. I am trying some new things in my classes this year. One of them is a new approach to modeling writing. And the other involves using the Apple Classroom App as a tool. So my one big question at this point in the year is “Will this new approach work?” but it’s also part and parcel of “How can I enhance the experience of learning to write for my students that will capture their interest and imagination?” So I will wait and see what things my kids will ask me in just 11 more days!! What is one big question you currently have?

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Question 2: Passion

The second question for the start of a school year is: What are you passionate about? At first I thought this question would be relatively easy to answer,  and I mentally went for the “low hanging fruit” of family, faith, and calling.  Easy-peasy, I thought, and then I got to thinking further. How do I evidence this passion in my life? How is it obvious that those things are important to me, that they are things I consider central to who I am and how I live?

Wow, suddenly the question got a lot deeper than making a list. When I complain about summer ending, does that make my passion for teaching sound shallow? When I am too “busy” to go visit my grandkids out of state, am I letting convenience override my passion for family. And there are way too many ways I can appear less than passionate about my faith and practice of it! So my definition of what makes something a “passion” has got to go beyond mere lip-service and lists. What am I willing to make sacrifices for? Who do I put at the top of my priority list in terms of time? Where do I compromise on these things when they clash or make demands of my time and focus? All good questions with no easy-peasy answers!

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I am certain we all have our “little passions” – mine include everything from reading to yarn, from greyhounds to technology, from travel to photography.  There are a myriad of little things that I enjoy doing and experiencing. Things that make life special, unique, and fun. But passion with a capital P is a totally different thing. I am going to enjoy seeing which things my students will pick for themselves. I am willing to bet not one of them will choose school – but I am HOPING more than one of them will choose learning, or reading, or writing. Wouldn’t that be cool?!?

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Question #1 Qualities of a Teacher

The first of the five questions for students is “What are the qualities you look for in a teacher?” I am really interested in hearing what my student will have to say about this one and in attempting my own answer I am tempted to hearken back to my days as a high school student (I think I can recall that -LOL!) but instead I am going to reflect on learning situations I have found myself in as an adult and see how the answer goes from there.

The first quality I look for in a teacher is graciousness. This quality embodies a few other qualities so if it seems as if I am cheating, perhaps I am. Gracious people are warm, patient, and caring. They go the extra mile to make you feel accepted, understood, and included. I think of gracious people in my life and in my past and faces of dear friends come to mind but so do former teachers who welcomed me to sit in their classrooms and talk or professors who invited me to their homes simply because I was a long way from home. A gracious teacher is warmly open to all of his students. He sees their differences as unique ways in which they are special and distinctive. Gracious people listen.

Whew, that covered a lot didn’t it!

The second quality I look for is professionalism. A teacher with this quality knows their subject, teaches in an engaging manner, and carries out the day-to-day management of the classroom in an organized, smooth manner. When this quality is present, you almost don’t notice it. There is an ease and flow to the day in a professional teacher’s classroom. Students know what will happen and feel safe that things will go according to some sort of a plan, even when spontaneous things pop up, there is a calmness to the leader that makes everyone comfortable.

The third quality I look for is honest humor. The teacher wth this can laugh and laughs often but always WITH the students and never AT one of them. However, it’s even better if the teacher can laugh at herself  and share how sometimes life is just a silly and unpredictable thing for all of us. The honest part is included because this has to be genuine. I am sure it varies from teacher to teacher, obviously some of us are more private than others, but as long as it is genuine, it will communicate with the students. It also frees them up to be open to each other. A spirit of true camaraderie is one outgrowth of this quality.

Finally, the fourth quality I look for is open faithfulness. This can be true of a public or a private school teacher, although being in a faith-based school I have a lot more scope in which to share my belief set. Open faithfulness is a willingness to express the faith one holds and the values that one acts on as a result of it. It means that the teacher is willing to share the “why” of how he does things as they link to the faith that he holds. I have many friends who are in the public sector who are able to witness to the faith they hold quite effectively and eloquently simply by being openly faithful, even in settings where “teaching the faith” is not technically allowed.

So those are my four qualities. Am curious what yours might be and what my students will say when I ask them in a couple of weeks.

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